Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill

Labor is determined to ensure that our law enforcement agencies and national security agencies have the powers that are necessary to keep Australians safe.

As well as defending our nation's security, Labor also strongly believes in the importance of upholding the rule of law and the rights and freedoms that define us as a democratic nation.

It is essential that in passing laws designed to protect our way of life we do not compromise the freedoms that keep the Australian community safe and that our nation has proudly defended since Federation.

Labor respects and appreciates the important role that charities and non-government organisations play in a healthy democracy.

Labor has understood clearly the anxieties that have been generated in the charities and not-for-profit sector by the range of government bills seeking to address foreign influence on our political system.

There is a shared will in the parliament to adopt a robust set of responses to foreign interference in our democracy but this should not, and need not, lead to new constraints on free speech.

In relation to foreign donations reform, the charity sector have made their needs clear, recently publishing six principles they are calling on parliament to recognise as vital for their ongoing contributions to Australian civil society. Labor supports these principles.

It is with this in mind that Labor engaged in a constructive manner with the government on the National Security Legislation (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Inquiry made 60 recommendations for improvements to the bill. This is more than any other PJCIS report since the Liberal government came to power in 2013, and the amendments to give effect to these recommendations have greatly improved the bills that were finally passed into law in the last week of June.

We do not believe that these new laws, as amended in response to the Intelligence Committee’s recommendations, will limit ordinary advocacy by charities and NGOS. The sabotage offences in these new laws are not directed at peaceful protest. These offences require harm to be done to Australia’s national security, which is beyond the bounds of peaceful protest such as public demonstrations.

Similarly, Labor does not consider that a civil society organisation would commit a crime under this legislation for disclosing information about Australian breaches of international law to a public international organisation, like the United Nations.

As well, the Attorney-General must also consent to prosecutions under the secrecy and espionage offences. We believe this acts as a safeguard, as such a prosecution would subsequently be made public and the Attorney-General’s role in approving it made known.

We believe these and other amendments to the new laws will make them more effective and ensure that the Act achieves its intention – to target and disrupt covert attempts to undermine our democratic system. But achieving this aim will not reduce the ability of charities and NGOs to continue their important advocacy. This is a right Labor will always fight for.

We note that the government has failed to ban another significant form of foreign influence on our democratic system – foreign political donations. Labor has refused to accept foreign donations for more than 18 months, and yet the coalition continues to pocket them. This inconsistency is clearly unacceptable and the government should act without delay.