The Federal Bills to limit the foreign interference with Australian politics head for the Senate this week.
The original Bill – hand crafted from vague Press Releases late last year was found to be totally unworkable and had to be revised before even presented to the Parliaments Joint Intelligence Committee. The parliamentary website devoted to the Committees work on the Bill is HERE.
After the Joint Committees recommendations ‘final amendments’ were posted on Thursday 14th June – which were to allow public comment on the revised, revised Bill. However, the revised Bill still didn’t actually deal with the most pertinent complaints about the bill which are –
- poor acknowledgement of treaty and trade arrangements and how they bind organizations and the Australian Government
- poor understanding and definition of the terms influence and interference
- continual use of political and bureaucratic run decision making over what is in the ‘public interest’ and what is offensive to the intent of the Bill i.e. not judicial in nature
Now it appears that the Government and the ALP have agreed to a THIRD set of amendments which will appear in the House on Tuesday, and the Senate on Wednesday, to be voted for on the voices as the ALP and Coalition have agreed in a smoke filled room what is Good and Proper.
What is in the THIRD set of amendments is not for the long suffering public to know as yet.
These Bills will criminalize the membership of most medical organizations in Australia ! That is how poorly worded they are.
To explain. the Closer Economic Relations Treaty with New Zealand has made the professional organizations of both countries unified. Most Medical Colleges – which supervise the training and certification of Surgeons, Optometrists, Anesthetists, Gynecologists, Psychiatrists, Dermatologists – each is either called Australasian or the Australian and New Zealand College. BUT any person who wishes to speak to an MP, or make a public comment on policy must register as a foreign agent if they receive anything – including training and information from an organization which is part or whole of another countries system of government. To speak to an MP without registration becomes a criminal offense.
It becomes even more murky when Universities and Civil Society groups (Patient groups like AIDS/HIV, or Environmental groups) have internships and conferences between countries – these will be also subject to registration with the new foreign influence guardians.
Newspaper reporting of items which may embarrass the Government now will be made much more challenging when the Minister gets to decide what is in the Public Interest and what is not. The Guardian has a very good article devoted to that topic.
The Government says it must have these changes in place to keep the 5 By-elections on track. Hence the undue haste in ramming through the final changes. But these changes will be the bed rock on which journalism and political campaigning operate indefinitely. They should not be rushed or anything less than transparency.