Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 - Supplementary Submission

CCA generally welcomes the intention of the amendments proposed by Attorney General, Christian Porter – but calls for areas of uncertainty to be resolved –  and remains confused as to why charities pursuing their charitable purpose are not excluded when business groups, non-charitable peak bodies and others are exempt.

There is no doubt that most charities will no longer face the risk of having to register as foreign agents, and many of the anomalies created by poor drafting and broad terminology have been addressed.  CCA appreciates that the government and all involved have listened and been prepared to amend the proposed Bill to address many of the concerns of the charitable sector.

CCA also notes that the exclusions given to peak industry bodies and businesses have not been provided to peak charity bodies and charities.  Charities face real and enforceable restrictions on their capacity to participate in political activities, restrictions that business and industry peak bodies do not have to comply with.  CCA does not believe charities pose such a risk to national security that they should be identified as a higher risk than businesses or industry peak bodies.

CCA has no issue with any charity that is being controlled and directed by a foreign government having to be transparent about their funding and their activities, including having to be on a register.  CCA believes it is important to narrow down the terminology in the Bill and the associated explanatory memorandum to ensure it is only charities acting directly on behalf of a foreign government outside of their normal activities and seeking to exert direct influence on government policy that are captured by the Bill.

There remain areas of uncertainty around the definitions of terms like: foreign principal – is the World Health Organisation which is largely funded by the US government a foreign principal; political influence – is giving a public talk calling for more government spending in a particular area defined as exerting political influence; on behalf of – is a charity that receives funding from the United Nations to pursue its charitable purpose acting as a foreign agent.

It is very important that the uncertainty is resolved.  Most charities will do anything to avoid having to declare themselves as foreign agents, including not engaging internationally and not advocating for their charitable purpose.  The cost to Australia of reducing international collaboration by charities and their engagement in the public policy process would be extremely high.  Ideally the Bill will exclude Australian registered charities engaged in their normal activities and pursuing their legitimate charitable purpose, even if they have engaged in international collaboration.

Read CCA’s supplementary submission here.  CCA’s previous submission is available here.

CCA, Oxfam and Pew Charitable Trusts speak to their concerns after giving evidence to PJCIS on 18 June: Video

See also:

The Guardian, Charities warn foreign influence register could harm development work, 22 June

The Saturday Paper, Foreign influence bill pushed ahead, 23 June

Sydney Morning Herald, Opinion piece by CCA CEO David Crosbie, Badly drafted foreign agent laws will snare charities, 25 June

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Report, 25 June:  Good news!  Bi-partisan support for an amendment to provide an exemption for charities is included in the PJCIS Report tabled in Parliament:

Recommendation 25: The Committee recommends the Bill be amended to provide exemptions for charities, arts organisations and industrial associations, which would operate to relieve those organisations of an obligation to register when they are making routine representations in accordance with their respective purposes, and where the relationship with the foreign principal is well known or a matter of public record.

See more here…