The Federal Government’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme commenced on 10 December 2018. This is a new scheme that requires the registration of individuals or entities who conduct activities on behalf of a ‘foreign principal’ (a foreign government or political organisation), for the purpose of influencing Australian political or governmental processes. The scheme does not prohibit foreign influence, but aims to increase transparency regarding the nature, level and extent of foreign influence within the Australian political process.
Registration obligations depend on the nature of the foreign principal, the circumstance of the individual or entity and the nature and purpose of the activities undertaken. Registrable activities include federal parliamentary lobbying, general political lobbying, communications activity and disbursement activities. There is, however, an extensive list of circumstances providing for exemption from registration. Examples of exemptions include but are not limited to registered charities, organisations providing humanitarian aid or assistance, and those providing legal advice or representation. For a list of all exemptions, see here.
A person or entity acting on behalf of a foreign principal, involved in registrable activities, for the purpose of political influence, who is not exempt, must register for the scheme within 14 days of entering into a relationship or undertaking a registrable activity. Though there is a three-month grace period for arrangements in place prior to 10 December 2018, this will cease on 10 March 2019. The Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department can also issue a Transparency Notice to an individual or entity, declaring it is a foreign principal and requiring its registration if someone is undertaking registrable activities on their behalf.
Once registered, the scheme requires disclosure of information about the nature of the relationship between the foreign principal and the activities undertaken pursuant to that relationship. It places further requirements on registrants during election and other voting periods. It also provides for certain information to be publicly available and establishes penalties for non-compliance, with undertaking a registerable activity while not registered incurring a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment.
What does this mean for SCoA’s members?
The exemption of registered charities from the scheme means that SCoA and many of its members are not required to register for the scheme. Furthermore, many of our members do not have relationships with foreign governments or political parties, nor undertake activities for that aim to influence Australian political or governmental processes. However, it is recommended you check the status of your organisation and whether it is obliged to register or not. More information can be found here and useful resources here.
If you are not required to register, no action needs to be taken. If you believe you could be required to register, a pre-registration questionnaire is available here, which also links to the registration process.