Foreign Influence Registration Scheme

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme commenced on 10 December 2018 with the enactment of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018 (Cth).

As stated in its name, the aim of the Scheme is transparency – providing the public and government decision makers with transparency around who and which foreign entities may be seeking to influence government and political processes here in Australia.

The Scheme requires persons or entities that undertake certain activities on behalf of, or have arrangements with, foreign principals to register through the Attorney-General’s Department. Those currently registered under the Scheme can be viewed here.

Registration is based on self-assessment of the relevant criteria, however, a failure to register when required can attract significant penalties – including up to 5 years imprisonment and fines of up to 60 penalty units.

In April this year, a number of amendments were made to the Act predominantly for the purpose of clarifying the operation of a difficult piece of legislation. However, a new requirement was also added which requires all persons that undertake “communications activity” to include appropriate disclosures in those materials, regardless of whether they are already registered under the Scheme.

Do you need to be registered?

  1. A person/entity who, on behalf of a foreign principal, undertakes a registerable activity, for the purpose of political or government influence is required to register. There are some exemptions, which are set out below.
  2. Types of “registerable activities” include the following:

Additionally there are registration requirements for former Ministers and designated position holders for a period of 15 years after their role. 

Key definitions

Person is widely defined to capture an individual, corporation, and all registered or unregistered bodies and organisations, whether residing or incorporated in Australia or otherwise.

Foreign Principals are limited to:

Sole or primary purpose of political or governmental influence means an activity to influence, or influence the public in relation to, one or more of the following processes or proceedings:

Exemptions

The following exemptions exist under the Scheme:

 

There is no doubt that the new legislation is complex and if you work with foreign bodies some thought should go into an assessment as to whether or not you or your organisation are required to register under the Scheme. If you are required to be registered, you also have an obligation to keep certain records. Whether or not you have an obligations to register, there are certain obligations and timeframes in which you must report registerable activities and reportable expenditure during an election campaign. Please contact us if you require any assistance in relation to the Scheme.

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