National Security, Foreign Donations, Workplace Relations Take Note of Answers

I thought the questions were about foreign donations and counterespionage but the outrage, or the feigned outrage, we have just seen from Senator Carr points to the fact that in actual fact their leader is the person who is under significant pressure at the moment for the simple reason that the contention put forward by Senator Carr fails the pub test. For the average person in the street who looks at the conduct of people in this house—whether they be crossbench, government or indeed opposition members who have been held to account by the Labor Party over section 44, where there has been no ill will and no suggestion of conduct that is not loyal to Australia—there has been all kinds of outrage from those opposite. Yet, if we go to the wording of section 44 of the Constitution, it says that disqualification applies to any person who:

… is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power.

We have seen Mr Shorten protect and not admonish or hold to account, in a similar standard, somebody who has clearly conducted himself in a manner that members here—even members opposite—have recognised is not appropriate. But the outrage that is thrown at people who failed section 44 under citizenship is not thrown at those who the pub test would say have actually breached that in terms of ‘obedience’ or ‘allegiance’ to a foreign power. Because it’s not about donations to a political party; the issue here was personal donations and conduct directly related to things that breached the Labor Party’s own policy. That is the issue at hand here. The policy area that Senator Carr referred to and the questions that were asked went to the proposed legislation around political donations, tackling foreign interference and espionage. They are the serious issues of government that the Turnbull government is getting on with in the national interest.

The government has put forward legislation to address the issue of foreign donations that will actually ban foreign donations, unlike the proposal that was introduced by Mr Shorten in February of this year which purports to ban foreign donations but actually has significant loopholes. The definitions of foreign property don’t take into account the actual owner of the asset, just where the asset is held. So the effect of that is that there are many ways that legislation, or that ban, could be circumvented by using money that is already in an Australian bank account. So it goes to the heart of the fact that this is a government that actually sees a problem and provides a considered solution that will have not just the headline of a fix but also a policy that will have the effect of banning foreign donations and that influence.

More broadly, the government is concerned, as are the Australian people, about foreign interference and espionage. It’s not just occurring here in Australia. On a recent delegation to the European Union, I heard firsthand evidence from countries who are concerned about a range of foreign interference in their news cycles and their political systems right through to what we hear in America about the use of Facebook ads to push false news and create dissent and division in communities. In Australia we have concerns about pressure on people, who are of a different ethnic origin living in Australia, to support the views of a foreign government. We see universities under pressure about what they will or won’t teach. We see actions taken at conferences and symposiums in Australia where, essentially, speakers are shut down by the actions of foreign delegates.

There are a range of ways that we see foreign interference. These reforms will mean that we are going to address the threat of political interference by foreign intelligence services or, indeed, by other governments and their representatives, whether they be formal or through business or expatriate links. It is in the national interest that the government is doing this, and it is a shame that, on such an important topic, those taking note from the other side should resort to attacking the person and the character, in this case, of the Attorney-General and of the Prime Minister, as opposed to dealing with the substantive issue, which is an issue that goes directly to our national interest.