Tuesday, 5 December 2017
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. Following the announcement of the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and Senator Cormann earlier today, can the Attorney provide the Senate with further information regarding the new foreign interference offences being introduced this week?
Yes, I can, Senator Fawcett. Thank you for that very important question. As the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann and I announced a short while ago, the government will introduce historic legislative reforms into the parliament this week that will reshape the ways our national security agencies investigate and disrupt acts of espionage and foreign interference in this country. Australia's espionage, foreign interference and related laws have not kept pace with the nature and the scale—
Senator Cameron, I would have thought, this being a matter of national security, you might take it a little more seriously, rather than making your asinine injections. Australia's espionage, foreign interference and related laws have not kept pace with the nature and scale of the threat from foreign intelligence activity in this country. Australia's existing espionage offences are outdated. There has not been a successful espionage prosecution, in fact, for decades. We do not currently have any offences targeting broader covert foreign interference activities in this country, and our sabotage and treason offences are unworkable and out of date.
The government's proposed reforms will implement a tiered approach to acts of espionage and foreign interference, covering both intentional and reckless conduct and with penalties proportionate to their seriousness. They are designed to capture the full range of conduct undertaken by foreign intelligence services and other malicious actors to compromise our information and prejudice our national security. The penalties for espionage range from life imprisonment for the most serious offences to 15 years for the lesser offences. Penalties for foreign interference offences will range from 10 to 20 years imprisonment.
With these reforms, the Turnbull government is proposing world-leading legislation, developed after consultation with some of our closest intelligence partners, that will empower our agencies to protect Australia and its people from modern threats of state-sponsored interference and covert influence.
Yes, Senator Fawcett, I can. To address the serious gap in our existing legislation, a range of foreign interference offences will be introduced into the Commonwealth Criminal Code. These new offences will make it an offence to engage in conduct on behalf of, or in collaboration with, a foreign principal that is covert, deceptive or involves threats or menaces and is intended to serve the intelligence purposes of a foreign actor or cause harm to Australia's national security or influence a political or governmental process or the exercise of a democratic or political right in Australia. The new offences will also criminalise preparing for a foreign interference offence, which will allow law enforcement to interfere at an earlier stage, before damaging conduct occurs. In addition, there will be specific offences that criminalise supporting or funding a foreign intelligence agency, modelled on existing offences for supporting or funding terrorist organisations.
They are important because foreign intelligence services are engaged in covert influence and interference on an unprecedented scale. Yet, while the Turnbull government is taking serious action against those threats, the opposite is true of the Labor Party. The Labor Party are not denying, nor seeking to offer an explanation for, the serious allegations of foreign influence and interference made in relation to Senator Dastyari. Instead, they have desperately tried to distract from the central issue by questioning where the allegations have come from. In doing so, of course, they have implicitly acknowledged these allegations are true—as Senator Dastyari, given the opportunity by the Senate last Thursday to address the allegations, neither explained nor denied them and must thereby be taken to have admitted them. This is a serious test for the integrity of the Labor Party and Bill Shorten. Not only have they refused to take necessary action against Senator Dastyari; they are covering up for him. (Time expired)