This week the Australian Government’s new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS) took effect. The bill, which passed through the federal parliament with bipartisan support, is designed to ensure transparency with regard to advocacy activities involving foreign governments.

Any government relations professional undertaking ‘registrable activities’ on behalf of a foreign government or related entities will need to ensure they are registered and meet new reporting obligations. This is intended to minimise undue influence in the Australian parliament and political process.

In announcing the enactment of the legislation, Federal Attorney General Christian Porter said:

“Covert foreign influence can have serious implications for political sovereignty and national policy. This can result in the interests of foreign principals being placed over Australian national interests without appropriate transparency. These new national security Acts were requested by our national security agencies and reflect the fact that…we live in a time of unprecedented foreign intelligence activity against Australia….”

Who needs to register?

Anyone representing a foreign government needs to register themselves. This includes foreign government bodies, industry groups with ties to government, or any ‘entity’ that is officially connected to a foreign principal.

It’s important to note that this does not apply to advocates simply working on behalf of foreign-owned companies. However, many foreign companies do have official ties to or part ownership by a foreign government. For example, many internationally recognised Korean companies are obliged to report directly to the Korean Government.

As the responsibility for registering falls to the advocates undertaking an activity, it’s important to investigate whether your organisation needs to register. There are a number of exemptions which may be relevant to your advocacy work.

What’s a reportable activity?

Registrable activities include:

- parliamentary lobbying;

- general political lobbying (including lobbying political parties);

- communications activity (encompassing PR activities including on social media); and

- disbursement activity (making donations on behalf of a foreign government or related entity)

The Attorney General has produced very helpful fact sheets laying out the ins and outs of the new regulations which can be found here:

https://www.ag.gov.au/Integrity/foreign-influence-transparency-scheme/Pages/Resources.aspx