POLITICAL TRANSPARENCY
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Sino-Australian ties

Australia considers ban on foreign political donations in response to deepening concerns about Chinese influence

Prime Minister Turnbull advocates more transparency in Australian politics, pointing to multiple allegations of Russian interference in US President Trump’s election

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 3:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 10:35pm

With concerns over Chinese political influence in Australia and Russian interference in the US presidential election, an Australian parliamentary committee on Friday recommended a ban on political donations from foreign companies and individuals.

Unlike the US and many other countries that ban foreign donations, Australian law has never distinguished between donors from Australia and overseas.

But the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommended a ban on foreign donations to registered political parties and associated entities.

The Australian people must be confident that our electoral process is free from foreign intervention
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

“It is a matter of national sovereignty that only Australians should have the power to influence Australian politics and elections,” said committee chair Linda Reynolds.

The opposition rejected the committee’s recommendation that the ban should also apply to environmental and activist groups involved in politics.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration last year called for the Australian system to be reformed to remove the influence of Chinese political donations. China is Australia’s most lucrative trading partner and largest source of foreign political funds.

In September, then-ambassador John Berry said the US was surprised by the amount of Chinese money and influence in Australian politics and wanted Australia to resolve the issue.

A week earlier, the opposition Labor Party called for foreign political donations to be banned after Labor Senator Sam Dastyari stepped down from a senior role for asking a Chinese company to pay a A$1,670 (US$1,250) travel bill. While Dastyari broke no law, he acknowledged that having the Sydney-based company Top Education Institute pay a personal bill was wrong.

Lawmakers in the conservative government have also been tainted by Chinese largesse. Three government lawmakers accepted Rolex watches gifted by a Chinese businessman but returned them after discovering the US$28,000 timepieces were not fake.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull advocates more transparency in Australian politics, pointing to multiple allegations of Russian interference in US President Donald Trump’s election in November.

“Overseas events, as well as those here in Australia, have shown us that the Australian people must be confident that our electoral process is free from foreign intervention or interference,” Turnbull said in a speech last month.

Opposition lawmakers said in a report that recent examples of foreign electoral interference in countries including the United States “make action urgent” in reforming the Australian system.

A Labor government introduced a bill to ban foreign donations in 2010, but it never became law.