Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has told an inquiry that Chinese influence operations in Australia are “blatant” despite the country’s lack of listings on Australia’s foreign influence transparency register. Turnbull claimed that the security and intelligence services have a very good understanding of what is going on with regard to Chinese influence operations in Australia. Turnbull noted that China and the Communist Party of China are the most active state and political parties attempting to sway Australian public policy, but the transparency register shows no affiliation with the United Front Work Department of the CPC. If this were true, Turnbull continued, there would be terrible repercussions in Beijing for those in charge of the United Front Work Department.
People must register any activities they carry out in Australia on behalf of a foreign principal in order to influence political or governmental affairs, according to the foreign influence transparency scheme, which went into effect in 2018. Turnbull argued that officials should not view the legislation his government introduced as a “robotic box-ticking exercise” and that he was perplexed that it was not more strictly enforced. Former senior politicians are subject to stricter disclosure requirements under the scheme. Turnbull has recently been required to register two speeches, while Kevin Rudd has disclosed dozens of unpaid interviews with state-affiliated media outlets like the BBC.
The committee is reviewing the laws, and the plan imposes stricter disclosure requirements on former senior politicians. Turnbull claimed there was “nothing covert about it” even though both engagements required registration, and he was not complaining about having to do so. Acts of influence may be “flying under the radar,” according to Katherine Mansted, a senior fellow at the Australian National University’s national security college, because of the grey area that nations like China, Russia, and Iran have taken advantage of. She claimed that the laws do not always record the proper information.