Advocacy pays off as exemptions for arts and charity sectors included in the FITS bill.
The bipartisan advisory report released by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security exempts arts organisations, charities and industrial associations from registration requirements for the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS) Bill. The bill forms part of the government’s foreign interference legislation, and was designed to promote transparency in political decision making.
Bethwyn Serow, Executive Director of AMPAG, stated that, ‘This recommendation provides clarity and certainty. We know the government and opposition work hard to retain a bipartisan approach to matters of national security and understand the recommendation will be adopted in the final drafting of the legislation.’
The relevant exemption from the third reading version of the Bill was passed on Thursday evening 28 June. The accompanying Explanatory Memorandum addresses how the arts are exempt in Section 29D–Exemption: artistic purposes from paragraph 523.
AMPAG made two submissions when the original FITS Bill was introduced, in which concerns were raised that arts and cultural institutions may have been inadvertently captured by the legislation. Under the original bill, these institutions would be required to register each time they communicated or lobbied on behalf of, or with the knowledge of a ‘foreign principal.’ They would face high penalties if they failed to do so, even though the activities would not be of a nature to concern government. AMPAG also worked closely with elected members and advisors, bringing to their attention the ways in which the arts and cultural organisations would be captured by the bill, and assisting in finding ways to address the issue.
The advisory report recommended the following exemptions for the arts and cultural activities:
10.126The Committee notes that there is no exemption in the Bill for arts and cultural activities. The Department advised that it does not consider that collaboration between Australian and foreign arts organisations would fall within the definition of undertaking activities on behalf of a foreign principal in section 11 of the Bill.
10.127Nevertheless, the Committee is of the view that there may be some relationships between Australian arts bodies and foreign governments that may be captured under the Scheme. The Committee therefore recommends that the Bill be amended to provide for a limited exemption for arts organisations.
10.132The Committee recommends the Bill be amended to provide exemptions for charities, arts organisations and industrial associations, which would operate to relieve those organisations of an obligation to register when they are making routine representations in accordance with their respective purposes, and where the relationship with the foreign principal is well known or a matter of public record.
The full report can be found [here]