Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

New ‘foreign interference’ laws: Fear tactics to expand government powers

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The government is introducing a range of new ‘foreign interference’ laws to Parliament. They are based on concerns held by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) over Chinese government interference in Australian politics. However, these laws will do nothing to address the real issue of big business ‘interference’ in politics, and will give the government more power to censor whistle-blowers and place restrictions on political opponents.

The Liberal Party is proposing a ban on political donations from foreign sources, a requirement for any political group acting on behalf of a foreign interest to register themselves with the government, and expanded espionage laws.

The changes to espionage laws will allow the government to criminalise journalists and whistle-blowers who come across ‘sensitive’ information. They may only need to receive it to be liable for criminal charges. These new laws could be used, for example, against a reporter who helps a whistle-blower at a refugee detention centre to evade the government’s gag order on detention workers.

The ban on foreign political donations will apply not only to political parties, but to activist groups as well. Socialists should oppose this ban. International solidarity is one of the most important strategies of the labour movement. These new changes may restrict ordinary people overseas from raising money in solidarity with Australian workers, for example in the event of future civil rights or union movement fundraising.

The ban feeds into the scapegoating of foreigners by reviving old-fashioned ‘red scare’ rhetoric. The Liberals have been using this to try and score political points over Labor. In the last year, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari was disgraced after accepting large amounts of money from Huang Xiangmo.

Huang is a wealthy Chinese businessman, involved in the ‘Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China’, a front for the interests of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and after taking his money Dastyari went against Labor policy to support the CCP’s position on the South China Sea.

Attorney-General George Brandis has said that the new laws are aimed at cases like Dastyari. But Huang Xiangmo has donated to both major parties. And the ban on foreign political donations will not stop overseas billionaires from finding ways to donate.

In November the ABC reported that the company Australian Energy Windfarm (AEW) donated $40,000 to the Queensland Liberal National Party (LNP), and within days of the donation one of its chairmen was having dinner with Malcolm Turnbull at an LNP event. AEW is wholly owned by the Chinese company Heilongjiang Ainaji Dianli Co Ltd, but is registered as an Australian business. This shows how little a barrier the ban would be for the rich.

For working people, it is not ‘foreign interference’ that threatens jobs, lowers wages and cuts essential services, but big business interference. This interference reaches into every aspect of our lives, and is supported by every politician in parliament.

In 2010, the mining industry’s lobbying efforts led to the replacement of a sitting prime minister, Kevin Rudd, over his relatively modest call for a tax on mining profits. Both Labor and the Liberal Party take donations from big business. These measures will not curtail that behaviour. The government’s goal is not to stop money from influencing politics, but to appear ‘tougher’ on national security than the Labor opposition.

That is not to say that there isn’t real concern among the ruling class about Chinese government influence. There is a growing rivalry between China and the US. This rivalry is a problem for big business, as while China is their biggest trading partner, the US is their main military ally. There is a divide in Australia’s ruling class over which way to lean, and both US and Chinese governments are exerting pressure.

At the same time, the Chinese government is trying to keep tabs on possible dissidents overseas, including putting pressure on Chinese students in Australia. Along with our sister organisation and publication, we have reported before on the extension of CCP repression outside China’s borders. This is a real problem.

However, while the CCP wants influence, it is big business that already controls the Australian government. No side of the US/China conflict – whether it manifests through ASIO, Malcolm Turnbull or Sam Dastyari – is in our interests. These new laws will only enhance the power of the state to silence dissent.

We must oppose attempts to demonise Chinese immigrants and students, who are victims of CCP repression, with a new ‘red scare’. We must instead build solidarity in opposition to both the Chinese dictatorship and the Australian ruling class. Political corruption on both sides of parliament is part-and-parcel of the capitalist system.

Working people must rely on their own organisation, their own fundraising, their own solidarity and their own leadership in putting up a socialist alternative to the big business agenda of both the major capitalist parties.

By David Elliott

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