Australia’s Supreme Court rejects challenge to foreign interference law in case involving US Conservative political organization and arguments on freedom of speech
CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the law on foreign interference in a case involving a US conservative political organization and arguments about freedom of speech.
China has condemned laws introduced in 2018 that are widely seen as a means of preventing secret Chinese interference Australian politics, universities and other institutions.
People working on behalf of foreign powers must be publicly reported to the Attorney General’s Office in the interest of transparency.
But LibertyWorks Inc., an Australian libertarian think tank, opposed registration while working on communications for the American Conservative Union ahead of conferences held in Australia. LibertyWorks promotes the annual political conferences of the American group.
LibertyWorks argued that the so-called Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act was invalid because it burdened the implied right to freedom of speech in Australia.
LibertyWorks said the registration process was “difficult” and that it therefore deterred political communication.
But six of the seven judges of the High Court found that the law was valid and any burden justified.
“Even when the purpose of foreign interference is not to damage or destabilize Australia, if it does not go undetected, it can hamper the ability of decision-makers in Australia,” wrote Judges Susan Kiefel, Patrick Keane and Jacqueline Gleeson.
Attorney General Michaelia Cash welcomed the verdict.
“Foreign influence activities, when conducted in an open and transparent manner, can positively contribute to public debate and are welcome in Australia,” her office said in a statement.
“There is no scheme to prohibit people or entities from undertaking these activities. Instead, he acknowledges that it is in the public interest for these arrangements to be transparent, ”the statement added.
LibertyWorks President Andrew Cooper could not be contacted immediately for comment.
The case was the first challenge to the Australian External Influence Transparency Scheme.
John Shi Sheng Zhang, a political adviser, a member of the state government, born in China, lost his challenge to the High Court last month over allegations under foreign interference laws. He is still under police investigation.
The leader of the Chinese community organization in November became the first person to be charged under Australian foreign interference laws.
Di Sanh Duong, 65, who lives in the Australian city of Melbourne, is in contact with a foreign intelligence agency, police said.