Landmark National Security Legislation Becomes Law

This week, after 6 months of careful consideration and by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, the Government's landmark national security legislation passed the House and the Senate to become law. 

The Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme will do two things. First, they will equip our intelligence agencies, law enforcement and prosecutors with the tools they need to safeguard our nation. Second, they empower the Australian people by providing greater clarity about who is attempting to influence Australian politics. 

You can watch and read my speech on the legislation below.



The Prussian scholar/general Carl von Clausewitz has left an indelible mark on Western strategic and military culture. I first became immersed in his famous work On War as a young officer cadet under the late Professor Jeffrey Grey at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy some 15 years ago. This is not a unique experience for young minds schooled in the Western military tradition—his writings have taken a pre-eminent place in the way our political and military leaders think about war and strategy.

His key insight was into the primal nature of war. 'War,' wrote Clausewitz, 'is an extreme trial of strength and stamina. It is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.'

But his most quoted dictum, 'War is the continuation of politics by other means,' has led many in the West to insist on a comfortable separation between peace and war. We see war as a distinct form of statecraft conducted outside the realm of peacetime relations.

George F. Kennan, the American diplomat and historian, wrestled with this problem in 1948, just as the Iron Curtain was descending across Europe. In a US state department memo entitled The inauguration of organised political warfare he wrote:

"We have been handicapped however by a popular attachment to the concept of a basic difference between peace and war, by a tendency to view war as a sort of sporting context outside of all political context, by a national tendency to seek for a political cure-all, and by a reluctance to recognize the realities of international relations —the perpetual rhythm of struggle, in and out of war."

This was a phenomenon unique to Western democracies. Kennan argued that the Soviet Union under Lenin had fused Marxism and Clausewitz, and this allowed them to develop the most refined and effective political warfare in history. The Soviet Union flipped Clausewitz's logic and read his dictum backwards: 'Politics is the continuation of war by other means'.

Political warfare for the Soviets could be both overt and covert. It was part of the rhythm of struggle that Kennan described as an underlying reality of international relations.

Liberal democracies grappled with political warfare during the Cold War and today we face the same problem. 

We know that today Marxist-Leninist authoritarian regimes are conducting espionage and foreign interference against Western liberal democracies, including Australia, on an unprecedented scale. This has been described as a unique form of authoritarian political warfare, known as comprehensive coercion.

I refer to the recent monograph published by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments entitled Countering Comprehensive Coercion: competitive strategies against authoritarian political warfare, which was co-authored by Australian Ross Babbage, along with Thomas Mahnken and Toshi Yoshihara. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is privy to a lot of classified information, and in my considered view this open-source document accords most closely with the threat described by our intelligence agencies.

The problem we all face is simply this: authoritarian states are using political warfare to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies by targeting our media, political processes, financial networks and personal data. These authoritarian states view political warfare as a standard instrument of statecraft rather than a specialised tool. 

Their centralised regimes can leverage all elements of their national power towards their strategic objectives. They can mobilise all elements of society for political warfare—not just government but also nongovernmental organisations, industry, think tanks, civic associations and individuals. They use political warfare to suppress dissent, discourage foreign narratives that are inimical to their interests, generate support for policies they favour, enhance their freedom of action by keeping their rivals distracted, and mitigate pushback against overt acts of revisionism.

What do these political warfare operations look like? Overt and covert operations are conducted to influence, pressure, coerce, bribe, corrupt and exploit Western countries. To advance their national objectives

  • They mobilise elements of their diaspora residing in Western countries. Embassies and consulates play a vital coordination role in recruiting and controlling ethnic diaspora.
  • They task students in foreign countries to suppress views inimical to their interests on Western university campuses.
  • They influence and manipulate foreign language media in diaspora communities to comply with state-approved narratives.
  • They sponsor pro-regime educational  institutions to foster their world views and support their strategic aims.
  • They provide financial support and inducements to individuals and institutions abroad, usually members of the political system, to foster them as agents of influence in the service of their national objectives.
  • They seek to build influence within Western media organisations.
  • They leverage trade and investment dependencies to coerce partners.
  • They mobilise state-owned business enterprises to act in the interest of their strategic goals.
  • They recruit business leaders who have strong economic interests in their country. They penetrate Western research and other institutions to access cutting-edge technology.
  • They conduct sophisticated cyber operations against targeted countries.
  • They conduct espionage operations against Western and partner countries, and they conduct geostrategic manoeuvres to extend their influence over new areas through the acquisition and building of roads, rail, airheads, ports, pipelines, and power and electronic communications infrastructure, to link up their economic aims with their geostrategic ambitions

All of these operations that I have described thematically are reflected in real-time examples. I do not wish to name individual countries except to say this is a real problem for Western democracies.

But I do acknowledge the courage of Australian investigative journalists who have sought to uncover examples of these operations here in Australia. They have done so in the national interest and often with the threat of expensive defamation cases for their efforts. In fact, our defamation laws are at risk of being weaponised in the service of authoritarian states. I think we must consider reform of these laws to prevent our own institutions being used against us by our strategic rivals to suppress free speech.

In the meantime, we need to take legislative action to secure our sovereignty, our political institutions and our economic prosperity. This government has taken action.

On 7 December 2017, the Prime Minister introduced the two bills that are now before us in the House. On 8 December, the Prime Minister asked the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to inquire into and report on both bills. For me as chair of the committee, it has been a privilege to be involved in the process of reviewing these bills on a bipartisan basis and making recommendations to improve them with amendments. It is a task that we as the PJCIS take very seriously, given the unprecedented scale of the threat that we seek to mitigate. We are also deeply conscious of the need for this parliament to balance security with personal liberty.

Two weeks ago the committee reported on the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill, and yesterday we tabled our report on the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill. Importantly, both bills have received bipartisan support from the committee, and they need to be passed for the sake of our national interest. I've already covered in previous speeches the key elements of each bill and our committee recommendations for improvement. I won't traverse the same ground here, but it is worth reminding ourselves why we are passing this legislation.

Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies and prosecutors do not presently have the tools to counter the threat that we are facing. This bill equips them for the task of protecting our security and sovereignty. The espionage and foreign interference bill replaces and broadens existing espionage and sabotage offences. It introduces new categories of offences, including foreign interference and theft of trade secrets. It revises other offences against the state, including treason and treachery. It creates a new aggravated offence of giving false or misleading information in connection with a security clearance.

Significantly, this bill, under the foreign interference offences, makes it criminal to influence state or federal elections on behalf of a foreign power. We've seen authoritarian powers interfere in Brexit and the French and US presidential elections. We cannot afford the same risk in Australia. That is why we are taking action to secure the integrity of our electoral system. When the espionage and foreign interference bill becomes law, those charged with shielding our democracy will be equipped for the incredibly complex task before them.

Complementing the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill is the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill. The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill seeks to bring into the light covert or obscured foreign influence in our political institutions. It will empower the Australian people with more information about who is shaping our political decision-makers. We cannot have foreign states exercising covert influence over our political landscape.

Of course, we welcome overt foreign influence as a necessary part of our democratic processes. We have many foreign partners who engage in regular dialogue with Australian government and civil society through lawful, legitimate and transparent channels. We welcome this. It strengthens us as a country. But it must be declared, and this is what this scheme seeks to do.

The scheme will involve a public register. That register is intended to provide visibility of the level and extent of covert or obscured foreign influence in the course of political and governmental decision-making in this country. Under the bill, a person will be liable to register if they undertake certain activities that seek to influence Australian political or government decisions on behalf of individuals and entities that are closely linked to a foreign government.

As I've said, this transparency will empower the Australian people to better understand the foreign influences at work in our political processes. This is a very good thing, because an informed citizenry means a healthy democracy.

I want to say a bit about those who've done a lot of work towards getting these bills to where they are now. They have not occurred in a vacuum, nor can any one individual be credited with their passing. We are here today because a network of committed individuals across government, the media and civil society have worked in the national interest to make the private and public case for these laws. The Australian public can be confident that bipartisanship is still alive and that the network broadly reflects the political colours of blue and red.

The Attorney-General has been outstanding in his principled, rigorous and realistic approach to securing bipartisan support for this legislation, and I thank him on behalf of the intelligence and security committee. Justin Bassi, Daniel Ward, Tim Wellington and Parker Reeve have been instrumental in the passage of these laws. You have done great work in the service of Australia. I think of the deputy chair of the PJCIS, the member for Holt, and our Labor colleagues on the committee, and I also think of the Labor backbenchers who have shown their support for this suite of legislation during this committee process with a quiet word or note. I think of unlikely allies like Clive Hamilton who have shown courage where others have taken counsel of their fears.

Many contributors have no political affiliation and are members of the media, government and civil society. Their defining characteristics are analytical courage, clarity and integrity. They have made clear what is at stake for Australia if we fail to act to protect our institutions. I shall not name them, but I will make special note of John Garnaut, who has spoken truth to power and may yet pay for it. Finally, I thank the secretariat of the intelligence and security committee. Your diligence, perseverance and flexibility have enabled us to get to this point.

I think I speak for all involved when I commend this historic and landmark national security legislation to the House.