Turnbull declared the threat of foreign interference in Australia's political system "real" and he said the legislation the government proposed, which also bans foreign donations to political parties and activist groups, would "reinforce the strengths of our open democratic system while shoring up vulnerabilities".
The move - long overdue in the eye of most political scientists - is a direct response to revelations that a senior Labor senator has had untoward dealings with a Chinese businessman who has donated to Australian political parties.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made the announcement on Tuesday in what he labelled the most significant reforms to foreign interference laws in decades.
'Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and overseas, ' Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday. Attorney-General George Brandis clarified the terms, saying anyone who acts covertly on behalf of a foreign actor in a manner that harms Australia's national security or to influence a government decision or a political process will be criminalised, SBS reports.
"Foreign interference is a global issue. for example, we're all familiar with very credible reports that Russian Federation sought to actively undermine the United States' election. the threat is real", Turnbull said.
A new offence of intentional foreign interference will make it a crime for a person to engage in conduct on behalf of a foreign principal that will influence a political or governmental process (including opposition party policy) and is either covert or involves deception.
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Labor asked the question during Parliamentary Question Time on Tuesday, and the Prime Minister's answers quickly turned to the untoward actions of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari.
Why didn't the Australian government support legislation the opposition Labor Party put forward a year ago to curb foreign donations?
Dastyari was revealed previous year to have accepted money from a Chinese businessman.
"At the same time, we want to again urge Australia to remove their biases and take an objective and positive attitude to assess China and its relations with Australia", he added.
The issue of alleged Chinese interference in Australia's domestic politics has persisted for several years - the government has intervened on several occasions to prevent the sale of Northern Territory's Darwin Port as well as cattle-grazing land and parts of the country's power grid to Chinese companies.
The optics are bad for the Labor Party, and Dastyari has been demoted again. His comments were based on assumption, nothing more. He was also revealed to have advised a Chinese businessman with alleged government connections he may have been surveilled by Australian intelligence services. China's rising soft-power influence and militarization of the South China Sea have become an increasing concern in the Asia-Pacific region. However, the new laws "are not about any one country", he said.