Australia bans foreign donations to political parties after China controversy

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May meets market traders with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a visit to Borough Market London Britain

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In telegraphing the imminent introduction of new legislation, the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said on Tuesday the reforms were not directed at any one country, noting foreign interference was a global issue.

Australia will ban foreign interference in its politics - either through espionage or financial donations - in a move motivated largely by Russia's alleged involvement in last year's US election and China's growing influence on the global political landscape.

The announcement came as concern grows that Beijing might be extending its influence and as relationships between Australian politicians and Chinese government interests have become increasingly contentious.

The changes will also require anyone who engages with Aussie politics on behalf of a foreign state to register their ties.

The foreign influence and interference package will be complemented by another bill on electoral reform that will ban foreign political donations, Turnbull said.

"Now, to ensure that there is no inappropriate foreign interference in our democratic system, we are banning all foreign donations, as I've said".

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Leading opposition Senator Sam Dastyari quit some senior Labor Party positions last week after a tape surfaced of him appearing to endorse China's contentious expansion in disputed areas of the South China Sea, against his party's platform.

The Attorney General George Brandis, speaking at the press conference, said the new legislation also "contemporizes" and expands the definitions of "treason" and "espionage" - the latter will now be defined as possessing or receiving information considered sensitive to national security, rather than simply transmitting it.

There will also be a new offence that will criminalize soliciting or procuring a person to engage in espionage, and a new "preparation and planning" offence.

Espionage will carry a penalty of up to life in jail. "They need to concentrate on matters truly in the national interest", he said.

Unlike the US and many other countries that ban foreign donations, Australian law has never distinguished between donors from Australia and overseas. Given that foreign donations will be used for activities that do not involve politics, charities will be exempt from receiving and using foreign donations, as confirmed by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, flanked by the Attorney General and Leader of the ruling Liberal Party in the Senate, announced December 5 a raft of new measures to ban political funding from overseas, as well as the introduction of new criminal offenses related to working with 'foreign entities'.

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