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Australia defends 'foreign agents' law despite few declarations

AFP  |  Sydney 

Australia's Monday defended a register meant to track the role of foreign agents in local politics, saying it was already changing behaviour despite only a handful of declarations.

Growing fears of political influence from foreign states, particularly China, saw pass a raft of new laws last year to curb potential meddling.

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme register was operational from December, with a grace period ending Sunday. But only nine institutions or individuals have so far declared their foreign links.

They include lobbyists such as former declaring his "foreign principal" as French Thales, and a 9/11 conspiracy theorist declaring interests for a US group.

So far only one individual -- Warwick King, of Australian coal seam gas APLNG which is one-quarter owned by China's -- has declared his "foreign principal country" as

said there were around 18 more lodgements not yet processed or made public and he expected the list to lengthen as national elections, due by mid-May, draw closer.

Failure to register could result in penalties of up to five years' jail.

said a recent flurry of departures of former Australian politicians from roles at Chinese-owned or linked organisations was proof the register was already having an impact.

"So it's likely that the register is also changing behaviour and contractual arrangements between individuals in the Australian political system," he told national broadcaster

The departures include former senior politicians departing roles with China's and Chinese

told AFP that as a private firm, it did not need to register with the scheme.

Former also recently stepped down as of the Australia-Relations Institute, which was founded by controversial Chinese billionaire

Huang was a prominent donor to Australia's two major parties before he was blocked from re-entering the country last month -- with his permanent residency visa revoked and a citizenship bid rejected.

Huang himself has not signed up to the register.

Also missing from the public list is Chinese-Australian billionaire Wing, who has denied links to China's and last month successfully won a defamation suit against a newspaper that alleged he was a co-conspirator in a UN bribery plot.

security expert said the laws were designed to have a deterrent effect.

"An ideal outcome, which is what we're probably heading for, is if we as a country can normalise transparency about this issue."

"Then I think we're well on the way to raising public awareness and well on the way to raising a public willingness for covert influence to be penalised," he told AFP.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, March 11 2019. 07:55 IST