Letter: Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme

Mr Chris Moraitis
Secretary
Attorney-General’s Department
3-5 National Circuit
Barton ACT 2600

23 December 2020

Dear Mr Moraitis,

Re: Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act

I refer to your letter of 25 November 2020, which expressed the view that I have registration obligations under this scheme’s special imposition on former cabinet ministers, despite the fact that I undertake no activities on behalf of a foreign principal and I am not an agent of foreign influence.

This view comes more than a year after my lawyer first contacted you in September 2019 to clarify my obligations. He did so at my initiative, despite his view that I had nothing to register.

Peculiarly, despite having provided a list of my international roles, you declined my request to say which activities needed to be registered. This puts me in the invidious position of needing to declare every country with which I have contact or risk prosecution.

I reiterate that I am not an agent of foreign influence. I engage internationally as an individual, a scholar, a commentator, a former world leader and in my roles with international non-government institutions – not on behalf of any foreign state, their entities or their representatives.

Your suggestion that public activities, such as live broadcast interviews with the BBC and Radio New Zealand, may be registrable defies the Attorney-General’s statement that officials would interpret this Act with “common sense”. It is ridiculous to imagine that merely being interviewed by the BBC makes one an agent of UK government influence, not least if they use this platform to frankly criticise the UK government, as I often do.

I wholly support this legislation, but your sweeping interpretation of what constitutes an “arrangement” with a foreign principal potentially captures any engagement I have with any foreign government, or those tangentially connected to them. This absurd interpretation will have immediate implications for all former cabinet ministers. Nonetheless, I am complying with this interpretation by disclosing on the public register that, since your letter, I have communicated with entities or individuals that are closely associated with these jurisdictions:

• Barbados

• Brazil

• Canada

• China

• Costa Rica

• Denmark

• Ecuador

• Egypt

• France

• Germany

• Greece

• Hong Kong

• India

• Indonesia

• Israel

• Italy

• Japan

• Jordan

• Kazakhstan

• Republic of Korea

• Mexico

• Oman

• Pakistan

• Peru

• Philippines

• Poland

• Portugal

• Russia

• Saudi Arabia

• Singapore

• Spain

• Sweden

• United Arab Emirates

• United Kingdom

• United States of America

 

I have done so in one or other of the following capacities:

• President, Asia Society Policy Institute, United States

• Incoming President, Asia Society, United States

• Chair, International Peace Institute, United States

• Member, Jesus College, Oxford University, United Kingdom

• Research Student, Oxford University, United States

• Visiting Fellow, University of Toronto, Canada

• Visiting Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School, United States

• Senior Fellow, Paulson Institute, United States

• Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Strategic & International Studies, United States

• Senior Fellow and International Advisory Panel Member, Chatham House, United Kingdom

• Member, External Advisory Group to the International Monetary Fund Managing Director

• Member, Bloomberg New Economy Forum Advisory Board, United States

• Global Chair, Water and Sanitation For All

• Member, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Organisation Global Eminent Persons Group

• Co-Chair, Chicago Council of Foreign Relations Task Force on Preventing Nuclear Proliferation, United States

• Member, Stephen A. Schwartzman Education Foundation, United States, which provides scholarships for students to attend China’s Tsinghua University

• Member, Morgan Stanley Sustainability Advisory Board, United States

• Board Member, Center for International Governance Innovation, Canada

• Board Member, Sir Bani Yas Forum, United Arab Emirates

• Chairman, Global Alliance of Sharing Economy (North America)

• Principal, Kevin Rudd & Associates, Australia

• Former Prime Minister of Australia

• Private resident of New York City, United States

I will update this list, and the list of countries with which I have contact, as best I am aware. It is entirely possible, given the international nature of my work and the sheer number of foreigners whom I meet, that I will have contact with individuals who have connections of which I would be unaware.

I expect that, having taken such an expansive, unrealistic interpretation in my case, you will require the same of all former cabinet ministers who engage with foreigners including Mr Abbott and Mr Howard.

Further, this expansive interpretation has given me pause to consider how the legislation might affect others in our society, including the media, given the arrangements that sometimes exist between the Australian media outlets and foreign governments, officials and entities. For instance, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is well known for cultivating partnerships with governments, foreign and domestic, where both sides understand that favourable coverage is being exchanged for political and commercial favours.

To this end, I have sought advice from Bret Walker SC about how this legislation might affect news outlets in Australia. Mr Walker’s advice, which I have attached, indicates that such outlets may be required to disclose confidential arrangements to disseminate information in Australia on behalf of a foreign principal. Mr Walker highlights the case of News Corporation’s Sharri Markson and her exclusive report on May 2, 2020, of a ‘dossier’ that was said to be produced by ‘Western governments’. One may suspect, as I do, that this news story was placed in the Australian media by the Trump Administration so that it could influence Australian public opinion. If so, Ms Markson and News Corporation would apparently be obliged to register as potential agents of foreign influence in Australia (and disclose these sources to the government).

Mr Walker’s advice raises a clear matter of public concern. I therefore raise it as a potential matter for your department and minister to consider in consultation with officials, media organisations and, importantly, the journalists’ union, the MEAA.

Given the matters discussed in this letter, including the implications for former cabinet ministers and for media organisations such as News Corporation, it is my intention to place this letter in the public domain. I also intend to publish a summary of these sentiments on the public register.

Yours sincerely,

Hon Kevin Rudd AC

 

Attachment: Advice from Bret Walker SC – Dec 2020

Photo: Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging for Pacific Council