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“Our work could be jeopardised by this bill” – Oxfam concerned over espionage bill

The federal government insists there will be no stigma attached to the foreign espionage bill but charities are still concerned

The federal government’s foreign espionage bill is expected to pass next week despite ongoing calls from charities whose work will be compromised.

Oxfam Australia has raised serious concerns about the proposed register for people acting on behalf of foreign powers. This comes after organisations such as Amnesty International and GetUp! expressed concerns over potential prosecution charges.

Oxfam Australia public policy manager, Rachel Bell, said the foundation would be at risk of the new legislation as they are partnered with overseas governments, departments and public authorities on work aimed at advancing human rights.

“We work with them, not for them,” Bell said. “It’s inappropriate for this sort of work to be caught by a complex, expensive and burdensome regulatory regime that’s intended to ensure the transparency of foreign agents.”

Amnesty International had “grave concerns” for the possible criminal charges, with Australian Director, Claire O’Rourke, adding: “Under this bill, charities, including Amnesty, who hold the Australian government to account on its human rights record, could face criminal charges. That is not only outrageous, it’s downright terrifying.”

Bell added that the organisation’s advocating work is an important part of the foundation and without significant amendments, “we remain deeply concerned that this work could be jeopardised by this bill”.

“Oxfam draws on international partnerships when talking about global issues like poverty alleviation and climate change, and this advocacy advances the debate and policy discussions in Australia,” Bell said.

“Any legislation that limits this would be to the detriment of debate in Australia.”

The Law Council of Australia and Pew Charitable Trusts have also warned the register could have far-reaching unintended consequences for not-for-profits.

Attorney-General, Christian Porter, insists that there will be no stigma attached to the register, given lobbying on behalf of foreign governments happens all the time.

“It’s just that we want to know what those relationships are that sit behind the lobbying or the attempts to influence a government outcome or process,” Porter said.

He expects the intelligence and security committee to consider proposed government amendments to the register and propose some changes of its own in a final report.

“We’d be waiting for that report on the influence and transparency register to come out very shortly so we could deal with both bills,” Porter said. “They are meant to be bills dealt with in tandem. They don’t work one without the other.”

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