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General Issue

Foreign Agent Registration Schemes in Australia and the United States: The Scope, Risk and Limitations of Transparency

Author

Chris Draffen and Yee-Fui Ng

Regulators and governments around the world have been active of late in considering the best method by which to hold accountable foreign influence on political processes. Australia’s response to this issue was to pass a package of laws, including the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act (‘FITSA’), which creates a new public register for those acting on behalf of a foreign principal. This article compares FITSA against the US Act on which it is based: the Foreign Agents Registration Act (‘FARA’). It shows that, largely, FITSA is better targeted than FARA towards ensuring that actors that merit registration are caught by its provisions. However, FITSA does not entirely address the potential risks inherent in this style of law. The authors argue that despite the objective of transparency inherent in such schemes, they may ultimately have a disproportionate effect on actors with access to fewer resources. Accordingly, the article proposes high-level principles to rethink this form of regulation based on refocusing foreign agent schemes to their underlying justification, recasting the regulatory net, and recalibrating discussions about ‘foreigners’.

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