Contesting Accusations of ‘Foreign Interference’: New Agendas for Australian Civil Society


In 2017 the Australian Government announced a raft of measures designed to combat ‘foreign interference’ in the Australian political system. The measures propose new constraints on civil society advocacy and threaten to seriously curtail democratic rights. They form part of global trend towards the increased regulation of International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs), driven by fears of ‘foreign’ political influence. In response to the shrinking ‘civic space’, NGOs are defining new agendas. Recently in Australia and elsewhere NGO advocates have gained some traction in extending the legitimacy and scope for political advocacy. The new rhetoric of countering ‘foreign interference’ threatens NGO advocacy, but also creates new political possibilities. This article surveys the international trends and Australian contexts; it analyses recent legislative proposals in Australia to combat ‘foreign interference’, and outlines the public debate. The double standard for INGOs and multinational corporations is highlighted as a key theme, and the article ends with a concluding discussion about emerging possibilities for new political obligations for corporations in Australia

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