Alexander downer’s foreign agent paperwork not up to scratch

Senator Rex Patrick

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today called on the Federal Attorney-General’s Department to investigate former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer’s compliance with the registration and reporting requirements of Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

“Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer should be fully compliant with his obligations under the Foreign Influence Transparency Act 2018”, Senator Patrick said. “This is an important national security measure and former Cabinet Ministers should set a compliance example in accordance with their lifelong obligations.”

“Two months ago, on 17 February, British Home Secretary Priti Patel appointed Mr Downer to undertake a review of UK their Border Force operations, especially efforts to prevent the arrival of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.”

On 14 April British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK had signed a deal with Rwanda that will see thousands of unauthorised migrants attempting to cross the British Channel, flown nearly 6,600 kilometres to Kigali for detention while their migration status is determined.”

“This off-shore processing scheme is explicitly modelled on that implemented by Australian Prime Minister John Howard which began sending asylum seekers to the Pacific island of Nauru.”

“Border control agencies are well known for their requirements that all visitors and migrants complete all necessary paperwork; however the status of Mr Downer’s own paperwork appears uncertain as his new contract with the British Government is not recorded on Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Register, administered by the Attorney-General’s Department.

“Mr Downer has been quick to get on British television overnight to defend the British Government’s new offshore processing scheme, but he really ought to get on the phone to the Attorney-General’s Department here to ensure that he is in full compliance with his legal obligations.”

“Section 29(4) of the Foreign Influence Transparency Act 2018 provides that a former Cabinet Minister has a lifelong obligation to register any activity they undertake on behalf of any foreign government. The UK is a close ally of Australia, but the reporting requirement for former Cabinet Ministers applies to all work for any and all foreign principals.”

“At present the only foreign influence activity registered by Mr Downer is lobbying work on behalf of the Government of Gibraltar in trade agreement negotiations with Australia.”

“Mr Downer’s work for Gibraltar has been problematic. It’s not a good look for a former Foreign Minister to help a foreign tax haven negotiate a favourable financial and taxation deal against Australia. That doesn’t support Australia’s national interests.”

“However at least that activity has been registered. There is no mention on the Foreign Influence Transparency Register of Mr Downer’s work for the British Government; and it’s not known whether he has undertaken any other consulting work for foreign principals.”

“Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme has significant faults, including weak and erratic efforts by the Attorney-General’s Department to enforce compliance.”

“It’s curious to say the least, that the Department has been aggressively proactive in seeking clarification of the international activities of former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd while it appears much less interested in the work of of other people including former Liberal Foreign Minister Downer.”

“To avoid any appearance of partisan bias or simply erratic enforcement of an important national security transparency measure, the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, Ms Katherine Jones, should act without hesitation to clarify Mr Downer’s compliance with the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, and ensure that all work he has done for any foreign principal is fully disclosed.”

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