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Connecting the dots – Should declared interests be registered under the Commonwealth’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme?

With the commencement of another Planning Development and Review cycle supervisors may receive declarations by staff of conflicts of interest, or become aware of someone seeking to exert undue influence over staff members’ activities.

If not acknowledged and properly managed, conflicts of interest or undue influence can significantly detract from staff performance and undermine the University’s objectives and autonomy.

Staff are required under the Conflict of Interest Procedure to immediately disclose any actual or perceived conflicts of interest – or incidents of undue influence which conflict with their employment obligations. The Planning, Development and Review process provides a regular opportunity for open conversations between staff and supervisors about how to manage significant relationships or external engagement activity so that any potential conflicts can be identified and addressed.

Foreign influence – new disclosure laws to ensure transparency and protect national interests

The Commonwealth Government now requires Australian citizens and permanent residents to declare activities on behalf of foreign nationals intended to influence political or government processes on their behalf.

If you are a supervisor receiving a disclosure which involves an engagement activity with a foreign national or a foreign funding body, you should consider whether this additional reporting obligation under the new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme may apply to both you as well the individual staff member involved.

Why is this important?

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme commenced in December 2018 and mandates registration of certain activities involving foreign entities where the purpose is to influence political or governmental outcomes. The Scheme is intended to protect Australia’s national interest and sovereignty.

There are significant penalties for both individuals who fail to register under the Scheme and those who ignore the obligations of others when the nature of the activity is known to them. Both are considered criminal offences under the Act and could potentially result in gaol terms of between 6 months and 5 years.

Need more information?

If you are concerned that a conflict of interest may also meet the criteria for registration under the Scheme, use the foreign influence transparency checklist to help determine whether a further declaration to the Attorney-General’s Department is needed as a part of managing this external engagement activity.

More information about the Scheme is available on the Legal and Risk Integrity and Accountability webpage, and our recent blog article Commencement of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

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