Labor queries PM over interference laws

Karen Sweeney

Foreign interference laws were deeply flawed, had significant overreach and inadequate safeguards and it's concerning the prime minister supported them, Australia's shadow attorney-general says.

Legislation to prevent foreign influence over Australia could have threatened journalists for reporting on national security and placed enormous burdens on charities, Mark Dreyfus told parliament on Tuesday.

He believes legislation could be in place already if the controversial laws were properly drafted, but says the opposition will now back amended laws because changes are needed to keep up with changing threats.

The changes take in 60 recommendations made by parliament's security and intelligence committee.

Mr Dreyfus said most addressed civil society group and media concerns, including removing the potential for criminal sanctions against journalists reporting on national security matters and for academics who fail to register relationships with overseas universities.

"Clearly these outcomes would have been completely unacceptable to most Australians and it's concerning that the prime minister thought these measures, and others of a similar nature, were acceptable," he said.

Related legislation to secure a register for people acting on behalf of foreign governments, political organisations or individuals has also come before parliament with amendments.

Mr Dreyfus said the scope had been greatly narrowed to exempt media organisations, charities, arts and cultural organisations and trade unions.

Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who heads the security and intelligence committee, said authoritarian states were using political warfare to undermine legitimacies of western democracies by targeting the media, political processes, financial networks and personal data.

"We need to take legislative action to secure our sovereignty, our political institutions and our economic prosperity," he said.

Amnesty International has supported exemptions for charities but continues to have concerns around accountability for human rights.