Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme
On this website, you'll find information and resources to help you navigate your legal responsibilities when engaging with foreign entities.
This includes guidance on the specific requirements of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme and how to determine if you have an obligation to register.
Whether an activity is registrable depends on a combination of factors:
- the identity of the person undertaking the activity
- the identity of the foreign principal
- the nature of the relationship between the foreign principal and the person undertaking the activity, and
- the nature and purpose of the activity.
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Frequently asked questions
How do I know if the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme applies to me?
If your University work involves a foreign academic, organisation, institution or government, you may be engaged in an activity that should be registered under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS). To comply with the FITS, you may need to register your activity or arrangement with the Australian Government*.
Not all foreign engagements need to be registered, but there are some relationships which the Australian Government believes must be declared and made transparent to the Australian community. Registration of activities or arrangements identified under the Scheme safeguards the national interest.
Registration does not mean that you have to change what you are doing. It just means that there will be a public record of your engagement and you will satisfy your legal obligation to be up front about the purpose of any relevant foreign relationships.
Your need to register will be determined by the nature and purpose of:
- The activity or the arrangement - and whether it has the intent or potential to influence a government or political decision; and
- The foreign entity or person - and whether it is considered a "foreign principal" under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act.
The information and resources provided on this website will help you understand the specific requirements of the FITS and what information is needed to determine if you have an obligation to register*. Additional FITS resources are available on website of the Attorney-General's Department.
*Please note that if registration is necessary this process must be completed within 14 days
What are my legal obligations under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme?
The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018 (FITS Act) is Commonwealth legislation which came into effect in December 2018. The Scheme imposes registration and other obligations on anyone who undertakes or agrees to undertake certain activities on behalf of any individual or organisation that is identified as a ‘foreign principal.’ The purpose of the Scheme is to provide the Australian public and government decision-makers with knowledge of the nature, level and extent of foreign influence on Australia's government and political processes. Any relevant activities or arrangements are listed in an online register making them publicly accessible.
As an institution with a global reach, it is clear that the University and its staff will engage with many foreign collaborators as part of day to day activities or for special international projects. What is not always obvious is whether:
- A foreign collaborator in any given engagement activity may have relevant links to a foreign government or a foreign political organisation - potentially making that collaborator a foreign principal under the FITS Act; or
- An activity or arrangement involving University staff and a foreign principal may have the effect of influencing any number of decisions made by Australian governments, agencies or by the voting public during an election.
In circumstances where both a foreign principal is involved and the result of the engagement may influence decision-makers, your collaboration may be considered a “registrable activity” or “registrable arrangement” under the FITS Act. The University and its personnel must discharge their obligations accordingly. Even if the effect of the relationship only has the potential to influence Australian government or political decision-makers, registration should be sought.
Personnel should be aware that a reckless failure to comply with the FITS Act may result in significant penalties, including imprisonment. A reckless failure includes ignoring or being indifferent to the obligation. It is better to take the steps towards registration and to be advised that it is not required.
Once an obligation under the FITS Act is identified, registration must be completed within 14 days. Registration of arrangements must be updated when material change occurs, including if the arrangement ends. Registrants have an obligation of renewal each year.
The guidance available on this website will support you to take these initial steps. Further advice is available if, after taking these steps, it appears there may be an obligation to register.
Does the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme restrict who I can engage with or types of activities I can be involved in?
The FITS does not seek to limit or restrict the lawful activities that the University and its personnel undertake with foreign collaborators. However, the FITS does require that the University and its personnel register with the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department any arrangements and activities that have the potential to influence Australian decision-makers to advance the interests of the foreign collaborator.
The guidance provided on this webpage will help you identify whether the arrangement or activity should be registered. Once registered, you and the University will have met the requirement and the collaboration can continue under the conditions set by the FITS. This may include ensuring that the activity with the foreign entity is further disclosed in any published or online materials and that registration is renewed if the arrangement is to continue beyond 12 months.
Where can I get help if I think that my activity or arrangement may require FITS registration?
Personnel who identify a possible registration obligation should seek further guidance from the Office of the Chief Security Officer or from Legal and Risk to confirm the assessment and to assist with registration if necessary.
Before this happens, you will need to have collected certain information about your activity or arrangement. The guidance provided in the links below is there to assist you to collect the information you will need to assess whether a potential obligation exists and will provide a basis to engage with the Office of the Chief Security Officer or Legal and Risk about the formal steps needed for registration. Registration must be completed within 14 days.
Please note that an assessment of your foreign engagement activity may be conducted as a part of other University review processes. You will be advised of any FITS obligations accordingly. These processes include:
- Applying for Commonwealth grant funding for an international collaboration. Registration obligations will be determined as part of the grant application assistance provided by Research Services.
- Formal due diligence reviews conducted as a part of centrally managed contract approval processes through Research Legal Services, Innovation and Commercial Partners or Global Engagement.
If you are dealing with a foreign entity in your work, you will need to consider whether they are a “foreign principal” under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act.
A combination of factors must be considered to determine whether an activity or arrangement must be registered under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. If registration is required, this process must be completed within 14 days.
Whether or not you have a registration obligation, you must keep a record of the information you used to reach this decision, including what you know about your collaborator, the nature of your involvement with that entity and the activities or arrangements planned.
- FITS decision tree diagram
- Attorney-General's Department FITS resources
- Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Public Register
Office of the Chief Security Officer
Division of Research and Innovation
Legal and Risk Helpdesk
08 8313 4539