Registrable arrangements & activities

Acting ‘on behalf of’ a foreign principal and ‘registrable arrangements’

An obligation to register in respect of a foreign principal arises where:

  • the University or its personnel undertake an activity on behalf of the foreign principal which requires registration (“registrable activity”); or
  • an arrangement is entered into with a foreign principal under which the University or its personnel may undertake activities in the future, which would themselves be registrable if undertaken (“registrable arrangement”).

A registrable activity or arrangement ‘on behalf of’ a foreign principal is broadly defined in the FITS Act. It may be an activity undertaken under an arrangement with a foreign principal or at the request of a foreign principal.

A ‘registrable arrangement’ with a foreign principal could be formal or informal, written or verbal. It could be a part of a contract, understanding or agreement of any kind. It does not need to have been made in Australia to be registrable. The foreign principal does not need to pay a person to undertake the activity or provide any other advantage to them. There will be an understanding that the activity undertaken would suit the foreign entity.

Given this broad criteria, many international research collaborations involving the submission of applications for funding to Australian funding bodies, such as the ARC or NHMRC, will be registrable activities. This is because the submission of an application by the University would be considered to be “general political lobbying” in that it seeks to influence a government decision-making process. Registration obligations arising from Commonwealth research grant applications will be considered by Research Services.

You may be asked for additional information about the foreign entities involved.

Activities requiring registration

The FITS Act identifies the following activities as being registrable if undertaken of behalf of a foreign principal:

  • parliamentary lobbying… for the purpose of political or governmental influence”, which encompasses a potentially very wide set of activities (e.g enlisting the help of a local MP for the purpose of exerting such influence); and
  • general political lobbying… for the purpose of political or governmental influence”, which includes the lobbying of Commonwealth public officials, and Departments, agencies or authorities of the Commonwealth for the purpose of exerting such influence. 

Lobbying “for the purpose of political or governmental influence” includes any lobbying the sole, primary or substantial purpose of which is to influence a process in relation to a federal government decision. In this context:

  • ‘influence’ refers to the act of trying to affect or have an impact on a process, decision or outcome. This includes direct and indirect influence and is not limited by the degree of effect the activities have. It is not only influence to create change that is relevant to the scheme. It also includes influence to maintain the status quo; and
  • ‘for the purpose of’ refers to the reason behind what a person is doing. In order to be captured by the scheme, the sole, primary or substantial reason why the person concerned is undertaking the activity is to influence a political or governmental process. It is meant to clarify that those instances where an activity coincidentally impacts our political system or a process of government are not registrable.

An application to a Commonwealth government department for a particular decision or approval will usually involve “general political lobbying”.

Communications activity

Communications activity includes the circumstances in which information or material are disseminated, published, disbursed, shared or made available to the public. Information and material can be in any form including interpersonal, visual, graphic, written, electronic, digital and pictorial forms. A communications activity is registrable if the activity is undertaken for the purpose of political or government influence (see above). Such activities can influence the views and opinions of people involved in political and government processes.