Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme

Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS) was introduced by the Australian Attorney-General’s Department in December 2018 and imposes registration obligations on individuals and corporate entities that undertake specified activities on behalf of a foreign principal or enter into a registrable arrangement with a foreign principal. The Scheme aims to improve transparency and ensure that unwarranted foreign influence is not being exercised over Australia’s political and government processes.

Influence Vs Interfere

Foreign Influence

Foreign influence is not a bad thing. Governments and other actors from around the world commonly make efforts to influence important issues and policies in Australia in a way which benefits their interests. The Australian Government does the same in other countries – for example, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

This type of ‘foreign influence’, when conducted in an open, lawful and transparent manner, contributes to our vibrant and robust democracy by ensuring that decision makers and the public are exposed to diverse opinions and voices from all sectors of society. The diverse opinions of community members, academics, the media, the business sector, non-government organisations as well as others, are a positive contribution to healthy and robust public debate.

However, when foreign actors seek to exert influence in a way that is hidden or not transparent, this can have serious implications for Australia.

Foreign Interference

Foreign interference goes beyond the routine diplomatic influence that is commonly practised by governments. ‘Foreign interference’ includes covert, deceptive and coercive activities intended to affect an Australian political or governmental process that are directed, subsidised or undertaken by (or on behalf of) foreign actors to advance their interests or objectives.

Foreign interference poses a significant risk to Australia’s open system of government and national sovereignty. Foreign interference activities directed against Australia could limit or shape government independent judgements and can corrupt the integrity of established systems. Foreign interference into Australia’s political system could erode public confidence in its political and government institutions and could also interfere with private-sector decision-making. This can be to the detriment of national security and economic prosperity. For these reasons, foreign interference is a serious criminal offence under the Commonwealth’s Criminal Code, punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

  • foreign governments
  • foreign political organisations (e.g. political parties)
  • foreign companies and organisations ‘controlled’ by a foreign government/political party
  • foreign individuals ‘controlled’ by a foreign government or political party

Further information available through foreign principal government website. 

  • parliamentary lobbying
  • general political lobbying
  • a communications activity
  • a disbursement activity
  • activities performed by a staff member who is a former cabinet minister
  • activities performed by a staff member who is a recent designated position holder where the person contributes previous experience, knowledge, skills or contacts.

Further information available on the registrable activity government website. 

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.

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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. 

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.

If you have registration obligations under the scheme, please go to the Registration portal - to register

Contact the Global Strategy Division by emailing

If you would like to seek advice from the FITS task force, please make an enquiry through the FITS Scheme website.