The domestic security grey zone: navigating the space between foreign influence and foreign interference

Democracy Sovereignty Political campaigns International relations National security Australia

Australia has been a global first mover in updating its legislation, policy and bureaucratic structure to manage foreign influence risk in the 21st Century.

Australia’s response has focused on criminalising, disrupting and deterring the most pernicious form of foreign influence – foreign interference. However, a ‘grey zone’ is emerging between acceptable foreign influence activities and unlawful foreign interference.

While this paper focuses on Australia, its analysis and findings are intended to be relevant across democracies. Australia has been a “canary in the coal mine” in its experience of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) foreign interference, as well as a first mover in responding. It is well-positioned to continue to create new standards of international best practice in ways that both protect citizens’ political rights and freedoms, and Australia’s sovereignty, values and interests.

The paper recommends that Australia’s response be guided by four principles:

  1. Active transparency
  2. Country agnostic, but context-aware
  3. Prioritise democratic political rights and social cohesion
  4. Empower a decentralised response
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