As uncovered in The Australian, an Institute of Public Affairs freedom of information request has revealed that the Attorney-General’s department holds in excess of 1,300 documents and correspondence relating to Andrew Cooper, Tony Abbott, CPAC and ACU.
“1,300 documents and correspondence relating to Abbott, Cooper, CPAC and ACU captured from eight full time public servants over a seven-month period is not the actions of one rogue employee, which is how the government has portrayed the targeting of Andrew Cooper. Rather, it is evidence of a coordinated surveillance operation being run by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats under the Attorney-General’s nose,” said Evan Mulholland, Director of Communications at the IPA.
The first and only order made under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme was that Andrew Cooper, the founder and president of libertarian advocacy organisation LibertyWorks, provide all documents “detailing any understanding or arrangement” between LibertyWorks and the American Conservative Union.
“Even though the Department has issued only one notice, it was a notice for information and details of an event which was attended by hundreds of Australian conservatives. Each and everyone one of them was the target of this notice,” said Mr Mulholland.
“The department has given a practical refusal notice to the request, in giving the notice of practical refusal, the department says that the work involved processing the request in its current form would substantially and unreasonably divert the resources of the department from its other operations due to its size and broad scope.”
“This is despite giving Andrew Cooper just 14 days to comply with a demand notice requesting potentially thousands of documents relating to the CPAC conference. Andrew Cooper’s refusal to comply with the notice commands a maximum penalty of six months in jail.”
“Given the extent of Chinese influence reported in the media this week, it is embarrassing, scandalous and unacceptable that Australian public servants in the Attorney General’s Department have devoted such a significant amount of time and resources targeting Australians due to their political beliefs.”
“The potential for bureaucratic overreach was not unforeseen. The IPA’s Legal Rights Audit 2018 warned that the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018 was found to remove procedural fairness, the right to silence and the privilege against self-incrimination.”
“The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme should be repealed or recast so that vaguely worded legislation cannot be abused by left-wing bureaucrats. The Attorney-General should order the department to release the documents immediately,” said Mr Mulholland.
Read Evan Mulholland’s opinion piece in The Australian today.