High Court Backs Meddling Ban
A Communist China-born Australian political adviser lost his challenge in Australia’s highest court against laws banning covert foreign interference in domestic politics.
John Zhang also lost his Australian High Court challenge in a unanimous decision of seven judges to the validity of search warrants executed by police at his Sydney home and offices last year as part of an investigation into illegal foreign interference on behalf of China.
Zhang was an adviser to New South Wales Lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane, whose membership in the opposition Labor Party was suspended after he was also the target of police raids.
The raids in June last year were the first police investigation to grab public attention since the foreign interference laws came into force in 2018 and Canberra bolstered funding to security agencies in late 2019 to enforce them.
Chen Hong, director of East China Normal University’s Australian Studies Center, wrote in the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party's propaganda newspaper, after the raids that Moselmane “unfortunately fell prey to the anti-China hysteria in Australia.”
Mr. Zhang, a 63-year-old who immigrated from Communist China in 1989, had asked the court to rule the foreign interference laws were invalid because they infringed on his freedom of political communication implied in the Australian constitution.
He had also asked the court to quash the search warrants and order that evidence seized or copied by police be returned or destroyed.
His case argued that the foreign interference law was invalid and that the warrant did not precisely identify the alleged offenses.
Police seized smartphones, computers and other electronic devices from Zhang.
The warrants accuse Zhang of engagement with Ms. Moselmane through a private social media chat group and other fora. to advance the interests and policy goals of a foreign principal, the Chinese government.
Part of the conduct was “covert” because it involved communications over an encrypted private social media chat group, the warrants said.
Lawyers for Australian Attorney General Michaelia Cash argued in court that “covert” could be read as “involving some element of nefarious concealment or secrecy.”
The offense carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
The court upheld the charge and rejected Zhang’s argument that the warrants were invalid because the foreign principal’s identity was unclear.
Ms. Cash said Canberra had never been more determined to keep Australians free and safe from foreign interference.
The government takes the threat of foreign interference very seriously and welcomes the High Court’s judgement, she said. We will continue to take strong action to deter acts of foreign interference as the threat evolves, defend against them when they occur and uphold our laws, she added.
Australian Federal Police said that its investigation continues.