Government unveils proposed laws to combat foreign interference, espionage

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"Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and overseas", Turnbull told reporters in Canberra, Australia's capital.

The announcement came as concern grows that Beijing might be extending its influence and as relationships between Australian politicians and Chinese government interests have become increasingly contentious.

The foreign influence and interference package will be complemented by another bill on electoral reform that will ban foreign political donations, Turnbull said.

"But these reforms are not about any one country", he added, pointing to Russian influence in the U.S. election.

Senator Sam Dastyari resigned from a senior position with the opposition Labour Party last week after he acknowledged warning a Chinese businessman linked to the Community Party that his phones were being tapped by Australian intelligence agencies.

Attorney General George Brandis said the fact that Dastyari's conduct had not breached any laws showed a need for a review.

Against the backdrop of reports about foreign interference in Australia's universities, the government has proposed taking practical steps.

The offence of "espionage" will be updated from just passing on information to possessing or receiving information.

Preparing and planning those acts will be criminalised for the first time, as will soliciting anyone to engage in those acts.

Espionage will carry a penalty of up to life in prison. The Australian leader appeared confident about what he said was the most significant overhaul of espionage in decades.

Turnbull explained that the reforms would aim to protect and strengthen democracy in Australia and would ensure that Australians make decisions based on their own wishes.

The laws, to be introduced this week, will require lobbyists and former MPs to declare whether they are acting for a foreign country and will create criminal laws aimed at foreign agents who meddle in domestic political affairs.

"Foreign interference is a global issue. for example, we're all familiar with very credible reports that Russian Federation sought to actively undermine the United States' election. the threat is real", Turnbull said. "We will not tolerate foreign-influence activities that are in any way covert, coercive or corrupt". Charities will be exempt from receiving and using foreign donations for non-political activities.

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