Australian ex-MP Chinese advisor challenges anti-foreign interference law High Court rules federal police search legal

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported Wednesday (May 12) that the High Court of Australia ruled the same day in favor of Australia’s Anti-Foreign Interference Act, rejecting a legal challenge by former Labor parliamentary adviser Zhang Zhisen to three federal police search warrants.

The seven judges unanimously ruled that the three search warrants issued by police last year were lawful and valid, and ordered Zhang Zhisen to pay the costs of the lawsuit.

Australian police and security intelligence officers raided the Sydney home and office of New South Wales Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane last June for his alleged involvement in Chinese Communist interference in Australian affairs. Also raided was Moselmane’s adviser, Zhang Zhisen. Zhang is suspected of conspiring with the Chinese Consulate General in Sydney to infiltrate the NSW Labor Party in order to influence local voters. Zhang, who claims to be innocent, immigrated to Australia from China in 1989.

Federal police searched Zhang Zhisen on three separate occasions last year with search warrants. His computers, phones and $60,000 in cash were seized from his home, business and the NSW Parliament. And the June 2020 raid is believed to be the first investigation by Australian police to attract public attention since the Anti-Foreign Interference Act came into force in 2018.

Zhang Zhisen’s lawyers are asking the High Court to invalidate the FISA, saying Australia’s Anti-Foreign Interference Act violates the implied constitutional right to freedom of political communication. His lawyers also asked the court to quash the search warrant, claiming it did not accurately identify the substance of the crime and return or destroy evidence seized or copied by police.

The Australian police search warrant said that Zhang Zhisen “engaged with Mossoman through a private social media chat group and other forums” to promote the interests and policy goals of his foreign client. The warrant said part of the conduct was “covert” because it involved communication through an encrypted private social media chat group.

Lawyers for Australian Attorney General Michaelia Cash said in court that the “covert” conduct could be interpreted as “involving some nefarious element of concealment or secrecy,” the Associated Press reported.

Cash said after the Federal High Court ruling that the Australian government has never been more determined to protect the freedom and security of Australians from foreign interference.

“The government takes the threat of foreign interference very seriously and welcomes the High Court’s judgment,” she said.

She added: “We will continue to take strong action to deter foreign interference as the threat develops, defend against it when it occurs and uphold our laws.”

Australian police have not yet filed any charges against Zhang Zhisen. Federal police said the investigation is continuing.

Zhang Zhisen’s lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Australia-China relations have been strained in recent years. Australian Prime Minister John Morrison’s call last April for an independent international investigation into the source of the new crown virus provoked Beijing’s anger. The Chinese Communist Party subsequently retaliated with a variety of restrictive measures on key Australian exports.