Former Prime Minister Paul Keating might have to register on the Turnbull government's agents of foreign influence list because he sits on an advisory council for a Chinese government development bank, Fairfax Media understands.
Mr Keating has made strong public remarks that Australia should pursue a foreign policy that is more independent of the United States.
Sources have told Fairfax Media that a reading of the criteria of the government's new transparency scheme requiring agents of foreign influence to register on a public list suggests someone in Mr Keating's circumstances would have to seriously consider registering themselves.
The former prime minister sits on an advisory council to the China Development Bank, a state-owned bank that raises money for large infrastructure projects. Mr Keating declined to comment on Wednesday.
Under the scheme, which the government has stressed does not taint the people or organisations listed on it but merely lets Australians know who has connections to foreign powers, anyone representing foreign interests is expected to register.
The head of the Attorney-General's Department will have powers under the new laws to judge whether someone who has not registered should be on the list. Someone who avoids registering when they should can be charged with a criminal offence. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Wednesday: "If in doubt, register."
Mr Keating said last year that Australia should "cut the tag" from the US and "make our way in Asia ourselves with an independent foreign policy".
The draft legislation, which will also make it a crime to interfere in Australian democracy with the intent to do harm on behalf of a foreign power, is expected to be introduced to Parliament on Thursday by Mr Turnbull.
State-owned media including China's People's Daily and the pro-Kremlin Russia Today would likely also have to register as agents of foreign influence.
Other outlets such as Xinhua - the world's largest foreign news agency - though regarded as less clear-cut propaganda vehicles, are also likely to come under scrutiny.
Attorney-General George Brandis revealed more detail about the new laws on Wednesday, placing a focus on the danger of creeping foreign influence in political parties by agents hoping to rise to positions of power and influence.
Chongyi Feng, the Sydney professor who has been a critic of Beijing's influence in Australia and who made headlines earlier this year after being detained in China, described the new laws as "a very exciting development" that should have happened sooner.
"It provides the clear legal basis to deal with the Chinese interference in Australian politics, especially the covert infiltration," said Professor Chongyi of the University of Technology Sydney.
"Second, it is a strong deterrence to proxies of the Chinese communist regime in Australia, particularly 'patriotic overseas Chinese leaders' who have provided their services to Beijing for rewards from governments of both sides."
Foreign state media including the People's Daily - China's largest newspaper group - and Russia Today have been forced to register with the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, on which Australia's new transparency laws are based. It is expected they will therefore receive the same scrutiny in Australia.
But a US Congress-backed report last month found that the rapid expansion of Chinese media in that country meant groups such as Xinhua - which also has a significant bureau in Sydney - should have to register. A staff member at the Sydney bureau declined to comment on Wednesday because he had not seen the legislation.
Senator Brandis told the ABC that the government's claim that foreign interference had reached "unprecedented" levels was backed by assessments by security agency ASIO and was "not made lightly".