Australia calls for intel. review after report on Chinese espionage made public

After a turbulent week in Australian politics, contents of a 2016 classified report on a decades long campaign of subversion and interference by Beijing is causing more turbulence for Australian-Chinese relations

Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – After a turbulent week in Australian politics, with controversy and debate swirling around issues of espionage and undue Chinese influence, new developments point to even more controversy ahead.

On May 29, Australian media reported a national news story revealing the contents of a classified report on China’s “brazen” and “aggressive” interference in Australian politics over the past decade.

The contents of the government report was part of an investigation that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered in 2016, to address the serious concern of foreign interference, and to determine the extent of such deleterious activities within Australian politics.

In 2017, Turnbull declared that for security purposes the report would remain confidential. However, portions of that report, were reported by Australian this week and has shocked members of the public that had been unaware of the extent of the problem.

Turnbull previously stated that "it's fair to say that our system as a whole had not grasped the nature and the magnitude of the threat.”

Among many worrying findings in the report, it stated that Chinese agents and their confederates have been actively pursuing a campaign of infiltration into Australian politics for over a decade, and that even local councils had been targeted and successfully infiltrated.

The original inquiry was headed by Turnbull’s former advisor John Garnaut, who spoke before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee in March, noting that the Chinese are strategic, patient, and “very good at” political infiltration and shaping public opinion.

Garnaut also warned that “China's activities have become so brazen and so aggressive that we can't ignore it any longer," reports ABC.

On May 30, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) announced that after discovering substantial evidence of foreign political influence in Australia’s political process, and credible information on terrorist threats, that the ASIO would begin a national investigation, reportedly what will be the largest review of national security and the intelligence community in over four decades, and is expected to last 18 months.

Last week, the head of the ASIO, Duncan Lewis, stated before the Australian Senate that China represents an unprecedented threat of foreign influence in the country, stating that "foreign actors covertly attempt to influence and shape the views of members of the Australian public, the Australian media and officials in the Australian government, as well as members of diaspora communities,” reports Business Insider.

Politicians in Australia are deeply divided on the issue, and it has become one of the most sensitive political topics in recent months, and politicians appear to be forming into camps termed either “China Hawks” or “Panda Huggers.”

After the turbulence of recent China-Australia relations, and the leaking of the report this week by Australian Media, Attorney General Christian Porter stated that "The Prime Minister considered that now is the time to have a top to tail review of all of the national intelligence community agencies," reports CNN.

With legislation already on the table in the Australian Parliament targeting Chinese influence and possible espionage activity, the announcement from the ASIO and Attorney General of a massive review of the country’s intelligence laws, and agencies is likely to add even more fire to the political debate raging in Australia over the long arm of Beijing’s influence.