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16 August 2020


South Australian Senator Rex Patrick has expressed alarm in relation to the ‘extreme’ espionage threat to vital Defence industries in South Australia and has called for the closure of the Chinese Consulate-General in Adelaide. 

"The Australian Defence Department has for the first time acknowledged the ‘extreme’ nature of the foreign intelligence threat posed to Australia’s future submarine and frigate projects," Senator Patrick said. 

"Defence’s security assessment is a matter of deep concern. In this context it is not in Australia’s national security interests for China to maintain its Consulate-General in Adelaide in close proximity to Australia’s major naval construction projects at Osborne and Australian Defence Science and Technology research capabilities at Salisbury."

"In correspondence I received last week, the Defence Department provided the following assessment in the context of a FOI information request relating to Australia’s naval shipbuilding projects:

“Foreign Intelligence Services are currently assessed as posing an extreme threat to Sovereign Capability and Commonwealth Strategic Interests. These adversaries are highly active in pursuing access to information relating to Australia’s current and future maritime capabilities in order to advance their own interest and undermine Australian capabilities.”

"Defence’s characterisation of the espionage threat as ‘extreme’ goes well beyond previous statements, including those made in ASIO annual reports, the ASIO Director-General’s security review, and the new Cyber Security Strategy released by the Home Affairs Department last week."

"However Defence’s warning about the threat to Australia’s naval shipbuilding projects clearly reflects the growing evidence of Chinese intelligence operations conducted against Australian Government agencies, the Australian Parliament, state and territory governments, Australian businesses, universities and research facilities."

"While the Australian Government has been reluctant to publicly name China as an espionage threat, a recent United States Justice Department indictment of two Chinese computer hackers working for China’s Ministry of State Security alleged that the hackers stole 320 gigabytes of data from an Australian defence contractor.  The stolen data included source codes, engineering schematics and technical manuals. The hackers also allegedly compromised the network of an Australian solar energy engineering company."

"My understanding is that the hacked Australian defence contractor was involved in naval shipbuilding," Senator Patrick said. 

“Other US indictments of Chinese military intelligence agents operating in the United States as well as statements by Justice Department officials also confirm the active involvement of Chines consulates in espionage activity.”

"China’s consular presence in Adelaide is a significant security threat”, Senator Patrick said.  “A failure to remove that threat could compromise our national security including the willingness of key allies to share highly classified defence information and technology with Australia."

China’s Consulate-General in Adelaide commenced operations in January 2016, just as the Australian Government was moving to commit to Australia’s largest defence projects, the construction of Australia’s new submarines and frigates at the Osborne shipyard precinct.

Located at 110 Crittenden Road, Findon, the Consulate-General currently has ten officers including Consul-General Lanjing He, Vice Consul-General Lijun Pi, six consuls and two vice-consuls, and other support staff. The Overseas Chinese Association of South Australia is located at the same address.

"No other country maintains a consular presence in South Australia comparable to China," Senator Patrick said. "Italy and Greece have consulates with only one and two professional officers respectively. Other nations either include SA within the jurisdiction of a consulate located in another state capital or else are represented in Adelaide by a single honorary consul."

"While the Chinese Consulate-General may perform some legitimate functions, the level of staffing appears excessive. It would be extremely naïve to think that the Consulate does not support espionage directed against Australian defence and high technology activities in SA."

"I have already called on the Australian Government to require a large reduction in China’s oversized diplomatic footprint in Australia. Downsizing should start with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade requiring China to close its Consulate-General in Adelaide. Failing that there should be a reduction in staff to a single Honorary Consul, the same level of consular staffing that other countries have in Adelaide."