We know that foreign interference and espionage are some of the greatest threats to Australia’s national security. Our spy agency, ASIO, expects foreign interference “to supplant terrorism as our principal security concern”.
We need to take action to protect Australia and our interests.
Combatting secret foreign political interference
Mandatory security checks for Ministers
In 2019, I introduced a bill that would make background checks for incoming ministers mandatory. Ministers occupy positions of the highest trust within the Australian Government and have access to the most sensitive national security information, yet Ministers are exempt from any security checks. All other Australian Government personnel with access to classified information need a security clearance. When it comes to security, the Liberal, Labor and National parties are insistent that there should be rules for everyone but them. This approach not only puts national security at risk, but also Australian democracy. We need to know if our Ministers are being influenced by foreign powers.
Establish a Senate inquiry into Australia’s relationship with China
Six times I have tried to set up a broad ranging Senate inquiry into our relationship with China and six times the Liberal-National Government and Labor Opposition have voted it down.
Neither has ever offered a satisfactory explanation as to why the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee should not inquire into the future of one of Australia’s most important international relationships.
Our relations with China are at their lowest point since the late 1960s. The way forward is uncertain and fraught with difficulties as we seek to keep a diplomatic dialogue with Beijing while defending our national interests and sovereignty.
Our relationship with China is important, it is also bi-directional, broad and complex. A relationship with China is in both of our interests, but it must be balanced and reflect each of our interests. This is why such a Senate inquiry is necessary, so we can engage the full range of interests and stakeholders involved in our relations with China.
Expel diplomats from embassies in Australia if countries found to have engaged in cyber attacks
We have seen multiple cyber attacks on our Federal and State Government agencies, along with our universities and businesses. Every time this happens, and the culprit is identified, Australia should be expelling diplomats or consular officials from their embassies in Australia. There must be consequences for these attacks on our national security.
Reduce the number of CCP officials at the China’s Consulate-General in Adelaide
As the home of the nation’s naval shipbuilding hub, South Australia is a key target of foreign espionage.
In correspondence from the Defence Department, they raised the alarm on this risk saying:
“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.”
China’s consular presence in Adelaide is a significant security threat. A failure to remove this 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 staffed by 10-12 consular officials, just as the Australian Government was moving to commit to one of Australia’s largest defence projects - the construction of Australia’s new submarines and frigates at the Osborne shipyard precinct.
No other country has a consular presence in South Australia like China. 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, yet China has more than 10 consular officials here.
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.
There should be a reduction in staff to a single Honorary Consul, similar to the level of consular staffing that other countries have in Adelaide.
What can we do?
- End the exemption for MPs and their staff from the Federal foreign political influence transparency scheme
- Make security checks for all incoming Ministers mandatory
- Establish an inquiry into Australia’s relationship with China
- Expel diplomats and consular officials if their country is found to have engaged in cyber attacks on Australia
- Reduce the number of Chinese Consulate-General officials in Adelaide