Australia’s Intel Chief Says Politicising National Security ‘Not Helpful’

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Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Director-General of Security Mike Burgess. - Twitter pic.

Morrison and his ministers have launched a sustained political attack on Labor ahead of an election, expected in May, accusing the party of appeasing China

Sydney – Australia’s spy chief has warned in a rare TV interview against politicising intelligence advice as an election looms, saying unsuccessful attempts by foreign governments at interference had targeted both sides of politics.

According to Reuters, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) director-general Mike Burgess’ comments come after Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused the deputy Labor opposition leader in Parliament on Wednesday (16 Feb) of being Beijing’s “Manchurian Candidate”, before withdrawing the slur.

Morrison and his ministers have launched a sustained political attack on Labor ahead of an election, expected in May, accusing the party of appeasing China, and saying Beijing had “picked their horse” and it was Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

Burgess said in an interview on Wednesday (16 Feb) evening on the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the intelligence agency was apolitical and the politicisation of its foreign interference investigations was “not helpful for us”.

“The foreign interference is against all members of Parliament so it doesn’t go after one particular party or the other,” he said.

Burgess’ comments were backed by his predecessor, Dennis Richardson, on Thursday morning, who said in a television interview the government’s election tactic would only serve China’s interest.

There was no difference between Labor and the government in policy on China, he said.

“Seeking to create the perception of a difference when none in practice exists for straight out party political purposes is something that we have not seen an Australian government do for decades, and it does not serve the national interest,” he said on ABC television.

“It in effect only serves the interest of one country and that is China.”

Burgess did not name the foreign governments that had attempted to influence politicians, who he said were “thoroughly resistant”.

“We don’t believe that a foreign government could actually change the outcome of our election,” he added.

Court documents and statements by the political parties show at least two foreign interference investigations by ASIO and the federal police since the last federal election are linked to China, and have touched both major parties.

In 2020 police raided the house of a New South Wales state Labor politician in an investigation into his staffer’s alleged links to the Chinese government. No charges have been laid.

A Victorian man, Di Sanh Duong, a former Liberal candidate, in late 2020 became the first person charged with preparing an act of foreign interference under legislation introduced two years earlier. His case will be heard in late May.

The Victorian Liberal party confirmed to Reuters that Duong had resigned as a member in 2020, after publicity surrounding the charges.

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