A top-secret report has raised concerns that the Chinese Government has attempted to influence Australia’s political parties for the past decade.
- Malcolm Turnbull ordered an investigation into foreign interference in 2016
- China is the main concern and an intelligence source says there has been infiltration at every layer of Government
- The top-secret report was the main driver for the foreign interference laws introduced into Parliament in 2017
One intelligence source told the ABC there had been infiltration at every layer of Australian Government, right down to local councils.
An investigation into the extent of foreign interference in Australia was ordered by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 and he indicated what the report found last year.
“Our system as a whole had not grasped the nature and magnitude of the threat,” he said.
But Mr Turnbull told Parliament he could not provide extensive details about the report.
“The findings of the report are necessarily classified.”
Some of the details are now starting to emerge, with Nine News reporting that the document lists China as the country of most concern.
It also states that the Communist Party has attempted to compromise Australia’s major political parties for the past decade.
One of the report’s contributors is John Garnaut, a former Turnbull advisor who now runs a consultancy firm, and while he would not comment on the details of the investigation he has previously warned about China’s influence in Australia.
“Under the uncompromising leadership of President Xi Jinping, China’s activities have become so brazen and so aggressive that we can’t ignore it any longer,” he told the US House Armed Services Committee in March.
The top-secret report was the main driver for the foreign interference laws introduced into Parliament last year.
One person involved in the process has described it as “playing catch up” but added Australia was ahead of the game and they expected other countries to follow suit.
Just last week, ASIO’S director general Duncan Lewis again described the scale of foreign intelligent activity against Australia as unprecedented.
“Foreign actors covertly attempt to influence and shape the views of members of the Australian public, the Australian media, officials in the Australian government,” he said.
John Garnaut and Bob Carr thrust into the spotlight
There has been further scrutiny on Beijing’s influence because of questions asked about Mr Garnaut’s working history.
AM has been told that former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr asked Labor Senator Kristina Keneally to put forward questions on his behalf during Senate Estimates in relation to John Garnaut.
A source said Mr Carr, who heads up the Australia China Relations Institute, had a “pattern of writing questions” and was well known for doing so.
It is claimed that Mr Carr suggested Senator Keneally ask questions about Mr Garnaut’s current employment status, but it was Labor’s Kimberly Kitching who read them out in Estimates last week.
Mr Carr told the ABC he emphatically denied drafting questions for “either two of the Labor senators”.
AM understands that Senator Kitching was far from impressed, because she was not informed about where the questions had come from.
“Has the Prime Minister’s office or Department contracted Mr Garnaut’s services as a consultant, adviser or speechwriter since June 2017?” she asked senior officials.
“We certainly have a contract with John Garnaut. That’s a contract with the department as a specialist speechwriter, in effect,” Stephanie Foster from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said.
Mr Carr, who has previously accused the Government of being anti-China, has seized on the information by issuing a statement that said the answer showed there was a lack of transparency in the Prime Minister’s staffing arrangements.
“Mr Garnaut [is] entitled to be at the extreme end of the China debate in Australia but he should not be carrying on the campaign whilst on the Prime Minister’s payroll,” the statement said.
By Stephanie Borys
News Corporation Network