The Turnbull Government is finally standing up to Chinese interference in Australian politics.
It seems we can learn from past mistakes after all.
Ever since news of Russia’s alleged influence in the US election surfaced, paranoia about foreign political interference has skyrocketed.
But even before that, things were already in full swing. And the threat was closer to home…
It ended in an ASIO raid carried out in October 2015 at an apartment in Canberra.
Rodger Uren, former assistant secretary of the office of National Assessments (ONA), was the homeowner. Yet Uren wasn’t the target. It was his wife.
Sheri Yan had a reputation of being a ‘fixer’ and lobbyist. Capable of opening doors in Beijing for Australian businesses seeking access to Communist Party cadres. She was known to sell her services to Chinese entrepreneurs wanting to build fortunes.
This is only a small piece of the puzzle. But it was enough to jolt deep concern inside the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) about attempts by foreigners to influence Aussie politics.
Chinese Communist Party still causing the greatest concern
The Turnbull government recently announced a reform of intelligence and espionage laws to limit foreign interference in our political system.
This comes after Beijing’s attempts at influence potentially spread to political players as high up as Labor’s Sam Dastyari and the Liberal Party’s Andrew Robb.
Tensions have been on the rise between Australia and China. In recent weeks, the Chinese government has put in formal complaints against the Australian government.
China has been on an aggressive expansion campaign in the Pacific, using political influence and the building of artificial islands to expand their territorial waters. If this continues, it could give them control of trade routes vital for many of their neighbours.
China also refused to take part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Instead, they attempted to poach Australia, along with eight other countries, to join their Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Australia’s stated intent in a recent Foreign Policy White Paper is to stand by Pacific democracies. By default, that means standing against China. The Chinese diplomatic backlash against that Foreign Policy White Paper was quick and clear.
This comes at a crucial time for Chinese influence in Australian politics. As the US retreats towards isolationism, this will only fuel conflict and possibly shift power. A shift China could take advantage of.
Prime Minister Turnbull said the new laws, ‘will protect our way of life’. But critics warn of the potential to poison the atmosphere of Australia–China relations.
These laws will ban foreign political donations and expand the definition of espionage. Current espionage laws don’t include behaviour the government ‘considers harmful to national security’.
Malcom Davis, defence analyst from the Australian strategic policy institute had this to say about Beijing trying to intimidate Australia, after China complained about allegations Australia made regarding China’s interference in domestic politics:
‘Everyone understands what China is about, the difference is now we are starting to fight back against them.’
With tensions high in the Pacific, and an Aussie federal election looming, the Australian government and its people need to band together more than ever. As it’s not likely that we’ve heard the last of this issue.
By Leah Wallace