Spy chief confirms foreign interference is not widespread
Peter Hartcher’s latest report makes a chilling headline for the SMH (24 May 2021), “Spies suspect 500 incidents of foreign meddling in Australia politics, society”.
He writes, “Australian intelligence has identified about 500 recent incidents of covert foreign agents interfering in domestic politics and society, but the nation’s chief spy insists that at least 99.9 per cent of the diaspora communities here are uninvolved.”
A later SMH editorial is significant for the 1.2 million members of the Chinese Australian community.’ The 99.9% story was confirmed in the next day in an SMH editorial (25May2021) entitled “Chinese Australians are not to blame for the actions of CCP”:
Hatcher’s piece, which he revealed to be an extract from an upcoming book he is authoring entitle Red Zone, had two eye catching statements:
First was the one that grabbed the headline: 500 recent incidents of interference and espionage had been identified by Australian intelligence.
The number of “known or suspected” incidents, revealed by a senior intelligence officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, pointed to the activities of several countries, but the Chinese Communist Party was said by officials to be by far the most active.
The second eye-catching figure offered similar pause for thought. “At least 99.9 per cent” of the diaspora communities here were not involved in covert activities, Australia’s spy chief, Mike Burgess, insisted.
The head of ASIO said he was “at pains to distinguish between diaspora communities on the one hand and the foreign governments and their intelligence services that are conducting foreign interference on the other … In fact, it is the diaspora communities that are often the victims of interference.”
CCCA responded to the editorial in SMH
“The Chinese Community Council of Australia welcome this sensitive and timely report by our Australia’s spy chief, Mike Burgess who said “. “At least 99.9 per cent” of the diaspora communities here were not involved in covert activities.
In fact, it is the diaspora communities that are often the victims of interference.” These statements coming from our intelligence chief carries much weight and on behalf of the 1.2 million Chinese Australians, we appreciate the relief of a great stress and pressure and we thank you for telling the truth in these difficult times.
We hope your message will reduce the incidence of xenophobia in Australia. Your message gives great support to the social cohesion and harmony of multicultural Australia. These statements confirm that Australia is still the lucky country for all immigrants.”
The current investigations under the Foreign Interference Transparency Scheme legislation creates an unintentional consequence of stigma and scapegoating. This unhealthy narrative is evident in the rhetoric coming out form certain sectors of government and runs rampant across the right-wing media. This adversely influences mainstream community sentiments towards our marginalized community.
We believe these statements by Mike Burgess represents the first step in the process of removal any negative stereotype of Chinese Australians are all spies or have Reds under their beds. It hopefully would lead to a significant review of the nation’s foreign influence laws which are unnecessarily targeting the Chinese Australian community since the relation that 99.9% of diaspora communities are not involved.
This commentary is supplied by the Chinese Community Council of Australia Incorporated: Founding President, Dr Anthony Pun OAM, President, Mr Kingsley Liu. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors.