A top-secret report has raised concerns that the Chinese Government has attempted to influence Australia’s political parties for the past decade.
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.
“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, Bob Carr in 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 a Labor Senator 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.
Mr Carr told the ABC he emphatically denies drafting questions for “either two of the Labor Senators”.
It is claimed that Mr Carr suggested Labor Senator Kristina Keneally ask questions about Mr Garnaut’s current employment status, but it was Labor’s Kimberly Kitching who read them out last week.
“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.