News Politics Karen Andrews baffles experts with extraordinary China claim

Karen Andrews baffles experts with extraordinary China claim

Ms Andrews has tried to reframe her comments.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews says steps are being taken to ensure the safety of politicians. Photo: AAP
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Experts have been left perplexed by a suggestion from the Home Affairs Minister that China sought to influence the Australian election by strategically leaking news of its new security deal with the Solomon Islands.

Karen Andrews’ claims have been called “unhinged” and she has since been accused of seeking to create a diversion away from an election debate on national security that seems to be tarnishing the Coalition’s national security credentials.

“Beijing is very clearly aware that we’re in a federal election campaign here at the moment,” Ms Andrews said on Brisbane radio this week about the Solomon Islands deal, feared to give Beijing pretext to establish military capability in the country.

“Why now, why right in the middle of a federal election campaign is all of this coming to light?

“We talk about political interference and that has many forms.

“I think we need to be aware of what Beijing is doing and what it is trying to achieve.”

Ms Andrews is one of the most senior members of the Morrison government and is responsible for a $3 billion government agency and areas of national security including the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation.

The comments have been picked up by the Associated Press and republished in international media outlets.

‘Wild speculation’

“This is a case of critical rhetoric that has run away from itself,” said Peter Dean, the chair of defence studies at the University of Western Australia.

“This has to be seen as wild speculation or a spurious claim.

“Its tone and timing is clearly oriented to the domestic political debate in Australia in an election campaign with the government under heavy pressure on this topic.

“Such comments are not making a positive contribution to our relationship with the Solomon Islands or the Pacific.

“Rather than looking to blame everyone else for this outcome they need to focus on how we can engage with the region on a more productive basis.”

The Solomon Islands pact, signed earlier this month, represents the crowning achievement of a Chinese strategy to deepen its influence in the Pacific with diplomacy, infrastructure and loans that began in 2006.

Ms Andrews has yet to explain what source she was relying upon for her claim.

‘Doesn’t make much sense’

Labor is seeking a briefing on the basis for the Minister’s claim, challenging her to immediately go public with the basis for any suggestion a foreign power was seeking to influence Australia’s election.

The Shadow Home Affairs Minister, Kristina Keneally, accused her counterpart of peddling “conspiratorial fantasies and unhinged commentary”.

Professor James Laurenceson, who heads the Australia-China Relations Institute, noted that the Minister’s claim betrayed serious logical flaws.

The draft agreement for the security deal between Beijing and Honiara first emerged after a leak was first posted to social media by a political adviser to the rebel, American-backed Malaita province, which has been vocally opposed to closer ties with China.

“Talk of election interference doesn’t make much sense,” Professor Laurenceson said.

“The timing of the leaked draft agreement was determined in the Solomon Islands, not China.

“If China wanted to complicate Australia’s life it has the means to do so directly as the region’s leading power. This is based on a particular view of China as hyper-calculating and pulling on every string.”

But in comments to Sky News circulated by the Coalition campaign on Thursday, Ms Andrews focus had returned to just asking questions.

“We are very mindful of China’s activities and we will always put Australia’s interests first, second, third, and fourth,” she said.

“I think there are a lot of questions.”

Bombshell allegations of a campaign of Russian interference were made across the two most recent American presidential elections.