Opinion: Labor’s National Security Kowtow a Win for Beijing

The Albanese government is taking a series of disturbing actions in national security, effectively implementing an agenda that the Chinese Communist Party wants for Canberra

Labor is doing bad things Beijing wants it to do.

These are: expelling intelligence chiefs from cabinet’s national security committee; restricting and possibly soon abolishing the Australian Strategic Policy Institute; never now mentioning China as a justification for AUKUS and nuclear-powered submarines; and doing nothing for military capability in the decade ahead.

Former prime minister Paul Keating is the Chinese government’s most high-profile, enthusiastic public backer. As well as attacking Albanese and Wong, he frequently attacks Australia’s intelligence agency chiefs, describing them as having gone “troppo”, behaving deceptively, manipulating politics etc. These men and women are forbidden to answer such attacks or defend themselves. The government’s defence of them is pathetically rare and mealy-mouthed, never more than an isolated line by one or other designated minister.

Now comes news that ASIO head Mike Burgess and Australian Secret Intelligence Service head Kerri Hartland will no longer routinely attend NSC meetings. For the first time the NSC has as a permanent member Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen and his departmental head. It also, I think for the first time, includes a non-cabinet minister, Pat Conroy, a junior minister who divides his time between defence industry and the Pacific.

Climate change is important but you could just as easily make a case to include the education, health or industry and science ministers in the NSC. You could link all those ministers to national security. But ASIO and ASIS are centrally concerned with the sorts of things the NSC considers routinely, much more so than the Climate Change Department head.

ASIO has a formal policy advice role as well as intelligence collection and threat analysis, and is tasked with providing regular briefings to the opposition. The ASIS boss knows every public and secret thing that Australia knows about every contentious international matter. Not wanting them in the room is insane.

The ASIO and ASIS bosses will be called into NSC when an agenda item directly and explicitly concerns them but won’t be there generally. Not wanting that experience and expertise to be on hand when decisions are made is crazy. The director of the Office of National Intelligence is now the only intelligence chief regularly at NSC meetings. This move has to be seen as diminishing the role of the intelligence chiefs, just as Keating, and Beijing, wanted.

It’s also part of a wider syndrome of the Albanese government trying to suppress debate by suppressing information in the national security sphere.

This particularly concerns ASPI. The abolition of ASPI was one of Beijing’s 14 demands of Australia at the height of its wolf warrior diplomacy. It now looks as though the government is getting ready to kill ASPI. 

READ Greg Sheridan’s full article in the Australian newspaper 26th March 2024


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