A top-secret report that was commissioned by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in August 2016 has revealed the extent of the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration into Australian politics.
An intelligence source with knowledge on the investigation told the ABC that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has attempted to influence Australian politics for the past decade, infiltrating every layer of the government down to local councils.
John Garnaut, a former advisor to the prime minister, led the joint investigation that combined the resources of domestic spy agency Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, according to 9news.
The resulting report outlined a “series of very grave warnings,” which prompted the Turnbull government to propose new laws—the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill (the National Security Legislation Amendment) 2017—that targets foreign interference, foreign political donations, and espionage. The bill was presented to parliament in December 2017.
While the findings of the report are “necessarily classified,” Turnbull said that from what he had seen of the report, he could confirm that “the reasons for initiating this work were justified and the outcomes have galvanised us to take action.”
John Garnaut, who has since left public office and now runs his own consultancy firm in Melbourne, presented a statement in his personal capacity in March to the U.S. Armed Services Committee.
In his statement, Garnaut spoke on the undermining influence of the CCP in Australian society. “China’s activities have become too brazen and aggressive to continue to ignore,” Garnaut said.
“From open source materials, we know this is happening in universities, in business communities, in ethnic Chinese communities, in media and entertainment, and in politics and government,” he added.
According to Garnaut, the CCP has worked its influence subtly, by offering privileged access, building personal relationships, and rewarding those who deliver on the set agenda.
“But the Communist Party institutions, ideologies, and methodologies involved are so alien to our systems that we have been having trouble seeing them let alone responding. The party has been ‘winning without fighting,’ to borrow some of its terminology,” Garnaut said.
Australia As a Testing Ground For CCP Infiltration
Garnaut explained how the CCP influences open societies such as the USA and Australia: “This is the domain in which the Chinese Communist Party manipulates incentives inside our countries in order to shape the conversation, manage perceptions and tilt the political and strategic landscape to its advantage.”
According to journalist Rowan Callick, Australia is a classic testing ground for the CCP.
“China—confidently believing its system is now on the right side of global history—is testing whether it can lever its economic links to extract gains in the diplomatic and other realms, with Australia a classic testing ground,” Callick explains.
Better economic deals for China, according to Callick, could be the result of “pressure over diplomatic, strategic, and cultural tensions.”
Garnaut said: “Interference activities corrode the trust that makes open, democratic, and multicultural systems work. They can corrupt political processes. And to the extent that they impact directly on the parliamentary system, they cut to the core of sovereignty itself.”
In announcing the government’s new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme to counter improper foreign influence, Turnbull made a clear distinction between the activities of foreign states and their agents, and Australians with connections to foreign countries.
Turnbull said that while the bill was not concerned with “soft power,” which can be understood as the well-earned cultural or economic attractiveness of a nation, it is focused on bringing to light “covert, coercive, or corrupt” behaviour by foreign agents that, according to the government, “is the line that separates legitimate influence from unacceptable interference.”
“Nations and their representatives will be judged by their behaviour in Australia, not who they are.”
He added that in Australia’s multicultural society, “diaspora communities are part of the solution, not the problem.”
“There is no place for racism or xenophobia in our country,” he said.
Australia’s China Experts Discuss Chinese Communist Party Infiltration in Australia
“The conflicts between two different values systems, and the conflicts between the two political systems are issues that cannot be ignored.”