Agencies closely observe interference in surveys

Australia needs to be “very aware” of the potential for Chinese interference in federal elections, says a senior minister.

Australian intelligence agencies are monitoring possible Chinese interference in federal elections.

Interior Minister Karen Andrew said last week that the timing of Beijing’s security deal with the Solomon Islands was significant and Beijing was “clearly aware” that Australia was in the midst of a federal election.

“We talk about political interference and it takes many forms, so I think we need to be very aware of what Beijing is doing,” she said.

The Labor Party took aim at the minister with campaign spokesman Jim Chalmers, saying her comments were “remarkably desperate and notably unbalanced”.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News on Sunday that the comments were legitimate.

“We know that foreign interference is a real risk in the Australian electoral landscape and in Australian politics in general,” he said.

“That is why we as a government have implemented foreign interference laws as part of a series of different protections that we have applied to Australia in response to China’s more aggressive and assertive stance and indeed other risks in recent years.”

Asked whether interference was taking place, he said: “This will be a matter for our intelligence analysts and others who would no doubt be monitoring these matters very closely.”

“We have seen enormous hostility in comments from elements of the Chinese Communist Party and its spokespersons in Beijing towards this government,” he said.

“We want to fight in this election on the policies that matter to Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described a possible Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands as a “red line” but is taking the Solomon Islands government to the letter that such a base is not intended.

Senator Birmingham said such a basis “may require other basic or operational decisions that the US or other partner countries may need to make in the future.”

“We will continue to work with Prime Minister Sogavare and others across the Pacific and acknowledge their public statements and ongoing commitments that there will be no foreign military bases established in the Solomon Islands.

“And we will continue to provide record levels of assistance.”

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