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PM backs spy chief keeping politician turncoat secret

ASIO chief Mike Burgess revealed an unnamed former politician had been caught up in a spy ring. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

By Dominic Giannini and Tess Ikonomou in Canberra

The prime minister has defended the chief spy’s decision to not name a former Australian politician who betrayed the nation after being recruited by foreign spies.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess revealed an ex-politician had been caught up in a spy ring and “sold out their country, party and former colleagues”.

He has since come under intense pressure to name the individual.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he has confidence in the intelligence organisation.

“The idea that any minister in my government will just go out against the wishes of the ASIO director-general I find quite extraordinary,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.

Mr Burgess made an independent decision to not name the person, with Mr Albanese saying the director-general’s speeches aren’t run by his office.

He revealed he was not aware of who the person was but “what we know is that it was wrong”.

“One of the things that we need to do as a nation is to build confidence in our agencies, not engage in short term politics or speculation like some have done – that’s not responsible,” he said.

“I will support our national security agencies and I think that all sides of politics should do that.”

Mr Burgess said the spy agency was sticking to its long-standing practice of not publicly discussing operational details.

“There are multiple reasons for this, including the need to protect our sources and capabilities,” he said in a statement on Thursday night.

“In this case, while we want the foreign intelligence service to know its cover is blown, we do not want it to unpick how we discovered its activities.”

Mr Burgess said it was a “historic matter that was appropriately dealt with at the time” and the person was no longer a security concern.

Foreign interference laws came into effect in late 2018.

International law expert Professor Don Rothwell said it could be devised the former politician was active before that time or authorities didn’t have enough evidence to support a prosecution.

Multiple MPs across party lines, speaking to AAP on the condition of anonymity, expressed reservations about retroactively applying the 2018 law despite being outraged at the person’s conduct.

Reasons for this included it was legally dubious to retrofit laws and a person shouldn’t be targeted for following the laws of the land at that time.

But another wanted all levers to be used to ensure the person faced justice and didn’t get away with “betraying their country”.

“There’s a line and this crosses party politics,” they said.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton supports discussion about retrofitting the laws as “the most egregious act is from somebody in public office who betrays their country”.

In the same speech that outed the former politician and exposed Australian academics and a political party insider caught up in the foreign spy network’s web, Mr Burgess flagged previous actions would be covered by current laws.

“Several individuals should be grateful the espionage and foreign interference laws are not retrospective,” Mr Burgess said.

It was also difficult to prosecute anyone under foreign interference or espionage laws, including because it required the use of classified material agencies didn’t want in the public domain, opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said.

The first person found guilty under the 2018 foreign interference laws was former Liberal Party candidate Di Sanh Duong on Thursday.

He will spend 12 months behind bars after he cultivated a relationship with the then-federal multicultural affairs minister, Alan Tudge, on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

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One Response to PM backs spy chief keeping politician turncoat secret

cbrapsycho says: 1 March 2024 at 8:58 am

Dutton says, “The most egregious act is from somebody in public office who betrays their country and I wouldn’t have any tolerance for it whatsoever,”. This is the same man who undermined our border security by loudly proclaiming that our borders were open when nothing could be further from the truth, thus inviting people smugglers to reactivate.

It is the same man who continually tries to divide the country on racial grounds by sowing fear of different cultural groups whether it be Africans (who apparently stop people from going out to dinner in Melbourne) or Palestinians immigrating to escape Gaza, or First Nations Australians, by attacking them and sensationalising isolated actions for which he blames the entire group.

He didn’t want white South African farmers or au pairs to be subject to normal immigration processes. He continually ignores ASIO’s warnings about his behaviour and the harm it does to our national security, for the sake of his personal politics and ambition. He is not fit to lead our country, undermining our peace and security all too often.

The demands to know who the politician was (not who the other parties were who worked with foreign powers) is very personal, a desire to have himself and his mates declared innocent so they can continue their political and business objectives where they seek gains under AUKUS. As usual, he ignores the wider implications of his actions and demands. Is this lack of strategic thinking skills, inability for critical thinking, stupidity, ignorance, or pure political ambition that overrides any concerns about national security and community well-being?


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