Spy chief warns: Keep party politics out of national security

Scott Morrison has doubled down on political attacks about national security issues, despite a current and former head of ASIO warning against such moves.

Feb 17, 2022, updated Feb 17, 2022
Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison (top) speaks during Question Time in the previous parliament. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison (top) speaks during Question Time in the previous parliament. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The prime minister on Thursday used Question Time to criticise Labor’s stance on China, arguing Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese was the Chinese government’s preferred candidate at the upcoming election.

It comes as ASIO director-general Mike Burgess used a rare TV interview to label the politicisation of national security issues as “not helpful”.

Meanwhile, former ASIO head Dennis Richardson said such attacks were not in the national interest and sought to benefit China.

While Mr Morrison was criticised for calling Labor deputy leader Richard Marles a “Manchurian candidate” earlier this week, he continued to criticise the opposition on national security.

“If there is any country out there, including in our region, who think they can bully and coerce Australia they won’t find a preferred candidate in this prime minister, but they might find one on the other side, and they certainly seem to have found one,” Morrison said.

“The leader of the Labor Party is the Chinese government’s pick at this election.”

However, Mr Albanese on Thursday revealed a letter written to him by the prime minister on October 8 last year, which thanked the opposition leader for bipartisan support on national security.

The opposition leader has dismissed the round of attacks as a scare campaign ahead of the federal election, saying the national interest was above party politics.

It comes after Mr Burgess spoke against politicising national security issues – which are normally treated on a bipartisan basis – in an interview with the ABC’s 7.30 program.

“Foreign interference is against all members of parliament, so it doesn’t go after one political party or the other,” he said.

“ASIO is apolitical, my staff are apolitical, they put their lives on the line to actually protect Australians and Australia from threats of security.”

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews denied the government was seeking to politicise national security, stating MPs were trying to emphasise differences in approaches to the issue.

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“The national security interests of Australia are served very well by the Morrison government … there are other people that will have their own views on that, and they are entirely at liberty to have,” she said.

“Labor has to demonstrate its bona fides on national security. In my view, they are seriously lacking.”

Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally labelled the comments as a desperate act.

“(The prime minister) was seeking to use national security in a domestic political context and that has been called out by the ASIO director-general,” she told ABC Radio.

“I would encourage the prime minister to consider the risky rhetoric he is running.”

Defence secretary Greg Moriarty told a Senate estimates hearing national resilience depended on unity.

“Of course, adversaries will seek to sow division, over many centuries that has been the case, in a variety of circumstances,” he said.


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