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No one should be surprised Australian politicians have been mingling with foreign spies

By Murray Hunter - posted Friday, 1 March 2024

The Australia media on Thursday 29th February was abuzz with two stories concerning so-called spies.

First, the Director General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) Mark Burgess claimed that a person working within a foreign intelligence cell in Australia, dubbed the "A-Team" was offered access to a former but unnamed prime minister.

The second story was that a Chinese-Australian business man and former Liberal political candidate Di Sanh Duong was jailed for two and a half years for attempting to influence a former acting immigration minister, Alan Tudge, Di Sanh Duong is believed to be the first person convicted under the Foreign Interference Act, passed in 2018 by the federal parliament.


Influence operations by foreign governments has been going on in Canberra since the 1950s. Many potential Australians have been cultivated by the US government and associated agencies. This grooming included all-expense paid invitations for trips to conferences in the United States and the introduction to officials.

Leaked US Embassy cables in Caberra and consults in Sydney and Melbourne, published by Wikileaks found that former NSW Premier and foreign Minister Bob Carr had been briefing the US embassy since the 1970s on the internal decision making of the Australian Government during the Whitlam era, and on the internal workings of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). This relationship began in the mid-1970s when Carr was president of Young Labor and an education officer of the NSW Labor council. In recent years, Carr has been close to the Chinese, and has been of interest to Australian intelligence organizations in the past.

Wikileaks cables also pointed to former Labor senator Mark Arbib, who was a 'protected' US embassy source, passing on information and commentary about Australian politics.

US diplomatic cables also implicated the former Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president and later prime minister Bob Hawke, saying he regularly conferred with the US Consulate in Melbourne during his ACTU years. Leaked US documents have confirmed what many believed that the US had infiltrated the Australian Labor Party. One cannot forget former ALP party secretary David Combe's relationship with Soviet diplomat back in 1984, which led to swift action on the part of the Hawke government at the time, in the interests of sovereignty and transparency.

Fast forward to the present, the current foreign minister Penny Wong's brother is a member of Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce organization – Youth Entrepreneurs Committee in Malaysia, which is directly funded by the Chinese United Front.

These relationships don't mean any ill-proprietary. Wong's relationship is one degree away. In Asia, organizations seek funds from any source willing to provide them.


In Australia today, 5.5 percent of the population are Chinese. Most are proudly Chinese and have a strong loyalty towards China. They are also Australians and proud to be a citizen. The Chinese diaspora doesn't see any conflict in this. Actions taken to benefit both parties would be considered something positive. This is the culture Australia must deal with as diaspora identity is complex and blurred. The former Liberal MP Gladys Liu had to deal with this. She would always be guilty by association. Just like Penny Wong's brother, Liu was a member of the China Overseas Exchange Association, purported to be a bureau within the United Front, Liu also associated with members of the local Chinese community, who were also purported to be connected wit the CCP. So, was Liu a patriotic Australian trying to bring Australian-Chinese relationship closer, or a person of influence?

If one reads Clive Hamilton's 2018 tome 'The Silent Invasion: China's Influence in Australia', no one will be surprised with the networking, financial enticements, donations to political parties, organizational connections with universities and labour unions, and even 'honey traps' set by foreign entities carried out at all levels of Australian politics and government today. China is doing at an unprecedented level, what the US did in the 50s onwards in Australia. What China has is a massive diaspora, which extends Chinese influence at all levels in Australian society.

The author knows for a fact, this was all studied and planned by the Chinese more than two decades ago, where Chinese academics, the diaspora in Australia, and intelligence worked hand in hand to develop an executable multipronged strategy. This strategy is much more sophisticated than what Philip Agee described about the CIA in the 50s and 60s, in 'Inside the Company: CIA Diary'.

Today, many acts of espionage are not even recognized as such, disguised as cultural exchange, mutual cooperations, or just friendships. One will not even know they have come in contact with a foreign operative.

Espionage has become blurred today.


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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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