A secret government report uncovered China’s attempts to influence all levels of politics in Australia

Pro-Chinese supporters.

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Pro-Chinese supporters.
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Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

  • A secret report commissioned by Australia’s prime minister found attempts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to influence all levels of government.
  • The report found the CCP’s interference attempts have been going on for a decade, and described China as the country that is most concerning to Australia.
  • The inquiry was led by a former government adviser who spoke to the US Armed Services Committee about China’s growing political interference earlier this year.

A classified government report uncovered attempts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to influence all levels of politics in Australia.

The report was commissioned by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2016, and used the resources of both the prime minister’s office and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO).

According to the Australian news outlet 9News, and later confirmed by Fairfax Media, the yearlong inquiry found the CCP has tried to influence policy and gain access to all levels of government for a decade. The report also described China as the most concerning country to Australia.

It was the work of this inquiry, which also looked into China’s influence attempts on the media and academia, that led Turnbull to propose new laws targeting espionage, foreign political donations and foreign interference in December 2017.

At the time of the announcement, Turnbull confirmed the existence of the report, but did not indicate its findings.

“When I initiated a report into this in August last year, through my department, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) had made significant investigative breakthroughs and delivered a series of very grave warnings,” said Turnbull. “But our agencies lacked the legislative tools they needed to act. And it’s fair to say that our system as a whole had not grasped the nature and the magnitude of the threat.’

He added: “The findings of the report are necessarily classified. But I can say the reasons for initiating this work were justified and the outcomes have galvanized us to take action.”

It has now been revealed that the inquiry, which also reportedly looked into political donors linked to China, was headed by John Garnaut, a former senior adviser to Turnbull and a former China news correspondent.

In March, Garnaut spoke to the US House Armed Services Committee about China’s interference operations within Australia, describing the CCP as “very good at it” particularly compared to Russia.

“Unlike Russia, which seems to be as much for a good time rather than a long time, the Chinese are strategic, patient, and they set down foundations of organizations and very consistent narratives over a long period of time,” Garnaut told the committee.

“They put an enormous amount of effort into making sure we don’t talk about what it’s doing,” he said, adding that countries have “failed to recognize a lot of the activity that has been going on.”

Garnaut’s comments were echoed last week by the head of ASIO, though he did not explicitly mention China.

“Foreign actors covertly attempt to influence and shape the views of members of the Australian public, the Australian media and officials in the Australian government, as well as members of the diaspora communities here in Australia,” Duncan Lewis told an Australian Senate estimates hearing. “Clandestine interference is designed to advance the objectives of the foreign actor to the detriment of Australia and to our national interests.”

Relations have become strainedbetween China and Australia ever since Turnbull proposed the new legislation last year.