4 Mar 2024

Ex-Australian politician accused of helping international spies was recruited while serving in parliament

7:27 am on 4 March 2024

Australian's Parliament in Canberra. Photo:

A former politician accused of helping an international spy ring was recruited while serving as a member of an Australian parliament.

The boss of Australia's domestic intelligence organisation revealed last week that a foreign spy group dubbed the "A-team" had cultivated and recruited a now-former politician.

Initially, the director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Mike Burgess, provided no information about the person's age, gender or political affiliation.

However, he has since confirmed that although the person is no longer a politician, they were recruited while they were a serving member of parliament.

"The matter is resolved but this happened when they were a politician," he told SBS News.

"I won't comment on which parliament it was, what I will say is foreign interference against the political system happens at all levels of government, local, state and federal, and applies itself equally across all political parties."

Burgess also confirmed the recruitment of the former politician occurred before 2018 and that the "A-Team" had operated for many years.

"We have been watching them over a period of time … and in recent times we have actually taken it up to them and confronted them directly," he said.

"Less than a decade, a number of years, several years."

Attempts to bring in a prime minister's relative

In his annual threat assessment speech, Burgess accused the former politician of selling out their "country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime".

He detailed how the person proposed bringing a family member of a prime minister "into the spies' orbit".

Following his speech, the son of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, Alex Turnbull, told news.com.au he believed he was the target of suspected Chinese agents over an infrastructure project.

He said he immediately rejected the approach and reported it to spy agencies and did not know if he was the family member referred to in the speech.

While speaking to SBS News, Mike Burgess was asked if Alex Turnbull was connected to this particular case.

"I noted his comments but if you listen to what I actually said and look at what Mr Turnbull said I think you conclude they are not the same case," he said.

ASIO boss dismisses calls to name former politician

Late last week, former treasurer Joe Hockey urged ASIO to name the former politician and said that not doing so potentially smeared all former and current politicians.

However, Burgess said he had no intention of naming the person.

"He [Joe Hockey] is entitled to his opinion, I don't agree with him," he said.

"I have said before many times … the vast majority of politicians are thoroughly resistant to this type of foreign interference, that means there is only a small number who are not.

"I don't think I have smeared anyone, the objective was to raise awareness of interference in the political system, it looks like I have achieved that."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he backed the decision by Burgess not to name the person.

"He [Mike Burgess] has my full support and he makes decisions based upon his national security assessments," Albanese told reporters on Sunday.

This story was first published by the ABC.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs