There are calls for Australia to appoint a foreign interference commissioner who would track and assess the extent of the problem across the country.
- People in Australia targeted by foreign powers often do not report it to police
- An expert says a foreign interference commissioner would create more transparency about the issue
- Alleged political interference has been a key part of China’s ongoing spat with Australia
In a policy brief for think tank China Matters, researcher Dirk van der Kley said such a commissioner could be based at the Australian Human Rights Commission.
His suggestions come as tensions between Canberra and Beijing deepen and details of an Australian police investigation into Chinese political interference continue to emerge.
Dr van der Kley said Chinese attempts at political interference in Australia, which was conducted through the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, had been largely unsuccessful.
He cited actions taken by the Federal Government in recent years that had been strongly opposed by Beijing, such as the decision to ban Huawei from Australia’s 5G network.
However Dr van der Kley said some Australians of Chinese heritage had reported being targeted by the Chinese Communist Party over their political views, with threats being made against their financial assets and relatives in China.
He said it was not known how widespread this type of interference was because it was rarely reported to Australian authorities.
“This is a valid concern and there is little that the Australian Government can do about it.”
Dr van der Kley said he spoke to more than 30 people who said they had experienced intimidation at the hands of Chinese officials, and only three had reported it to police.
He said having a foreign interference commissioner would allow for more transparency around the issue, with the person in that role being tasked with producing a data-based annual report on the problem.
Dr van der Kley also called for the creation of an encrypted portal for victims to report cases of foreign interference. He said the current national security hotline was unencrypted, which may deter some victims from using it.
While more reporting might not lead to a greater number of convictions under the Espionage and Foreign Interference Act, it would help authorities identify members of the community in need of help.
“We tend to talk on, ‘Have there been any convictions under this legislation?’ but we don’t really ask, ‘Has it improved the experience of people in Australia who are victims of these activities?'” Dr van der Kley said.
“Are they facing less intimidation and coercion now than they were before the legislation came in to play?
“We actually don’t have a good read on that.”