I Spy…

17 April 2024


To name or not to name? That is the question being debated widely after the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Mike Burgess, stated that a former Member of Parliament had been a spy for an unnamed foreign regime. The regime is widely believed to be the Chinese Communist Party.

According to Mike Burgess, the Director-General of ASIO, the unnamed country had assembled a special A-team — an Australian team — to recruit domestic spies, including members of parliament.

“Several years ago, the A-team successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician. This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime. At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a Prime Minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit. Fortunately, that plot did not go ahead, but other schemes did.”

The approaches were not limited to former parliamentarians.

“Another Australian, an aspiring politician, provided insights into the factional dynamics of his party, analysis of a recent election and the names of up-and-comers – presumably so the A-team could target them too.”

The revelation has led to considerable speculation about the identity of the individual. Two former MPs linked with China have denied it was them. The son of a former prime minister had revealed that he may have been a target. But no one knows. Mr Burgess said he will not reveal the identity, saying the person is no longer a threat.

“There are multiple reasons (for not revealing the identity), including the need to protect our sources and capabilities. In this case, while we want the foreign intelligence service to know its cover is blown, we do not want it to unpick how we discovered its activities.”

Four or five names are the subject of speculation, but the media is reluctant to publish, fearing defamation proceedings. A number of high-profile Australians, including former MPs, have close links to China. That does not make them spies.


It is difficult to know the true reasons for mentioning the case. Was it to attract more attention to the annual threat assessment? Was it simply to show that every level of society is being targeted by the foreign regime?

“When we see more Australians being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than ever before, we have a responsibility to call it out. Australians need to know that the threat is real. The threat is now. And the threat is deeper and broader than you might think,” he said.

“Ask the Australian business owners who have been bankrupted or nearly bankrupted because spies stole their intellectual property. Ask the Australians who have been tracked, harassed and intimidated for daring to criticise a foreign regime. Or ask the thousands of Australians who have received online friend requests from spies in disguise.”

Of greater concern is the warning by the ASIO head that the activities are ongoing.

“Right now, there is a particular team in a particular foreign intelligence service with a particular focus on Australia – we are its priority target… The A-team members trawl professional networking sites looking for Australians with access to privileged information, and then use false, anglicised personas to approach.”

Burgess revealed that in one scheme, leading Australian academics and political figures were invited to a conference in an overseas country, with the organisers covering all expenses, including airfares. When the attendees arrived at the conference, they were met by individuals claiming to be bureaucrats. In reality, they were spies in disguise, members of the A-team.

They used the conference to build relationships with the Australians and aggressively target them for recruitment, openly asking who had access to government documents. A few weeks after the conference wrapped up, one of the academics started giving the A-team information about Australia’s national security and defence priorities.


The influence of the CCP in Australia has been known for more than a decade, but many Chinaphiles have refused to acknowledge it. In his book Silent Invasion, Clive Hamilton detailed the widespread infiltration of the nation by various shadowy organisations working for the United Front, an organ of the CCP. His subsequent book, Hidden Hand, revealed the extent of the subversion globally.

Just recently, a local businessman was convicted and jailed for seeking to influence a former cabinet minister. The person in question was far from a high-level operative. How many more like him have been wittingly or unwittingly doing the bidding of Beijing? As Mr Burgess has said, the threats are real.

As a former MP with a large number of Asian constituents, I was regularly invited to travel to China, often to head delegations of business leaders, offers that I declined. I was also informed regularly by constituents about their suspicions that various people were working for the CCP.

Knowledge of the threats was well-known in the Chinese community, but seems to have been ignored for years elsewhere. Perhaps ASIO’s latest assessment will finally alert Australians to the fact that the CCP insists that every Chinese individual and institution, including public entities and private companies, is an instrument of the regime.

While the case of the former MP attracted most of the headlines, the ASIO assessment mentioned two other topics of concern: the possibility of sabotage of key infrastructure and the threat of terrorism. In particular, ASIO highlighted “the realistic possibility of a terrorist attack or attack planning in the next twelve months. POSSIBLE does not mean negligible. ASIO is currently investigating multiple individuals who have discussed conducting terrorism in Australia.” ASIO has been warning of terrorism threats for some years now.

This advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the various state police forces that have allowed anti-Semitic protests to continue unabated, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. The rot started with the weak response to the Black Lives Matter protests a few years ago. Many of the protesters may be the same group of Marxist ideologues who turn out to most left-wing demonstrations, but there are also individuals who have been radicalised by overseas causes and have shown a preparedness to use violence here in Australia. The disconnect between the repeated ASIO warnings and the actions of the state police forces needs to be addressed urgently.


Originally published in The Spectator Australia. Photo by Noelle Otto.

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