Calls for Australian spy chief to name ex-politician who ‘sold out’

By Thomson Reuters Feb 28, 2024 | 10:02 PM

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s spy chief faced calls on Thursday to name the former politician he said had “sold out” to a foreign intelligence service, with Canberra’s former ambassador to the United States saying it could “potentially smear everyone” unless the person was identified.

Director-general of security for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Mike Burgess, said in an annual speech on Wednesday evening his agency had confronted a spy ring from a country he did not name, letting them know its cover had been blown.

He said the foreign agency had “successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician” several years ago. Burgess did not identify the politician, and said the person had not been charged by police because they were no longer active.

“This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime,” he said.

Former Liberal party politician Joe Hockey, who also served as Australia’s ambassador to the United States, wrote on social media that ASIO should name the politician.

“Mr Burgess, having gone this far, must name that person rather than potentially smear everyone who has served their country,” Hockey wrote on X.

Opposition party leader Peter Dutton said on radio station 2GB the if Burgess did not identify the person “then there is a cloud hanging over everybody else.”

Defence Minister Richard Marles said he was not aware of the details of the case, but told reporters in Canberra he respected ASIO’s decision to keep the name confidential.

“What’s important here to understand is, firstly, that there is a threat of foreign espionage in this country, that those of us who are involved in public administration, including politicians, obviously, need to be completely vigilant about that,” he added.

Australia introduced foreign interference laws under the Liberal government in 2018. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who introduced the laws, later said the “key purpose” of the measures was to expose China’s activities.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)