Australia PM supports spy chief decision not to name ex politician who ‘sold out’

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 5:33 PM

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Friday he supported the spy chief’s decision not to name a former politician who had “sold out” to a foreign intelligence service.

Director-general of security for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Mike Burgess, said in an annual speech on Wednesday evening his agency had recently confronted a spy ring from a country he did not name, which had recruited an unnamed former politician several years ago.

Current and former members of the opposition party on Thursday pushed the government to release the former politician’s name to avoid insinuations against those who had done nothing wrong.

Burgess said in a statement on Thursday evening ASIO would not release the name, and needed to protect its sources.

“It is an historic matter that was appropriately dealt with at the time. The individual is no longer of security concern,” he said.

Albanese told reporters on Friday that ASIO had not sought his approval for the speech, but he had confidence in Burgess’s decision.

“He does what he believes is in the interests of national security and … has explained in a clear statement of why he did it,” he said.

In the speech, Burgess said the former politician had “sold out” their country and at one point suggested a plot to introduce a family member of the prime minister into the spies’ orbit, although the plan did not go ahead.

Following the revelations, Alex Turnbull, son of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said on Thursday in an interview with News.com.au that he had been approached about an infrastructure project by a group of suspected Chinese agents while his father was in office around 2017.

Australia introduced foreign interference laws in 2018. 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 Stephen Coates)