SYDNEY • Australian intelligence officers and police raided the home and office of an opposition politician yesterday as part of an investigation into alleged Chinese influence operations, officials said.
Security agents searched the properties linked to New South Wales state legislator Shaoquett Moselmane, amid longstanding allegations of his ties to China's ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation confirmed to Agence France-Presse that "search warrant activity is occurring in Sydney as part of an ongoing investigation". They said there was no "specific threat to the community".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia would stand up to any attempt at foreign interference. "The threats in this area are real, the need to take action is necessary," he said. "We won't cop anyone coming and seeking to interfere in our political system."
Mr Moselmane's pro-Beijing positions have long raised eyebrows even among his colleagues in the opposition Labor Party.
New South Wales Labor Party leader Jodi McKay told reporters she was informed about the operation on Mr Moselmane's home and office and said she had begun the process of suspending his membership of the party.
"It's dreadfully concerning," she said. "It's important that every MP focuses on the people in their state."
Mr Moselmane has publicly praised Chinese President Xi Jinping's "unswerving" leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, contrasting it favourably with Australia's own response.
Local media has reported that he hired a staff member who trained at Beijing's Chinese Academy of Governance, a school for Communist Party members going into public office.
The operation is another signal of Canberra's new willingness to tackle allegations of Chinese subversion of Australian politics, and is likely to raise the temperature in an already fractious relationship between Beijing and Canberra.
Last year, the former head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Mr Duncan Lewis, said China wanted to "take over" Australia's political system with an "insidious" and systematic campaign of espionage and influence-peddling.
Mr Lewis at the time cited the case of Labor Party power broker Sam Dastyari - dubbed "Shanghai Sam" - who was forced to resign in 2018 after taking tens of thousands of dollars from a Communist Party-linked donor.
The threats in this area are real, the need to take action is necessary. We won't cop anyone coming and seeking to interfere in our political system.
PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON, on Australia standing up to any attempt at foreign interference.
Mr Morrison's government passed foreign-interference legislation following revelations that wealthy Chinese businessmen with links to Beijing had been bankrolling local parties and candidates across the political spectrum.
The law notably requires the registration of any person or organisation acting on behalf of a foreign government.
As part of that crackdown, the government barred a high-profile Chinese businessman who held permanent Australian residency from returning to the country.
The Australian authorities are also looking into a claim that China had tried to recruit a Melbourne businessman and get him elected to Parliament.
Mr Bo "Nick" Zhao - a 32-year-old luxury car dealer who was a member of Mr Morrison's Liberal Party - apparently rebuffed the offer, and was found dead in a motel room.
China has branded the claims as lies, accusing "some politicians, organisations and media in Australia" of "cooking up so-called China spy cases".