‘Remarkable’: Opposition Questions Decision to Axe Spy Chiefs from Peak Body

The surprise decision comes amid a visit from Beijing’s foreign minister to Australia.The Albanese Labor government has some explaining to do, according to Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Simon Birmingham.His comments come after revelations the federal government removed Australia’s top spy chiefs from the National Security Committee (NSC), the peak decision-making body for security and threats to the country.The NSC normally comprises cabinet ministers and the heads of Australia’s intelligence organisations, including the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO, and the equivalent of MI5 and the FBI overseas), as well as the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS, like MI6 and the CIA).However, on March 18, in the lead-up to an official visit by Beijing’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Canberra, Director-Generals Mike Burgess (ASIO), and Kerri Hartland (ASIS) were revealed to have been axed from the peak body.The opposition’s Mr. Birmingham called the allegations “remarkable.”“ASIO and ASIS have long been regular attenders at NSC meetings and in doing so, I can speak from personal experience, that they provide valuable insight into discussions and, of course, deep knowledge and intelligence understanding,” he told reporters at Parliament House on the morning of March 19.Related Stories“It’s never possible in NSC discussions to pre-empt every direction that a conversation may go in. And that’s why having them at the table is valuable. To ensure that the intelligence and analysis is available when it’s needed to inform the decisions and thinking of ministers around the table,” he said.“To only have them on an as-invited basis, reduces the capacity of these agencies to be able to give the critical advice that is necessary.“If these reports are true, then the Albanese government should be upfront about who is or is not invited on a routine basis to its NSC meetings, then the Albanese government should reverse this decision because it’s important that ministers get the best intelligence advice at the time they need it.”The surprise move also comes amid comments from Labor Trade Minister Don Farrell, who quipped in Parliament on March 18 that he was “not sure” the United States was Australia’s closest ally.“I’m not sure the United States is our most trusted ally,” he told the Senate. “I would have said New Zealand in the whole history of time.“I would have said our closest international ally is New Zealand. But we are very close to the United States, I freely concede that.”Australia relies heavily on the United States for its defence, and is also an major importer of its military hardware. The bilateral relationship is also celebrated yearly.Senator Farrell’s comments and the NSC decision all come as Foreign Minister Wang touches down in Australia.There are hopes the CCP official’s meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong will lead to the eventual removal of wine tariffs. Removing the tariffs will free up around $1 billion of Australian trade with China, a move welcomed by some of the largest wine exporters in the country like Treasury Wine Estates.Previously, the tariffs were imposed as part of a series of trade sanctions against Australia in 2020 following calls from then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.Beijing had also frozen out then-ministers from diplomatic meetings in response to moves to counteract Beijing’s foreign interference and surveillance, including the 2018 5G ban on Huawei and the passing of foreign interference laws.However, with the accession of the Labor Party to government in May 2022, there has been a concerted effort to “normalise” ties between Canberra and Beijing, and a more muted response to Beijing’s hostile activities.For example, in late 2023, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was accused of keeping quiet about a Beijing-instigated sonar incident that injured Australian navy divers, despite meeting with CCP leader Xi Jinping around the same time.Further, in October, the Albanese government revealed it would not be cancelling a 99-year lease on the Port of Darwin to Chinese company Landbridge.The government at the time said the decision was made in conjunction with several other departments including the Departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Attorney-General, Home Affairs, and Office of National Intelligence.

‘Remarkable’: Opposition Questions Decision to Axe Spy Chiefs from Peak Body

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The surprise decision comes amid a visit from Beijing’s foreign minister to Australia.

The Albanese Labor government has some explaining to do, according to Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Simon Birmingham.

His comments come after revelations the federal government removed Australia’s top spy chiefs from the National Security Committee (NSC), the peak decision-making body for security and threats to the country.

The NSC normally comprises cabinet ministers and the heads of Australia’s intelligence organisations, including the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO, and the equivalent of MI5 and the FBI overseas), as well as the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS, like MI6 and the CIA).

However, on March 18, in the lead-up to an official visit by Beijing’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Canberra, Director-Generals Mike Burgess (ASIO), and Kerri Hartland (ASIS) were revealed to have been axed from the peak body.

The opposition’s Mr. Birmingham called the allegations “remarkable.”

“ASIO and ASIS have long been regular attenders at NSC meetings and in doing so, I can speak from personal experience, that they provide valuable insight into discussions and, of course, deep knowledge and intelligence understanding,” he told reporters at Parliament House on the morning of March 19.

“It’s never possible in NSC discussions to pre-empt every direction that a conversation may go in. And that’s why having them at the table is valuable. To ensure that the intelligence and analysis is available when it’s needed to inform the decisions and thinking of ministers around the table,” he said.

“To only have them on an as-invited basis, reduces the capacity of these agencies to be able to give the critical advice that is necessary.

“If these reports are true, then the Albanese government should be upfront about who is or is not invited on a routine basis to its NSC meetings, then the Albanese government should reverse this decision because it’s important that ministers get the best intelligence advice at the time they need it.”

The surprise move also comes amid comments from Labor Trade Minister Don Farrell, who quipped in Parliament on March 18 that he was “not sure” the United States was Australia’s closest ally.

“I’m not sure the United States is our most trusted ally,” he told the Senate. “I would have said New Zealand in the whole history of time.

“I would have said our closest international ally is New Zealand. But we are very close to the United States, I freely concede that.”

Australia relies heavily on the United States for its defence, and is also an major importer of its military hardware. The bilateral relationship is also celebrated yearly.

Senator Farrell’s comments and the NSC decision all come as Foreign Minister Wang touches down in Australia.

There are hopes the CCP official’s meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong will lead to the eventual removal of wine tariffs. Removing the tariffs will free up around $1 billion of Australian trade with China, a move welcomed by some of the largest wine exporters in the country like Treasury Wine Estates.

Previously, the tariffs were imposed as part of a series of trade sanctions against Australia in 2020 following calls from then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

Beijing had also frozen out then-ministers from diplomatic meetings in response to moves to counteract Beijing’s foreign interference and surveillance, including the 2018 5G ban on Huawei and the passing of foreign interference laws.

However, with the accession of the Labor Party to government in May 2022, there has been a concerted effort to “normalise” ties between Canberra and Beijing, and a more muted response to Beijing’s hostile activities.

For example, in late 2023, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was accused of keeping quiet about a Beijing-instigated sonar incident that injured Australian navy divers, despite meeting with CCP leader Xi Jinping around the same time.

Further, in October, the Albanese government revealed it would not be cancelling a 99-year lease on the Port of Darwin to Chinese company Landbridge.

The government at the time said the decision was made in conjunction with several other departments including the Departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Attorney-General, Home Affairs, and Office of National Intelligence.

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