Rise in Foreign Interference, Election Disinformation Among Top Concerns for Australian Police Chief

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is warning foreign interference and espionage is on the rise in the country’s ethnic communities and expressed concern that disinformation could impact Australia’s upcoming election. Reece Kershaw, AFP commissioner, outlined activities the law enforcement agency had undertaken over the past year in a hearing before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. “Most Australians won’t see foreign interference or be targeted by foreign interference,” Kershaw said in his opening statement on Feb. 14. “But it has the potential to affect every Australian because it erodes democracy and our institutions.” “The AFP is aware of increased espionage and foreign interference threats,” he added. “In the past 18 months, the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce has achieved a number of successful disruptions, most significantly in relation to democratic institutions.” AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw speaks to the media in Sydney, Australia, on June 08, 2021. (Mark Evans/Getty Images) Kershaw cited the arrest and laying of charges against Melbourne man, Duong Di Sanh, who is now in court for “preparing for a foreign interference offence.” “A priority continues to be the development of national arrangements to identify and respond to interference against diaspora communities in Australia,” he said. The police chief said segments of these communities—deemed to be dissidents by authoritarian states—face monitoring and harassment to silence them from speaking out and criticising overseas governments or regimes. “Foreign interference is an insidious and resource-intensive crime, and one that I expect will continue to grow and converge with other crime types in Australia,” Kershaw warned. He was confident, however, that the AFP and other security apparatus had the expertise to tackle potential offenders. On Feb. 9, Mike Burgess, director-general of Australia’s domestic spy agency revealed details of a plot by an unnamed foreign government conspiring to bankroll electorate candidates at the next election—the candidates themselves were not aware of the plot. It was later alleged that the state-actor in question was the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the political party being targeted was the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) candidates in New South Wales. Meanwhile, Kershaw expressed concern over the “prevalence of disinformation” surrounding the build-up to this year’s federal election, which is due before May 2022. “Where disinformation reaches a criminal threshold—particularly where it urges or advocates violence—the AFP will be exercising the full force of its powers.” The police chief cited the arrest and charge of a Sydney man responsible for sending over 23 million messages during two by-elections—the 2019 Wentworth by-election and 2020 Eden-Monaro. Follow Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]

Rise in Foreign Interference, Election Disinformation Among Top Concerns for Australian Police Chief

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is warning foreign interference and espionage is on the rise in the country’s ethnic communities and expressed concern that disinformation could impact Australia’s upcoming election.

Reece Kershaw, AFP commissioner, outlined activities the law enforcement agency had undertaken over the past year in a hearing before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.

“Most Australians won’t see foreign interference or be targeted by foreign interference,” Kershaw said in his opening statement on Feb. 14. “But it has the potential to affect every Australian because it erodes democracy and our institutions.”

“The AFP is aware of increased espionage and foreign interference threats,” he added. “In the past 18 months, the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce has achieved a number of successful disruptions, most significantly in relation to democratic institutions.”

Epoch Times Photo
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw speaks to the media in Sydney, Australia, on June 08, 2021. (Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Kershaw cited the arrest and laying of charges against Melbourne man, Duong Di Sanh, who is now in court for “preparing for a foreign interference offence.”

“A priority continues to be the development of national arrangements to identify and respond to interference against diaspora communities in Australia,” he said.

The police chief said segments of these communities—deemed to be dissidents by authoritarian states—face monitoring and harassment to silence them from speaking out and criticising overseas governments or regimes.

“Foreign interference is an insidious and resource-intensive crime, and one that I expect will continue to grow and converge with other crime types in Australia,” Kershaw warned. He was confident, however, that the AFP and other security apparatus had the expertise to tackle potential offenders.

On Feb. 9, Mike Burgess, director-general of Australia’s domestic spy agency revealed details of a plot by an unnamed foreign government conspiring to bankroll electorate candidates at the next election—the candidates themselves were not aware of the plot.

It was later alleged that the state-actor in question was the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the political party being targeted was the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) candidates in New South Wales.

Meanwhile, Kershaw expressed concern over the “prevalence of disinformation” surrounding the build-up to this year’s federal election, which is due before May 2022.

“Where disinformation reaches a criminal threshold—particularly where it urges or advocates violence—the AFP will be exercising the full force of its powers.”

The police chief cited the arrest and charge of a Sydney man responsible for sending over 23 million messages during two by-elections—the 2019 Wentworth by-election and 2020 Eden-Monaro.


Follow

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]