Hack of PM’s WeChat ‘state-sanctioned’: Coalition senator

Photo: Getty

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s WeChat account has been hacked – a move that followed at least six months of issues, according to a Coalition senator.

Mr Morrison’s account on the Chinese social media platform was rebranded to “Australian Chinese new life” earlier this month, the Daily Telegraph reported on Monday.

Coalition members are blaming the Chinese government for the hack. The Liberal chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee James Paterson said the action was sanctioned by the Chinese government and amounted to foreign interference.

“What the Chinese government has done by shutting down an Australian account is foreign interference of Australian democracy in an election year,” Senator Paterson told Sydney radio station 2GB.

“It is very clearly government action in my view. No politician should be on WeChat and legitimising their censorship.”

Senator Paterson said issues with Mr Morrison’s account began about the time he attended G7 meetings in Britain in June 2021.

An agent – who runs Mr Morrison’s account under the app’s terms and conditions – had trouble posting in the middle of 2021. That came at about the time the PM urged global government heads not to become overexposed to Chinese influence.

Senator Paterson said initial problems came as Mr Morrison took a list of 14 demands handed by the Chinese embassy to an Australian journalist to the G7 to warn world leaders about the dangers of giving China too much leverage.

“It wouldn’t be at all surprising if those two events were connected,” he told Sky News.

Senator Paterson said WeChat had not heeded requests from the government to restore access to Mr Morrison’s account.

He called on all Australian politicians to boycott the platform.

“The government has directly appealed to WeChat to restore access and no response has been given, which seems pretty clear WeChat has no intention on allowing the Prime Minister to continue to post,” he said.

Senator Paterson said it was also concerning that 1.2 million Chinese Australians who use the service couldn’t access news from Mr Morrison, but could still see government critiques on the platform from Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.

He said Mr Albanese shouldn’t allow a foreign government to dictate the terms of Australian debate, or dictate how a prime minister could speak to his own people.

“A relatively small number [of politicians] are active on the platform and I think that is appropriate given that it is a surveillance and monitoring platform of overseas Chinese,” Senator Paterson said.

“Now that they are attempting to make a partisan intervention by blocking one side of politics getting out a message on there, it is incumbent on all politicians to get off the platform.”

Liberal MP and former diplomat Dave Sharma also said the move was likely sanctioned by the Chinese government.

Mr Sharma said while Mr Morrison was right to have a WeChat account to connect with Australia’s Chinese diaspora, the platform was ultimately controlled by the Chinese communist party.

“More likely than not it was state-sanctioned and it shows the attitude towards free speech and freedom of expression that comes out of Beijing,” he told Sky News.

Mr Albanese said he would seek a meeting with Mr Morrison to discuss any national security implications of the hacking. However, he noted the Prime MInister was yet to speak about the issue.

“I’ll be seeing [Mr Morrison] this week because of the Australia Day commemorations in Canberra and I’ll have a chat with him directly,” the opposition leader told Brisbane radio station 4BC.

“National security should always be treated seriously, which is why I’m more than happy to have a discussion with either our [security] agencies or Prime Minister.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he had no issues with his account.

Labor’s health spokesperson Mark Butler said the party had not heard about such concerns before and would seek a briefing.

“This is not a partisan issue, this is something that affects the national interest in the broadest possible sense,” he said.

“We would want to seek a briefing from the government about this serious allegation and we seek as far as possible to be bipartisan and supportive of the government’s attempts to repel foreign interference in our democracy.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said WeChat should restore access to Mr Morrison’s account and allow all politicians to use the platform.

“It’s something we would like to see rectified because it’s a method of communication to the Australian Chinese community that is very important,” he said.

“It should be on offer to politicians of all political persuasions, it shouldn’t be a political football. It’s very, very disappointing to see the Prime Minister prevented from having that access.”

-with AAP

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