Pressure builds to reveal identity of ‘traitor’ former politician

ASIO chief Mike Burgess  refuses to identify the elected traitor who aided a foreign spy ring.

ASIO chief Mike Burgess refuses to identify the elected traitor who aided a foreign spy ring. Photo: AAP

Pressure to identify a former politician accused of advancing “the interest of a foreign regime” is building after the extraordinary revelation by Australia’s spy chief on Wednesday night.

Mike Burgess, director-general of security at ASIO, revealed a foreign government had cultivated and used a former politician for espionage in his annual threat assessment speech.

“This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime,” Burgess said.

“At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a prime minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit.”

Burgess said the plot didn’t go ahead, but others involving the politician had.

Dr Rhys Crawley, a senior lecturer in history at the UNSW Canberra and author of the Official History of ASIO, told The New Daily that Burgess didn’t reveal the politician’s identity because it isn’t ASIO’s job to prosecute people.

“That gets back to this idea that intelligence isn’t evidence,” he said.

“There are good calls from significant people, including senior politicians present and past, that they should name this person.”

Named and shamed?

Those “good calls” included former treasurer Joe Hockey and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

Hockey said that leaving the politician unnamed would “besmirch” the reputation of others.

“For a start, the former politician is a traitor,” he told ABC Radio.

“It makes us all question as representatives in the Parliament who we can trust, who of our current and former colleagues can we trust and that’s ridiculous.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton speculated on 2GB Radio that the unnamed person was former Labor MP Sam Dastyari, although he admitted he wasn’t sure who it was.

Labor senator Sam Dastyari was forced out of office at the age of 34 over foreign interference. Photo: AAP

Ross Babbage, a former head of strategic analysis at the Office of National Assessments, said in 2017 that the Chinese government had likely recruited Dastyari as an “agent of influence”.

He told The New Daily that the individual’s identity will likely be revealed.

“I don’t regard this as particularly surprising, we have been getting increased political warfare from foreign agents,” he said.

“Mike Burgess said if the national security legislation had been retrospective, several people would have been charged, taken to court and likely jailed.”

Labor ministers – like Clare O’Neil and Richard Marles – have defended Burgess’s decision to leave the individual unnamed.

Crawley said only a person within “the safety of Parliament with parliamentary privilege” could reveal the former politician’s identity.

“I’m all for being as transparent as you can,” he said.

“I would hope if they name this individual it should be bipartisan and hopefully done without politicising it.”

National security legislation

Burgess also detailed efforts by foreign governments to infiltrate and engage in espionage against Australia, including recruiting leading academics and emerging political figures.

“Some were unwitting,” Burgess said.

“Others knew they were working for a foreign intelligence service.”

Sarah Kendall, a legal researcher into emerging national security threats at the University of Queensland, said Australia now has a modern legal framework for handling espionage, foreign interference and sabotage offences after overhauling legislation in 2018.

“A person could face quite lengthy periods of imprisonment, anywhere from 10 years to life imprisonment,” she said.

“Australia takes a very hardline approach to legislation for national security risks and threats.”

She said someone was sentenced for the first time under the new laws on Thursday.

“He was found guilty of preparing for [a] foreign interference offence,” Kendall said.

“There is a second man currently being prosecuted at the moment, but I anticipate we’ll see more changes being laid in the future.”

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