Australia is now taking a stance against countries that commit acts of foreign interference, according to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil. This comes after Australian intelligence agencies uncovered an Iranian foreign interference plot. Domestic intelligence agency ASIO declared foreign interference as one of the biggest threats Australia currently faces.
In a speech at the Australian National University on February 14, O’Neil said, “It’s time to bring foreign interference out of the shadows and into the light. Foreign interference is not hypothetical. It is not merely something that lies in our future. It is happening today, and we need to do more to tackle it.”
The minister noted that foreign actors were attempting to covertly influence a range of sectors in Australia, including education, online information, and politics. She said they were trying to “deliberately deteriorate our social fabric and cause conflict and painful rifts between neighbours who have lived peacefully together for many years.”
To address the growing threat, O’Neil has asked ASIO and Home Affairs to develop a community outreach program to identify Australians who might be targets of foreign interference and educate them on what foreign interference looks like and what they can do to respond.
Iran has been named as a foreign interference actor. During the last months of 2022, when the protests against the Iranian regime were growing worldwide, ASIO disrupted a surveillance and intelligence operation on an Iranian Australian.
O’Neil said, “We have someone living here, in our country, who has been followed, watched, and photographed. Their home was invaded by people at the direction of a foreign power. This is happening in Australia, and it’s something that ASIO was onto like a shot. So I want people to understand, to those states that operate in the shadows, we have a very simple message—we are watching you.”
The Voice of America reports that the Iranian regime has responded to the demonstrations with a brutal crackdown that has seen more than 500 people killed, including 70 children. O’Neil said that Australia would no longer tolerate foreign governments attempting to disrupt peaceful protests, push violence, or suppress specific views being expressed.
The opposition has called for more transparency from the government on foreign interference. Liberal Senator Claire Chandler said the Australian community was entitled to more transparency, and opposition spokesperson for countering foreign interference, James Paterson, urged the government to impose the “strongest possible” response.
“Every Australian is entitled to peacefully protest,” Paterson said. “It is the responsibility of the Albanese government to protect these democratic rights with the strongest possible response to deter this activity and send a clear message to those responsible that it will not be tolerated.”