Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Sixth Australia-China CEO Roundtable Meeting in Sydney, March 2017.

Last December, while introducing legislation to outlaw foreign interference in Australian politics, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the Australian Parliament that the scale of the threat to Australian democracy and sovereignty from foreign influence campaigns was “unprecedented.” Turnbull did not name any country in particular, but the proposed laws were clearly aimed primarily at Chinese covert interference. This June, the Australian Parliament passed the legislation.

Over the past few years, Australia’s intelligence and security agencies have become increasingly frustrated at the inadequacy of the country’s espionage laws and have felt impotent in the face of the new threat from foreign interference, which has blossomed since the end of the Cold War. When it proposed the new legislation, the Turnbull government noted that existing laws did not target behavior by foreign governments that “falls short of espionage but is intended to harm Australia’s national security or influence Australia’

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  • CLIVE HAMILTON is Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra and the author of Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia.
  • More By Clive Hamilton