Australia axes 2 spy chiefs ahead of Chinese foreign minister’s visit – is it to please Beijing?
03/21/2024 // Richard Brown // Views

Australia's government under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has removed the heads of the country's domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, ahead of state visits by Chinese officials.

The center-left Albanese government reportedly axed Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) Director-General Kerri Hartland and Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) Director-General of Security Mike Burgess. Canberra's edict removes both Hartland and Burgess from the Land Down Under's National Security Committee (NSC).

The ASIS is in charge of intelligence gathering and is comparable to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Meanwhile, the ASIO serves as Australia's national security agency and is comparable to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the Epoch Times, the directive to remove the two top intelligence officials from the NSC came from an official order by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Glyn Davis. Composed of government cabinet ministers and intelligence service heads, the NSC serves as the central body for decision-making on critical national security matters. Sky News Australia stated that following their removal, the roles of Hartland and Burgess have been reduced to providing briefings on a case-by-case basis.

Ultimately, the decision to remove the two has sparked debate over concerns that it could potentially impact the effectiveness of Australia's intelligence services.

Australia appears to be cleaning house ahead of Beijing visit

The timing of the move appears to be ahead of an impending visit by Chinese officials, which would make it appear that Canberra is cleaning house to please Beijing.

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Burgess, the ASIO's head since 2019, has consistently raised concerns about foreign interference and espionage. In particular, he has been vocal about the threat of foreign interference on Australian campuses, highlighting the scale of the challenge and the risks posed by aggressive spy networks.

In contrast, Davis was involved in renegotiating a contract with the Confucius Institute – an entity backed by the Chinese Communist Party – despite concerns about the institute's role in spreading propaganda. Critics have seized on this decision to question Davis' judgment, with some suggesting potential biases and conflicts of interest. (Related: Pompeo: All Beijing-run Confucius Institutes in the US could be closed by year-end.)

Revelations of Davis' role in the removal of the two intelligence heads emerged just before the scheduled visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the first in seven years. Albanese also extended a formal invitation to Chinese Premier Li Qiang to visit later this year as part of a diplomatic push for reconciliation with Beijing.

The Albanese government's approach to Beijing has differed significantly from previous administrations, particularly in its response to provocative actions by China. Despite criticisms of a perceived soft stance, the government has pursued efforts to improve relations with Beijing while facing challenges from within and external security concerns regarding strategic assets like the Port of Darwin.

The controversial action has sparked strong criticism from opposition figures, who warn of significant implications for national security.

Shadow Defence Minister Andrew Hastie described the move as a concerning indication of the government's lack of direction on national security. He emphasized the vital role of intelligence chiefs in delivering critical insights to governments and expressed alarm over their absence from the committee responsible for key security decisions.

Shadow Home Affairs Minister James Paterson echoed these concerns, asserting that the decision effectively silenced the most knowledgeable voices on intelligence matters within the government. He emphasized the importance of having access to expert advice from intelligence agencies when making decisions in the national interest.

Cameron Milner, chief of staff for Government Services Minister Bill Shorten, criticized Davis and his close ties to China. He also questioned why intelligence heads were excluded while Davis remained.

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Watch this Russia Today report about China's response to Australia buying U.S.-made nuclear submarines.

This video is from the High Hopes channel on

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