China journos ‘an espionage threat’

China journos ‘an espionage threat’

Ben Packham – The Australian – Tuesday 20 October 2020

Liberal senator James Paterson has called for Chinese state media to be denied unrestricted access to the federal parliament as “journalists”, warning there is a risk they could be involved in “espionage activities”.

He told a Senate estimates hearing that a June 26 incident in the Prime Minister’s courtyard, when a representative of China’s Xinhua News Agency was reported for filming other journalists, had alarmed some occupants of the building.

“We now know that on that day – we didn’t know it at the time – that two members of the Xinhua News Agency were raided by ASIO in connection with a foreign interference investigation,” Senator Paterson said.

He urged the Department of Parliamentary Services and Senate president Scott Ryan to consider rule changes that would prevent state media from oneparty, totalitarian countries having “unfettered access” to the parliament for themselves and their guests.

“We are not talking about the Associated Press here,” Senator Paterson said.

“We are now living in the era of state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, and there have been credible accusations that state-media journalists have been involved in covert espionage activities all around the world.”

But Senator Ryan said he would not like to see a situation where politicians could use “a well-intentioned power to restrict free media”.

“The parliament has granted some autonomy to a press gallery . to determine which members of the press gain access,” he said.

“I would be reluctant for politicians to be interfering with the determination of a press gallery decision of what constitutes a journalist.”

Press gallery president David Crowe said it was not for the media to decide “who are the appropriate journalists” to allow entry to parliament.

“Just like Australia has a stateowned public broadcaster that seeks access to press conferences overseas, we acknowledge the right of foreign media to seek access to the press gallery of Parliament House,” Crowe said.

“If there is a genuine security concern about any of these people, the Department of Parliamentary Services knows who they are, knows their pass numbers and their phone numbers, so they can contact them.”

He said the Xinhua representatives had been cautioned by DPS about the June 26 incident.

Four Chinese media representatives – including two Xinhua reporters – were raided by ASIO on June 26 as part of its foreign interference investigation into NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane’s adviser John Zhang.

China’s attempted detention of Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Mike Smith, who left the country on the advice of the Australian government, is believed to have been payback for the ASIO raids.

Labor senator Kimberley Kitching endorsed Senator Paterson’s call, saying there was a danger that “the openness of our system is potentially going to be used against us”.

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