ANDREW FARRAN. It is secret government, not Chinese subversion, we have most to fear.

Paul Barratt has put the country on notice that, as currently practiced by government, Australia could find itself at war before it knew it – see  

Since and including the Vietnam war, decisions purporting to have been taken pursuant to the Prerogative Power, exercisable by the Governor-General in Council, have in fact been exercised at Ministerial level only and can in effect be exercised by any junior defence minister should s/he close to do so.

As Prime Minister Morrison might say: “How easy is that?”

Given that Prime Minister Morrison relies for advice in this area  exclusively on powerful elements in the military/intelligence complex, the incentive for militarising politics has been far too tempting. A series of articles in Pearls and Irritations, led by convenor John Menadue, have critically examined the influence of this cohort and the factors that motivate them and impel their thinking.

Anyone with experience of Australian politics over the past century will be aware how governments create security risks in order to achieve ulterior purposes. Before it was communists under the bed; now it would be Chinese communists in the bed.

In the past week we have seen a recent head of ASIO and former head of the Defence Department, Duncan Lewis, now retired – in an interview with The Age newspaper – seriously warning Australia and Australians that China was seeking to “take over” our political system through insidious, secretive interference. This he asserts is an “existential threat” to Australia. One assumes he uses that expression in the sense used by its originator, the Danish philosopher, Soren Aabye Kierkegaard, which in addition to everything else would seek to take over our minds, bodies and souls. At the least, it implies that we are all at risk to succumbing to the fate or condition of the former Labor Senator, Sam Dastyari. That should not been seen as representative of most Australians.

More specifically Mr Lewis warns that as well as targeting politicians in this respect the Chinese are working to win influence in social, business and media circles. To quote: “Espionage and foreign interference is insidious. It’s effects might not present for decades and by that time it’s too late. You wake up one day and find decisions made in our country that are not in the interests of our country.” Basically, the Chinese would have taken us over, pulling strings from offshore.

But really! We now have the most educated, plugged in, and aware generation in Australia’s history. A few cases of individual vulnerability doesn’t represent a nation. But if a nation is to save itself from what Mr Lewis fears, it must be fully informed about the realities of its situation, at home and abroad, and not fed spurious scenarios for undisclosed purposes. As a free and open society we should not be encased in a plethora of secrecy laws, be subject to secret court proceedings or unreasonable constraints on free speech. More of this and the people will lose confidence in government generally.

Since Vietnam we have been drafted into US wars that have not succeeded in their purpose nor can be shown to have been in Australia’s interests. These wars – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – have resulted in millions of deaths, life changing injuries and the spread of illness and disease. While Australian casualties may have been relatively modest, the fall out here in terms of shattered families, mental illness and suicides is not insignificant. Overall, globally, the consequences of these wars have been devastating and are the main cause of the unsettled state of the world today. Until now we have too readily accepted this as the way things are. To go on doing so will be our undoing.

The fact is, as Paul Barratt has pointed out, that we could be in armed conflict overseas at the press of a button. The Defence Powers as currently exercised are illegitimate, unregulated, open ended, and available to any government without checks and balances beyond the narrow focussing of the National Security Committee. What proportion of the electorate would identify with that Committee’s views on anything, let alone war and peace? How is it that the views of highly informed opinion on China as found in open independent sources differ so much from those held in the Canberra ‘bubble’. How much are people like Mr Lewis captives of their own Canberra bubble?

There are no effective checks and balances in this area apart from political heft which is absent in both major parties. Not only is the initial commitment to conflict not subject to the primary defence power, neither is ‘mission creep’ following an initial deployment, as has occurred in all recent conflicts. Just now what is the reason for troops remaining in Iraq after the ‘training mission’ has concluded? Where might the deployment of our naval vessel or aircraft in and around the Straits of Hormuz lead to if Donald Trump gets his way with Iran?

Avoidance of such pitfalls in future will depend on an informed public and sensible international diplomacy – which means not going out of our way, as do defence/intelligence spokespeople, to brand gratuitously neighbouring powers as enemies of the state. As one-time head of Defence Mr Lewis would surely know that in any foreseeable period or beyond, a serious military conflict with China, with or without the US, would be suicidal for Australia. So why provoke it? History and geography has determined that we, an already half Asian country, must learn to live with Chinese and Asian cultures, whether determined by Beijing or otherwise. Much water will flow under the bridge meanwhile but, for our part, let it flow. As a nation we can cope.

Andrew Farran is a former diplomat, law academic and international trade policy adviser. He is a former Treasurer of Australians for War Powers Reform and currently a committee member.


Andrew Farran is former diplomat, trade adviser to government and senior academic (public law including international law).

Writes extensively on international affairs and defence, contributing previously to major newspapers (metropolitan and rural). Formerly director of major professional publishing company; now of a major wool growing enterprise.

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8 Responses to ANDREW FARRAN. It is secret government, not Chinese subversion, we have most to fear.

  1. Avatar Anthony Pun says:

    The sound of war drums is resonating the country from a cold to hot war with China. This dire prediction of Paul Barratt can be real if we don’t turn them around. Andrew Farran is spot on when he said that secret government is more fearful than the “subversive: Chinese.
    On Ducan Lewis: The old war horse is beating the drum in the SMH (21/11/2019) and attracted a media comment published 22Nov2019: (
    Duncan Lewis has a bad dream similar to Macbeth “when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane” where his dream escalated China “influence” to China “”take over”. It is paranoia, and unnecessary scaremongering. We are look for solutions to protect our national sovereignty, interests and not drumming up the tempo for war with China.

    On the Defector: News media went into a frenzy spinning stories with great jubilation that they got a big one from China and the defector had spill the bean on the “commies”. After nearly 3 years of China Panic, they finally made a score and they are entitled to celebrate. However, in their joy, the security boys were in cloud 9 and have overlooked other issues on defectors, which has been discussed internationally in Quora (see below).
    • Credibility of the Defector:
    • Potential ramification for China:
    • How credible is the Defector’s story:

    On yellow peril: Back on the ground, the collateral damage to Chinese Australians is peaking again with the latest racial tirade in Woolies at a Perth suburb. The comment below which appeared in the SMH (25Nov2019), carries this message: Spare a thought for the poor 1.2 million Chinese Australians!
    The yellow peril of the 1960s is now back on Australian agenda with China returning to be the No. 1 bogeyman. Prof Wanning Sun (UTS) new research shows Chinese migrants don’t always side with China and are happy to promote Australia. (
    Putting a spin on anti-China propaganda may be useful to sell newspaper and promoting a Captain America heroic image of our politicians, “belting the shit out of the commies.”
    The role and position of Chinese Australians are well documented in a Senate Submission (No 50) on nationhood .(
    I have often said publicly that the next generation of politicians coming from the Chinese Australian community should be Australian born in order to dislocate any baggage tag from the their country of birth. Perhaps this rule should be universal to prevent any ideological discrimination.
    The collateral damage to this sensational expose, no doubt a big win for ASIO, could adversely affect the 1.2 million Chinese Australians that it almost certain to create big waves of xenophobic overtones. I urge politicians to be circumspect in their statements and mindful of the stress and trauma of loyal Chinese Australians.

  2. Avatar Peter Small says:

    Could it be that the fundamental problem with Australian politics, perhaps going back to Menzies and Petrov, be the extent that the Liberal Party is embedded in our security services and vice-versa. All controlled by the CIA with the intention of protecting US strategic assets in Australia, which implies keeping Labor out of power?
    Where then is the threat to our sovereignty?

  3. Avatar Lorraine Osborn says:

    This is a very disturbing article. I also wonder whether at a local level, the China “crisis” is the equivalent of throwing the dead cat on the table to take people’s attention away from the economy, climate and the general lousy governance from the LNP. MSM are willing gawkers at and catastrophisers about the deceased feline so most people are receiving both alarming and poorly analysed “news”.

  4. Avatar David Brown says:

    an inditement of the way democracy is currently working only for incompetent and corrupt politicians and wealthy in Australia

  5. Avatar Diana Barry says:

    I agree entirely 😃 we should also change the way parliament works so that we can ask open online questions of our parliamentarians. We should also seek to get rid of career parliamentarians by cutting their salaries, getting rid of pensions,and limiting the number of terms they have to two.

    • Avatar Andreas Wagner says:

      Diana Barry hits the nail on the head, I agree with every suggestion she makes.
      It is well past time for the Australian Federal Parliament to be reformed from the ground up. Oh for an independent Speaker (who else could kick that process off?

  6. Avatar Sam Lee says:

    When white supremacists are supported by the mainstream media for virtue-signalling about the Chinese you know which side has the real influence and power and had in fact already subverted and infiltrated Australia.

    It’s also quite obvious another Nova Scotia has taken place recently, judging from the new campaign that eeriely parallels the same progression as the one a few years’ back, although this time of course a mainstream centre-right publisher of fair facts has now been taken over and is offering its cloak of legitimacy for the campaign in the stead of those previous heralds of the Australian opinion and public affairs whose foreign agency had since become accepted removing their capacity to interfere and subvert this nation.

    Maybe we could ask our government and our taxes to be used, to fund the creation of a national publisher whose strings are only pulled by us Aussies and whose voice and influence will only be used to further our (non-fake) national interest.

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