JOHN MENADUE. Who is in charge of Australia’s relations with China? The Australian Prime Minister or ASIO?

ASIO is on a roll in co-ordinating the attack on China and its alleged covert operations in Australia. Only last Friday we learnt that super patriot Andrew Hastie, formerly an officer in SAS and currently Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, cleared his parliamentary speech with ASIO but not his own Prime Minister. That is extraordinary for a person supposedly in parliamentary charge of supervising the activities of ASIO.  

 It is becoming clear that over recent months, ASIO has been a key player in the anti-China campaign. Its Head, Duncan Lewis, has become quite a media fixture. The Australian security complex, as a branch office of the US security complex, has decided that in the national interest, as it sees it, it should brief a range of journalists, exjournalists and writers about the China ‘threat’ and what the government should do in Australia’s relations with China.

Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop are trying in their own vacillating and confused ways to build improved relations with China but ASIO and its media associates are trying to derail their attempts.

The following is what Katherine Murphy reported in The Guardian on Friday, 25 May 2018. (

Hastie didn’t tell the prime minister or the foreign minister what he was doing, nor did he give a heads up widely to colleagues in the intelligence committee, who found out what was going on when their phones started ringing.

But the Liberal backbencher did manage to give Asio a heads up

Lewis told a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday night that Hastie “had a discussion” of a speculative nature with a junior officer in the spy agency. About 90 minutes before the speech, the director general was made aware there was “some prospect” of the contribution going ahead.

Hastie didn’t seek authorisation or clearance for his contribution, Lewis said, but he also made it clear Asio didn’t attempt to stop him from speaking, or alert the government about what might be about to unfold.

Curious, isn’t it? A parliamentarian gives a heads up to the spooks, but not to his own prime minister.

The timing was also curious. Julie Bishop had just wrapped up a lengthy bilateral meeting with her Chinese counterpart in Argentina, which was an effort to calm concerns in Beijing about the government’s foreign interference laws.

It is obvious to anyone watching politics at the moment that the government has been trying over the past few months to defuse a major diplomatic row with Beijing.

The current tensions have an implicit and an explicit trigger. The implicit trigger is the Coalition’s foreign interference laws, which the Chinese believe are directed at them.

I am assuming that this Guardian report is correct. On that assumption I cannot see how either Hastie or Lewis can remain in their positions as head of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, and ASIO.

We have known for months about Duncan Lewis’ public role. But now we learn ,at least in part how he has been acting behind the scenes. Hastie apparently reports to him. And we have also seen our mainstream media, including the ABC, in thrall of the spy narrative. They fall for the untested and gossipy tit bits. They are prepared to accept stories and advice from ASIO whilst dismissing experts of long-standing on China as either China lobbyists or stooges.

But the real tragedy of all this is that whilst there is no doubt that China like other nations including Australia, is involved in COVERT operations in other countries, we are diverted from the key OVERT issue of how we deal with China and its growing influence.

As Hugh White and others have repeated many times, we need to address carefully how we manage the situation with China becoming more powerful and the US in relative decline. China is not going away and we and our neighbours have to find a way to come to terms with that fact.

The Australian Treasury estimates that in 2030 China’s GDP will be $US42.4 trillion and America’s $US24 trillion.

There will of course be downsides as well as upsides in our future relations with China. But we are not addressing them sensibly. ASIO is not helping.

Chinese activity and influence in Australia is small beer compared with US influence. The US has not had an ambassador to Australia for two years, but it doesn’t matter. The US doesn’t really need an ambassador. American interests are represented overwhelmingly by our mainstream media and particularly, the US owned Murdoch media. Our media are branch offices of the media in New York and Washington…. and London for royal weddings. Our media overwhelmingly projects US interests and value, rather than our own.

In addition to the pervasive and saturation media coverage of US interests in Australia, we have thousands of Australian ‘leaders’ who are vocal and constant advocates of the US position. They have been the beneficiaries of generous American drip-feed in a whole range of ways, particularly free travel and grants for decades Our politicians, bureaucrats, foreign affairs media correspondents, trade unions and academics have been showered with this American largesse. US influence is so dominating and pervasive that we hardly notice how our attitudes and thinking are shaped by US interests and the values they project.

By contrast, Chinese influence, whilst growing is quite minor . But being new and different, it is noticed more by immature people like those in our security services and many in our media.

I will be writing further about my experience with our security agencies and their lack of accountability.

We need security agencies but making them accountable is a major problem. The so called supervisors and regulators, including members of parliament, like Hastie, invariably join the security club. It happens time and time again. The club has obviously captured Bill Shorten.

Why does Andrew Hastie report to Duncan Lewis rather than Malcolm Turnbull?

Who is responsible for our relations with China, the Australian government or our security services?


John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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8 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Who is in charge of Australia’s relations with China? The Australian Prime Minister or ASIO?

  1. Avatar Julian says:

    “I cannot see how either Hastie or Lewis can remain in their positions as head of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, and ASIO.”
    I can John. If questioned directly, either or both of these two coots will give the usual avoidance response: “Problem, what problem?”

  2. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    I feel sad and regretful.
    Australia’s past kindness shown
    to China now seems wasted.

    Bob Hawke’s sincere passion was
    warmly appreciated and
    respected by the Chinese.

    Australia could have worked to
    draw out the good in China,
    as her one true Western friend.

  3. Avatar Tony Kevin says:

    Good to see some robust national-interest radicalism in Pearls and Irritations and from its eminent editor John Menadue I support all his expressed concerns here.

    The growing power of ASIO here over our foreign policy echoes the growing power of MI5/6 and their dark outliers like Bellingcat NGO and White Helmets NGO in Syria over British foreign policy. The Skripal Affair, and the way it is constantly linked by London to their aggressive stances on the Syrian civil war and the downing of MH17 , finds its parallel here in the current Australian wave of Sinophobia , being pushed by ASIO and its media mouthpieces, and only weakly opposed by Turnbull and Bishop m while they themselves spinelessly resort to Russophobia as a distraction and cover for their evident Sinophobia.

    I apologise to the Chinese and Russian ambassadors in Australia for our government’s immature and churlish displays of disrespect for their nations, and the courtesies due to their embassies here. This is a new low in Australian foreign policy practice . Abbott with his shirtfronting boasts was bad enough, but that was Abbott. We now see institutionalised hostility towards China and Russia. There is no reason for it. The new Cold Warriors are in charge.

    It is time to hear new voices in Australian foreign policy advice to provide some much needed balance. We need a Team B.

    Here is the URL for the Russian Ambassador’s protest statement today, on the Russian Embassy policy website.

    It is very strong language. I understand why the Russian Foreign Ministry felt such a statement needed to be made, and at the level of Ambassador rather than from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, which in itself sends a message of putting Australia in its place.

  4. Avatar Dr Jennifer Grant says:

    I would like to hear what former members of this committee think. For example, what would former Senator John Faulkner have to say right now if he were prepared to comment at all? No need to publish this remark if you prefer not to.

  5. Avatar ANDREW FARRAN says:

    Quite right! We have been captured by the ‘secret state’ and our citizens’ rights are being daily subverted, salami sliced.

    The ‘secret state’ lives in a bubble nourished daily by thoughts of new threats, spies and other lurking dangers where the response cumulatively over the years has been over-the-top. Otherwise sensible and balanced people of position and influence are easily seduced into honorary membership of the occult secret state, including many politicians now not fit or qualified to ensure effective accountability in that area.

    Australians are very susceptible to a fear of an external threat – the downwards thrust of Asian communism as it was with pointed red arrows directed straight at Darwin, or Russian navies in the Indian Ocean, or some sort of Indonesian invasion – which provides a constituency that feeds or stimulates the fantasies of the ‘secret state’, supposedly necessitating constant public alertness and a suspicion of the unfamiliar. The domestic ‘communist threat’ in those days was clearly overstated and the resulting dramas now look in retrospect pretty pathetic today. Have we learnt anything from those years so as not to repeat it? It seems not.

    It is clear that the ‘secret state’ has too strong a hold and influence on critical multi-dimensional, complex and sensitive issues such as relations with China in a vastly changing region, and the necessity for downward adjustments in regard to the US whose erratic leadership is a greater risk to world peace today, let alone regional peace, than anywhere else.

    In recent years we haven’t slept-walked into the disastrous Asian and Middle East wars as some might claim. We have gone into them very deliberately with one purpose in mind – keeping in line with the US – rain, hail or shine.
    This fixation with security (because of a perceived national insecurity) is blinding those in government from an objective vision or perception of the wider and deeper interests necessary for a uniquely Australian civil society and of a more realistic and proportional basis for long-term national security. In that regard we need to use diplomacy to develop and secure mutually beneficial relationships with our neighbours and to keep out of unnecessary wars, not facilitate or rationalise their carriage.

  6. Avatar mark elliott says:

    interesting.please more on this

  7. Avatar R. N. England says:

    Those of us brought up in the traditional imperialist anglo-culture either accept it or struggle against it. The more worldly we are (the greater our ability to see the world from the viewpoint of other cultures), the more easily we can see evil aspects of our own. The enlightened view goes back a long way, through Gladstone to the European Enlightenment itself.

    Governments neutered by the capitalist ethos cede the most of their power to the private interests that profit most from their spending. Arms producers in the USA (formerly Britain) direct the Australian Government’s foreign policy towards xenophobia for countries with different arms-brand loyalty. Since World War II, ASIO has been a key agency through which this control on Australia is exerted. Now that the Empire is gone, and the arms-brand loyalty of former colonies is all over the place, world Anglo-culture is dominated by the USA. Its old imperial ties long gone, ASIO has become an agency of a foreign power! With its masters behaving so erratically and irrationally, and with their arms products’ decline in value-for-money, ASIO is desperate for its own survival. The greater economic interests of the USA and Australia are linked with those of China. The world is aghast to see the USA throw away theirs in a downward spiral of ignorance and fear. Only their arms industry, and its propaganda arm (the “intelligence”, aka xenophobia industry) stand to profit from this trend.

    The industries of peace need to put more money into directing government policy towards keeping the peace with China, or they will die as the arms industries destroy everything.

  8. Avatar Philip Bond says:

    Given Minister Dutton holds ASIO within his portfolio (heaven help us) therefore is it not Minister Dutton dictating China policy?

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