A Liberal MP has taken the extraordinary step of warning Australia’s spy chief to ‘be careful’ not to do anything.
Liberal MP Dave Sharma has taken the extraordinary step of telling Australia’s spy chief to step aside from the political fray.
His blunt warning to Mike Burgess came after the ASIO boss called on politicians to stop militarizing national security.
In a rare media interview, Mr Burgess said he had been clear to political leaders – national security issues should be handled on a bipartisan basis.
“Foreign interference is against all members of parliament, so it does not attack one political party or the other,” he said.
“ASIO is apolitical, my staff are apolitical, they put their lives on the line to protect Australians and Australia from security threats.”
“I will leave the politics to the politicians but I am very clear with everyone, I have to be, it does not help us.”
But Mr Sharma, a Liberal backbencher and former diplomat, dismissed the warning.
“I don’t want to live in an Australia where we can’t debate certain things because spy chiefs tell us not to,” he told ABC News.
“They have to be careful not to interfere in what is the domain of the elected.”
Mr Sharma added that he thought the debate over Australia’s relationship with China was “healthy”.
His intervention echoed comments by Cabinet Minister Simon Birmingham, who insisted the Government’s tactics of using national security to smear Labor were “fair game”.
Intelligence experts on Thursday reiterated their call for the Coalition to tone down its language on China, warning that the perception of a split on national security would only work in favor of Beijing.
Asked about the Senate estimates, Senator Birmingham said the Coalition was simply pointing out the differences between itself and Labour.
“Why is your government trying to manufacture differences with the opposition…when it only works in the interests of one country, and that’s China?” asked Labor’s Kristina Keneally.
“I do not accept this. Our government has simply responded to your leader’s comments and statements,” Senator Birmingham replied.
His swift dismissal led Labor senator Tim Ayres to tell the minister he was ‘dirty, reckless and shameless’.
“You are completely debasing yourself, minister. Absolutely shameful,” Senator Ayres said.
The nasty exchange prompted Liberal committee chairman Eric Abetz to interrupt the hearing so senators could calm down.
Labor was undeterred by the hiatus, which led to another outburst after Senator Keneally questioned the Prime Minister’s decision to label a Labor MP a ‘Manchurian candidate’.
A Manchurian candidate refers to a politician used as a puppet by an enemy or power.
“I’ve seen elections being fought over national security as a key part of the cross-party debate during these election campaigns,” Senator Birmingham said.
“When Australians go to vote, deciding who is best placed to manage our nation’s safety and security is one of the key decisions Australians must make at that time.”
The collapse in estimates follows a rare media interview with ASIO chief Mike Burgess, who warned that politicizing national security was of no use.
Dennis Richardson, former ASIO and Australian Department of Defense boss, said he believed the prime minister would return to bipartisanship on China if the Coalition were re-elected.
“The government is very happy that you and I are talking about this at this time. It suits their political goals,” he told the ABC.
“If he won the election, he would be looking to pick up the pieces and put them back together after the election.”