National Security

Transcript | Sky News FIrst Edition | 09 May 2024

May 9, 2024

Thursday 09 May 2024
Interview on Sky News First Edition
Subjects: CCP hacking attempt on parliamentarians, PLAAF-ADF Yellow Sea incident

PETER STEFANOVIC: Australian spy agencies were reportedly told twice that a group of Australian MPs belonging to an international committee on China had been targeted by Chinese hackers. One of those targeted was the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, James Paterson, who joins us now. James, good to see you. First of all, is this true?

JAMES PATERSON: Morning. Yes, it is true Pete. Myself and at least six other Australian MPs were targeted by hackers APT31, which is an advanced persistent threat actor acting on behalf of the Ministry of State Security, according to media reports. They attempted to intrude into our phones. We were advised that intrusion was not successful, but it is yet more evidence that we do not have a normal bilateral relationship with China, and that it's going to be very difficult to stabilise, let alone normalise that relationship, while it shows such flagrant disregard for our democratic institutions and norms. It is not acceptable to try and hack the phone of a member of parliament as they have done, particularly because they selected members of parliament who had been outspoken about China, its human rights abuses, its foreign interference and its activities in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

STEFANOVIC: So to get into your phones, what's that to access information, conversation, contacts, whatever relating to China?

PATERSON: The advice we've received from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, which was briefed on this issue by the FBI, is that this was an initial reconnaissance mission to try and gain information about our devices, which could then be used for follow up attacks to compromise our devices. Yes, to try and find out information on our devices and other kind of surveillance operations against us. Now as you say, our agencies have advised us it was not successful. In our view we should have been told at the time when it happened, and our agencies have acknowledged that now and said that if in future we are specifically targeted like this, we will be told.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah. So that's the other part of this, right? You weren't told for what? Two years?

PATERSON: That's right. And it's important that we are told for two reasons. One, so we can take preventative actions to protect ourselves, our staff, our family members and others who might be targeted. And two, so the Parliament can be informed about how it might like to respond to acts like this. Australia can publicly attribute attacks like this to the Chinese government, and we should do so. We've also got Magnitsky style sanctions, which allow us to personally sanction those responsible for this. And in fact, the United States government has done so. It's open to us to join that at any time, but not if we are in the dark about it.

STEFANOVIC: Still on China, they now have accused us of spying James, what do you make of that?

PATERSON: Well, there's no evidence to support the Chinese government's claims and no reason for us to disagree with the Australian Defence Force statements about this, which is that we were in international waters. I should say Pete though, even if we were in, hypothetically, China's exclusive economic zone, this would still be an utterly unacceptable, intimidatory and coercive thing to do, and we would never accept it. It doesn't exonerate the Chinese government if it was in it's economic zone, but we know it wasn't. It was in international waters, as part of a United Nations sanctioned mission. So it's totally inappropriate behaviour, but it's a pattern of behaviour, it's being repeated and they are testing Australia. And it's critical that we show resolve and strength in return and not weakness and ambivalence. Now the Prime Minister says this has been raised at every level, but then we learned that neither he nor the Foreign Minister nor the Defence Minister have used their relationships with their counterparts to raise it. That sends a very bad signal about our resolve and our strength and our willingness to stand up for ourselves.

STEFANOVIC: Just on this jet flare confrontation, a report overseas suggests that the UK Air Force Chief reckons Australia should release the video of the confrontation. Do you think that our government should do that?

PATERSON: There might be good operational reasons why it's not appropriate or safe to do that, but if there are no operational barriers to do that, I agree. I think we should release it, and I think that would be illustrative of what happened here and just how dangerous it was and why it was only through the skill and fast reaction of the Australian service personnel that a serious incident was avoided here. That would help illustrate the behaviour here and just how malign it is and how repeated it is. Remember this has happened in Japan's exclusive economic zone. It's happened in the South China Sea, it's happened in the Arafura Sea. It's happened all around the world. And not just to Australia either. It's a very consistent pattern of bullying and intimidation and coercion from the Chinese Communist Party. We cannot give in to it.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. James Paterson, good to chat as always. We'll see you soon.


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