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Agencies closely watch poll interference

Australian intelligence agencies are monitoring possible Chinese interference in the federal election.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrew said last week the timing of Bejing’s security deal with the Solomon Islands was significant and Beijing was “clearly aware” Australia was in the middle of a federal election.

“We talk about political interference and that has many forms so I think we need to be very much aware of what Beijing is doing,” she said.

Labor took aim at the minister with campaign spokesman Jim Chalmers saying her comments were “remarkably desperate and remarkably unhinged”.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News on Sunday the comments were legitimate.

“We have known that foreign interference is a real risk in the Australian electorate landscape and in Australian politics generally,” he said.

“It’s why we as a government put in place foreign interference laws as part of a range of different protections we have applied to Australia in response to the more aggressive and assertive stance of China and indeed other risks over recent years.”

Asked whether interference was occurring, he said: “That will be a matter for our intelligence analysts and others who would be no doubt monitoring these matters very closely.”

“We have seen enormous hostility in the commentary from elements of the Chinese communist party and their mouthpiece organs in Beijing towards this government,” he said.

“We want to fight this election on the policies as they matter to Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described a possible Chinese military base in the Solomons as a “red line”, but is taking the Solomon Islands government at its word that no such base is intended.

Senator Birmingham said such a base “may necessitate other basing or operational decisions that the US or other partner countries might need to make into the future”.

“We will continue to work with Prime Minister Sogavare and others across the Pacific and we acknowledge his public statements and ongoing commitments that there will not be foreign military bases established in the Solomon Islands.

“And we will continue to provide the record levels of assistance.”

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