Government fails its own transparency test on foreign interference

The Foreign Minister’s refusal to answer questions about Australia’s foreign policy response to a serious foreign interference attempt by the Islamic Republic of Iran is in direct contravention of the Home Affairs Minister’s public speech two days ago promising a “trusting, open and accountable conversation with the Australian public”.

Minister O’Neil, in a public speech on Tuesday, declared that “we have someone living here, in our country, who has been followed, watched and photographed. Their home was invaded by people at the direction of a foreign power.”

When the Government declares that a foreign power has directed such egregious activity in Australia, the Senate has every right to ask questions and receive answers about what the foreign policy response of the Government has been in relation to the foreign regime responsible.

As Minister O’Neil went on to say, “We want to deter future [foreign interference operations] by imposing costs on their sponsors…. We have to bring it into the light”. But today, the Government refused to answer the Coalition’s reasonable questions about what foreign policy action the Government has taken as a result of that incident.

Time and again, the Iranian community in Australia has called for tangible diplomatic action to be taken against the IRI for its actions. The confirmation of an Australian resident being surveilled and having their home invaded at the direction of the IRI is a prime example of behaviour which must attract a clear foreign policy response.

It was the Albanese Government which made public this specific incident on Tuesday (the day after Home Affairs Estimates). In doing so, it confirmed the fears of the Iranian-Australian community which have been calling attention to this threat for many months. It is frustratingly inconsistent of the Government to discuss this incident in public on Tuesday but then attempt to deny a Senate Committee the right to ask questions about the government’s foreign policy response to it on Thursday.

The Australian Government must have a consistent approach to bringing foreign interference out into the open. That is clearly not the case when neither Home Affairs or DFAT wish to answer questions about an incident released to the public by a Government Minister.

The recent Senate Inquiry report, in unanimous recommendations, called for greater transparency from the Australian Government about the status of diplomatic relations with the IRI regime. The Committee also called for any Iranian officials considered to be involved in intimidation, threats or monitoring of Australians to be expelled. Despite the confirmation on Tuesday that this activity is occurring at the direction of a foreign power, the public is none the wiser about who was responsible for directing this incident and what action has been taken in response.