The nation’s spy agency has warned foreign governments are targeting diaspora communities, using threats of harm and intimidation against individuals and families in Australia and overseas. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has described the level of foreign interference in the country as “extensive”, with overseas governments seeking to influence diaspora communities “to control opposition”. ASIO, which does not name China in its submission to a Senate inquiry, said interference in Australia involved “clandestine or deceptive activities” overseen by foreign powers. “Australia is a multicultural society with a diverse range of diaspora groups,” ASIO said. “These groups are often the victims of foreign interference. “Interference has included threats of harm to individuals and/or their families, both in Australia and abroad.”
In some cases, foreign governments will seek to use members of the diaspora community in Australia to monitor, direct and influence the activities of the same diaspora communities. “These threats have come directly from foreign government representatives and also from other members of the diaspora communities themselves, acting at the direction of the foreign government.” The national security agency, led by director-general of security Mike Burgess, is in contact with more than 100 ethnic and religious groups and was actively working with diaspora communities to “protect them from attempts at foreign interference”. China has criticised Australia in recent years over moves by the Turnbull and Morrison governments to increase monitoring, detection and enforcement of foreign interference.
ASIO also warned of “communal violence”, described as “activities that promote violence between different groups of people in the community”. “The impact of COVID-19, including a potentially declining economy and increased public anxiety, could motivate disaffected demographics to violence. Groups or individuals promoting communal violence could exploit the pandemic to target specific ethnic communities,” it said. “In the past six months, there have been no large-scale incidents of violence between groups in the Australian community. While community cohesion has been tested by COVID-19 and local reactions to recent overseas protest movements, we do not expect large-scale incidents of communal violence in Australia.”
With the national terrorism threat level remaining at “probable”, ASIO said Sunni Islamist extremism continued to be the “principal source of the terrorist threat”, linked to small groups or individuals. In a separate submission, Australian Multicultural Council chair Sev Ozdowski said it was the responsibility of the government to “protect refugee from attacks on them by the agents of foreign governments”. “The relationship between the countries of origin and refugee communities in Australia may be tense on occasions,” Dr Ozdowski said. “It is important to allow refugee communities to challenge, within Australian law, the human rights abuse abroad and their actions to advance democratic institutions in their country of origin.”
Source: Compiled by APN from media reports