MELBOURNE: A 65-year-old man has become the first person to be charged under Australia’s foreign interference laws that were passed two years ago, police said on Thursday (Nov 5).
Di Sanh Duong has a relationship with a foreign intelligence agency, an Australian Federal Police statement said.
Police would not name the country, but the legislation largely targets China’s growing influence.
Duong holds senior positions in a number of Chinese community associations in the state of Victoria, including the Oceania Federation of Chinese Organisations and the Chinese Museum, according to organisation records seen by Reuters, websites and press statements.
Duong was charged in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday with preparing for a foreign interference offence, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
He was released on bail to appear in court again in March next year.
The charge followed a year-long investigation by the Counter Foreign Interference (CFI) Task Force which was led by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) – the nation’s domestic spy agency – and federal police, the statement said.
“The CFI Task Force has taken preventative action to disrupt this individual at an early stage,” police Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney said.
“Foreign interference is contrary to Australia’s national interest, it goes to the heart of our democracy,” he said. “It is corrupting and deceptive, and goes beyond routine diplomatic influence practiced by governments.”
Australia passed laws in 2018 that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics and make industrial espionage for a foreign power a crime.
When the legislation was introduced to parliament, then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull referred to media reports about covert interference by the Chinese Communist Party, and said he was galvanised to take action by a classified ASIO report.
China, Australia’s most important trading partner, took offence to the laws.