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Australia vows to call out countries engaging in foreign interference

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Australia has vowed to name and shame nations responsible for engaging in foreign interference campaigns.

In a major speech on Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil revealed late last year ASIO disrupted an Iranian government operation in Australia.

The plot targeted an Iranian-Australian connected to protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman in Tehran who was accused of not wearing her hijab correctly.

“ASIO disrupted the activities of individuals who had conducted surveillance of the home of an Iranian-Australian, as well as extensive research of this individual and their family,” Ms O’Neil told the National Security College at the Australian National University.

“I’m pleased to say our agencies were onto it like a shot. ASIO tracked the operation and shut it down immediately.”

Foreign interference is a growing problem in Australia and the minister said that where it was possible the government would seek to call it out.

“To those states who operate in the shadows, I have a simple message: we are watching you,” she said.

“Where our national interest is served by calling out your operations, we will.”

Speaking later at a meeting of the Labor Party caucus, Ms O’Neil labelled foreign interference and espionage as the “biggest domestic threat”.

“This is a much bigger problem than the public conversation reflects,” she told Labor MPs.

While China was not mentioned in Ms O’Neil’s speech, the home affairs minister referred to an unnamed country’s attempt to last year collect “sensitive personal information of individuals seen as dissidents by the foreign government”.

She took particular aim at authoritarian and hostile regimes targeting diaspora groups in Australia.

“There are examples of individuals attending peaceful protests here in Australia to overtly monitor, take photos, and follow protesters with the intent of providing this information to their country’s foreign intelligence service,” she detailed.

“There are examples of individuals arranging counter-protests to instigate arguments with activists with the intent of provoking violence – all at the request of a foreign intelligence service.

Academics and staff at media outlets and think tanks have also been targeted.

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