Defence Minister Richard Marles has stopped short of confirming China attempted to poach Australian Air Force pilots to train its own military.
But Mr Marles flagged tougher laws for people exposed to the nation’s security secrets following an investigation into the allegations Beijing had approached Australian Defence Force personnel.
Speaking to 2GB radio, Mr Marles said the Albanese government would tighten its legislation to make sure the release of classified information – including to foreign powers – would be subject to prosecution.
He said the new national security legislation would ensure there was “absolutely no doubt” about people’s responsibilities before, during and after dealing with Australia’s military secrets.
The crackdown is one of the recommendations made by the Australian Federal Police and ASIO after their review of how well the Defence Department’s policies and procedures protect classified information.
Mr Marles commissioned the probe in November, tasking the AFP and the nation’s top spy agency with investigating allegations several former Australian Defence Force members had been approached to train the Chinese military.
Asked three times on 2GB on Wednesday if the review had found proof that Australian pilots had been approached by China, Mr Marles said only that he couldn’t discuss the matter publicly.
He said the ASIO-AFP investigation had found Defence secrets were already subject to “very robust” policies and laws but had still made several recommendations aimed at strengthening these safeguards.
“This is obviously a concerning set of circumstances and we need to make sure we have the most robust policies in place,” he said.
Mr Marles said every Defence member knew what was expected of them when it came to protecting classified information.
“But the report did recommend that we develop legislation to remove any doubt around the full breadth of the secrets that need to be maintained,” he said.
“And, yes, we will be developing that legislation.”
Mr Marles received another significant review of Defence this week, with former defence chief Angus Houston handing down the final report of the Defence Strategic Review on Tuesday.
The classified review, which will be considered by the federal government over the coming weeks, is expected to recommend a major increase to Australia’s military capabilities.
Mr Marles told parliament the review – against the backdrop of the most complex strategic landscape the country has faced since the end of WWII – was the single most important re-evaluation of Australia’s strategic posture in the last 35 years.
Story Credit: news.com.au