opinion

Senator Claire Chandler: I’m one of the Australian MPs the CCP tried to hack – here’s why I was targeted

Senator Claire Chandler
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Senator Claire Chandler found out she was a target of a hacking attempt by a PRC-state-sponsored hacking group.
Senator Claire Chandler found out she was a target of a hacking attempt by a PRC-state-sponsored hacking group. Credit: Supplied/ASD

This month I found out I was a target of a hacking attempt by a PRC-state-sponsored hacking group.

As reported exclusively by Latika Bourke in The Nightly, I was targeted along with at least five other parliamentary colleagues – both Labor and Liberal – because I’m a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC).

It’s a group of legislators from around the world who are concerned about the increasingly aggressive and coercive behaviour of the Chinese Government.

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Although it is naturally unpleasant to discover that you’ve been personally targeted in a cyber interference attempt by a foreign regime, it’s not overly surprising that the CCP and its army of hackers would target its critics in parliaments around the world.

What was staggering is that our security and intelligence services were told that we were targeted more than two years ago, but they never told us.

We found out this month only after IPAC became aware following the unsealing of a US indictment against the hackers.

The targeting of democratically elected parliamentarians in this cyber hack is clearly an attempt by an authoritarian regime to find new ways to manipulate our democratic processes.

That’s one of many reasons why it is unacceptable that parliamentarians weren’t told that we were targeted.

Anyone targeted by a foreign power wants to assure themselves that everything possible is being done to ensure that the next attempt won’t be successful.

While we have since been assured that this initial attempt wasn’t successful in extracting any information, the nature of malicious cyber activity is that hackers will probe defences for weaknesses until they find one.

Just days after The Nightly reported this attempt against Australian parliamentarians, news broke that a Chinese hack on Britain’s Ministry of Defence had potentially exposed the personal details of 270,000 serving personnel.

Nobody can assume that their systems are permanently immune from cyber attacks and that’s why anyone personally targeted should be told so they can increase our guard against the next attempt.

Another reason that it’s unacceptable we and the Australian public were kept in the dark, is that the behaviour of the Chinese Government and its proxies is undoubtedly the single biggest security and foreign affairs challenge that our nation faces.

If we’re going to be successful in that challenge, both parliamentarians and the voting public need to be given a clear and accurate picture of the Chinese Government’s pattern of behaviour.

Withholding information that Australian parliamentarians were personally targeted by state-sponsored hackers clearly diminishes our ability to understand the real extent of the Chinese Government’s behaviour towards Australia.

As reported by The Nightly, the hacking attempt occurred in 2021 and Australian agencies were formally notified by the FBI in 2022. Targets of the hack were kept in the dark and Government Ministers were reportedly not informed either.

Since being appointed as Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2022, I’ve written extensively about the risk of Australia falling into a Beijing-made myth that problems in the Australia-China relationship are the fault of Australia, and that “stabilisation” requires the Australian Government to moderate its language and re-focus on the money that can be made from business with China.

It’s deeply concerning to see narratives manufactured in Beijing permeating Australian commentary and decision-making, while things that should be spoken about in Australia go unsaid.

To a large extent, Beijing has effectively coached us to view China through the extremely narrow prism of bilateral diplomatic exchanges and trade.

Consider this – in the last term of government, the Chinese Government chose to cut off Ministerial dialogue with Australia and implement a number of trade restrictions.

In the intervening period, the Chinese Government has formed a ‘no-limits’ partnership with Putin’s Russia and supported its invasion of Ukraine, increased its aggression against the Philippines in the South China Sea, and strengthened partnerships with North Korea and Iran.

The Chinese Government has been responsible for a succession of highly dangerous military actions towards Australian, Canadian and US defence personnel, and escalated its espionage and cyber attacks against Western nations.

Despite these realities, our Government has chosen to focus heavily on trade and dialogue with China.

For many Australian commentators and Government Ministers, pointing out the dangerous trajectory of the Chinese Government’s behaviour is considered uncouth and passé. Carefully scripted slogans (cooperate where we can, disagree where we must) are the diplomatic order of the day.

By cutting off dialogue and restricting trade, just a few years later Beijing has successfully made trade and dialogue almost the only China-related topics we’re supposed to talk about in Australia.

Last week’s dangerous action by a Chinese fighter jet against an Australian Navy helicopter and the Albanese Government’s lacklustre response to it shows us the reality of the China situation much more clearly than carefully scripted diplomatic exchanges or red wine sales.

In a democracy that plans to spend hundreds of billions over coming decades to prepare for that reality, Australians should be told the unvarnished truth by our Government about the Chinese Government’s current trajectory.

Senator Claire Chandler is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Liberal Senator for Tasmania.

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