Editorial: Tell us who ‘traitor’ MP is or keep your mouth shut

Editorial
The Nightly
3 Min Read
What on earth was ASIO boss Mike Burgess thinking?
What on earth was ASIO boss Mike Burgess thinking? Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

What on earth was ASIO boss Mike Burgess thinking when he made the audacious claim that a former Australian politician had turned spy for a foreign regime — but that it wasn’t in the public’s best interest to know that person’s identity?

Perhaps the country’s chief spook thought we could all do with a national game of secret agent Guess Who.

Does your mole wear glasses? Do they wear a flag pin on their lapel?

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Since Mr Burgess revealed during ASIO’s annual threat assessment on Wednesday that an ex-MP had “sold out” their country, the guessing game has consumed Canberra.

A string of former politicians have lined up to deny their involvement in the spy scandal, including former Labor senator Sam Dastyari and ex-NSW Labor MP Ernest Wong.

And therein lies the problem.

By asserting there’s a rat in the ranks — but refusing to name names — Mr Burgess has implicated every former politician.

If he is confident enough to make this public assertion, why not back it up?

And why hasn’t this person been charged with a criminal offence?

You can’t drop a bomb like this and expect everyone to carefully step around the crater it has left behind.

MIKE BURGESS ASIO PORTRAIT
Mike Burgess says ASIO "detected and disrupted a plot to infiltrate an ... Australian institution". Credit: AAP

As former treasurer and US ambassador Joe Hockey said, there are reasons to know this person’s identity beyond mere curiosity.

“I served nearly 20 years in Parliament, I want to know who that person is, because I will reflect on what I said to them, what I gave to them, how I dealt with them, and potentially what they did with that information,” he said.

“If you are elected into office you are there to serve your nation and no other nation, and a suggestion that a politician or a former politician is a traitor and did it deliberately, and then is allowed to be forgiven and walk off into the sunset is unacceptable. It reflects on everyone, not just the people that have served in Parliament.”

Mr Burgess says he doesn’t feel the need to tell us anything further, because ASIO is satisfied the person no longer poses a security threat.

To reveal their identity could alert the foreign intelligence service they dealt with that its cover was blown.

Seems like something he should have considered in the first place.

It’s unusual for a media outlet to advise public servants — especially those who head national security agencies — that they would have been better off keeping their traps shut. After all, “Ex-MP turned traitor” is a cracking yarn. If Mr Burgess was looking for a headline, he found it. But that’s all it is.

It accomplishes nothing but to damage Australia’s reputation, seed suspicion and cast aspersions over hundreds of people. And it does nothing to punish that person who we’ve been told sold us all out.

It shouldn’t be too much to expect a person in a position of such national significance to act with a little more maturity.

Mr Burgess is fast learning that it’s impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

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