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Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security

BRADY, Professor Anne-Marie, Private capacity

Committee met at 16 :04

Evidence was taken via teleconference

CHAIR ( Mr Hastie ): Welcome. I declare open this public hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Today's hearing encompasses the committee's inquiries into the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017. These are public proceedings, although the committee may agree to a request to have evidence heard in camera or may determine that certain evidence should be heard in camera.

I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. In accordance with the committee's resolutions of 12 October 2016, this hearing will be broadcast on the parliament's website and the proof and official transcripts of proceedings will be published on the parliament's website. Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing. I also remind members of the media who may be present or listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee. I now welcome Professor Anne-Marie Brady to give evidence today via teleconference. Is there anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear today?

Prof. Brady : I am a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

CHAIR: Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard. I am obliged to inform you that parliamentary privilege attaching to your evidence does not apply outside Australia. I now invite you to make an opening statement before we proceed to discussion.

Prof. Brady : I have a brief summary statement and then I'd be happy to answer questions from the committee. China aspires to be a global great power and is seeking change in a global order. Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, Xi Jinping, China is now claiming a leadership role in global affairs and pursuing an assertive foreign policy. Xi Jinping's assertive foreign policy includes the expansion of CCP political influence activity known in China as United Front Work. The CCP's United Front activity incorporates the co-optation of elites, information management, persuasion and accessing strategic information and resources. It has also frequently been a means of facilitating espionage. One of the key goals of United Front Work is to influence the decision-making of foreign governments and societies in China's favour. Australia and New Zealand appear to have been a test zone for many of the China's United Front efforts in recent years. The PRC's political influence on activities in Australia and New Zealand has now reached a critical level. I want to make three main points regarding this, and then I will answer questions from the committee.

First of all, the Turnbull government's recent brief statement speaking up against China's political influence activities in Australia was very important and necessary, because it has broken the global cone of silence on this serious issue, bringing it to public attention and allowing these matters of public interest into the public domain.

The next step is that Australia must develop an internally focused resilience strategy that will protect the integrity of democratic processes and institutions. The government also needs to work hard to establish a genuine and positive relationship with the Australian-Chinese community, independent of the United Front organisation authorised by the CCP. It needs to find a way to protect this community's rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association. Australia also needs to invest in an enhanced Australian-centred capacity of deep policy analysis on the impact of China's ambitious foreign policy. It needs to examine how best to protect Australia's interests in the changing global order.

Finally, the Turnbull government's new initiative to pass legislation to help deal with the problem has set a path for other nations to follow. Other governments will greatly benefit from working with Australia to address the challenge posed by China's foreign influence activity. China's attempt to guide, buy or coerce political influence abroad is part of a global strategy of almost identical approaches. Cross-government cooperation, especially in Australia's immediate region, the Asia-Pacific, is an important and necessary way to address and identify what is going on.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Professor Brady—a very, very interesting submission despite its brevity. I'd like some more reflections on dot point 1 in your written submission, which is where you briefly describe:

Targeted efforts to co-opt the New Zealand business, political, and intellectual elite in order to get them to advocate for Beijing's interests in New Zealand and internationally.

Could you expand on that and perhaps give us some examples?

Prof. Brady : I can give you some examples of carefully selecting former senior politicians and inviting them to be in high-profile roles in state-owned enterprises. There are efforts to work with local government because local governments—and, in Australia, the state governments—have a lot of ability to engage and make decisions that actually have national strategic importance. Then there are the efforts to bring the political and intellectual elite in New Zealand society to be engaging with and participating in promoting China's talking points or, if not, to be excluded from debates and the conversation on China. That's happened in New Zealand and it's also happened in Australia to some extent, although you have a much more diverse political environment in that regard because your government has spoken loud and clear about its concern about China's political influence activities. That is steel in the backbone of quite a few of your people and the chance to speak up about what they know.

CHAIR: I guess that leads to my next question, which is about China's One Belt and One Road policy and the way New Zealand has responded to it. Australia will do so in the future. One of the lines I've heard recently is that we should embrace the strategic framework and wait for details later. Is that the pitch in New Zealand as well?

Prof. Brady : The details about that road initiative are available in Chinese if you look closely enough and you move beyond the big PR events like the one that was held in May in China last year to promote the Belt and Road Initiative. The agenda is quite clear. The New Zealand government does have concerns about the Belt and Road Initiative, but New Zealand hopes to be able to shape the process to try to ameliorate its negative impact and to try to steer it in a direction when it comes to the specifics of better environmental protection and things like that. That was under the previous government, I have to say. The current government—the Labour-New Zealand First-Green coalition government—has not formally declared a position on the Belt and Road Initiative. So actually we have the situation where we have some bodies that have been set up under the previous government to promote the Belt and Road Initiative, and they still exist, but the current government hasn't made a formal statement on the Belt and Road Initiative yet.

CHAIR: Thank you, Professor Brady. I'll hand over to Mr Dreyfus.

Mr DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Professor Brady, for your submission and for appearing before us. You've clearly studied the activities of China and New Zealand and thought about the way in which the government of China and the Communist Party of China have been operating in New Zealand. If I could just say, by way of preamble, the package of bills that this Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has before it is really directed at covert activities of foreign principals, foreign governments, foreign corporations and foreign state-owned corporations. Quite a lot of your submission deals with activities in the open, as it were. Because you've followed what's happening here in Australia, you will have understood that the bills we're looking at try to engage not so much with the open activities, but with the covert activities that are not in the open in order to bring them out into the open. Have you given any thought to what methods you think might be useful, be they legislated or otherwise, to make more open or more overt the activities of foreign governments in our democracies?

Prof. Brady : I think you need to look at all your legislation that polices ministers' behaviour or politicians' behaviour about declaration of their business interests and making sure there is a clear separation from the personal and then the official role. You need to look to your cabinet manual. There's a lot of existing legislation on the books in Australia, as there is in New Zealand, that could be tightened or could perhaps just be actually applied. One of the areas that I've been really concerned about is the Chinese language media in Australia and New Zealand and other countries. There's a Chinese government policy that was announced in the last year or so to harmonise or to merge the Chinese language media with the media within China. That's not the ownership but the content has to be in line now with the line that's followed in China. That means that a monopoly has been created, and it's different from the way we normally think about monopolies in the media which have been around ownership. That might be one area that the Australian government could look into: how to address an issue where you have a foreign government trying to assert control over one sector of your media.

Mr DREYFUS: Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How is that done? The proposition that Chinese language media in Australia or in New Zealand be in line with, I suppose you're saying, official Chinese government lines in China, is that to follow a particular news outlet in China, such as the People's Daily or some other news outlet?

Prof. Brady : It started simply by providing free content from Xinhua News service. That's the official news service of China. Xinhua News service will set the line on how a particular politically sensitive issue will be covered. Originally the Chinese language media in Australia and New Zealand was indigenous; it was a local voice. But it's quite difficult running a paper in any circumstances, let alone in a foreign language, in Australia or New Zealand, so offering that free content was a big subsidy, but what it meant was you immediately have Beijing's brains in a Sydney or a Melbourne Chinese language paper or website. But it's gone beyond that now. There are personnel being sent in from Chinese government media organisations to guide and instruct media organisations in Australia and New Zealand. You've got an outpost of China Radio International that has set up a company in Melbourne that has lots of affiliates in Australia and New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific as well. They're nominally private stations, but in fact their backer is China Radio International, which is the radio station that presents China's voice globally. Those are just some examples of how the Chinese language media in Australia has been brought into line, not necessarily with the ownership model; it's about controlling content. If newspapers or websites step out of line, they'll be punished by advertising being taken away from them because of the influence that the consulate and embassies have over Chinese businesses in Australia and New Zealand who get advantages from being on good terms with the embassy, so there's a whole system of favours and connections and obligations that are helping to enforce that.

Mr DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Professor Brady.

Senator McALLISTER: Thanks very much for your submission, Professor Brady. I'm interested in two questions. In your submission, you go to this complicated question about how we ought to distinguish between the ordinary exercise of soft power and cultural outreach that would generally be considered benign or even beneficial in terms of cultivating relationships between nations and other kinds of behaviours that are corrosive to civil society and democratic discourse. This is obviously of real material importance for our committee as we consider legislative responses. I'm interested in whether you have any principles or frameworks you might point to that try to draw that distinction.

Prof. Brady : Those things that are corrosive and corrupting—that is one guide. The difficulty in looking at the cultural activity is that you've got two different partners. On the Australian side you've got a diverse multicultural society that your cultural representatives reflect. On the Chinese side you've got a government project to project China's voice internationally to tell a good story as China. So, there is a political hand nowadays—particularly now this is very much the case—behind those cultural activities. But, you're right: it is important to continue to engage, and Australia's going to continue to trade with China. But I think you just need to look at those problem areas around the relationships with your past and present politicians, look at the media, look at campaign donations. Those would be key areas that I would highlight that need to be looked at, and ensure that there is a free and frank discussion about China related issues, that that is encouraged in the society. That's also very important—a respectful, free and frank discussion.

Senator McALLISTER: That's helpful guidance in terms of the specifics of the relationship with China. But the legislation that's before us seeks to craft a broadly applicable solution that would apply to all of our relationships with any country that seeks to engage with Australia and Australian citizens. You pointed towards coercion as being a feature of behaviour that we ought to clearly put on the other side of the red line. It's quite helpful just to sort of think about what sorts of diplomatic efforts we might think are normal and what sorts of diplomatic efforts we think are corrosive and how we should distinguish between the two of these. There are obviously arguments being put to this committee by other submitters that this behaviour is entirely normal, and I'm looking for your assistance in drawing a theoretical distinction between these two sets of activities.

Prof. Brady : Sorry—which behaviour is completely normal?

Senator McALLISTER: If it's to make people-to-people connections with other nations. People would provide examples of that happening in other parts of our diplomatic relations and international relations.

Prof. Brady : It's quite normal obviously that Australia and New Zealand and other countries will have cultural exchanges, but that's not the area of concern that I was raising in my paper. I was focusing on, for example, the ways in which the Chinese language media and the Chinese community have lost their freedom of association and freedom of speech over a number of years due to efforts to bring that community into line. I was raising concerns about blurring of personal and political lines with politicians or other groups in society that have a role in governance. Those are the concerns that I've been raising in my research.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you, Professor Brady. That's extremely helpful. Thank you.

Mr LEESER: Professor Brady, you've been quite prolific in writing about China and its influence. We have your submission, but we've also seen some articles that you've written in other places. Has that been difficult for you personally? And have you felt any difficulties as a result of being outspoken against Chinese political influence?

Prof. Brady : Yes. I have had attempts by Chinese polar officials to silence my research. They've put pressure on a series of New Zealand agencies, including my own university. And people I've been associated with in China just last year were questioned by the Chinese Ministry of State Security about their association with me. I had a break-in in my office last December. I received a warning letter this week that I was about to be attacked. And yesterday I had a break-in at my house and I had three laptops, including one that I use for work, stolen, as well as two phones. But valuables weren't stolen. The police are now investigating that.

Mr LEESER: Obviously you've been the victim of theft there, and crimes, but when you talk about other sorts of pressure that you put on, what sort of pressure do they put on agencies and colleagues and the university? How do they apply that pressure? What do you mean by 'pressure'?

Prof. Brady : The first example I mentioned was about pressure to do with my research. I have a book called China as a Polar Great Power that came out last year. Two years before the book was published there was pressure put on New Zealand diplomats, Antarctica, the mayor of Christchurch and my own university to pass on the message to me to desist from my research and that China wasn't happy about my research. I've published very little of that research, until the book came out, because what I had found in there—and that's actually something I'll be talking about after 4.30 with another one of your parliamentary committees—was quite concerning, and I wanted to release it all in one go. So, I had to remind these government agencies in New Zealand that we have legislation that protects my work as an academic and in fact in New Zealand law my role as an academic is defined as the critic and conscience of society. That legislation requires all government agencies to protect me in doing that work and to protect my freedom of speech.

Mr LEESER: Yet it sounds like that law hasn't been as effective as it could be.

Prof. Brady : I think people forget that we have these laws. I think we've been a bit complacent in New Zealand and probably in Australia too. I was a young person in the last years of the cold war era, and I now teach a lot of students in New Zealand who I know have no idea what I'm talking about when I try to explain to them the atmosphere of the cold war. The reason I raise that is that we had an awareness, those of us who lived through the era, of the need for caution when you are dealing with countries like the People's Republic of China or the Soviet Union. We understood that there were influence operations going on. So the laws were passed in New Zealand and Australia to reflect those concerns and the issues that had to be dealt with. And we've still got those laws on the books, but I think that in the last 30 years, as China's been engaged in the economic reforms and both our countries have been involved in supporting that, we have—not by chance—fallen back into a particular narrative about China that really stresses this economic powerhouse and underplays the fact that you still have the same political system in operation and the same policies there that we had to be careful about in the previous era.

And then under General Secretary Xi Jinping the party, as they say, is back; the party has been working to find a way to maintain its position in Chinese society, even though the political setup has changed. The economic unit of the work unit, which was the main way that the party connected in with the individuals, has gone, because most individuals in China don't work for government organisations anymore, and people don't watch mainstream media. So, the party has had to work hard to reconnect with the Chinese people and maintain their hold over them. That's why we're seeing the return of this United Front Work—really prioritising United Front Work as a very effective tool, a so-called magic weapon, which was very useful to China in previous eras, when China was in opposition, and can be used in this more assertive foreign policy as well as bringing the overseas Chinese community and making sure that they are at the very least neutralised and don't become a hostile force that could undermine the political situation in China.

Mr LEESER: I have one last question—and if this has been answered just say so, and I'll catch up with the transcript. Academic colleagues in Australia have presented to this committee a view that we should exempt academic work from the operation of these proposed laws. You're an academic, and you know about foreign interference. Do you think we should be granting an exemption for universities from the operation of the transparency scheme and the other laws?

Prof. Brady : You would be more familiar than I am with the detail of the legislation that you're proposing. But I would say that from my research there are some areas of concern with universities where it might be good to, at the very least, have a conversation about what's appropriate and what isn't. What I'm mentioning is where quite a number of Australian universities have been engaging in military research work for the Chinese military, the People's Liberation Army. There obviously have to be boundaries about what's acceptable and what kind of partnerships are acceptable. I think the fact that this has developed is reflective of the complacency that there's been over a number of years, as I mentioned, and also an oblivion, as I said—this narrative that was created where people just focused on China as an economic powerhouse. China is a source of research funding and a generous host of conferences and students.

Mr LEESER: Does that not indicate that we should apply these laws to universities and academics?

Prof. Brady : I think you might need to have a look at it when it comes to matters like that.

Dr MIKE KELLY: You've raised issues that you might describe as tactics, techniques and procedures and, of course, the angles of those that are not benign in terms of corruption, intimidation et cetera. It might be helpful, too, if you could comment on a couple of examples of what the strategic objectives of China are in relation to the employment of those techniques in terms of where they're inimical to the interests of, say, Australia and New Zealand, just to show that this is a concern beyond benign engagement.

Prof. Brady : The United Front activities are like the party's arm and they contribute to the overall foreign policy strategy. China has a much more assertive foreign policy. It has an agenda, like Antarctica, for example, and that's what I want to talk about in the next half hour. To achieve its agenda in Antarctica, the South Pacific, the South China Sea and the Arctic it has to have the support of other nations. It has to have the tacit acceptance of Australia for its activities in the Australian Antarctic Territory. I know with Antarctic law, on some terms, Australia can't do much about having any country operating in the Australian Antarctic Territory, but the Antarctic Treaty system does permit countries to raise objections to other nations' activities. These United Front activities, when it comes to your political elite, will be aimed at creating a positive public opinion promoting China's global foreign policy agenda—that's a very important aspect to it.

Dr MIKE KELLY: You mentioned legislation. Does New Zealand have any legislation comparable to what's been proposed in this committee's analysis?

Prof. Brady : Not yet. We're a couple of years behind you on this journey.

Dr MIKE KELLY: We had some reference to the One Belt One Road initiative. Do you see any similar concerns in relation to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?

Prof. Brady : There is some real concern about levels of debt for small developing nations that China's partnering with, that they are getting burdened with debt. That's not just through the AIIB; it's through other banks as well that are offering lending to countries in the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean.

But China has an agenda. It wants to be part of a China centred economic order. I think that New Zealand, Australia and other partner nations should be having frank conversations about what that will entail and where our interests lie.

Dr MIKE KELLY: Thank you for that. I have one last question. You mentioned the need for strategies in relation to community engagement. Have you any suggestions in relation to that strategy and is any of that happening in New Zealand, as you have a significant Chinese community?

Prof. Brady : I have heard proposed by Professor John Fitzgerald that Australia could be part of a Pacific-wide Chinese radio station. People still listen to radio and Australia, New Zealand and other countries could be participating in and supporting that. So that's one way to do it. Also the Australian and New Zealand governments can work to identify—and there is research on this that can help you—which organisations amongst the Chinese community are genuinely community organisations and which ones are adhering closely to the PRC consulate. That's another initiative. You should instruct your ministers not to participate in any further United Front activities. Again, you can get good advice on this from specialists.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Professor Brady. I don't think we have any additional questions for you, but if we do we'll send them to you through the secretariat. We will give you a copy of the transcript of your evidence and you'll have an opportunity to request corrections before we publish. Thank you again on behalf of the committee for appearing today.

Prof. Brady : It was my great pleasure. Thank you all.

Committee adjourned at 16 : 37