Keating Targets Foreign Minister Wong, ASIO Chief Burgess

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has accused Foreign Minister Penny Wong of rattling "the China can" and declared the chief of ASIO, Mike Burgess, runs "a goon show".


  • Michelle Grattan

    Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

In a fresh assault on Wong, and one of his repeated denunciations of the national security establishment, Keating also said this week's special ASEAN summit in Melbourne "makes it clear Australia and Australian policy is at odds with the general tenor of ASEAN's perceived strategic interests. That is, interests which relate to China and the United States and relations between them."

Wong told a summit event on Monday the region faced "the most confronting circumstances […] in decades".

"We face destabilising, provocative and coercive actions, including unsafe conduct at sea and in the air and militarisation of disputed features," she said.

In a Tuesday statement Keating, who has previously criticised Wong over her China stand, said: "It doesn't take much to encourage Penny Wong, sporting her 'deeply concerned' frown, to rattle the China can - a can she gave a good shake to yesterday".

But, he said, before she did so, "the resident conjurer, Mike Burgess, who runs ASIO, gave us a week's worth of spy mysteries - only for us to find via a leak to the [Sydney Morning] Herald and the Age that the mysterious state running the spying was, you guessed it, China".

Burgess said last week that a former politician, whom he declined to name, had "sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests" of a foreign country, which he also would not name. He has argued to name the person would compromise ASIO's sources and methods.

Keating said: "The kabuki show runs thus: Burgess drops the claim, then out of nowhere, the Herald and The Age miraculously appear to solve the mystery - the villain, as it turns out, is China after all.

"The anti-China Australian strategic policy establishment was feeling some slippage in its mindless pro-American stance and decided some new China rattling was overdue."

Keating said when the Albanese government came in, it should have dismissed Burgess, the director-general of the Office of National Intelligence, Andrew Shearer and then-head of the Home Affairs Department, Mike Pezzullo.

"In the event, Pezzullo [dismissed last year over breaching the public service code of conduct] shot himself but, unbelievably, Burgess and Shearer still remain at the centre of a Labor government's security apparatus. This says more about the government than it says about them.

"These people display utter contempt for the so-called stabilisation process that the Prime Minister had decided upon and has progressed with China. And will do anything to destabilise any meaningful rapprochement. Burgess runs the primary goon show while Shearer does all in his power to encourage Australia into becoming the 51st state of the United States."

Keating said that on Monday the Malaysia prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, had "dropped a huge rock into Wong's pond by telling Australia not to piggyback Australia's problems with China onto ASEAN.

"Anwar is making it clear, Malaysia for its part, is not buying United States hegemony in East Asia - with states being lobbied to ringfence China on the way through.

"That difficult task, the maintenance of US strategic hegemony, is being left to supplicants like us."

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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