Mystery Aussie MP was recruited by foreign spy ring

Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Getty Images
Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Getty Images
Former treasurer Joe Hockey has called for the head of Australia's intelligence organisation to name the ex-politician who sold out his country.

The ex-ambassador to the US said ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess is allowing all former and current politicians to be smeared and is creating distrust amongst Australia's allies.

Mr Burgess used his annual threat assessment address on Wednesday night to reveal a dedicated unit within a foreign spy service is targeting Australia.

The "A-team", or Australia team, managed to recruit a politician who "sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime".

The former politician also attempted to introduce a prime minister's family member to the spies but the plot did not go ahead.

The person was not active any more and had been "neutralised", Mr Burgess said.

"They're not doing it now, they're not breaking the law," he told reporters and intelligence community brass at his annual address.

"If we see them go active again, I can guarantee they'll get caught."

"Several individuals should be grateful the espionage and foreign interference laws are not retrospective," Mr Burgess said.

But Mr Hockey said the perpetrator must be named.

"That's a statement of fact, that a politician served the interests of a foreign nation against the interests of Australia," he told Sydney radio 2GB on Thursday.

"You can't make an allegation about someone being a traitor and then expect that no one will ask questions."

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said she had previously reported to ASIO approaches that had been made towards her.

"Anybody who works with foreign agents of influence to pass on information to a foreign government is a traitor," she told Sky News.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said speculation about the ex-politician wasn't helpful, and backed the decision made by ASIO.

Mr Burgess said the foreign spies posed as consultants, head hunters, local government officials, academics and researchers and targeted students, academics, politicians, businesspeople, law enforcement officials and public servants.

They offered cash for information, with premiums for insider details.

The ring also flew academics and political figures to another country for an all-expenses-paid trip where they ended up meeting spies disguised as bureaucrats.

Weeks later, the A-team then managed to pry information about Australia's national security and defence from an academic.

"We want the A-team's bosses to know its cover is blown," Mr Burgess said.

Arrests were not the only way of breaking up spy rings or countering foreign interference, he added.

Other actions included working with partners to cancel visas or directly confronting spies or their organisations.

Mr Burgess said he had spoken with his counterparts from other nations and told them to stop their actions or face reprisals "and they usually do".

While the usual suspects were conducting espionage, so were friendly nations, he said.

ASIO's Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce has conducted more than 120 operations since it was established in mid-2020.

Plots included a foreign agent trying to track a dissident in Australia and getting a quote from someone to "take severe action" against them and another spy agency trying to find an Australian willing to make a dissident "disappear".