Since 2017, there has been a lively public debate about the threat of foreign interference in Australia’s political processes, with revelations of connections between wealthy Chinese donors and Australian politicians.
Threats to Australia
In 2018, of the idea that foreign interference in Australia’s political processes was a threat to our interests appeared to have gained little traction in the broader population. However, in 2019, almost half (49%) the country say that foreign interference in Australian politics is ‘a critical threat’ to Australia’s vital interests, an increase of eight points from last year.
Foreign interference still does not rank as highly as other critical threats, including climate change, international terrorism, or a Chinese military base in the Pacific.
Here is a list of possible threats to the vital interests of Australia in the next ten years. For each one, please select whether you see this as a critical threat, an important but not critical threat, or not an important threat at all.
On 23 August 2018, the Australian government announced a decision that excluded Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from building Australia’s 5G infrastructure, citing national security concerns. That decision appears to have gained the backing of many Australians.
On the implications of foreign involvement in Australian infrastructure, almost half (44%) of the population say that the first priority for the Australian government should be ‘protecting Australians from foreign state intrusion’ when considering ‘which foreign companies should be allowed to supply new technology for important services in Australia’. Significantly fewer (28% each) believe the government’s first priority should be ‘bringing the most sophisticated technology to Australia’ or ‘keeping prices down for Australian consumers’.
Younger Australians are more divided on this question: 18-29-year-old Australians place equal priority on protecting against foreign state intrusion and bringing the most sophisticated technology to Australia.
Now a question about new technology. When considering which foreign companies should be allowed to supply new technology for important services in Australia, which one of the following should be the first priority for the Australian government in your view?
2018: Foreign influence in Australian politics
Although public debate in 2017 revolved around the threat of Chinese influence, last year Australians’ concerns appear to be focused on foreign influence generally, rather than the threat posed by China specifically. When asked about influence from both China and the United States in Australia’s political processes, only marginally more Australians (63%) expressed concern about China than those concerned about the influence of the United States (58%). However, it would appear that this has changed in 2019, as demonstrated by declining sentiment towards China.
Now about the issue of foreign influence in Australia’s political processes. Are you personally concerned or not concerned about the influence of each of the following countries on Australia’s political processes?