The Safeguarding Australia’s Military Secrets Bill is being introduced in response to increasing cases of Beijing-linked espionage in Western countries.
Former defence personnel and Australian public servants may face decades in prison if they disclose classified information.
The bill, introduced by federal Labor Defence Minister Richard Marles on Sept. 14, requires former military personnel to obtain approval before working for a foreign military or government service.
Failure to receive approval can result in a 20-year prison sentence, while those who have permission but do not comply with the government’s requirements may face five years in prison.
Individuals who provide tactical or weapons training may also receive penalties of up to 20 years.
“Protecting our nation’s secrets and sensitive information is of utmost importance,” stated Mr. Marles in Parliament. “It is crucial for preserving Australia’s national security and ensuring the safety of Australians.”
The defence minister stated that the laws are based on those implemented by the United States and are aimed at protecting technology exchange, including nuclear submarine propulsion technology, between AUKUS partners, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Exceptions to the laws will be made for other Five Eyes nations, New Zealand and Canada, as well as for humanitarian work with organizations like the United Nations or Red Cross.
According to Mr. Marles, “Our legislative intent is to prevent individuals with knowledge of sensitive defence information from training or working for certain foreign militaries or governments where that activity would put Australia’s national security at risk.”
Citizens Accused of Building Beijing’s Military Intelligence
This action is being taken as Western governments prosecute citizens accused of spying or conducting espionage on behalf of Beijing.
In the UK, a political researcher for a sitting member of the UK Parliament was arrested on suspicion of “spying for China” and providing information to Beijing.
The suspect, a male Briton in his late 20s who studied and worked in China, was arrested and later released on bail in March, according to The Times newspaper.
The report noted that the man had high-level security clearance and had influenced the UK’s China policy.
Security officials suspect that the Chinese regime may have recruited the man as a sleeper agent during his time in China and deliberately sent him back to the UK to infiltrate the circle of politicians critical of the regime.
In another case, a 55-year-old Australian man named Alexander Csergo is facing charges of foreign interference and gathering information for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
He had interactions with two spies named “Ken” and “Evelyn,” who are both allegedly affiliated with a foreign spy agency.
Earlier this year, Australian authorities agreed to extradite former U.S. military pilot Daniel Duggan, who was accused of receiving $100,000 to teach Chinese aviators how to take off and land on aircraft carriers.
Mr. Duggan, 54, allegedly received 12 payments from a Chinese-based business involved in acquiring military equipment and technical data for the Chinese government and military, according to an unsealed indictment filed in the U.S. District of Columbia.
Eight of the 12 payments, ranging from $9,900 to $9,500, were designated as “personal development training.” The payments, totaling between $116,250 and $116,400, were made between January 11, 2011, and July 6, 2012.
Duggan, who renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2012, was arrested on October 21 in New South Wales, Australia, at the request of the FBI.
AAP, Cindy Li, and Lily Zhou contributed to this article.