Attorney-General Christian Porter has stridently defended the Australian media after accusations from a high-level Chinese diplomat that anti-China stories had been fabricated. This news follows Malcolm Turnbull’s anti-foreign interference laws that were put into place late last year.
Lei Kezhong, Perth’s Chinese consul-general, has made accusations that the Australian press has exaggerated and fabricated stories about the extent of Chinese political influence in Australia. The opinion piece was published in a Western Australian newspaper and was heavily critical of major Australian news outlets.
He also echoed sentiments made by China’s Foreign Ministry last year, saying that Australian politicians had irresponsibly made remarks that jeopardised mutual trust between Australia and its biggest trading partner.
However, Attorney-General Porter has dismissed the complaints of the consul-general and has praised the reporting on foreign political interference by the Australian press. He appeared to make a veiled criticism of China’s authoritarian government by elaborating on how integral freedom of the press was to Australia’s system.
He said that media reporting on issues like this was not “anything to be unexpected” and said that it was a “healthy critical part” of Australia’s democracy.
The Chinese Government has stuck to its assertion that Australian news outlets have been vindictively reporting on Beijing’s activities, implying subterfuge and infiltration of our democracy. However, Mr Porter has cast doubt on China’s claims.
He pointed out that it was easy label bad press as being fabricated and questioned which exact stories were false and which were true. He continued to praise Australia’s press, saying that they “chase every rabbit” in the search for the truth.
While bad relations between Australia and China have been exaggerated in some circles, this statement from the Attorney-General definitely pokes the issue if nothing else. It will be interesting to see if China continues to officially attack the Australian free press.