Australian Home Minister dismisses demands for briefing on Solomons deal

Australian Home Minister dismisses demands for briefing on Solomons deal

The Home Affairs Minister has dismissed demands from the Labor Party for an urgent intelligence briefing on the controversial security pact between China and Solomon Islands, after yesterday alleging that the deal could have hurt the Coalition's electoral chances.

Karen Andrews accused her political opponents of misinterpreting her comments, saying she was merely raising questions about why the deal was signed while the Australian government was in caretaker mode.

Despite noting on Wednesday morning that China was very aware that we're in a federal election campaign, the deal between the governments in Beijing and Honiara has fuelled concerns that China could expand its military presence in the South Pacific.

Ms Andrews said the security agreement had become one of the main issues that the Prime Minister and senior ministers were being grilled on.

Why is all this coming to light in the middle of a federal election campaign? She asked on Wednesday.

We talk about political interference, and that has many forms, so I think we need to be aware of what Beijing is doing, what its plans are, what it is trying to achieve in the actions it's taking in the Solomons, but not exclusively in the Solomons. The comments sparked fury from the opposition with Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally saying Ms Andrews was indulging in conspiratorial fantasies and unhinged commentary. The comments were offered with no proof, offered with no reference to intelligence, Senator Keneally told reporters on Thursday.

If Karen Andrews does not have intelligence briefings suggesting that there have been attempts at foreign interference in our election campaign, then she needs to clarify that to the public right now.

If she does have such briefings, we are in caretaker mode.

I remind her that the ASIO director-general has already made clear that such briefings should be provided to both the opposition and the government during the caretaker period. Senator Keneally had written to the minister's office asking for a briefing.

What I indicated is that questions should be asked about the timing of the agreement.

I know there are a lot of interpretations on what I said, but what I did say is that there should be questions about the timing of that, which is an eminently sensible thing for any nation to be doing. Labor accused the Coalition of a major foreign policy blunder in Australia's backyard over the past week of the election campaign, which has been dominated by the security pact.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has argued that his government acted appropriately and denied accusations that it was caught napping, rejecting suggestions from the opposition it erred by not sending Foreign Minister Marise Payne to try and scuttle the deal.

Morrison has tried to tie the development into the Coalition's campaign narrative on national security, warning that a Labor government would be more likely to yield to Chinese influence in the region.

Labor has seized the issue, labelling it a further example of negligence and complacency at the heart of the federal government.

The Labor announced earlier this week that it would increase Australia's aid spending in the Pacific by half a billion dollars if it was elected.