The prime minister and defence minister have been leading the charge against Labor, accusing the party of being soft on China and labelling Opposition leader Anthony Albanese as the communist party’s preferred candidate.
Their comments have drawn condemnation from a former ASIO head Dennis Richardson who said the federal government was “doing the work of China” by eroding bipartisanship on national security.
Forrest on Friday sought to tone down security concerns over China, saying “so-called” threats have come and gone for decades, calling the current rhetoric a “reds under the bed” scare.
“I just say to the political spectrum: calm down, we live in the best country in the world and – by the way – it’s got this great moat around it, a bit hard to attack, and a whole lot of hairy-chested friends,” he told reporters in Canberra.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to back down on his rhetoric, saying Labor “doesn’t measure up to the mark”.
“Frankly on this issue, they’re weak,” he said.
“I’d like there to be greater agreement in this area, but the Labor party haven’t measured up and I don’t think there is any problem in pointing that out. I am not going to set a low bar for bipartisanship.”
Morrison accused Mr Albanese of being the “most left-wing” Labor leader since Gough Whitlam.
“That is not a good form to be strong on national security. Labor’s form in this space is very ordinary,” he said.
Labor deputy leader Richard Marles said the politicisation of national security issues was disrespectful to the country’s defence forces, saying the government is using it as a political football.
“It does pay quite a disrespect to those men and women who we ask to put on a uniform each and every day and to literally put their lives on the line for that very concept,” he told the Nine Network.
“What we’ve seen with Scott Morrison over the last fortnight is a prime minister who’s gone from being hapless to completely desperate … this is a desperate attempt to confect a difference that doesn’t exist.”
ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess used a television interview earlier this week to warn both sides of politics the politicisation of national security was not helpful.
However, the comments have largely fallen on deaf ears, with the coalition continuing its attacks on the issue.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan refused to confirm whether he or cabinet had been briefed by security heads about the potential impact of weaponising national security.
Tehan said Labor needed to pass the character test, which meant the party had to face scrutiny about how it handles national security.
“That means when you’re facing economic coercion, you’ve got to stand up to it,” he said.
“You can’t speak with a forked tongue and say, oh yes, we support what the government’s doing, but in the same breath say, oh but we’d do it a little bit differently.”
The minister said Albanese was “going to have the blowtorch put on him” over his national security credentials.Jump to next article