Australian Law Enforcement Say They’re Paying Attention in the Lead up to the Federal Election

Australian Law Enforcement Say They’re Paying Attention in the Lead up to the Federal Election
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The Australian Federal Police back in 2020 charged a man from Sydney over a spam email campaign related to a by-election. And as this year’s federal election draws closer, the AFP’s chief says his agency is on guard.

The man was charged by the AFP with one count of using a telecommunications service to menace, harass or cause offence in the lead up to the 2020 Eden-Monaro by-election.

As detailed by AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw during Senate Estimates this week, the AFP investigation regarding the by-election identified the use of a number of telecommunications services subscribed using suspected fraudulent identification documents.

The upcoming federal election has caused the commissioner to reflect.

“In the lead-up to this year’s election, I am also concerned about the prevalence of disinformation and the impact this can have on the integrity of our institutions and the election itself,” he said.

“Where disinformation reaches a criminal threshold, particularly where it urges or advocates violence, the AFP will be exercising the full force of its powers.”

Kershaw said the by-election case demonstrated the AFP won’t hesitate to act.

“We charged an individual with computer, carriage service and electoral offences for his role in an offensive spam email campaign and sending over 23 million messages during the 2019 Wentworth and 2020 Eden-Monaro by-elections,” he recalled.

AFP deputy commissioner Ian McCartney clarified that it was a series of emails questioning the integrity of a Labor candidate. In the case of the Wentworth by-election, McCartney said his recollection was it was questioning a Liberal Party member in terms of his integrity.

But is this disinformation or even foreign interference?

McCartney said the AFP assessed whether it was and came to the assessment it was not foreign interference. McCartney said the man pled guilty and will be sentenced in April of this year. Despite this, the AFP couldn’t identify what his motivation was.

Election foreign interference was also an issue tackled by ASIO director-general Mike Burgess this week.

Appearing on the ABC’s 7.30 Report last night, Burgess said foreign interference doesn’t discriminate, that it’s against all members of Parliament.

“We don’t believe that a foreign government could actually change the [election] outcome … but we do see foreign interference attempts to influence candidates and influence members of Parliament,” he said.

“We will continue to see those attempts, and they will try, but I’m very confident with the actions of my agency and other[s] … that the election will not be interfered with.”