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Ditch ‘reds under the bed’ scare: Forrest urges Coalition

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Billionaire businessman Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest says federal Coalition ministers’ rhetoric on China has entered “reds under the bed” scare campaign territory.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Peter Dutton 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 former ASIO head Dennis Richardson, who said the federal government was “doing the work of China” by eroding bipartisanship on national security.

On Friday, Mr Forrest sought to tone down security concerns about China, saying “so-called” threats had come and gone for decades, and called 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 said in Canberra.

But Mr 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.”

Mr Morrison accused Mr Albanese of being the “most left-wing” Labor leader since Gough Whitlam.

Mr Albanese said the government’s “desperate scare attacks” served the interests of only China, adding it wasn’t in Australia’s interests for Mr Morrison to create false distinctions between the two major parties on national security.

The Labor leader noted the bipartisan support for the US alliance, Hong Kong and Taiwan and on calling out China’s treatment of Uyghurs and Tibetans.

“What I want to do is unite the country. I want to unite the country because unity is strength. What Scott Morrison is trying to do as a desperate political measure is to divide the country,” he said.

“It’s not in Australia’s national interest to have a divided country based on fake news.”

Mr Albanese’s remarks came after his deputy Richard Marles said the politicisation of national security issues was disrespectful to the country’s defence forces, accusing the government of 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.

ASIO director-general Mike Burgess earlier this week warned both sides of politics the politicisation of national security was not helpful.

But his comments – in themselves an unusual public move – 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.

Mr Tehan said Labor needed to pass the character test, which meant the party had to face scrutiny about how it handled 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.”

With an election due by May, Mr Tehan said Mr Albanese was “going to have the blowtorch put on him” over his national security credentials.

-AAP

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