A high-tech Chinese surveillance ship has been tracked off the West Australian coast, close to a secretive naval communications base that supports American and other allied submarines.
- Defence Minister Peter Dutton says the ship was being tracked in the past “week or so”
- He says the presence of an intelligence vessel was unprecedented, both in how south it sailed and how close it stuck to the West Australians coast as it headed back towards Darwin
- Mr Dutton denies he is trying to exploit the matter amid the federal election
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has revealed the auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) vessel was closely monitored by the ADF as it sailed past the Harold E Holt naval station at Exmouth.
Mr Dutton said Australia had been tracking the spy ship in the past “week or so” but didn’t put an exact date on the surveillance.
“Its intent, of course, is to collect intelligence right along the coastline,” he said.
“It has been in close proximity to military and intelligence installations on the west coast of Australia.”
The Defence Minister, who described the situation as unprecedented, said he was concerned not just at how far south the ship had travelled but also that it had “hugged” the coastline as it headed back north towards Darwin.
He dubbed the matter “very strange” and said he expected the ship was collecting as much intelligence as it could.
Mr Dutton denied that he was making the revelation to stoke national security fears and to woo votes ahead of the May 21 federal election.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused a Chinese warship of a “reckless and irresponsible act” after a laser was shone at an RAAF aircraft as it approached Australia’s northern shoreline.
When asked if he had travelled to Western Australia to make the announcement, Mr Dutton declined to say, citing “operational reasons”.
“I think people understand the difficulty, the reality, of the Indo-Pacific at the moment, the acts of aggression from the Chinese leadership and from the Chinese government,” he said.
“I think Australians deserve to know what is taking place and it is a repeat of a previous practice where we have made the public aware of these activities before.”
The ABC last year revealed the Defence Department had scrapped a contentious proposal to use private security personnel to guard Harold E Holt Naval Communications Station, one of the nation’s most secretive and important military facilities.