The government is facing calls to increase parliamentary security over fresh fears of foreign spies.
Over the weekend it was revealed the United Kingdom had arrested two men, one of them a parliamentary staffer, over claims they were Chinese spies.
Local media has reported the staffer allegedly had access to several MPs.
Shadow home affairs and cyber security minister James Paterson told Englishheadline he feared Australia faced the same risk.
“We have exactly the same vulnerability which is that the vast majority of staff who work for parliamentarians do not receive security vetting or undergo security clearances before they work in this building,” he said on Monday night.
“You only need one if you work for a Minister. But if you work for a government backbencher or if you’re on the opposition or on the crossbench there is no need, in fact no requirement or ability, for your staff to be cleared.
“That includes MPs who are members of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security and who soon will be members of a new statutory committee on defence which is going to oversee the implementation of AUKUS.”
Mr Paterson said those in defence and security-specific roles will be “extremely attractive targets to foreign intelligence”.
“They will be trying to place people in our offices or close to MPs who could potentially get access to that information,” he said.
“And security vetting is one thing we can do to reduce, but not eliminate, that risk.”
The shadow home affairs and cyber security minister said he could not speculate on whether a foreign intelligence agency has been successful in penetrating parliament security, but he “absolutely” knew it was “their ambition”.
“If you can’t compromise an MP, the next thing you’re going to try and do is compromise someone close to them and their staff are a primary point of contact for them,” he said.
“Actually there is a lot of information in politics which is not classified but is also not public and highly sensitive, like the views of members of parliament, their plans to work on these issues, their attitudes and relationships with their colleagues.
“All of that is highly attractive to foreign intelligence agencies and is a collection requirement for them and they will get it by any means they can and if placing someone in an MP office is a means of doing it, they will not hesitate to do so.”
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Director-General Mike Burgess earlier this year said the country was facing the highest level of foreign interference in its history.
“Based on what ASIO is seeing, more Australians are being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than at any time in Australia’s history – more hostile foreign intelligence services, more spies, more targeting, more harm, more ASIO investigations, more ASIO disruptions,” he said in February.