The secrecy around the political “donations” adds to ongoing serious concerns about Optus, which despite being owned by a foreign government provides key satellite infrastructure to the Australian Defence Force.
Australia’s security credentials are in the international spotlight after this month’s announcement it will acquire US nuclear-powered submarines as part of a three-decade, $368 billion program under AUKUS.
Some senior US politicians and intelligence experts have raised concerns Australia currently lacks the security to be trusted with the cutting-edge US technology.
In September it emerged Optus had been subject to the then biggest data breach in Australian history, with personal details of 9.8 million people — roughly every second Australian adult — released on the dark web.
Seven months later, Optus CEO Kelly Bayer-Rosmarin continues to claim it was a “sophisticated attack”.
That’s despite Australia’s intelligence and defence agencies; Cyber Security Minister Clare O’Neill; and many private sector experts, all stating it was a simple security breach and due to Optus’ negligence.
In a situation strikingly similar to Optus’ “foreign donor” position, Bayer-Rosmarin has provided zero evidence to back her claim.
(The only person to publicly claim it was a “sophisticated attack” is Bayer-Rosmarin herself.)
Intelligence and defence experts have long held serious concerns over Optus providing key Australian Defence Force communications services, including via the Optus C1 Satellite.
“The Singaporean ownership structure of Optus has never been uncontroversial in national security circles”, writes public service publication The Mandarin.
“(That’s) chiefly because of the uncomfortable situation of a foreign government outside the Five Eyes signals intelligence club owning a supposedly sovereign domestic military communications asset”.
A Department of Defence spokesperson told The Klaxon Optus began providing satellite communications services to the ADF in 1992, when Optus acquired AUSSAT.
“Defence has primarily engaged Optus (Optus Satellite) as a satellite communications provider through a number of contracts between 2003–2034, valued at approximately $600m in total,” the spokesperson said.
“Of note, 2003 was the year of launch for the Optus C1 satellite and the hosted Defence communications payload that is still supported by that spacecraft”.
Following the Optus mass data breach, The Mandarin wrote there had been an “overt loss of government faith” in the company, with “political trust spiralling to a new low”.
“There is also a strong precedent for Defence shredding contracts over information security breaches and disclosure failures,” the publication writes.
“There is a strong precedent for Defence shredding contracts over information security breaches and disclosure failures” – The Mandarin
The articlecontains no evidence to back the claim, and quotes only an “Optus spokesman”.
“A spokesman for Optus said it ‘strongly refutes the false online allegations made around the legality of our political donations’,” the paper reports.
“The article provides no evidence to back the Optus claims”
The article continues: “Entities that are either incorporated or have their head office, or principal place of activity, in Australia are not considered foreign donors – criteria that Optus fulfilled”.
This is false.
As previously reported in detail, that fact that a company is incorporated in Australia, has its “head office”, or “principal place of activity”, in Australia, does not mean it is not a “foreign donor”.
On March 14 — after The Klaxon again approached Optus — we were provided with the statement from Sheridan that “Optus does not fall within the definition of a foreign donor”.
We have subsequently gone back to Sheridan, Bayer-Rosmarin, Optus and Singtel but are all refusing to provide any evidence to back the claim.
Refusing to comment: Singtel chair Lee Theng Kiat and Group CEO Yuen Kuan Moon. Source: Singtel
Australia’s foreign donor laws expressly state that a company is a foreign donor if it is a “foreign public enterprise”.
A company is determined to be a “foreign public enterprise” if it meets any one of five criteria — including if it’s over 50 per cent owned by a foreign government, or if a foreign government “is in a position” to “exercise control” over it.
The Klaxon asked Singtel/Optus whether it disputes that Optus is over 50 per cent owned by a foreign government.
We also asked whether the group disputes that Optus is “in a position to be influenced by a foreign government”.
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