There are growing calls for a ban of Chinese social media platform TikTok on all government devices after a new audit revealed an ad hoc security approach.
An audit conducted by opposition foreign interference spokesman James Paterson revealed 25 government departments had banned the app outright, 12 partially banned it, and 11 permitted its use.
He said the approach was “haphazard” and threatened Australia’s national security.
“If it’s not safe to be on the phone of a Canadian or American or European bureaucrat, why is it safe to be on the phone of an Australian government bureaucrat?” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
Departments that ban the application on work phones included prime minister and cabinet, defence, home affairs, foreign affairs, but excluded Tourism Australia, finance and education.
Senator Paterson said national security shouldn’t come at the cost of diplomacy as the government worked to thaw diplomatic tensions with Beijing.
He cited the anger the former government received when it banned Chinese company Huawei from Australia’s 5G network.
“That judgment has been vindicated because we were the first to act and others have followed,” he said.
“I hope the government is not tolerating unacceptable national security risks for the sake of a bilateral relationship.”
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has commissioned a review into the use of the app on government work phones, with the report expected on her desk in the coming weeks.
Senator Paterson also called on the government to be more transparent about the threat of foreign interference following the home affairs minister saying more intelligence needed to be shared with the public.
“I certainly welcome the intent from the government to speak more openly about foreign interference,” he said.
“We have to be open and honest about these threats no matter where they come from.
“It’s quite easy to talk about Iranian foreign interference, it’s much more difficult and much more sensitive for the government to talk about threats from China, which is a much larger trading partner.”
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Richard Marles is keeping a report outlining the number of Australian pilots being approached by China to train its military close to his chest, saying he was limited in what he could reveal publicly.
“I wouldn’t want to overstate the size of the issue in Australia … but it is an important issue,” he said.
Asked about the report, Senator Paterson said: “I want them to be honest about all the threats. We all know that overwhelmingly, those threats come from China.”