The Chinese surveillance company safeguarding Australian democracy
A company at the very heart of the China's draconian security regime is helping guard our ballot papers, courtesy of a contract with the Australian Electoral Commission, write Bernard Keane and Asher Wolf.
The ballots from the 2016 Australian election have been secured by a company owned by one of China's most important security firms, with links deep inside the communist state's vast surveillance system.
In 2014, the Australian Electoral Commission hired the company SecureMonitoring to provide "Security Alarm System Monitoring for AEC Warehouses and National Office", for $360,000 over three years. This includes facilities where unused ballot papers are stored.
The security of AEC facilities -- where millions of ballot papers are stored -- as well as the transport of ballot papers to them was the subject of strongly critical review both by former AFP commissioner Mick Keelty in his review of lost Western Australian Senate ballot papers in the 2013 election and the Australian National Audit Office. The AEC had decided to outsource all of its logistics and storage operations on the basis that the private sector wouldn't do it as badly as they themselves had done it.
SecureMonitoring is a subsidiary of SecureCorp, a large Melbourne-based security and cleaning firm that, as noted in Victorian Parliament, has contracts for security at the MCG, major Melbourne sporting events, two Victorian universities and operates CCTV security for the City of Melbourne, as well as an array of major contracts in other states and with the federal government.
SecureCorp advertises that it extensively uses a system based on the French-developed Videofied wireless-alarm monitoring and control system, which has been identified as having a number of serious security flaws. However, the AEC told Crikey that Videofied is not used at any of its sites.
In March, the innocuously named China Security and Fire bought SecureCorp for $157.5 million, a price that is well below the Foreign Investment Review Board threshold for foreign purchases of Australian companies. China Security and Fire is owned by China Security and Surveillance Technology (CSST), a company whose role is to "manufacture, distribute, install and service security and surveillance products and systems and develop security and surveillance related software in China".
In 2007, as part of a backdoor listing process in the United States, it advised the Securities and Exchange Commission that 40% of its revenue came from "governmental entities (including customs agencies, courts, public security bureaus and prisons)" in China.
That is, CSST is at the very heart of the machinery used by an authoritarian regime to enforce its grip on power. The company's chairman and owner, billionaire Tu Guoshen, who took the company private in 2011, hasn't always been in security -- he started out in auto-electrics.
But his company's links with the Chinese state were demonstrated by the presence on the board of top Chinese security bureaucrat Runsen Li, one of the key figures in the development of China's massive internet censorship and surveillance apparatus, Vice President of the Chinese Police Association and a senior figure in the China Ministry of Public Security, as well as Communist Party figure Lizhong Wang.
In 2010, the company told investors that it was "well positioned to capture the next wave of growth in the safety and surveillance industry in China. The demand for safety and surveillance solutions for corporate and government customers continues to surface", while Tu declared "we continue to execute on large-scale government projects from safe cities and e-cities in China".
SecureCorp advised the AEC, along with its other customers, of the change in ownership earlier this year. An AEC spokesman told Crikey "as part of the contract management arrangements, if any risks are identified, these will be addressed and dealt with. Our contract contains clauses consistent with the Commonwealth Protective Security Policy Framework to ensure protection of our information and assets."
The CPSP Framework, however, doesn't cover the irony of a company linked to the very core of a dictatorship's security measures safeguarding the materials of Australian democracy.
Correction: this article as originally published stated that all ballot papers are secured at facilities monitored by SecoreCorp. The AEC has since advised that this does apply to used ballot papers.