Australian minister ‘not a spy’ for US: colleagues
SYDNEY: Senior Australian politicians insisted Thursday the country's sports minister was not a "spy" for Washington after WikiLeaks cables reportedly revealed he was a "protected" source for the United States.
Mark Arbib, a key figure in June's overthrow of former leader Kevin Rudd, was a valued contact in Canberra and met US diplomats "repeatedly" according to WikiLeaks memos published exclusively by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Arbib issued a statement saying he was "publicly known as a strong supporter of Australia's relationship with the United States."
"I, like many members of the federal parliament, have regular discussions about the state of Australian and US politics with members of the US mission and consulate," he added. Elevated from minor portfolios to the Sports Ministry following Australia's August elections, Arbib was described as a "right-wing powerbroker and political rising star" who was influential in Rudd's inner circle.
He kept US officials briefed on the inner workings of Australia's government and ruling Labor party, according to the Herald report, including candid commentary ahead of Rudd's overthrow by his deputy, Julia Gillard.
"(Rudd wants) to ensure that there are viable alternatives to Gillard within the Labor party to forestall a challenge," Arbib reportedly told US diplomats, some eight months before the coup.
Senior politicians were quick to defend Arbib, including fellow coup architect Bill Shorten, now the assistant treasurer.
"I completely reject the idea that he is a spy, I just think that's nonsense," Shorten told Sky News. "I think that the commentary I've seen this morning in the newspapers is dinner party gossip masquerading as US intelligence... Each week someone's got to send a report off to America, so they jot down gossip and conversation," he added. -Afp