The government senator described the blocking of the account as a case of “foreign interference” in Australian democracy.
The popular Chinese messaging app WeChat appears to have blocked access to the account of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, prompting a senator to call for a boycott of the service across parliament.
Senator James Patterson, chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, said Monday that the prime minister’s team has had problems accessing the WeChat account for months. He was finally taken out of government control in early January despite official representations from Morrison’s office, he told 4BC radio.
“In my opinion, WeChat is such a closely controlled company by the Chinese Communist Party that it is tantamount to foreign interference in our democracy, and no less so in an election year,” he said.
The prime minister’s office did not comment immediately on Monday. Efforts to find Scott Morrison’s WeChat account in China on Monday morning were unsuccessful.
With more than a billion users worldwide, WeChat is one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. The Chinese government regularly censors sensitive content, including WeChat, which is owned by Tencent Holdings Ltd.
A Tencent spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Many Australian politicians, including opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanez, have WeChat accounts published in Mandarin in an attempt to connect with China’s large diaspora. In the 2016 census, about 5.6% of the population said they were of Chinese descent – more than one in 20 people.
Patterson called on all Australian politicians to stop using WeChat until the prime minister’s account is restored.
“No one should legitimize their censorship and control over our public debate,” he said.
Commenting to 4BC, Olbanese said he would talk to Morrison about the WeChat incident, adding that it could have “consequences for national security”.
Former diplomat Dave Sharma, who is now an MP in Morrison’s coalition, told Sky News that the decision to block access to the prime minister’s account was “more likely than not sanctioned by the state”.
“This shows the attitude towards freedom of speech and freedom of expression that comes from Beijing,” he said.