Australia probes report military spied on minister
Australia's military launched an investigation Thursday into allegations officers spied on the defence minister and leaked details of his ties to a China-born businesswomen.
Defence chiefs ordered the probe after Fairfax newspapers reported the military's intelligence arm accessed Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon's office computer system as part of a covert sweep into his private life.
Defence officials, who Fitzgibbon recently accused of being incompetent, then leaked information about his friendship with Beijing-born businesswoman Helen Liu to suggest the minister may be a security risk, the reports said.
The allegations come after a series of clashes between Fitzgibbon and the military brass, the most recent involving a bungle over pay for soldiers in the elite Special Air Service (SAS).
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, on a visit to Washington, said he had only heard about the reports and he had not spoken to Fitzgibbon.
"I am further advised that the secretary of the defence department is conducting a further investigation into this matter and therefore I will await the outcome of that investigation," he told reporters.
"My advice is that this has been a family relationship with the Fitzgibbon family going back some 16 years," Rudd said.
"There are always tensions -- or there have been for quite some time -- between defence ministers and parts of the defence department. There is nothing unusual about that."
Fitzgibbon has moved to slash waste in the multi-billion dollar defence budget since becoming minister in late 2007. Last month he chided officials over a mistake which meant some SAS troops had their pay docked.
He also accused defence officials of providing him with "nuanced information" to cover up mistakes and protect personnel.
His office declined to comment on the latest claims Thursday, but government politician Greg Combet, who until recently worked under Fitzgibbon, told Sky News: "I reckon he might be a bit angry."
Fitzgibbon's father Eric, himself a retired federal politician, said the officers' alleged actions were "a slanderous attack" and it appeared someone was out for revenge against his son.
"It's ridiculous to suggest that there's anything wrong in the relationship between the Fitzgibbon family and the Liu family," he told ABC television.