Wednesday 20th of January 2021

a potential domestic terror threat...


Officials from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have not briefed Scott Morrison on the QAnon conspiracy theory following the FBI’s decision to identify the group as a potential domestic terror threat, and say they are unaware that Twitter has suspended the account of a family friend of the prime minister.

Labor asked a series of questions in Senate estimates on Tuesday after Twitter confirmed it permanently suspended a QAnon account belonging to a family friend of the prime minister’s for “engaging in coordinated harmful activity”.

Before the suspension, the owner of the account, Tim Stewart, shared content associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory to his tens of thousands of followers. Stewart’s wife works at Kirribilli House.

Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said she wanted to pursue a line of questioning because it was in the public interest to ensure there was no “vector of influence” with Morrison given the “dangerous” suppositions of the “fringe conspiracy movement”, and the FBI’s concerns.

“It’s about transparency,” Wong said.

The department’s deputy secretary, Stephanie Foster, told the hearing the only association the department had with the issue Wong was prosecuting was to “assist with the employment of a staff member for Kirribilli House”.

Foster said all appropriate checks were undertaken to ensure the appointment was suitable, “including the relevant police checks”.

“That was our responsibility, and we felt we had executed that responsibility appropriately,” she said. “I’m not sure there is a broader role the department can take with this issue.”

Another departmental official said all three staff employed at the prime minister’s Sydney residence had security clearances.

Wong asked Foster whether the department was aware that the Twitter account had been suspended. “I was not aware of that senator,” Foster replied.

Labor’s Senate leader observed this was curious, given the ban had been reported by both Guardian Australia and News Corp, and “you do a fair bit of media monitoring”.

“I do find that surprising,” Wong said.


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