Liberal senator calls for halt to joint virus lab projects
Liberal MP Sarah Henderson says all virus research with foreign nationals should be stopped until a safety and national security review is done.
The call from a member of the Morrison government follows revelations by The Daily Telegraph that the CSIRO's bio-containment facility in Geelong, Victoria, has been engaging in research, jointly funded by the Australian and Chinese governments, in conjunction with the Wuhan Institute of Virology which is now the centre of a global probe into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ms Henderson told The Daily Telegraph the partnership was "very concerning" from a security and safety perspective.
"I am calling on the CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory - now known as the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness - to conduct a full review into its virus research program involving foreign nationals so as to consider all of the national security and biosecurity risks.
"This sort of research involving foreign nationals should be put on hold until the review is conducted."
Ms Henderson spoke of major security concerns laboratories in the US and Canada had faced, including attempts to steal virus samples to send back to China, and said a security review should be done of CSIRO's lab, adding: "The cyber security of our high containment laboratories also needs to be reviewed."
"In January this year, a Harvard professor and two Chinese scientists based in Boston were charged with assisting the Chinese government,'' she said.
"One of the researchers was arrested at an airport on his way to China with 21 vials of biological samples in his bag."
Ms Henderson said while there was no suggestion that any incident occurred at the laboratory in Geelong, this type of research also carried with it very high risks including the threat of a pandemic.
"In 2016, the US Government Accountability Office identified that improved oversight of dangerous pathogens in high containment laboratories was required to mitigate risk," she said.
"In 2019, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists identified that human error in high-bio containment laboratories was a likely pandemic threat. It makes clear that incidents causing potential exposures to pathogens occur frequently in high security laboratories - like the one in Wuhan."
A CSIRO spokesman said it had no current research involving live bats.
Senior Shadow Cabinet member Joel Fitzgibbon has backed the call for an investigation into the source of COVID-19.
"Everyone wants a proper independent arms length inquiry into where the coronavirus originated and how it came to be in our population," he told Sky News.
Originally published as Liberal senator calls for halt to joint virus lab projects