The problem with Labor and national security is not what the party says now, which is good - or at least as good as what the government says. Rather, the problem is what it has done in the past. This includes a shocking incident of sacrificing national security for political gain just a few years ago. Bill Shorten and Kristina Keneally perpetrated that act of irresponsibility and from Anthony Albanese's front bench could again put politics before our security. Preparing for this year's election, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton are trying to tell us that Labor would be weak on China and keeping the country safe. Well, if they mean there's something wrong with Labor's policy then they have some explaining to do, because the policy is basically to back the government. That includes backing the government's strong increases in defence spending. But Labor hardly took defence seriously when it was last in office. In this area, as in so many, Kevin Rudd was all announcement and no action. He said we should have more submarines. Saying it was just about all he did. As China rolled out ever more alarming military capabilities, Julia Gillard cut defence spending to its lowest share of GDP since 1938 - a notably unfortunate year for strategic comparisons. Is Labor now reformed on this issue? Could we now trust it to persist with a strong defence budget? Yes, I think so. We can also expect a firm policy toward China from Albanese and his foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong. Still, Labor must be watched closely ahead of this year's election, because it sold out national security as recently as four years ago in an incident that was hardly noticed at the time and soon forgotten. That business was so serious that it is well worth reconsidering today. The occasion was a by-election for Bennelong, a federal seat in northern Sydney with 23,000 residents from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Keneally was Labor's candidate. Australia had just woken up to attempts by the Chinese government to manipulate domestic politics, largely thanks to the exposure of Labor senator Sam Dastyari promoting Beijing's interests. Malcolm Turnbull's government called out Dastyari and said in December 2017 it would legislate against foreign interference in our political processes. And that's when Shorten and Keneally tried to turn national security against the government to improve their electoral chances. Chinese-Australians "see the suggestion from the prime minister that people from Chinese and Asian backgrounds are somehow suspicious," Keneally said, campaigning for Bennelong. She was, in fact, in tune with stirring by Chinese state media on this subject. And Shorten, then leader of the opposition, said: "I think the Chinese community would be unimpressed by the constant China-phobic comments from Malcolm Turnbull." Keneally and Shorten were clearly dog whistling. They knew that some mainland Chinese immigrants in Bennelong would indeed have seen the government's China policy as an affront to themselves. Others, maybe not much interested in politics but with media habits that kept them exposed to Beijing's propaganda, would have been wondering whether the government saw them as suspect outsiders. And now Keneally seemed to reinforce their worries. So here was one of our major parties pandering to the concerns of voters exposed to manipulation by a foreign government - indeed, a foreign government that worked hard at manipulating its expatriates, was up to its neck in political interference here and even presented a potential military threat to this country. Second, these comments were encouraging Chinese-Australians to feel different from the rest of us, even victimised, and therefore less inclined to integrate. Third, it was obvious that this Labor pair was trying to turn necessary national security policy into pain for the Coalition. That's a political practice that would discourage a government from taking measures to keep the country safe. Paul Murray, a columnist for the West Australian, was one of the few who noticed this. Referring specifically to Keneally, he wrote: "Perverting the national interest for personal political gain, to the extent of undermining our security, is as low as the game goes." MORE AGE OF THE DRAGON: I make no apology for dredging up an incident from four years ago. Such political behaviour was a grave threat to this country - and still could be if we do not watch out for it, especially as we approach another election. The continuing presence in politics of Shorten and the seemingly indestructible Keneally is a particular reason for wariness. Keneally didn't win Bennelong, by the way, but Dastyari soon left the Senate, and Labor gave his place to her; she'll move to the House of Representatives at this year's election. The CCP is relentless in striving for power - at home and abroad. It's also increasingly unbothered by damage to what's left of China's reputation, seeing little downside in being caught. And so we find that even last year it was trying to insert new Dastyaris into parliament, and again trying to use Labor. ASIO chief Mike Burgess sketched the outlines of the latest attempt a week ago; sources of News Corp and Nine Entertainment newspapers filled in the details. In summary, China, through a wealthy businessman and another intermediary, tried to bankroll some Labor people as federal election candidates, expecting they would become indebted to it. It failed. ASIO blocked the plot and has no concern about current Labor candidates. Scott Morrison can wipe the smirk off his face. Labor was the target this time, but the Liberal Party could be next time. And will ASIO be nimble enough again to catch a Chinese attempt at influencing MPs?