Christopher Luxon says 'no evidence' China interfered in NZ election after hacking scandal

The Government has revealed Chinese state-sponsored hackers breached parliamentary networks in 2021.

But Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says there's "no evidence" China has interfered in our elections.

In public New Zealand and China appear to be good friends. But behind the scenes, a Chinese state-backed group has been targeting the heart of our democracy.

The Government on Tuesday revealed that in 2021 the group hacked the Parliamentary Service and the Parliamentary Counsel Office, which drafts our laws.

Called APT40, the group is associated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security. The breach was detected and the hackers blocked.

But no one will say how long that took and what they accessed.

"Information of a sensitive or strategic nature was not removed from the system. Some information was removed from the networks," said Andrew Clark, Director-General of the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Today's significant announcement warranted a rare media appearance from the head of our spy agency.

"This is the first time that we have attributed state-sponsored malicious cyber activity to the People's Republic of China for intrusion into NZ Government systems," Clark said.

Canterbury University professor of political science and China expert Anne-Marie Brady said that's "raising the level of complaint to China of really publicly calling out China".

In 2021 the Labour-led Government also warned about the same Chinese group conducting malicious cyber activity in New Zealand - in that case the strikes were not against democratic institutions.

Spy agencies' minister Judith Collins called it "totally unacceptable".

"It is showing a pattern of behaviour. We know it is not acceptable."

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: Getty Images

A pattern afflicting liberal democracies. The UK and the US also calling out China for cyber campaigns targeting their politicians and officials - including allegedly accessing the details of 40 million voters held by the UK's Electoral Commission.

Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Oliver Dowden called it "a clear and persistent pattern of behaviour that signals hostile intent from China".

Meanwhile here in New Zealand, our Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said "there is no evidence there has been any interference in our elections or the Electoral Commission whatsoever".

Those countries have hit back with sanctions, New Zealand hasn't.

"The other countries you have mentioned have got legislation that enables them to apply those, we don't," Collins said.

The Chinese Embassy calls the claims groundless and irresponsible. 

The Foreign Minister has instructed his officials to speak with the Chinese Ambassador about the intrusion, but he wouldn't speak about that today.

It's understood the ambassador's response echoed China's response to our Five Eyes partners - complete denial.