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Experts have warned that Australia was under a grave threat from foreign spies, pointing to the rising espionage activities in the country over the years.

As espionage activities saw an uptick, federal politicians raised concerns over the lack of vetting process in hiring political staff and a vulnerable security landscape ahead of the next elections.

Pointing to the "highly constrained" backlog for security clearances, Australian National University national security expert William Stolz stressed the need to adopt a structured vetting process, reported.

Stolz's warning comes as a former spy called "Eric" claimed there were 1,200 Chinese intelligence agents working in Australia. Speaking at the Defending Australia Summit on Wednesday, he said the secret agents are working for the Communist regime spying, gathering information and harassing targets who criticize the Chinese government, reported.

Stolz also warned that espionage was increasing across the globe, but the threat was more visible in Australia ahead of the elections.

"Political staff are essentially hired and fired at the discretion of a member of parliament – they do have to undergo basic police checks but there's no security clearance process," Stolz said. "It's highly concerning and for a country of Australia's sophistication – and given the seriousness of MPs and senators being targeted – it's no longer appropriate political staff are not better vetted and security cleared."

He pointed out that apart from China, Australia was also under the surveillance of countries like Russia, India, Iran and Turkey.

At the Defending Australia Summit, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles acknowledged the challenges faced by Australia due to the military expansion by China in the Indo-Pacific region. However, Marles added that China was a strategic trade partner for Australia and the federal government wanted to maintain a strong relationship with the Asian country.

Opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson, however, demanded serious action by the government to counter Chinese intelligence in Australia.

"These are very shocking revelations and even if the number is not quite as high, it is no doubt that China is the number one source of espionage and foreign interference risk in this country," Paterson said. "We must be very robust in standing up for ourselves. We must provide our agencies with the resources and the powers that they need to defend our democracy because nothing less than that is at stake."