Aussies turn against Anthony Albanese after his unbelievable response to China’s disgraceful act inside Parliament – as the PM is forced to finally call out the behaviour

Anthony Albanese has come under fire over his extraordinary response to China’s brazen attempt to block an Australian journalist inside Parliament House. 

At a Canberra event on Monday with Mr Albanese and Chinese Premier Li Qiang, two Chinese embassy officials tried to block cameras from filming Cheng Lei, who was seated in the press gallery.

Lei worked for China’s English language news channel until 2020 when she was imprisoned in China for three years on charges she reported on state secrets, which she later revealed was based around her breaking an embargo by a ‘few minutes’.

Mr Albanese was probed on the incident at Parliament House shortly afterwards and appeared to brush it off by claiming he ‘didn’t see’ it unfold.

His reaction sparked immediate backlash with everyday Aussies joining politicians to slam the comment and demand a stronger response.

Mr Albanese was forced to call out the behaviour on Tuesday, labelling it ‘clumsy’ before insisting there should be no ‘impediments’ to journalists carrying out their job in Australia. 

Chinese embassy officials at a Parliament House event tried to block cameras from filming Australian journalist Cheng Lei, formerly imprisoned in China on baseless espionage charges

When later questioned about the incident Mr Albanese said he did not see it

When later questioned about the incident Mr Albanese said he did not see it

Mr Albanese was first questioned about the act on Monday after a journalist, who had been seated next to Lei, asked the Prime Minister for his opinion. 

‘Is it acceptable to have brought that kind of behaviour into the centre of Australia’s democracy in Parliament House?’ Mr Albanese was asked.

‘Well I didn’t see that,’ he replied. 

‘I saw Cheng Lei and we smiled at each other, but I’m not aware of those issues.

‘It’s important people be allowed to participate fully and that’s what should happen in this building or anywhere else in Australia.’

Former 3AW radio host Neil Mitchell said if the Prime Minister indeed had not seen it, then it was ‘absurd’ he was not told immediately after the high-level diplomatic event. 

‘This was on our soil,’ Mitchell said.

Some accused Mr Albanese of ‘sitting on the fence’ with his non-committal response, while others went further claiming he was ‘cowering’ and ‘weak’.

‘Disgraceful behaviour from the Chinese heavies,’ one person wrote on X.

‘Albo turning a blind eye to it is just as bad.’

‘This is appalling behaviour that should only exist in communist countries … we have a PM who grovels to the hammer and sickle,’ another said. 

‘He didn’t even say he would investigate or raise it (with Chinese representatives),’ added a third.

Former radio host Neil Mitchell said it was absurd the PM was not immediately told considering the status of the high-level event which featured the Chinese Premier

Former radio host Neil Mitchell said it was absurd the PM was not immediately told considering the status of the high-level event which featured the Chinese Premier

Other Aussies said Albo 'turning a blind eye' was as bad as China's attempt at censorship

Other Aussies said Albo ‘turning a blind eye’ was as bad as China’s attempt at censorship

Others accused the PM of being 'weak' and 'sitting on the fence'

Others accused the PM of being ‘weak’ and ‘sitting on the fence’

Mr Albanese told Perth breakfast radio on Tuesday his government has followed up on the matter.

‘Sky News reporter Cheng Lei, who recently spent three years in a Chinese jail, appeared to be blocked from view by members of the Chinese contingent, does that concern you when it’s an Australian journalist in Australia doing her job?’ host Mark Gibson asked.

‘Oh, it does. And our officials have followed up with the Chinese Embassy to express our concern, Mr Albanese replied.

‘When you look at the footage, it was pretty clumsy attempt, frankly, by a couple of people to stand in between where the cameras were and where Cheng Lei was sitting.

‘Australian officials intervened, as they should have, to ask the Chinese officials who were there at the press conference to move. And they did so. 

‘And indeed, when I held my press conference, Cheng Lei got the first question to me. 

‘I met with Cheng Lei after we helped to secure her coming home. She visited me in Parliament House, in my office, and she’s a very decent human being and a very professional journalist.

‘There should be no impediments to Australian journalists going about their job. And we’ve made that clear to the Chinese Embassy.’

Opposition leader Peter Dutton backed the government’s protest to the Chinese embassy, but also accused Mr Albanese of lying when he originally said he was not aware of the incident.

‘I do want to point out that the prime minister clearly misled the Australian people yesterday when he got up and did a press conference and said that he heard nothing of it, he didn’t understand what the question was, or didn’t know anything about it – it’s completely inconceivable,’ he said.

Video footage of the incident in question shows the official refused repeated polite requests to move.

After being rebuffed, an Australian parliament official then demanded: ‘You’re standing in front of my Australian colleague – you must move.’

Another journalist then offered to swap seats with Lei, which allowed her to move two seats to the right.

Two Chinese embassy officials (centre) stands between cameras and Lei (seated behind them not visible)

Two Chinese embassy officials (centre) stands between cameras and Lei (seated behind them not visible)

Lei (looking to her left) then swapped seats with the woman in the blue blazer

Lei (looking to her left) then swapped seats with the woman in the blue blazer

But then another Chinese embassy official attempted to get close to her to block her view. 

At this, an Australian official responded by physically wedging herself between Lei and the Chinese officials to shield the Sky News presenter. 

Lei was incarcerated by Chinese authorities in 2020 after being accused of ‘illegally supplying state secrets overseas’, allegations that were unfounded.

She returned home to Melbourne last year after a three-year ordeal in prison and landed a job at Sky News. 

Lei said afterwards that the officials went to ‘great lengths’ to hide her from view and that it was a ‘bad look.’

‘They went to great lengths to block me from the cameras,’ she told Sky News. 

‘I’m only guessing this is to prevent me from saying something or doing something that they think would be a bad look, but that in itself was a bad look.’ 

The whole bizarre interaction lasted the length of the 20-minute press conference.  

Lei said it was typical of Chinese officials to attempt to convey a ‘friendly facade’ during official visits.

‘Well, it’s typical right, with these events,’ she said.

‘Especially if they’re attaching importance to the friendly facade, that they’re carefully staging that voices of discord or the presence of someone who’s a bit controversial, not harm that.’

The embassy official standing

An Australian staffer then stood in front of the embassy officials

The bizarre incident lasted about 20 minutes with the embassy officials continuing their attempt to block Lei before an Australian government staffer stepped in (white jacket)

The Sky News anchor praised the response of Australian officials.

‘Our officials behaved courteously, firmly, as they should have,’ she added.

Australian political figures were quick to condemn the actions.

‘This is inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour on Australian soil,’ Opposition Home Affairs spokesman James Paterson posted on social media.

The incident at the press conference follows pro- and anti-China protesters who clashed on the lawn outside Parliament House.

Peaceful supporters of Tibet, a predominantly Buddhist region in China’s far west, were swarmed by counter-protesters who unfurled huge Chinese and Australian flags to block them from sight.

Some protesters carried huge flags that conjoined the Chinese and Australian flag, as Tibetan sympathisers struggled to hold their banner aloft. 

At one stage, a scuffle broke out as a man fell to the floor and brought down a raised speaker as a heavy police presence observed the stand-off. 

One observer claimed that ‘people bearing Chinese flags who were bussed in and paid to ‘welcome’ Chinese premier Li Qiang’.