Anyone in political office could be a target, the former spy chief told the political journal Quarterly Essay in an interview to be published next week.
Mr Lewis claimed Chinese authorities were trying to “place themselves in a position of advantage” by in political, social, business and media circles, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Friday, citing the interview. “Espionage and foreign interference is insidious. Its effects might not present for decades and by that time it’s too late,” he said.
“You wake up one day and find decisions made in our country that are not in the interests of our country.”
In the interview, Mr Lewis warns covert foreign intrusion into the heart of Australian politics is “something we need to be very, very careful about”.
His remarks come after Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and Senator James Paterson were denied visas to travel to China for a study tour after they criticised its human rights record.
In an opinion piece published in The Australian on Thursday, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Xining accused the MPs of having double standards and showing disrespect.
“It is cynical that in a country boasting freedom of speech, different views from another nation are constantly and intentionally obliterated,” Mr Wang wrote.
“Understanding truth succumbs to being politically right. A people said to be audacious and adventurous like kangaroos are scared of stepping out of the comfort zone of ideas and thinking.”
Mr Wang said Australians would be astounded to know the Chinese people overwhelmingly supported the government’s decision to ban Mr Hastie and Senator Paterson.
Mr Lewis retired in September after five years as the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.