“The allegations that have been made are gravely concerning and indicate why we needed to have the strong foreign interference laws passed last year,” Mr Byrne said.
“And it’s why I’m such a strong advocate for those laws.
“In my assessment, the government’s judgment should be shaped by the assessment of our agencies, and they need to be given time to conduct a comprehensive assessment of this individual’s claims.
“We can’t afford knee-jerk reactions given the gravity and seriousness of this matter.”
Liberal MP Tim Wilson acknowledged the potential grounds for the Department of Home Affairs to protect Mr Wang.
“The department and agencies appear to have a superficially strong case to consider protection for Mr Wang if his story checks out,” Mr Wilson said.
Liberal Senator James Paterson, who was refused a visa by China to undertake a study tour to the country next month, also said a decision would depend on the information uncovered.
“If Mr Wang’s story can be verified, he would appear to have a textbook case for a visa,” Senator Paterson said.
Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick said the authorities would have to give the “strongest consideration” to the potential defector’s circumstances.
“I have no doubt in my mind that he would be the subject of severe consequences were he to return to China,” Senator Patrick said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the matter was now in the hands of security agencies such as ASIO.
“I won’t comment on specifics of an ASIO operational matter, but what I will say is that the government makes no apologies for the laws that we’ve introduced around foreign interference and foreign influence,” he said.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Saturday that Mr Wang had come to Australia on a tourist visa, reported being a former Chinese spy and would seek protection here to avoid being killed if he returned to China.
It is not unusual for visitors from mainland China to claim asylum in Australia after arriving on a tourist visa, with more than 9000 doing so in the year to June 2018, part of a broader trend of people arriving by air and seeking to stay.
Although China might object to any help offered to Mr Wang, an Australian decision to give him a bridging visa pending a decision on his asylum application would be in line with the treatment of thousands of others.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Wang “has a case” for protection depending on what the government discovers of the case over time.
“The prima facie case is there that he certainly has a claim. And that should be considered in a way that takes into account the merits of the case,” Mr Albanese said.
“Quite clearly, he has made a number of statements. That would mean that he was under real pressure, to say the least, if he were to return. So, these issues should be examined.
“Australia is a country that supports human rights. Australia is a country that supports freedom of expression, and one in which we stand up for people who are persecuted, wherever they’re from.”
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.