Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2017


Donations to Political Parties

10:14 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

The news has broken that New South Wales Labor rising star and 2016 Senate candidate Simon Zhou has resigned as a Sussex Street staffer under questions about his dodgy donations and his involvement in a gold tax scam. There are many, many questions that need to be answered, not just by Mr Zhou, but by the web of dodgy deals that has been done by the ALP and highlighted in a Walkley-award-winning form by Fairfax Media and the ABC. They have thrown a light upon a very murky aspect of Australian politics.

But let's get some background: the ALP are closely linked, in a financial sense, with people in this country who are strongly linked to the Communist Party of China. They are effectively, by their own admission in some instances, acting to further Chinese government aims in Australian politics. And we can take this back quite some way. In my time in this place, there was the case of Joel Fitzgibbon, who was ultimately forced to resign as defence minister. He was forced to resign because of a conflict of interest in a meeting, but before that he was closely linked—closely linked—to Helen Lu, who was not only a donor of suits to Mr Fitzgibbon and not only a provider of his accommodation here in Canberra but also closely linked to a former lieutenant-colonel who had high-level contacts in Beijing and who was also linked to the funnelling of funny money for support of the Bill Clinton campaign. In fact, Ms Lu was exposed today by Fairfax Media as having these in-depth links to the funny money contributors. That was years ago.

Then we had the former foreign minister, former Senator Bob Carr. Senator Carr was Premier of New South Wales. He had retired and then was suddenly brought out of retirement and slung into the Senate by the right wing in New South Wales. He was made foreign minister, where he strutted the world stage, complaining about business class, and then suddenly he dropped out again. Now, former Senator Carr is head of the Australia-Chinese Research Institute, which is an institute funded by one of the people named in the Four Corners report, Mr Huang, to the tune of $1.8 million. Senator Carr was defending one Chinese donation in The Australian newspaper recently, but he omitted a whole range of other facts, such as his employment prospects and his employment of people associated with Mr Huang. His advocacy for China within the cabinet and outside—there are so many questions that need to be answered by Mr Carr.

Indeed, there are also questions that need to be answered by some in the coalition. The coalition accepted $770,000 from one of the individuals named in the Four Corners report the other night. That same person gave a $100,000 donation to Mr Andrew Robb's fundraising account when he was then trade minister. At the Liberal Party fundraising function at Etihad Stadium, I am told that dinner with the Prime Minister was bought for $125,000, through an auction process. The auction was actually conducted in Chinese. The underbidder who, of course, missed out, was also given the opportunity to top up his bid and buy dinner with the Prime Minister for $125,000 too. The funny thing is that I was in the Liberal Party for 30 years and no-one is willing or able to tell me the names of those two people. Why is it such a secret? Has the dinner been taken with the Prime Minister? What was discussed? These are the sorts of questions that reasonable people are asking. We need answers to them.

But no-one has more questions to answer in this place than my old sparring partner, Senator Dastyari.

You will remember, Mr President, that I raised the matter that Senator Dastyari had not only had a $5,000 donation by Mr Huang, one of the people named in the Four Corners report, to pay a media bill but also had declared he had a personal bill paid at his request by another person with close links to the Chinese Communist Party. Despite the defence of those on that side who said, 'There's nothing wrong. There's nothing to see here. It's all okay,' eventually Senator Dastyari fell on his sword or was stabbed in the front or the back—however you want to characterise it—and was put into—

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

purgatory. Thank you, Senator Lambie. He was put into purgatory for about six weeks before he came back in his current role. But there are questions that Senator Dastyari has to answer, and he has to answer them for the good of this place—for the good and wellbeing of clarity in our parliament.

I note that today a Labor member has said these matters should be referred to the intelligence committee in the House and, rather than have secret hearings, they should have open hearings. The problem with that is you cannot trust politicians to investigate themselves. When I publicly raised the question of Senator Dastyari's request of a Chinese Communist Party linked donor for $1,200 to pay a personal bill, I received a phone call from a senior Liberal operative to, in effect, warn me off—to say, 'We get money from these people too.' I do not care if you get money from these people; if something is wrong, it is wrong and you pursue it. And there is clearly something wrong in the state of Denmark—to paraphrase—or in the state of Sussex Street or in the state of New South Wales politics. It is grubby and it is infecting both sides.

Here are some questions that Senator Dastyari needs to answer. We need to know precisely what happened when Senator Stephen Conroy, as shadow defence minister, said at the Press Club, 'We need to have right-of-navigation exercises through the South China Sea,' because the very next day Mr Huang withdrew a $400,000 promised donation from the ALP. When that happened, of course you could see the panic mode go into action. So what happened? Senator Dastyari rode to the rescue. The next day or the day shortly thereafter, Senator Dastyari decided to have a press conference with Mr Huang, and the press conference, extraordinarily, seemed to be held at the Commonwealth parliamentary offices in Sydney. There we had Mr Huang—a non-citizen, a major donor, someone who has threatened to withdraw money from the ALP—and Senator Dastyari, standing on the podium with the Australian crest. And what media were there? The Chinese media—CCTV. No-one else. And you know what? You cannot even get the transcript of that. You cannot get the footage. They refuse to release it. No-one knows what was said. We can only presume the deal was: 'Don't worry about it, mate. I'll get the 400k off him. We'll just stand there and let him show around how important we are.' I can see the strings being weaved. Senator Dastyari is not that tall; he could just weave some strings there and make him move his arms!

These are the questions that need to be answered. What media was invited? Was it Chinese-language media only? What was the agreement that was made as a result of Mr Huang? What secret deal did he have with Senator Dastyari? I have been unable to locate whether $400,00 was paid, but the question comes: why was Mr Huang standing next to Senator Dastyari in the first place at a press conference where Senator Dastyari, might I add, was refuting his party's own position as clearly stated by his shadow defence minister only a couple of days before? Was that just some sort of clumsy attempt to ingratiate himself with the Chinese donors, the Chinese media and the Chinese government? Was it some sort of damage control irrespective of the damage it does to the status of this place and the representatives who are elected here?

Funnily, a week later, Mr Huang appears at another press conference, to announce that his associate, the person I started talking about—that dodgy dealer, the dodgy gold trader, Simon Zhou—had won a spot on Labor's Senate ticket. Mr Zhou is so powerful and well connected that Labor just decided to give him a spot on the Senate ticket. Imagine that! Mr Zhou is so powerful and so well connected that Labor just decided to give him a spot on the Senate ticket. It smells to me like it is cash for seats. It smells corrupt. Today Mr Zhou has resigned because of his questionable donations and his gold-tack scam. But until today he was still working in Sussex Street as the Chinese liaison unit, or whatever they want to call it.

So the question is again: was Mr Huang invited to sit at the table at the front of the press conference with other Labor MPs to announce their Senate candidate? And why? Was it done to secure a benefit—namely, to rescue that $400,000 donation? Or to massage Mr Huang's ego, because one of his boys had been put on the Senate ticket? Was it to capture the images for Chinese media? To say: 'Look, don't worry about it. We've got our agents working to influence a political process.' They would never know that Mr Zhou was in the 7th spot or the unwinnable spot of the Senate ticket. But it serves as a propaganda exercise par excellence.

So there is another question for Senator Dastyari, who seems to be the go-to man in this thing. Did Senator Dastyari have anything to do with organising this event or asking for Mr Huang to attend? And what is his association with Simon Zhou? Did Senator Dastyari seek to influence, through his previous role—in accordance with his standing, stature and influence within the New South Wales ALP—to have Mr Zhou appointed? Was this ever discussed with Mr Huang? These are questions that I think are reasonable and need to be answered.

I note that Senator Dastyari was the general secretary of New South Wales Labor for three years—from March 2010 to 21 August. I note that in November 2012, Mr Huang and two other members of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China donated half a million dollars to the New South Wales ALP. So there are some connections there. I also note that Four Corners reported that one of Mr Huang's advisers on the peaceful unification council is New South Wales Labor politician Ernest Wong.

He is described as 'a close ally and friend of Mr Huang'. The pair travelled together on reunification council business. Then, on 9 May 2013, Eric Roozendaal stepped down from the New South Wales upper house—and guess who replaced him in May of that year? Mr Ernest Wong. Once again, there are links between the close donors, the appointments of apparatchiks, the dodgy deals—and I think I read the other day that Mr Roozendaal eventually took a job with Mr Wong. So you leave parliament, and give a spot to the bloke closely linked to the Chinese donor—and very closely linked to the communist party of China, so much so that ASIO have warned political parties about their conduct and influence—and then you go and work back for them. Something smells fishy. And at the heart of it all is the ALP. And there seems to be one revolving comet, which has burnt very bright and is very influential. That comet is Senator Dastyari. It is time for him to come clean. He should come clean about whether he consulted with Mr Huang about the appointment of people to these positions. He should come clean about how he comes to be standing next to Mr Huang in Commonwealth parliamentary offices for Chinese media to repudiate his government's own policy position.

That is why, with so many questions to be answered, we need to find how deep this influence and the influence of foreign agents go into politics in this country. It is not just about donations; there are also questions about personal benefits for members of parliament, for their staffers, for their officers and the jobs they are given. What quid pro quo exists? It causes all sorts of questions in my mind as to how do we get to the sale of the Port of Darwin? What happened to the $30 million alleged success fee? Where did that flow onto? Did anyone associated with politics at the time put any money in their pocket? Remember, the Port of Darwin lease was against American advice, and they are our closest ally. It raises questions about how all of a sudden the Chinese-Australia extradition agreement surfaces, bubbles up from the sewer, after 10 years of laying in abeyance. The disallowance motion is still to come up with that. What influence was brought to bear in that? If you are donating hundreds of thousands of dollars—nay, millions of dollars—to the major political parties in this place, you are not doing it out of the goodness of your heart. The evidence suggests that very, very, very strongly.

That is why I say we need a royal commission into this. We need a royal commission to strip away the power and influence that often protects people, to strip away the thought process that goes, 'Let's not open up that can of worms because we know we're going to find a couple of rotten worms over on this side too.' Let us assure ourselves of mutual non-destruction, because the crisis of confidence in politics right now is only growing. The stalemate on donation reform, the stalemate on transparency, the hidden nature of what is going on—the protection racket is what I call it—stinks to high heaven, and the Australian people need and deserve to know the truth.

If I am wrong, then, sure, a royal commission will have cost us millions upon millions of dollars, and that is not an expenditure that I take lightly. But it is an expenditure that is an investment in the health and wellbeing of our body politic and our democratic process. If nothing is found—

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I doubt it!

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

then that is all good and well. But, as Senator Lambie has just interjected—she said, 'I doubt it', and I doubt it too. There is so much that is on the nose here that that million dollars or $10 million or whatever it costs could be the best possible investment we will ever make in cleaning up what clearly is, and smells like, a sewer. That sewer starts in New South Wales. Unfortunately, it is bubbling over, it is gurgling and it is emerging in Victoria. There are elements of it also in South Australia, in Western Australia and in the Northern Territory. I do not know about Queensland. We need to get to the bottom of it. We simply cannot trust a political committee to investigate those who are charged with dispensing and upholding democracy. (Time expired)