Thursday, 30 November 2017
Dastyari, Senator Sam
by leave—I rise to make a short statement. Let me begin at the outset by saying that I have never had a briefing by any Australian security agency, ever. I have never passed on classified information and I have never been in the possession of any. As I have repeatedly said, if I was ever given any security advice from any agency, I would follow it to the letter.
I want to be absolutely clear: I could not be a prouder Australian. My family was lucky enough to leave a war-torn Iran to start a new life in this amazing land. I find the inferences that I'm anything but a patriotic Australian deeply hurtful. Nonetheless, I am not without fault. In June last year I held a press conference where I made comments that were in breach of Labor Party policy. I have never denied this. The price I paid for that was high but appropriate. More recently, my characterisation of that press conference was called into question. A recent audio recording shocked me, as it did not match my recollection of events. I take responsibility for the subsequent mischaracterisation.
When a public official makes a statement that contradicts events, there are consequences. For me, the consequence was being called last night by Bill Shorten and being asked to resign from my position in the Labor Senate organisational leadership. With the indulgence of the Senate, I want to acknowledge my amazing wife and two daughters, who keep having to put up with the heightened spotlight. Hannah is now six and has to answer questions in the playground. That breaks the heart of any father.
Today we have the news of a royal commission into Australian banking, which is a victory for the many victims and those of us who have fought for justice. With the upcoming New England and Bennelong by-elections, I always intend to put the party first and do not want to be a distraction. I will continue to work as I always have done for the people of New South Wales.
by leave—I move:
That the Senate take note of Senator Dastyari's statement.
What Senator Dastyari has just announced is, I'm sorry to say, not the end of the matter. Whatever human sympathy one may feel for Senator Dastyari, who, I must say, I like personally, we are, all of us, in this chamber and in this parliament, accountable for our conduct. The conduct of Senator Dastyari that has been disclosed in the last two days by the ABC and Fairfax and other media outlets falls so far short of the expectations of people who serve in parliament that it is a scandal. It is a scandal, and there is no nice way of putting that than to say: call it for what it is.
What have we learned about Senator Dastyari's conduct in the last two days—disclosed, by the way, by serious investigative journalists writing for serious newspapers and media organisations? We already knew that Senator Dastyari had a relationship of financial dependency upon a man called Huang Xiangmo, from whom he took money last year, and after an unacceptably long delay was required to resign his position from the Labor Party frontbench then. What has been revealed in the last 36 hours are two more aspects of the relationship between Huang Xiangmo and Senator Dastyari—both of which are shocking. First of all, it was credibly alleged in the Fairfax papers yesterday, by serious investigative journalists, that at a meeting at Huang Xiangmo's Mosman home Senator Dastyari, believing that Huang Xiangmo may be under surveillance by the Australian intelligence services, sought to interfere with what he presumed to be that surveillance. Obviously, Mr President, I cannot confirm or comment on any investigations by the Australian intelligence agencies, and I do not. But whether or not there was surveillance of Mr Huang Xiangmo is not the point. The point is that Senator Dastyari believed there might be and he advised Huang Xiangmo how to avoid it—to engage in countersurveillance behaviour.
Mr President, one has to ask the question: what is a man doing in the Australian parliament, let alone occupying a senior and influential position in the alternative government, if he is prepared to thwart what he believed to be an investigation by the Australian intelligence agencies and to advise the man who he thought to be the subject of that investigation how to thwart that investigation? How is it possible that someone who is guilty of that behaviour should remain in the Australian parliament? I don't speculate on Senator Dastyari's motives. It may merely have been terrible judgement or it may have been another motive. We don't know, but we do know the conduct that has been credibly alleged, and that conduct is a scandal.
Furthermore, at the meeting at Huang Xiangmo's home that day not only did Senator Dastyari coach him in how to engage in countersurveillance activities so as to thwart what he presumed to be an investigation by the Australian intelligence agencies; he also indicated to him that the reason he wanted to do that was that he wanted to have a covert conversation with him that could not possibly be detected by the Australian intelligence agencies—and he had that conversation. We don't know what passed between those two men in the course of that conversation, but what we do know is that it was something that Senator Dastyari was very concerned that the Australian intelligence agencies not hear. There is no doubt about that, because he said to Huang Xiangmo, 'Leave your mobile phone over there; let us go outside so that we can have this conversation without the risk of being detected if there is surveillance on your telephone.' That is what has been credibly alleged. And we can only wonder why. That is the first episode that has come to light in the last 24 hours.
But even worse than that, last night, on the broadcast news programs, there was disclosed an audio of a press conference that Senator Dastyari held for Chinese-language media only during the course of the 2016 election campaign. Astonishingly, as the photographs of that press conference reveal, Huang Xiangmo was standing beside him while he gave the press conference. This was a press conference in the press conference room of the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Sydney.
What on earth is a senior Labor politician doing giving a press conference with his financial benefactor, Huang Xiangmo, standing beside him? He is obviously giving this press conference at Huang Xiangmo's behest. What was the press conference for, Mr President? Well, we know. The press conference was convened for the deliberate, conscious, advertent purpose of undermining the Labor Party's foreign policy. That's why it was given.
Only a couple of days earlier, the then shadow minister for defence, Senator Conroy, had addressed the National Press Club in the course of the 2016 election campaign. The National Press Club address in the middle of the election campaign was the signature occasion for the Labor Party to lay out its alternative defence policy for the Australian people. Senator Conroy, the then shadow defence minister—the man who, had there been a change of government, as there nearly was, at the 2016 election, would have been the defence minister—set out a very hard line on what is arguably the most difficult issue in the relationship between Australia and China. That is the question of the reclamation by China of islands in the South China Sea, the Spratlys and other island formations, to turn them into military bases. Senator Conroy said in his speech to the National Press Club that, were there to be a Labor government, a Labor government would instruct the Australian Navy to conduct freedom of navigation exercises through that contested sea, through that contested space. That was a very strong position, by the way, that Senator Conroy took. It was evidently within the Labor Party not uncontroversial.
Two days later, at a press conference convened explicitly only for Chinese-language media and standing shoulder to shoulder with the man to whom he was under a financial obligation, Huang Xiangmo, Senator Dastyari specifically and deliberately undermined that policy. He sent to China, through the Chinese-language media, the only ones invited to the press conference, a contrary message. Senator Dastyari, as we know, is a very intelligent man. He is a person deeply steeped in the ways of politics. A man like Senator Dastyari doesn't do something like that by accident. He doesn't do it flippantly or fecklessly. He does it by deliberate intent. And he did.
Here we have a situation in which the man who was competing to be Australia's defence minister at the time, Senator Conroy, set out a strong position in relation to the most difficult issue, arguably, in the Australian-Chinese relationship, about navigation through the contested space in the South China Sea and the island chains that have been reclaimed. And then his senior colleague, messaging directly to the Chinese, convenes a press conference at the behest of Huang Xiangmo—who is there beside him—and sends the opposite message. Why? We're entitled to know why Senator Dastyari undertook that deliberate, advertent act of sabotage of the Australian Labor Party's foreign policy position at the behest of the man upon whom he was financially reliant: Huang Xiangmo.
If that were not bad enough, the fact of that press conference subsequently came to light. On several occasions, in various interviews, Senator Dastyari said: 'I spoke flippantly. I garbled my words. I didn't mean to undermine Senator Conroy's position.' They were words to that effect. He tried to make light of it, just as at that embarrassing press conference last year he tried to make light of his financial relationship with Huang Xiangmo in the first place. That excuse fell to the ground last night when—as a result of, plainly, some very thorough investigative journalism—the audio of the press conference came to light. We all heard it broadcast on the news last night. These were not flippant words. These were not words that were garbled. These were deliberate, considered and, evidently, scripted words. We know—and I'm sorry to say—that Senator Dastyari lied to the public about the press conference.
This is a deeply serious matter. Last year, I and other ministers challenged Mr Shorten to remove Senator Dastyari from the position he then had on the Labor Party frontbench. Mr Shorten delayed, temporised, dithered and dragged his heels. Eventually, excruciatingly days later, he acted and sent Senator Dastyari to the backbench, where he remained for all of 4½ months—4½ months including the Christmas and summer holiday period of 2017! When the parliament resumed at the beginning of this year, Senator Dastyari had been rehabilitated not to a position in the Labor Party shadow ministry but into a position in the Labor Party Senate management team—one of the senior executive positions in the Labor Party leadership group. That is where he has remained all year until the announcement that he just made a short while ago.
This time, it is not enough. How absurd to reflect that, in this Senate, over recent months, we have seen one senator after another forced to resign from the Senate because of section 44 of the Constitution in circumstances which have reflected no discredit on a single one of them. For a technical reason, unbeknownst to them, they were deemed to owe allegiance or acknowledgement to a foreign sovereign. Meanwhile, in the Senate, in a senior position in the Labor Party, there sat Senator Dastyari who, evidently, by his conduct, was actually under a foreign influence. But he kept quiet. He stayed mum. He maintained his position until his position was exposed by the media in the last 24 hours or so, and now he has been forced to resign—again.
This is not good enough. It is not good enough that people who are innocent of any foreign allegiance, except in the most technical way like Senator Ludlam or Senator Waters or Senator Nash or Senator Kakoschke-Moore and others, Senator Roberts, should have to resign from the Senate on a technicality but Senator Dastyari stays here on an actuality. It is unacceptable. If Mr Shorten thinks that he can staunch the damage to the Australian Labor Party by, once again, benching Senator Dastyari for—
Yes, for this summer. Thank you, Senator Bridget McKenzie. This is the Dastyari summer sabbatical: get caught under a foreign influence, spend the summer months on the backbench and then be recalled by Mr Shorten—this pathetically weak leader—and be re-instated onto the frontbench or into the senior leadership team.
Thank you, Senator Canavan. The interjections keep on coming from my National Party friends. That's right; it could be volume 2, Sam's Chinese holiday! This is a matter of great seriousness because, in a real way, it goes to the integrity of this chamber. In a purely technical, legalistic way the resignation of seven senators who breached section 44 of the Constitution went to the integrity of the chamber—for legal and technical reasons. But it didn't go to the integrity of those senators themselves—many of whom, of course, have very different political views from my own; not one of them behaved without integrity. But, I'm afraid to say, the same thing cannot be said of Senator Sam Dastyari, who has not once, not twice but now three times fundamentally compromised himself.
It is not good enough for Mr Shorten to think that he can overcome this latest embarrassment merely by, once again, temporarily benching Senator Sam Dastyari. It is not good enough because Senator Dastyari has not only compromised himself; he has compromised his office and he can no longer remain.
It's unsurprising that we saw that level of rhetoric and theatrical behaviour from Senator Brandis. It's utterly clear what's happening on the government side: they've had to back down on the royal commission into the banks after engineering a letter from the banks, 'By the way, we've changed our mind'—magically. Did you see? The letter came in, cabinet met and the Prime Minister was up by 9 am. In the meantime, we've got members of the coalition being quite clear publicly, telling the media and the public what they think of Mr Turnbull and what a leader he is or isn't.
Senator Brandis says Senator Dastyari is well-schooled in politics. Well, I'll tell you what Senator Brandis is good at: he's good at trying to create a distraction. He's good at trying to blow things up, to distract from the government's woes. That's his job, we understand that. But there was a lot of that in that contribution. I think people, again, will see that Senator Brandis has been a little inclined to overreach on this and a number of other matters. We all remember the New Zealand conspiracy. He has reprised that again today.
Senator Brandis interjecting—
I did listen to him in silence, Deputy President. I did give him the courtesy of listening to him in silence on this.
I want to deal with some of the matters which have been raised, and I will do so, I trust, without political shine. National security information and the operation of national security agencies are of paramount importance. I am pleased that one boundary the Attorney-General didn't cross was to suggest that the opposition doesn't deal with those matters appropriately, seriously, as an alternative government should. He knows that we do because he engages with us, as do the agencies in his portfolio, in these matters.
I make this point, firstly, on the South China Sea. I want to reiterate what Labor's position is: Labor's position is the government position. There is a bipartisan view on how we deal with the South China Sea. I again recognise that Senator Brandis did not assert that there is any deviation between the opposition and the government. Senator Brandis's rhetoric was probably a little harder than Ms Bishop might like. What I would say is that Labor, like the government, has called on all nations to abide by and respect the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which held that Chinese claims surrounding the artificial islands were a breach of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We continue, as does the government, to support the UNCLOS, which includes, obviously, freedom of navigation.
The hypocrisy in some of what the Attorney was saying is self-evident. Yesterday we saw the Attorney, Senator Brandis, being asked about a donation by a Chinese donor. Mr Turnbull was sitting next to him, and he professed he didn't have any knowledge of it, despite the fact this has been well publicised in the media. He also waxes lyrical about—I'm not sure what he said; was it foreign influence inside the parliament? I just remind the government that Labor has had a bill to ban foreign donations in this parliament since November 2016. In fact, I think it was put in before Senator Conroy left; is that right?
Senator Conroy has come up a couple of times today, which he'll probably be very pleased about. I'll probably get a text: 'See—I'm gone but not forgotten.' He was very clear about the need to do that. Senator Farrell has been clear about the need to do that. What are we—a year and a bit down the track? Despite the fire and brimstone we see from the government, that bill has not been progressed, and the government's approach to the issue, which it keeps promising us, still hasn't appeared. I think the last thing we had was: 'It'll come in the spring session.' Well, here we are, still waiting. And I note today on radio Senator Brandis was asked quite directly about the person in question, Mr Huang, donating to both sides of politics, and I think he effectively conceded that Mr Huang has been a donor to the Liberal Party as well. He says, again, that it's not the issue. I do enjoy the way Senator Brandis decides for everybody what the issue is and what the issue isn't.
Senator Dastyari did the wrong thing and he has had to pay a price, as he should have. He's had to stand up in the chamber and explain himself, as he should have. It was appropriate that he resign from the frontbench on the previous occasion, and it is appropriate, given what has been disclosed, that he resign as Deputy Opposition Whip and from other parliamentary positions, in light of what has been disclosed. He has done the wrong thing and he has fronted up and he has done what has been asked of him by the Leader of the Opposition, which is to resign from his position. I would, though, remind those opposite—I understand the overreach, but calling the deputy whip a senior frontbencher does make Wacka Williams a senior frontbencher. And, Senator Fawcett—he's a good South Australian colleague; we disagree on many things, but he's a hard worker and a decent operator—that makes you a senior frontbencher too. So there you go!
Good on you, Senator Fawcett!
I actually think that the Prime Minister might have used the phrase 'frontbencher'. So let's keep it in perspective: when you say he came back, he was given the same position as Senator Williams, who has made some pretty strong comments over the years about banking royal commissions and, more recently, Mr Turnbull's leadership; and Senator Fawcett, who hasn't made such comments—he is a much more disciplined operator. I want to remind people that the position Senator Dastyari holds is that of deputy whip; it is an organisational position.
Finally, I make this point—and I don't wish to discuss this much publicly: it does appear from media reports that national security information, or information from national security agencies, has made its way into the public arena. I would trust, given the history of such matters and given the legislative framework applying to such matters, that Senator Brandis, as the Attorney-General, will be as persistent and determined in finding out how that has occurred as he has been to point the finger at Senator Dastyari.
I feel I need to make a contribution to this debate because I belled the cat about Senator Dastyari asking for his personal overexpense for his travel bills of some $1,200 or $1,800 to be paid for by a donor linked to the Chinese Communist Party. It was disclosed in his register of interests, as if that were some sort of virtue. It was not just an oversight; it was an indication of the New South Wales Labor Party culture of getting other people to pick up your tab that has crept into this place. It is a cancer, a cancer that destroyed the New South Wales government—which was the most corrupt government in my memory—and which saw Kristina Keneally become the puppet Premier to mop up the mess left by the corruption of the New South Wales Labor mob. It was as crooked as it gets; they know that. And that corruption, that stench, has crept its way into this chamber and has manifested itself in Senator Dastyari.
Look at the track record here. This is not just about one transgression; this is about an individual who thinks it's okay to have their personal bills picked up by a donor who is allegedly an agent of a foreign government. This is a political party and an organisation that is defending an individual when they have been warned that this person risks compromising Australian political life through their abundance of money. They are defending Senator Dastyari—as if it's some sort of penalty to punish him by sending him into purgatory and banishing him from being the Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate. It is a mockery and it makes a mockery of this place. He not only had his personal bill picked up but he also had his legal expenses picked up, to the tune of $5,000. We know from media reports that Senator Dastyari's office in his time as the 'fixer' in the New South Wales division has been the Chinese diaspora, if I can put it like that. We've seen people resign from New South Wales parliamentary places and then Senator Dastyari's people and his conduits into the Chinese community installed in their stead. We've seen reports of Senator Dastyari and his staff's involvement in infiltrating councils. We've seen Senator Dastyari give a dubious and outright false account of his press conference given to Chinese media in Commonwealth parliamentary offices—ostensibly about safe schools, when it was all to do with Chinese foreign policy. And it's only because video evidence has emerged that contradicts Senator Dastyari's claims that we're in this position today.
You cannot trust what Senator Dastyari says. You cannot rely on what he says—unless you are a Chinese billionaire and he's come around to your house to have a covert chat and he says, 'Can we leave our phones here and go outside, because you're under surveillance from ASIO.' What a disgrace. What an absolute disgrace. And he tries to turn it into some sort of virtue; he comes in here and says, 'Oh, Mr Shorten rang me last night and told me I need to stand down from my frontbench position, and my daughter has been having to explain my behaviour at school.' Welcome to the world, Senator Dastyari. Those of us with children know that they are, unfortunately, sometimes in the frontline of abuse because of the sins of the father. I know that, because I've gone through the vicissitudes of public life myself. But to use that and to tear up in here and say, 'Oh, it's been so hard on my family'—because of his crooked behaviour, his dodgy behaviour! And it's repeated again and again. There is a pattern of abuse. It is the migration of New South Wales corruption into this place.
It's not good enough for Mr Shorten to run a protection racket for Senator Dastyari and say, 'I've admonished him for his summer holidays,' as Senator Brandis put it. It's not good enough. You've got to cut him loose. You've got to cut those ties—cut those crooked ties—and boot him from the Labor Party. But they won't do that, of course, because Senator Dastyari knows where the skeletons are buried. He's got too much dirt on Mr Shorten, too much dirt on the New South Wales group, and they need him. Mr Shorten needs him as a counter, as a foil, to the threats from Mr Albanese for the leadership.
This is a real test. It's a test for this place. It's a test for Mr Shorten. It's a test for the Labor Party. We know that both the major parties are on the nose. The Australian people do not trust them; they do not believe them. And yet here we have a blatant case of a senator being dishonest, colluding with the agent of a foreign government. You can't put it any more succinctly than that. They are colluding. They're telling them how to avoid surveillance by our very security agencies. It wasn't a joke. It wasn't a flippant comment. It was: 'I don't want our security agencies or our intelligence agencies to know what we're going to talk about, so we're going to leave our phones here and we're going to go outside.' Why would you do that? Why would you do that unless you had something to hide?
The problem is that Senator Dastyari continues to come in here and go with the line, 'I'm a little kid who doesn't know much of what he's talking about,' and pretend that it's just some sort of hiccup in the road. It's not. This is wilful. This is deliberate. This is a culture, a culture that is permeating politics, and it's emanating out of New South Wales, and we cannot stand for it here. And the Labor Party cannot stand for it here. It's interesting to note that Senator Wong didn't defend Senator Dastyari. She obfuscated. She said that Senator Brandis has overreached. He hasn't overreached in this at all. In fact, I would say that Senator Brandis has understated the problem, and it's probably by virtue of the fact of his role as Attorney-General and information he may have that he's not prepared to actually bell the cat. Well, I don't have the information that Senator Brandis might have in his arsenal of knowledge, but what I do have is an acute sense of something that stinks to high heaven. Senator Dastyari can brush it off all he likes with his one-minute statement, but it's not good enough. And Mr Shorten can come out and say, 'Senator Dastyari has paid a heavy price.' It's not a heavy price at all!
What Senator Dastyari has suffered is some public humiliation, which is not good, but it's humble pie; you've got to eat that. He might have suffered a small cut to his salary of some $10,000 or thereabouts, which is probably a fraction of the money that he's received from donors and benefactors to pay his personal expenses. He hasn't suffered anything within the Labor Party organisation itself. He will still be pulling the strings. But it's not good enough for the country. I don't care about Labor and Liberal. I don't care about team blue and team red, but I really am deeply concerned about the integrity of this place.
People may excuse the scandals, the corruption, the crookedness that has been at the heart of some state politics, but we cannot allow that to compromise the standing or status of the Commonwealth parliament. It is a disservice. It would do us a disservice to allow that. And no amount of likability, jocularity or media-friendly persona should allow this to get through, because the pattern is clear to anyone who wants to see it. I should point this out: Mr Shorten and others have said that Senator Dastyari lost his job on the frontbench because of the South China Sea policy. That's not true. Senator Dastyari lost his job on the frontbench because he asked a Chinese billionaire, whom the Labor Party had been warned had close links to the Chinese Communist Party, to pay a personal bill. It's not even a bill that could bankrupt someone.
We're not talking about how Senator Dastyari facilitated the bankrolling of crooked Craig Thomson. We're talking about a travel account of some $1,400 or $1,800—less than a couple of grand and a fraction of Senator Dastyari's weekly salary. Rather than have to dip into his own pocket or suck a bit of cash out of the mortgage, he thought he'd just ring up a Chinese billionaire and say, 'Hey, look, I've got a personal account. Would you mind fixing it up?' That would be wrong no matter the nationality of the person involved. It would be different, I guess, if it was your father and you said, 'Hey, I'm a bit short. Can you give me a couple of bucks to pay my electricity bill?' or something. That would be different. But if I rang my friend Mrs Rinehart and said, 'Can you please pay my personal bill for a couple of thousand dollars?' I would say that's wrong, too. If I rang a billionaire from any other country, a millionaire, or people I didn't know who were political players and said, 'Can you pick up the tab for something?' it would be wrong. And, yet, that's what Senator Dastyari did. He did it with an agent of a foreign government. He did it with an individual whom the Labor Party had been warned—warned!—about by our intelligence services. That is not just bad judgement; that is flat-out crooked. That's why he lost his job. Let's not pretend it's some virtuous thing about policy. It wasn't. The policy was subsequent to that.
Where does it end? If we keep tugging at this thread, where is it going to end? Is it going to lead all the way to Sussex Street? That's the question I'm asking myself. Where does it end? And why is it being defended by those on that side of the chamber? Why is it? How can it be? How can they gloss over the significance of what we've got here? We have an individual, a fixer in the Labor Party, who has been at the very heart of Labor culture. He has been at the centre—the epicentre—and he has been boasted about and revered within the Labor Party for his ability to raise funds out of the Chinese community. Former foreign minister Bob Carr, I think, wrote about how Senator Dastyari managed to raise $200,000 at a function. That may be entirely reasonable and legitimate, but what are the things we don't know about? What we do know is that Senator Dastyari cannot be relied on to tell the truth. He can gloss it up by talking about 'recollections' and things of that nature, but he's not the type of bloke that forgets anything. He stores it all away so he can use it against other people later.
In this case, unfortunately, Senator Dastyari has been hoist with his own petard. This is not strike one, strike two, strike three, strike four or strike five. You can go through the litany of influences on Senator Dastyari from the Chinese community and it leads to only one conclusion—Senator Dastyari has been thoroughly compromised. Whether it is money, prestige, influence or a promise of some job after he leaves this place, he has been compromised. Every time he stands in this chamber, we have to presume that his words are the product of that compromise because his character has now been diminished to such an extent that we cannot rely on what he says. We cannot rely on his public actions because they contradict what is discovered subsequent to the event.
If anyone in this place thinks that it is good enough for a member of this place to be here while they're compromised in such a manner, I will disagree. Just as I've said in recent months over citizenship scandals and all sorts of things, when you know someone here is not telling the truth it brings into question the entire standing of this place. Senator Dastyari has been caught, again, not telling the truth. He's been caught trying to subvert alleged surveillance activities for our national interest, he's been caught siding with a foreign power in a policy dispute against our national interest and he's been covered up for again and again by the machine men on the other side.
This is a character test. This is a character test for the Labor Party, it is a character test for Mr Shorten and, ultimately, it's a character test for Senator Dastyari himself. I bear him no ill will—
but I care more about the integrity of this parliament, confidence in the body politic and the future of this country than I do about the short-term pain of Senator Dastyari. When I said, 'I bear him no ill will,' I heard mocking laughter from Senator Kim Carr. That is just extraordinary, but it goes to the heart of the problem that eats away at Labor. It's always about them. It's always about the tribe. Unfortunately for Senator Carr and others, the country is much more important than their political status or tribalism. By supporting Senator Dastyari, by allowing him to stay in that red tribe on that side of the chamber and by allowing him to pollute the integrity of the body politic here, they are diminishing the standards that are expected by the Australian people.
Words like 'traitor' have been used; I don't want to get into that. But the point is that Senator Dastyari has been acting in his interest against the national interest. He's been acting in the Chinese interest against the Labor Party's interest. He's been acting in his financial interest against the interest of the country and this parliament. What more do we have to know to say he shouldn't be here? He shouldn't be here because we deserve better and Australia deserves better. If the Labor Party want to continue to defend him, it's an indictment on their character and their integrity. They would be much better served, the country would be much better served and Senator Dastyari would be much better served, quite frankly, by cutting the strings. Let him go and work for some Chinese billionaire outside of this place, if that's what he wants to do. Let him peddle his brand of influence in politics outside of this chamber. Let him influence the Labor Party and be promised whatever he likes from Mr Shorten should he attain government later on, but let's cut the thread that stinks to high heaven—the thread of corruption, the thread of crookedness, the thread that always seems to lead to Sussex Street. That is the problem. Do not defend it, I say to the Labor Party. Do not defend it to yourselves. Do not defend it to the Australian people. Do what's in the interests of the country. Do what's in the interests of your party and do what's in the long-term interests of Senator Dastyari. Cut him loose. Tell him to announce his resignation and tell Mr Shorten to actually grow a spine and say something powerful rather than demonstrate how captured he is by the power of the Sussex Street mob.
I rise to take note of the statement in relation to Senator Dastyari resigning his position as deputy whip in the context of a number of media reports where he has acknowledged a fundamental lack of judgement in his engagement with the Chinese community in Sydney. We've heard the government response that people in this place should be accountable for their behaviour. I think it is entirely appropriate that senators are accountable for their behaviour, and I believe that Senator Dastyari has made that undertaking himself today. That proposition, of course, would be so much stronger if the government itself were able to uphold those principles with regard to the behaviour of the Prime Minister, the behaviour of the Attorney-General and the behaviour of many other ministers in this government. It would be a so much stronger proposition if it were clear that the government was beyond reproach when it came to the question of its dealings and financial relationships with donors. I think Senator Wong made the point that the issue around the integrity of our political system has been crying out for redress.
And a bill has been presented by the Labor Party to ban foreign donations—a bill which the government has failed to respond to. It is a proposition, a policy position, that the Labor Party will implement in government, which I trust won't be too far away. It would be, of course, a much stronger position for the government to maintain in terms of its criticisms of others in this place if the Prime Minister himself, just last week, had not dined with Mr Liu Xiaodong, a wealthy Chinese benefactor of the Liberal National Party in Queensland who provided $40,000 to the Liberal National Party's campaign in Queensland. It would be a much stronger case if the government had not, in the past, been subject to criticisms with regard to education. I see the education minister is with us today. I recall only too well the matter of the Top Education Institute, where Minshen Zhu had provided very substantial financial support to the Liberal Party and had sought changes to the visa arrangements, the policy position on automatic entry of students from China, under a Liberal government. It was a policy position which we opposed. I opposed it as minister—I was briefed quite extensively by the department—on the basis that that policy position would seriously undermine the quality assurance regime of our education institutions, but it was granted by this government. The SVP arrangements were shown to be such a circumstance. If one wants to talk about security implications when colleges are able to import students very much under their own supervision, one would have to ask a question or two. But of course that wasn't the issue that was ever raised in regard to this circumstance. It is quite clear that the Liberal Party would be in a much stronger position to criticise others if they had acted consistently.
Let's take the case of the Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Mr Laundy, who has received very substantial assistance from a Chinese benefactor. As reported in a Chinese media article, he has allowed a Mr Yang to act as an adviser and representative for him and provide advice. Mr Laundy has, in turn, appeared alongside Mr Yang waving Chinese and Korean flags, criticising the position of this government and supporting the Chinese position in regard to what his consultant has said about the position of the Chinese government on a number of foreign policy matters. So the Liberal Party's position would be so much stronger if it was more consistent.
It would also be more consistent, I would have thought, if this government wasn't itself the subject of some pretty serious questions about its misjudgement. The Prime Minister, I'm reminded, has sought to use the police on a number of occasions now. I'm reminded of the circumstances of the election night, where the Prime Minister told the entire country that he thought there ought to be a police investigation into the Labor Party over the Labor Party's campaign on Medicare. He, of course, was a man of great Liberal principles who came to office and this parliament as a man who was committed to these great Liberal principles. He then was part of a government that had three Labor leaders before royal commissions, costing many, many millions of dollars—Kevin Rudd on a pink batts royal commission, a $20 million display of vindictiveness; the trade union royal commission, a $45 million display of vindictiveness directed at Bill Shorten; and the royal commission with Julia Gillard about her time with Slater and Gordon.
We've had a government that feels it's quite reasonable to have police raids on national union offices, as we saw with Senator Cash. This is a government that doesn't seem to mind using the police. Minister Cash never managed under normal parliamentary conventions to come forward with some pretty simple propositions in regard to her behaviour and actions in these events Of course all of this was done in the context of the full blare of media publicity and the full blare of a police raid on a union office in the run-up to an opinion poll survey. We remember the situation in the last election campaign when we had police raids on leaders of the Labor Party—shadow ministers, in that case. The deputy leader in the Senate had the temerity to criticise the leader of the Liberal Party over the NBN in the full public glare, with television cameras on. Advisers' homes were raided—again in the full glare of publicity. And the Privileges Committee said that the AFP's actions constituted improper interference in the work of a senator. So we've got a pattern of behaviour here with this government's use of the media and use of state apparatus to try to belittle opponents.
If we want to talk about judgement, we can talk about this Prime Minister's judgement. We can talk about the circumstances of today. Why are we debating this today, when Senator O'Sullivan—who is Acting Deputy President at the moment—was going to have a bill before this chamber on a bank royal commission? What happened to that bill? The Prime Minister got his instructions from the banks, and I've got no doubt that they've got their terms of reference already drawn up. So we have the circumstance where the cabinet met this morning—and isn't it better to talk about this than to talk about what's going on inside the government?
Senator Brandis was very jovial in his reference to the National Party—very jovial indeed—but they've spent a lot of time putting the skids under Senator O'Sullivan's proposal for an inquiry into the banks. Isn't it much better for this sort of matter to be discussed than to be discussing what's happened with the government's backflip on that matter? So that is the circumstance. The government is desperate for a distraction. The government's only too happy to look to any possibility of a distraction. In the context of the government having form in election campaigns of using whatever desperate measures they can find, I think I'm entitled to ask: if the government are consistent about assessing people's behaviour, they ought to be consistent in assessing their own behaviour.
I think it's of interest—and Senator Wong made reference to this—that Fairfax Media reported this morning, and it's in yesterday's press as well:
Fairfax Media has confirmed that intelligence collected by national security officials corroborates that Senator Dastyari planned to make the comments before he delivered them …
That's a direct quote. I have absolutely no reservations in saying that I have enormous regard for Mr Duncan Lewis, the head of ASIO. I have dealt with him for many years. He is a person of utmost integrity and a person I have the very highest regard for. But I find it extraordinary that there are a number of references to security agencies in these reports when it is unusual, to say the least, for security agencies—and I don't specify which ones; I emphasise that—to engage in domestic political activity. If those reports are accurate, I think the Attorney-General has some other responsibilities as well. If we want to assess character and we want to have an assessment of judgement, then what's going on with these reports? What is the provenance of this information? We have not seen any transcripts. We have not actually seen any information that goes to the detail of these claims. We've seen media reports, electronic and printed, citing references to security officials. What's the Attorney-General or the security tsar, Mr Dutton, doing in regard to this intervention? I repeat: what sort of judgement allows that to go on?
There is a broader question here. Going again to questions of judgement, the Prime Minister has suggested the proposition, which we heard reflected again here by conservative senators, that there is an issue of patriotism. 'Whose side is he on?' asked the Prime Minister, suggesting that our No. 1 trading partner—I emphasise this point—is an enemy of this country.
Senator Birmingham interjecting—
I've seen the reports—and, Minister for Education and Training, you made these points yourself—about international students. We understand just how important our international education system is and how important Chinese students are in particular. The cavalier way in which these questions have been treated by government ministers and so-called security experts defies description. I only hope you know what you are doing. There are major universities in this country for which your use of security in a partisan political way may well have serious implications. You may think it's in your interests to wrap yourselves in the flag for temporary advantage, but you should think carefully about the consequences.
The relationship between this country and China, our No. 1 trading partner, will evolve. It's evolving all the time. It requires a little bit more care than to suggest, in this cavalier way, that we can make a proposition such as, 'Which side are you on?' when there has been no suggestion whatsoever of breaches of national security—no suggestion whatsoever—by the Attorney-General in his statements to AM this morning, no breaches of the law, not even a suggestion that they've had access to those things.
You ought to now ask yourself what the consequences are of playing these party political games. Do you think you can influence an opinion poll? Do you really think that's the nature of the national interest these days? You are a government that's disintegrating before our very eyes, and you think that these party political games you are playing are in the national interest? Do you think, with the sorts of games you are playing, where you won't deal with the issues of foreign donations, where you won't deal with the questions of the influence of a number of countries operating within our political system, where you won't deal with the substantive issues in regard to our economic relationships with the region, that you can influence Newspoll next Monday? Do you think that's in the national interest?
I'm sorry to say that that is a very perverse view of the way in which politics should be conducted, and, frankly, I don't think the Australian people will reward you for that. We have seen this happen on various occasions in our history. It doesn't work. But it has to be called out for what it is: a desperate attempt to divert attention away from a government that is disintegrating and a Prime Minister who has no authority even in his own party room. It is a government that's not capable of actually managing this country anymore, a government that is failing dismally on just about every possible level and thinks it can play these petty little games. Particularly, the Attorney-General—who has responsibilities and has called upon this parliament to act in a bipartisan way on some really serious questions that go to national security—thinks that we can play out these sorts of issues in this petty, putrid attempt to influence an opinion poll.
I've listened to comments in this chamber this morning from Senator Brandis, Senator Bernardi and now Senator Carr. The whole fact is that One Nation does not take the view of either side but looks at a clear debate on this. Listening to this debate this morning, I think Senator Brandis and Senator Cory Bernardi have made some very strong arguments with regard to this. I was listening to Senator Carr and his last comment, on the Prime Minister making the comment, in relation to Senator Dastyari, 'Which side are you on?' I think it's quite important for the Prime Minister to ask that question. Why shouldn't he? I think it's a very important matter.
Let's look at it. There are allegations of seeking donations from a foreign power. Also, the fact is they have received moneys for bills or remuneration. This is a serious matter. As Senator Brandis said, we have had people lose their positions in this parliament under section 44 of the Australian Constitution, and they should be here. But, here again, Senator Dastyari has been looked after by the Labor Party. These issues were raised last year—over 12 months ago—and now they're being raised again because of investigative journalists. Now he has admitted, again, that he's done wrong. But the Labor Party thinks that this is a big blow-up, this is a distraction. I know for certain that, if the shoe were on the other foot, they'd all be on those benches there and they would be criticising, as they have done every time, with anyone else in this chamber other than themselves.
Let's deal with the facts. To actually hear Senator Carr say about our trading partner China, 'How dare we question this, because they are our largest international trading partner'—that alone sends shivers up my spine, as it would for many other Australians. What has that got to do with it? Why do international students have anything to do with it? They should not. This is the heart of our democracy, and people of Australia are fed up with the politicians. They are asking me all the time—they are concerned about political donations from foreign powers and the buy-up of our land by foreign ownership. What is happening to our country? We're losing our infrastructure—we are losing everything—and they are questioning: 'Are there deals being done by our politicians and by our governments?' They have a right to ask that question. So for Senator Carr to make these comments—I am very, very concerned about that.
When Senator Dastyari made his comments this morning, I don't take those crocodile tears, because that's all they were. When he makes a comment on the impact that it's having on his children—a six-year-old—I know about the impact on children. I've copped it for 20 years from political parties and the media and know the impact that's had on my children. But he says that there is an impact on a six-year-old in the schoolyard in less than 24 hours? I don't think that's the case whatsoever, so I don't accept his crocodile tears.
This is very important. It's not a distraction either. Let's go to the facts of that. The Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten, rang Senator Dastyari and asked him—actually, he didn't ask; he dumped him. He dumped him from the junior role as deputy whip and Senate committee chair. Why? Because he knows he's wrong—that's why he was dumped, because the Labor Party knows.
This is not all about the coalition taking the stance because of next week's polls and all the rest of it. This is very important, and it's not the first time it's been raised. Are they going to reward him? This is a big question. Are they going to reward Senator Dastyari by having him lead the Senate ticket for New South Wales at the next election? Is he going to be top of the ticket, which will assure him of getting his seat back in this parliament? His allegiance is questionable. I do not believe that he should have his place in this parliament, considering other good senators have lost their positions here. Yes, this needs to be debated. No, I don't think that it's a distraction from the bills and there are more important things. Pointing the finger at the other side for the things that have happened in this chamber I think is weak and pathetic. Deal with the issue. If the shoe fits then wear it.
This is one of the most curious debates that I have witnessed in my long period in the Senate. Like most Australians, this is a matter, as reported, that very much concerns me. I'm not an insider. I don't know what happened. I can only go on what I read in the newspapers. I was very pleased that Senator Dastyari was given the opportunity first thing this morning to make a statement in relation to this matter. But he didn't address the allegation at all that he had told a person that he thought he was under surveillance by Australia's intelligence agencies and that, consequently, that person should leave his phone inside while Senator Dastyari and that person went outside to further a conversation about which we know nothing.
I would have thought that Senator Dastyari had the classic opportunity this morning to debunk the report of the investigative journalists or to give an explanation. He did neither. In fact, he didn't even mention it. I find that very, very curious, but what I have found more curious in this debate has been the contribution from Senator Wong and Senator Carr. I've seen Senator Wong and Senator Carr in action in this chamber over a long period. I know Senator Wong was a lawyer working for the CFMEU. I don't know exactly what she did for the CFMEU or as a lawyer, but I assume that she's had a lot of experience in defending members of the CFMEU. I've seen her in this chamber and at estimates defending her people on various issues. I have seen Senator Carr over a long period of time in this chamber and in estimates defending his government when he was a minister, defending individuals and defending public servants. In all cases, both Senator Wong and Senator Carr have done credible jobs as defenders. But the effort that came forward this morning from both, in allegedly defending their colleague on the frontbench, Senator Dastyari, was just incredible. Could I say, if ever I'm in trouble, I'm not going to go to Senator Wong to be my defender.
Senator Wong spoke about everything else except the allegations that have been made against Senator Dastyari. I don't know anything about Senator Dastyari. I made a resolution, as I often do with members opposite, that the less I have to do with him and the less I have to know of him the better. I've never had any personal contact with Senator Dastyari. He once approached me and said he wanted to be my friend, and I said: 'Go away. I'm not interested. You've got nothing in common with me. I don't like the way you operate, so don't approach me.' And he never has since. I don't know much about him, but I know what I read. I would've liked him to tell me today that some of the allegations that have been made are not correct, but he didn't do that.
Senator Carr's defence was one of the most curious defences I've ever seen. He defended Senator Dastyari by, unfortunately, talking about a ban on foreign donations—yet newspaper reports show that Senator Dastyari, of course, has been the recipient, as the general secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party, of substantial donations from foreign individuals, including the one that's mentioned in this particular story. Senator Carr, in somehow defending Senator Dastyari, went onto a discussion about what the Labor Party wants to do with banning foreign donations. He forgot to mention, of course, just as an aside, that they want to ban foreign donations except when it comes to unions and GetUp!, both of which we all know get huge amounts of money from overseas and donate it directly to the Australian Labor Party. Senator Carr was wanting to muddy the waters by talking about that, but, by indicating that he was going to ban some foreign donations but not those from the unions or GetUp!, he couldn't even muddy them properly.
What this has to do with Senator Dastyari I'm not quite sure, but, in Senator Carr's defence of Senator Dastyari, he then talked about the LNP in Queensland and the recent election. What Senator Carr didn't bother to talk about, of course, was that if Annastacia Palaszczuk forms government in Queensland, as looks likely but not certain, she will do it because of preferences from the One Nation political party that went to the Labor Party to give them the numbers to form government. He criticises One Nation but forgets to mention that there is yet another Labor government in power in Australia because of preferences from One Nation being readily accepted by the Australian Labor Party. But what that had to do with the defence of Senator Dastyari, I do not know.
He then made some obtuse accusations or attacks on my friend and colleague Senator Birmingham, who is, without doubt—and I've seen a lot of education ministers come and go—clearly one of the best education ministers this country has ever seen. What that had to do with the defence of Senator Dastyari, I'm not sure. He then talked about someone named 'Lundy' from the other chamber. I don't know any 'Lundys' over there. I guess he's talking about Mr Craig Laundy, a multimillionaire in his own right who, through his own efforts, has made a lot of money. He accused Mr Laundy of somehow wanting money from the Chinese or someone else. I'm sorry: if that's who you're talking about, Senator Carr, I can assure you that Mr Laundy doesn't need money or donations from anyone else.
Senator Carr then chose to defend Senator Dastyari by attacking the Australian Federal Police. He knows, I know, and anyone who has anything to do with the Australian Federal Police will know that they are beyond reproach. I chair the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee at estimates, which interrogates, amongst others, the Australian Federal Police and the intelligence agencies—as you know, Mr Acting Deputy President O'Sullivan, because you've been involved as well. At all occasions, every senator acknowledges the honesty and integrity of the Australian Federal Police, and yet Senator Carr, in his defence—somehow—of Senator Dastyari, sort of accuses the Australian Federal Police of being agents of the government in political campaigns. That is an outrageous accusation which Senator Carr knows is wrong and yet chooses to make to muddy the waters as part of what was supposed to be a defence of Senator Dastyari.
He then talked about the trade union royal commission. How that was a defence of Senator Dastyari I don't know, because the royal commission into trade unions showed the length and breadth and depth of corruption within the union movement and within the Australian Labor Party. He then spoke about Senator Conroy and accused the Australian Federal Police of being part of a political campaign to raid his office. He didn't mention, I might say, that that raid—and I know a bit about this because I'm on the Privileges Committee and I've got to be careful what I say, but I think what I'm saying is public knowledge—wasn't on Senator Conroy and had nothing to do with politics. It was a raid by the Australian Federal Police seeking to find evidence of a criminal act not by Senator Conroy but by one of Senator Conroy's staff. A criminal act: that's why the AFP were there—not as part of a political campaign, as alleged by Senator Carr, but investigating a criminal act. Senator Carr, in his defence of Senator Dastyari this morning—and this is so curious—then went on to attack the banking royal commission. I thought the Labor Party were in favour of it, but Senator Carr used his defence, so-called, of Senator Dastyari to attack the banking royal commission. What that has to do with Senator Dastyari I fail to see.
Fairfax Media today said that there were a number of references to security agencies. Senator Carr, in his defence of Senator Dastyari, said that, first of all, he has the highest regard for ASIO and the intelligence agencies and their leaders, and he mentioned them by name. He said he has the highest regard for them; then he went on to accuse them of being part of a political campaign. He then did, in fact, return to the subject and said there was no breach of security. But, as Senator Bernardi quite rightly pointed out, if the allegation in the Fairfax papers is true, Senator Dastyari did say to this person he was with, 'You might be under surveillance, so what I advise you to do to avoid that surveillance is leave your phone inside and let's walk outside and have a conversation.' Senator Carr says that's no breach of security. Is that what Senator Dastyari, a senior member of this parliament, would tell anyone about how to avoid what he thinks might be surveillance by the intelligence agencies?
Senator Carr completed his defence of Senator Dastyari by calling the allegations against Senator Dastyari 'petty little games'. That's Senator Carr's description of this. 'Hey, mate, you're under surveillance by the Australian intelligence agencies'—no doubt for good cause, if this is true—'so I'll tell you how to avoid the surveillance: leave your phone here; let's go outside under the trees, way away from everyone. Then we can have a conversation that you know won't be heard by anyone else.' What was that conversation about? Why did it have to be in a place where, according to Senator Dastyari in his great knowledge of security matters, no-one could hear? What was being said that was so secret that it had to be done outside?
I had hoped that today, when Senator Dastyari was given the opportunity, he might have said, 'Well, perhaps I shouldn't have told him to leave his phone there. The conversation wasn't terribly important. It was about XYZ.' But he didn't take that opportunity. One can only surmise what that conversation might have been about. We know, from Senator Dastyari's own admissions, that he had personally accepted money from a Chinese businessman, not for the ALP—although he does that too, and I will get to that—but for his own personal bills; they were paid for by a Chinese benefactor. It doesn't matter whether he is Chinese, but he is a benefactor paying the personal bills of a well-paid parliamentarian.
We know that Senator Dastyari was the general secretary of the Labor Party at the time of the Craig Emerson scandal. We know how the Labor Party, which Senator Dastyari was general secretary of, stood by Craig Emerson for days and weeks and months, even years, defending him—
I think Senator Macdonald is badly misrepresenting Craig Emerson. I think he's talking about somebody else and I think he ought to withdraw any reference to former member Emerson.
It wasn't an accusation. I thank the senator for pointing out my error. I certainly didn't mean Craig Emerson. I meant Craig Thomson. Anyone listening would know who I was referring to—the New South Wales member, who I think is now serving time in jail, who lied to the Australian people and to this parliament and said that he was guilty of no misdoings. The Labor Party, which Senator Dastyari was then running, funded him. We know that the Labor Party in New South Wales were broke at the time, but they were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal costs to defend Craig Thomson. There were media reports at the time: 'Where is this money for Craig Thomson's defence coming from?' There were suggestions at the time that it was from Chinese interests. I don't make those allegations, but there were newspaper reports suggesting that.
We heard Senator Carr's defence of Senator Dastyari—nothing about Senator Dastyari, everything about everything else. Senator Wong's defence was equally obtuse and irrelevant. She spoke about the South China Sea policy of the Australian Labor Party. She spoke about a banking royal commission. In a long debate, she spoke in defence of Senator Dastyari—not about what he might or might not have done but about the definition of a senior parliamentarian in the leadership group of the Labor Party. That was her defence of Senator Dastyari—not to mention the accusations made by the Fairfax press but to have this obtuse, arcane debate on what a senior member of the Labor Party frontbench might look at.
I often think of my old mate Graham Richardson's book, Whatever it Takes. I was in the chamber when Graham Richardson was here, but he left rather suddenly. There was talk about Offset Alpine—I don't know what that was all about. Graham Richardson was the general secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party. So was a guy named Senator Arbib. Remember him? He was here for six or nine months, was appointed a minister, then suddenly left. He was the general secretary of the Labor Party in New South Wales. Then we have Senator Dastyari, who, straight from being the general secretary of the Labor Party, came here. I must reread Graham Richardson's book Whatever it Takes. The title of the book tells you all you need to know about the culture of the Labor Party in Sussex Street: whatever it takes to be in power is okay. Former Senator Richardson's words always ring in my ears when I hear of some of the works of people like Senator Dastyari. My namesake, Ian Macdonald, a former Labor Party member of the New South Wales parliament, was accused and convicted of criminal wrongdoing during the time that Senator Dastyari was in charge of the Labor Party in New South Wales. We've all heard of Eddie Obeid, also a Labor Party politician in New South Wales, who is currently serving time for dishonesty and corrupt practices in New South Wales. All of this was during the time that Senator Dastyari was in charge of the New South Wales Labor Party.
Senator Dastyari had a great opportunity to tell us his side of the story, but he didn't. Senator Wong had the opportunity of defending him, but she didn't. Senator Carr had the opportunity of defending him, but he didn't. Senator Dastyari used the coward's defence of bringing his children into it and trying to garner some sympathy, but everybody knows that Senator Dastyari puts on social media videos with him and his children talking about political matters like banking royal commissions. And he comes in here with crocodile tears about involving his children in political matters when he does it himself. I think this shows the depth of despair within the Labor Party.
Senator Brandis made an excellent point. There are seven or eight senators who have been forced to leave this parliament through no fault of their own, no misdoing whatsoever. Yet, here we have a senator who, by all accounts, has done something heinous as far as Australian society is concerned, and he won't resign.
This is not my first speech. National security is a matter that NXT takes very seriously. Indeed, it's a matter of paramount importance—for me, in particular, noting my defence background. Before I speak in relation to Senator Dastyari, I want to clear the air on a matter that relates to me such that other senators can see that I stand on very solid ground when I say what I say. Back in 2013, I received a disc from a foreign national that included data that described in great detail the combat system on India's new Scorpene submarines. At that time, I did the responsible thing. I had a security clearance. I had the opportunity to meet with a senior naval officer inside the parliament, and I attempted to hand back that disc. There were certain conditions that I expressed in relation to handing over that disc, which the officer wasn't prepared to acquiesce to, and as such I took the disc—it was encrypted—and I put it in a locked filing cabinet.
Last year, when the DCNS won the CEP to be our partner for the Future Submarine, I became concerned. I knew that there was a security breach inside DCNS and so I, in consultation with my then boss, Senator Xenophon, went to the media. In fact, I went to Cameron Stewart of The Australian. I did so because he had a defence intelligence background. I showed him some of the material that I had in my possession. I then provided him redacted copies of some of the documents that I had in my possession. I never provided anything to The Australian newspaper that was classified. When the story broke, Senator Xenophon and I contacted the office of the Minister for Defence and made them all aware of who had the disc—that being me—and we made it very clear we were going to return that disc to Senator Payne's office at the first available opportunity, and that's exactly what we did. At no stage was classified information ever passed to anyone other than the defence minister. I will briefly also describe the motive for doing what I did. The motive was to make sure that security around our Future Submarine was not jeopardised. With that in mind, I wanted to clear the air to say that I take security extremely seriously.
I now want to talk very briefly about the matters that have been raised in the chamber this morning. The allegation that Senator Dastyari provided countersurveillance information to a foreign national is very disturbing. At the very best, it shows a lack of judgement. I'm glad Senator Wong acknowledged that there was a problem with what happened. However, I'm of the strong belief that people can and do make mistakes, but the rule is that you should only make new mistakes. There have been previous incidents with Senator Dastyari and the Chinese. They were dealt with, in my view appropriately, by Mr Shorten. This is a repeat and, perhaps in some sense, more serious. To Mr Shorten, and perhaps to the Labor Party: Lieutenant General Morrison once said, 'The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.' This is a very serious matter, and I respectfully suggest that a temporary suspension on a second incident is probably not enough.
I rise to speak on the motion to take note of Senator Dastyari's statement. There have been a number of speakers from the government, One Nation and, now, the Nick Xenophon Team. I thank all those people for their contributions, but I think a number of things need to be said about this matter.
The first point I'd like to make is that the opposition has been arguing, for more than 12 months now, that this whole issue of foreign influence and foreign donations needs to be dealt with by this parliament. In order to facilitate that debate, my predecessor in this role, Senator Conroy—and this morning we've heard Senator Brandis speak glowingly of the position that Senator Conroy took in respect of foreign policy—when he was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, came forward with a way of dealing with the issue of foreign influence and foreign donations in this country. He proposed, more than 12 months ago, a piece of legislation which would—had it passed this parliament—have dealt with many of the issues that we've been talking about today.
I'd like to refer to some of the things that are in that legislation. One of them is to reduce the donation disclosure limit from the amount that the government has set for it, of $13,500, to $1,000. The government has routinely resisted this. Under the former Labor governments, the figure had been more than $10,000. It was Prime Minister Howard who reduced it from $10,000 to $1,500. Significantly, the bill that I introduced and that is before the parliament would prohibit foreign donations from occurring. The Labor Party believes that we need to deal with this issue and we need to deal with it promptly.
I appreciate that there have been some changes on the other side in terms of the area of Special Minister of State, but, for now more than nine months, we have heard that the government is on the cusp of bringing forward a piece of legislation, and it hasn't appeared anywhere. The Prime Minister routinely issues a press statement saying: 'We've got a piece of legislation and we're about to introduce it into the parliament.' Attorney-General Brandis keeps saying: 'Yes, we've got a piece of legislation and we're going to introduce it into the parliament.' The suggestion was that this legislation was going to be introduced in the spring session of the parliament. Well, it's nowhere to be seen. Of course, as we know, Prime Minister Turnbull is so frightened of his own shadow he didn't even call the lower house of parliament this week, so there was no prospect whatsoever of any legislation from the government on this issue.
This morning we've seen Senator Dastyari rise in this place and indicate that he is standing down from his position as Deputy Opposition Whip in this place, and he's done so as a result of the issues that have been raised in the press over the last couple of days. I'd like to contrast Senator Dastyari's actions this morning with the actions of the government whenever it's confronted with actions which might be considered to be worthy of resignation. Can I go back to the events of a couple of weeks ago, when we saw that the offices of the Australian Workers' Union had been raided by the Australian Federal Police. Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister Cash made a big song and dance about all of this. But what did we discover on the ensuing day? We discovered that, after this raid had been authorised, somebody had leaked to the Australian media that the raid was about to occur. We didn't know who it was, but there was speculation. In fact, Prime Minister Turnbull called Senator Cash and her media adviser, Mr De Garis, to his office and said, 'This leak that enabled the media to get to the offices of the Australian Workers' Union even before the Federal Police had arrived—is there any chance it came from your office?' Senator Cash emphatically denied that it could've come from her office, and Mr De Garis also denied that it could've come from Senator Cash's office.
Thank you for that interjection, Senator Bernardi. This has got a lot to do with Senator Dastyari. I'm going to contrast the behaviour of Senator Dastyari this morning, who resigned his position as deputy whip in this place, with that of Senator Cash. What we discovered was that she went before a Senate committee and not once, not twice, not three times, not four times but five times denied that her office had been the source of this leak to the media. Leaking details of an AFP raid is quite an inappropriate thing to do, and on five occasions Senator Cash denied that she had ever done this. But it turns out that, despite her and her staffer, Mr De Garis, denying it in the presence of the Prime Minister, in fact, her office had leaked this information. So we had a minister of the crown admitting that her office leaked information about a so-called important police raid to the media that enabled the media to tip off the organisation that was being raided, the Australian Workers' Union. In fact, the media turned up there, as I understand it, before the police arrived and had to ring their source just to confirm that there was, in fact, going to be a raid.
I'd ask you to consider the subsequent behaviour of Senator Cash, Mr Acting Deputy President O'Sullivan, because I'm sure you were concerned about that. She's responsible for her office. It's become very clear that on five separate occasions she's misled the parliament as to her actions and behaviour. What did she do? Did she come into this place and say: 'I'm taking responsibility under the Westminster system for my office. I've misled the parliament about this matter. It is my duty and my obligation to resign my ministry'? Is that what Senator Cash did? Did she follow the behaviour of Senator Dastyari this morning?
Senator Bernardi, let me make it very clear to you what happened. A police investigation was damaged and embarrassed as a result of the behaviour of people in Senator Cash's office. What did she do? Did she do the honourable thing, as Senator Dastyari has done this morning? Did she follow that precedent? Did she follow the traditional precedent of the Westminster system where ministers take responsibility for their actions and those of their staff? No, she didn't do that at all. She dug in. She refused to take responsibility for her actions. I ask you to contrast that with Senator Dastyari and whether—
No, I'm not lost for words, Senator Bernardi. Did Minister Cash follow the actions of Senator Dastyari? No. She dug in. Then for not one day, not one week, not one month but more than 40 days Senator Cash refused to turn up before the committee investigating this matter so that they could ask her further questions about what she did and about what people in her office did. Senator Dastyari didn't wait 40 days. He was in here first thing today, and he has resigned his position. So let's not take lectures from this government about proper behaviour. Senator Dastyari resigned; Senator Cash continues.
This is not the only example of—let's call it what it is—bad behaviour. What happened to Senator Fifield? Senator Fifield was apparently advised, although he's not exactly sure when, by the former occupant of the seat that you are now sitting in, Mr Acting Deputy President O'Sullivan, that he thought he had a problem with his citizenship. What did Senator Fifield do? Did he go and speak to the Prime Minister and say: 'Look, Prime Minister, I think we've got a problem. Another one of our members—in fact, the President of the Senate—may be in breach of section 44 of the Constitution and be ineligible to sit in this place'?
Did Senator Fifield do that? No. He sat on that information. He didn't disclose it—so he said—to his Prime Minister. Apparently, he didn't disclose it to the Attorney-General.
The Attorney-General, at that point, was conducting a case in the High Court on this very issue where he'd received some advice from his Solicitor-General, apparently—we don't know this for sure, because we haven't seen this advice—that all of the members of the government on the issue of citizenship were in the clear. Senator Fifield didn't tell the Prime Minister. He didn't tell the Attorney-General and, based on some evidence he gave to a committee the other night, he didn't tell any of his other ministers.
So we have a situation in which the President of the Senate has done absolutely the right thing. He's gone to the Manager of Government Business and said, 'Look, I think I've got a problem.' What's he told by Minister Fifield? We don't know for sure—I have to admit that—but the other side are very happy to rely on newspaper reports when it suits them. The reports that I saw, SBS and Michelle Grattan, made it very clear that what Senator Parry had said, had confided, to Minister Fifield—we at least know he spoke to one minister because he's admitted it—was that he believed he had a problem with his citizenship and he was following it up. Now what did Minister Fifield say when he found out this information? It's a good question. We don't exactly know. But if you believe the reports by SBS and journalist Michelle Grattan, he was told: 'Keep quiet. Don't say anything. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut.' When this became public, did Senator Fifield say, 'Okay, I've tried to cover up a breach of section 44. I'm going to do the honourable thing in accordance with the Westminster system and resign my commission'? Did he do that? No, he didn't do that.
Again, I ask you to contrast him with Senator Dastyari. There are a couple of newspaper reports. What does Senator Dastyari do? He does the honourable thing. He comes into this place at the first opportunity and he resigns as deputy whip of the opposition. I don't think there could be any greater hypocrisy on the part of this government—
Senator Bernardi interjecting—
I know you're laughing, Senator Bernardi; I'd laugh at them too. I know you were wise enough, Senator Bernardi, to leave that group. However, the rank hypocrisy of members of the other side, members of the government, getting up and criticising the Labor Party is breathtaking—I don't think there's any other word that I could use. When confronted with issues, the Labor Party does the right thing. When confronted with issues, invariably, on every occasion, members of the government do absolutely the wrong thing.
As we move towards the latter stages of this debate on the motion to take note of Senator Dastyari's statement, I think it is important, having heard Senator Farrell, Senator Carr and Senator Wong seek to speak about anything but Senator Dastyari's behaviour, that this chamber comes back to Senator Dastyari's behaviour. Senator Farrell just gave a long list of the usual political argy-bargy that we hear in this building. But there is nothing usual about what Senator Dastyari is alleged to have done. There is nothing usual about Senator Dastyari's behaviour. In fact, it is quite extraordinary, nigh on unprecedented, for a senator in this place to stand accused of seeking to subvert the operations of Australian intelligence agencies, such that that senator can then conduct secret conversations with foreign nationals. That is what Senator Dastyari stands accused of doing, and he has not denied these allegations. These allegations were made by Fairfax Media yesterday that Senator Dastyari, in a secret meeting with a foreign national, said: 'I believe your phone may be being bugged. I believe this meeting place may be being bugged. You may be being tapped by Australian intelligence agencies. I suggest that you leave your phone here and that we step outside to another location to have this meeting.'
It is decades since an Australian parliamentarian has faced allegations of this type of severity in any way, shape or form like the ones that Senator Dastyari faces right now, and he has not denied those allegations. Mr Shorten has not denied those allegations. It is very clear that, if that is true, if that is what Senator Dastyari did, then simply resigning as the Deputy Opposition Whip is a woefully inadequate response by Senator Dastyari—and a woefully inadequate response by Mr Shorten in terms of upholding the standards of this parliament and upholding the standards of the Labor Party and the credibility of the party that seeks to be the alternative government of Australia.
How could we have any confidence in the Australian Labor Party to act in Australia's national interests, when senior, influential serving members of the Australian Labor Party's parliamentary caucus decide that they can undertake, on their own basis, activities that, frankly, they should not have, that were clearly a subversion, or an attempt to subvert the activities, it seems, of Australia's intelligence agencies?
The quick point that I just want to emphasise, which Senator Brandis made in his statements in a very compelling way, is that over the last few months we have seen former Senators Ludlam, Waters, Nash, Roberts, Parry and Kakoschke-Moore all leave this place because, technically, they were in breach of the Australian Constitution and the provisions of the Constitution that relate to whether or not you are under the influence of a foreign power. They upped and left. Nobody ever made any allegation against any one of those former senators that they were actually under the influence of any foreign power. But Senator Dastyari stands accused of conspiring with a foreign citizen, a foreign national, in a way where he sought to actively subvert the operations of Australian intelligence services. These are serious allegations.
I see there are now further allegations about what Mr Shorten knew and when, and whether Mr Shorten, indeed, through any back channels, may have passed information on to Senator Dastyari. Mr Shorten clearly has very serious questions himself to answer, but, first and foremost, he should show the standard that this parliament expects, which is that Senator Dastyari—like the senators who have done the right thing on a technicality and have left this chamber—stands accused of actually conspiring in such a way that he ought to leave the building.
Question agreed to.