Thursday, 30 November 2017
Questions without Notice
DASTYARI, Senator Sam
My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brandis. I refer to TheSydney Morning Herald, which last year stated:
Chinese businessmen with links to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have donated half a million dollars to the West Australian division of the Liberal Party during the last two years …
Can the minister advise the Senate how many times Foreign Minister Bishop has met with Chinese businessman Dr Chau? Can the minister confirm that Dr Chau's business Hong Kong Kingson Investment Ltd has donated $200,000 to the Western Australian Liberal Party in 2014-15?
No, I can't confirm that because I don't know. But I can tell you, Senator Pratt, that members of the government, and I'm sure members of the opposition, meet with businessmen, including—
Senator Pratt interjecting—
Senator Pratt, would you like me to answer your question?—meet with businessmen, including Chinese businessmen, all the time, as we should. That is not the point. Sometimes those business people make donations to political parties—to the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Greens—as they are entitled to do and as, indeed, the High Court has said is part of the implied freedom of political communication. But those donations are subject to a rigorous disclosure regime, and what I can confirm to you, Senator Pratt, is that the Liberal Party, in all its state divisions, is absolutely compliant with its disclosure obligations under the Commonwealth Electoral Act. What we are talking about in the case of Senator Dastyari is not political donations, it's undue influence. It's about undue influence, about the fact that Senator Dastyari has, so it is alleged, engaged in covert behaviour in a way to potentially frustrate the operational activities of the Australian security agencies. Senator Dastyari has sought to undermine the foreign policy position of your own party on an issue of the greatest foreign policy sensitivity, namely the South China Sea and freedom of navigation exercises through islands in the South China Sea—nothing whatever to do with political donations but everything to do with undue foreign influence.
Can the minister advise the Senate how many times Foreign Minister Bishop has met with Chinese businessman Mr Huang? Can the minister confirm that Mr Huang's business, the Yuhu Group, donated at least $230,000 to the Western Australian Liberal Party in 2013-14?
No, I can't confirm that because I don't know, but I wouldn't be at all surprised. As I said in answer to Senator Pratt's primary question, the Liberal Party receives donations, including in Western Australia, from business people, including Chinese business people. By the way, there is no rule against business people donating money to political parties because they're Chinese, and I wonder what you're getting at. The fact is that we have a very rigorous disclosure regime for political donations under the Commonwealth Electoral Act, and I can assure you that the Liberal Party is strictly compliant.
I'll take that interjection, Senator Wong. The issue we raise about Senator Dastyari is not in relation to the disclosure of donations, it's in relation to the conduct of Senator Dastyari, plainly at the behest of Mr Huang, and why it is that Senator Dastyari conducted himself in that way. (Time expired)
We've already announced that we are going to be introducing legislation to ban foreign political donations as part of a broader and sweeping series of legislative reforms to protect Australia and Australia's democratic system from foreign influence. Senator Pratt, far from following Labor's lead, it has been the government's position to do that since before the Labor Party made its announcement. So you, Senator Pratt, have been following the government's lead.
Senator Pratt, let me return to your earlier observation. The allegations made by Fairfax Media and the ABC about Senator Dastyari aren't about the receipt of political donations; they are about being subject to undue foreign influence and then lying about it. It was enough for your leader to demand his resignation, so I wonder why you seek to deflect attention from his conduct. (Time expired)