Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Questions without Notice
I can, thank you, Senator Bushby. It, really, in a sense, follows from my responses to Senator Carr. As I said a moment ago to Senator Carr, this is very much a package. It is designed to ensure that, in relation to non-harmful, legitimate, lawful conduct, there is transparency. That's the transparency scheme piece of the legislation. In relation to malicious and harmful conduct, there are new offences, in particular the new offence of unlawful foreign interference, which will make it a criminal offence to act on behalf of a foreign principal so as to seek to affect the governmental and political processes of Australia in a covert manner—we can all think of a recent instance of that in this chamber, Mr President—and which will also, and this is Senator Cormann's piece of the package, prohibit foreign political donations and donations from foreign sources to try and influence the Australian political process or Australian political or electoral outcomes or activities.
Senator Bushby, we have, of course, heard the Labor Party bleating, for months and months, about foreign donations. Well, here we have the coalition government actually doing something about it—introducing a measure, which Senator Cormann will be introducing either today or tomorrow, that actually takes real and decisive action against foreign political donations. We hear the Labor Party and, even more, the Greens bleat about transparency. Here we've introduced a transparency scheme to ensure that the relationship between foreign principals and those who may engage on their behalf in Australia is a matter of transparent public record. And, of course, we have the shameful example of Senator Dastyari's conduct. (Time expired)
They are so important because, as I said a moment ago, we need to protect Australia's democracy, our democratic system and, in particular, our political processes and our electoral system from undisclosed foreign influence. Foreign influence, as I said a moment ago, can be completely benign, as in the case of people who undertake a commission, for example, or a retainer for a foreign interest. But people who do that should be subject to a similar regime as lobbyists. That's the value of transparency.
But, of course, there can be malign influences too. If, for example, a foreign government, through an agent of influence, seeks to suborn or seduce an Australian politician—an Australian senator, for example—and behaves in a covert manner to get that person to change their party's policy to a policy more congenial to the foreign government, then there's something wrong with that, and we ought to do something about it—and we have. (Time expired)
I think the risks, Senator Bushby, lie in those who engage in the very kind of conduct in this legislation. In particular, I'm speaking now of the foreign interference legislation and the new crime of unlawful foreign interference—the people who engage in that sort of conduct and those who protect them. We have the example of Senator Dastyari, who was given every opportunity last Thursday by this chamber to explain or deny the very serious allegations that had been made against him by credible journalists in the Fairfax press and the ABC and, in the course of a 20-minute speech, neither explained nor denied anything and, therefore, by his failure to deny the allegations, must be taken to have admitted them. The question arises: why does Mr Shorten continue to protect Senator Sam Dastyari?
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. Yesterday the Prime Minister finally announced long-overdue reforms to foreign donation laws, including bans on foreign donations, a move Labor has been advocating for years. Can the minister confirm that the coalition has voted on at least three occasions, including twice in 2009 and again in 2010, to defeat laws to ban foreign donations?
No, I can't confirm that, Senator Farrell. You may be right, but I would have to check the record. But the fact is, Senator Farrell, we're not interested. The Australian public aren't interested in what may have happened eight or nine years ago. They're interested in what's happening today. They're interested in the fact that one of your colleagues who sits behind you on the opposition benches, Senator Dastyari, has been suborned by a foreign influence. Given the opportunity to deny the allegations made by credible journalists, that he was suborned by Mr Huang Xiangmo, he declined to deny those allegations.
The fact is that Mr Shorten, in failing to take decisive action to tell Senator Dastyari that he is no longer welcome in the Labor caucus, has shown his weakness yet again. He has shown his weakness yet again. Why might that be, Senator Farrell? Might it be that Mr Shorten owes his position to Senator Dastyari, just as, if I may draw a comparison, Kristina Keneally owed her premiership to Mr Eddie Obeid? You would know more than me about the ecology of the Labor factions, I suppose, Senator Farrell, but you would know that they are all bound together by these unpleasant relationships of power, dependency and influence. That is why Mr Shorten is just too weak to take the action that the Australian people are demanding in relation to a man who has allowed himself, for whatever motives, to be used as a Chinese agent of influence, to overturn your own party's policy. He is still welcome in the Labor caucus. Senator Farrell, that is a disgrace.
Can the minister confirm that, at the same time the coalition was voting against laws to ban foreign donations, Mr Turnbull was accepting donations from the US based Fortress Investment Group, a 'vulture company' which foreclosed on victims of Hurricane Katrina?
No, I don't know that. I've never heard that said before. I will make some inquiries, but what I'm sure those inquiries will reveal is that all the donations received from corporate donors on my side of politics have been compliant with the disclosure obligations and other obligations under the Commonwealth Electoral Act. My side of politics takes donations from businessmen, including Chinese businessmen, and we make sure that they are disclosed. But the fact is that we have arrived at the view that the influence of foreign money on Australian politics, mediated through political parties and other third-party actors, has become a serious problem, and we are taking action to address it.
(—) (): Senator Farrell, that is absolutely wrong. Far from having delayed, we have moved on this. The Prime Minister commissioned the policy work on this as long ago as August last year. In May of this year, he wrote to me and he wrote to Senator Cormann's predecessor as Special Minister of State—your good self, Mr President—to ask for the legislation to be prepared. By the way, it was legislation to deal with the problem of foreign money coming into and influencing not just Australian politics and Australian elections but also other vectors of influence, like the kind of influence we saw being exercised through your colleague Senator Sam Dastyari, to criminalise that sort of conduct. That is because the Australian political system and the Australian electoral system need to have integrity protected, not just from foreign money but from all of the other forms of foreign influence as well. This government has moved to do something about it. (Time expired)