Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 December 2019


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Reference

6:04 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I, and also on behalf of Senators Lambie, Bernardi, Hanson, Griff and Roberts, move:

That the following matter be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by 26 November 2020:

Australia's relationship with the People’s Republic of China.

This is the fifth occasion that I have moved a motion seeking a Senate inquiry relating to Australia's relationship with China. Perhaps I'm a sucker for punishment, but this is too important an issue to let go.

Over a year ago, on 13 November last year, I moved for an inquiry into Australia's engagement with China's Belt and Road strategy. That proposal was prompted by the Victorian government's decision to signed an MOU with China relating to cooperation on Belt and Road projects, a decision that was apparently made without coordination with the federal government. On that occasion, the coalition and Labor combined against the crossbench to negate the proposal. It was a similar story 10 months later, when I moved another motion on 9 September, proposing a broad Senate committee inquiry into all aspects of Australia's relationship with China.

As senators would be aware, that proposal for an inquiry initially enjoyed support from both the coalition and Labor members of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, including the references committee chair, Senator Kitching, who agreed to co-sponsor the motion. However, other forces prevailed. The foreign minister decreed that China was too sensitive a subject for any Senate inquiry. So too did the shadow foreign minister. Senator Kitching was required to withdraw her co-sponsorship of the motion, and both the coalition and Labor again voted against the crossbench to negate the proposed inquiry.

It was the same story, of course, when I moved a similar motion on 16 September and again on 11 November. I moved those motions, and I do so again today, because developments and controversies in Australia's relationship with China have repeatedly underlined the importance of the parliament becoming engaged in a positive way on this key international relationship. Last week we saw the emergence of new allegations of attempted Chinese-government-directed interference in Australia's political affairs. This is not the first time that such allegations have been made. There have been a series of allegations, extending back well over a decade.

With regard to the allegations raised last week, the Director-General of Security, Mike Burgess, was prompted to issue a statement indicating that those allegations were being actively investigated and that hostile foreign intelligence activities continued to pose a real threat to Australia. Significantly, the director-general couldn't bring himself to actually name the country in question, which was China. That omission and the broader reluctance of the government and opposition to talk forthrightly about these problems are characteristic of much debate about the state of Australia's relations with China. There are big headlines in the newspapers and no shortage of partisan sniping, but there is a marked reluctance by ministers and opposition frontbenchers to speak forthrightly, even when the issue includes the Chinese Ministry of State Security hacking the computer systems of this parliament.

Obviously, there are considerable diplomatic sensitivities involved and we have allowed ourselves to become hugely economically dependent on the export of raw materials to the Chinese market. But it is a worrying thing when debate in this parliament is politically constipated for fear of reaction from Beijing. It is worth noting that some other countries, including our closest allies, are rather more direct in how they describe the increasing security challenges posed by China, especially in the fields of espionage and political interference. Last month, the director of the United States FBI, Christopher Wray, bluntly observed that Chinese espionage, especially in the economic field, is:

… the single greatest counterintelligence threat we face. Period.

In testimony to the US Senate, the FBI highlighted China's aggressive theft of defence technology and intelligence property, with the assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, saying: 'Technology is the key to military and economic power. Time and again the Communist Party has shown that it will do whatever is necessary in an effort to supplant the United States as the pre-eminent military and economic power.'

Earlier, in April this year, Canada's National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians—a committee similar to our Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security but with a significantly wider mandate—identified China as a 'significant and clear espionage threat' and a 'country actively seeking to interfere in Canadian political life'. The Canadian committee's report observes:

China is known globally for its efforts to influence Chinese communities and the politics of other countries. The Chinese government has a number of official organizations that try to influence Chinese communities and politicians to adopt pro-China positions, most prominently the United Front Work Department

The report highlights a 2017 warning from a former Canadian ambassador in Beijing about China's political interference and influence pedalling efforts in Canada. To get what it wants, Beijing mobilises student groups, diaspora groups 'and people who have an economic stake in China, to work behind the scenes.' The report also notes the unsavoury business of political donations on offer from Chinese businessmen with close links to China's Communist Party leadership.

Of course, some of this might sound familiar. But you won't find such candour in the reports of the PJCIS or, for that matter, in ASIO's annual reports—perhaps they're hidden in Aldi bags! The director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, David Vigneault, has not shied away from singling out China as a growing security threat. In a presentation to China's top university administrators earlier this year the Canadian security director said China represents 'the most significant and clear' challenge when it comes to espionage targeting university campuses. He warned that foreign intelligence services, 'especially those in China and Russia', were engaged in 'monitoring and/or coercion' of students, faculty and university officials in an effort to further their political influence. Again, this may sound familiar. Most recently, Vigneault warned an international cybersecurity workshop that China's building of 5G networks around the world was giving rise to 'new espionage and disruption risks'. He described China as the biggest threat because of the wide range of its cyberespionage targets.

Similar observations about Chinese espionage and interference have been made by a number of European countries, even those that are usually focused on security challenges from Russia. Perhaps some of the most forthright observations can be found in a just released annual report of the Czech Republic's Security Information Service, the Czech equivalent of ASIO. At a glance one might think that Prague would not be a major priority for Chinese espionage. However, Czech security observes the intensity and scale of Chinese intelligence activities has grown significantly. All of the most important Chinese intelligence services are reported to be active in the Czech Republic: the external military intelligence service, the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security.

Chinese career diplomats are also alleged to have resorted to crude pressure tactics to advance China's interests. The Czech security services provide some insight into the modus operandi of Chinese espionage and interference, and I'll quote from the report:

In the context of Chinese activities aimed at the Czech academia, security bodies and state administration, the BIS

which is their security service—

identified a growing number of Chinese invitations addressed to Czech citizens for trainings, seminars and excursions. China offers to cover all expenses for the invited individuals (transport, accommodation, food allowance, registration fees) and even to give Czech guests spending money. Such journeys ensure a whole range of benefits for China—the country thus establishes a contact network of individuals, who will regard it with favor, or more specifically feel that they "owe China something" and will be willing to be forthcoming towards China. From an intelligence point of view, the most risky aspect is the physical presence of the guest in China. Chinese intelligence services usually use the stay of persons of interest in China or in a third country … to approach them for cooperation.

That's what is said in the report. One wonders how many Australian MPs have been approached over the years. The Czech security service highlights China's exploitation of social media to target potential sources or cooperators, like academics, students, civil servants and other persons potentially with access to sensitive information. Reference is also made to the activities of a Chinese cyberespionage group that targeted the Czech ministry of foreign affairs.

Australia is geopolitically and economically much more important to China than a small Western European nation such as the Czech Republic. We are also economically much more dependent on our trade with China and have extensive people-to-people ties as a consequence of the large Chinese diaspora and a large Chinese student presence. Canberra, Sydney and other Australian cities are a much bigger focus for covert Chinese government activity than far away Prague.

Some former Australian security officials have been more forthright than current ministers and officials. The recently retired ASIO director, Duncan Lewis, has warned the Chinese government is seeking to use insidious foreign interference operations to take over Australia's political system. According to Mr Lewis, Chinese authorities are trying to place themselves in a position of advantage by winning influence in political, social, business and media circles. He said:

Espionage and foreign interference is insidious. Its effects might not present for decades and by that time it's too late. You wake up one day and find decisions made in our country that are not in the interests of our country.

These are very serious concerns expressed by someone with long experience of government and Australia's counterespionage circumstances. He is indeed a former military officer as well.

That is only part of the story. As I have previously stated, Australia's relations with China are increasingly challenging, but they're also multifaceted and include great economic and other opportunities. We would be wrong to consider these issues solely through the lens of security. That is where recent debate has focused, and there has been an increasing partisan edge to that. In that regard, I think it's useful to refer to recent observations by a highly qualified observer of China-Australia relations, Yun Jiang, a former officer of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Defence and the Department of the Treasury, who has published some thoughtful commentary on the Lowy Institute's blog, The Interpreter. She observes:

It is in Australia's national interest that we continue to contemplate China's role in the world and to debate how Australia should respond to the challenges posed by China. This is a conversation that needs to be conducted based on facts and the merits of the argument, not on insinuation of intention.

Yun Jiang makes three specific suggestions for improving the quality of our national debate:

        All three of these suggestions would be advanced by a Senate inquiry—a forum through which senators can engage in a nonpartisan thoughtful way drawing on the full range of available expertise from government, business, universities and NGOs.

        As I have previously said, China is the No. 1 issue in Australia's foreign relations. There can be no question about that. How can the Senate stand aside from this? We have a much more complex and challenging relationship, a relationship that is increasingly fraught in some respects, and it is all the more important that the Australian parliament fully engage on this vital question. As I have previously said, an issue that could very usefully be examined is China's strategic ambitions in South-East Asia and the Pacific, including Beijing's growing influence in Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere. The inquiry could examine our vital trade relations with China, including our dependence on raw material exports and the potential to develop new trading opportunities and a more balanced export trade pattern. There's also the question of Chinese investment in Australia in resources and critical infrastructure as well as agriculture. We need to consider the federal aspects of our relationship with China—not only the role of the Australian government agencies but also the engagement of state and territory governments with Chinese trade and investment activities. We also need to take a close look at China's influence and alleged interference in Australia, including the activities of the so-called 'united front' organisation and the role of Chinese government controlled student organisations on Australian university campuses. There's no getting around those issues. They must be examined and directly dealt with by this parliament.

        There would also be the opportunity to examine human rights issues, including the deeply worrying case of imprisoned Australian Yang Hengjun. As I've said previously, I've no doubt that the Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, Senator Kitching, would lead a very measured and substantive inquiry. The shadow minister for foreign affairs has repeatedly asked the government to provide parliamentarians with confidential briefings on China. The government has declined this request, although it has also said departments and agencies will brief appropriate parliamentary committees.

        A Senate inquiry, such as that proposed by this motion, should provide an opportunity for the government and opposition to move beyond partisan positioning and work together in our national interest. The inquiry proposed by this motion would engage all elements of opinion within the Australian parliament: the coalition, Labor, the Greens and the crossbench. If the government and opposition cannot support this proposed inquiry, they should at least offer some more substantive arguments and alternatives than they have offered to date. Who knows, if they do not reconsider their position, we might just find our way through partisan controversy and move towards developing a forward-thinking approach to this critically important relationship. We might just find a way forward that would enjoy support not only across this parliament but across the broad Australian community. If we don't do that, Australia may eventually pay a very considerable price in terms of internal partisan division, potential social conflict and very real harm to our national interest and our sovereignty.

        6:23 pm

        Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

        The government will not support this motion from Senator Patrick. The China relationship is important and complex, engaging a full range of national interests. We have a comprehensive strategic partnership, which benefits both countries. We remain focused on areas of cooperation that support both our interests. We seek to address differences through dialogue and with respect. The government's China policy is clear. It is prosecuted in our national interest, in line with our values. When managing relations with China, clarity and consistency is essential. This is what the coalition will continue to deliver.

        6:24 pm

        Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I would like to say that One Nation is supportive of the motion that Australia's relations with the People's Republic of China be referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and preparation of a report into the Liberal-Labor club. I want to commend Senator Rex Patrick. This is his fifth attempt—I thought it was his fourth, but it is his fifth attempt. He must be seeing visions of Groundhog Day. Nonetheless, let's proceed. I want to set the context.

        It is imperative that Australia and China maintain a mutually respectful and beneficial bilateral relationship. That requires respect from both parties in any relationship. China is Australia's largest two-way trading partner, export market and import source, representing 24 per cent of total trade with a value of $183 billion. That alone shows influence. Australia is China's sixth-largest trading partner and fifth-biggest supplier of imports. Twenty five per cent of Australia's manufactured imports come from China and 13 per cent of Australia's exports include thermal coal to China. A free-trade agreement was signed between the two countries in June 2015.

        In more recent times China has embarked on the One Belt, One Road initiative. This is a Chinese economic and strategic agenda where Eurasia, Africa and Oceania are more closely tied along two routes—one land and one maritime. Those who support the initiative say it facilitates the development of infrastructure and economic aid to needy economies. On the other hand, it can be said to facilitate Chinese economic and strategic domination of smaller countries on the routes. It's about strategic control—and the emphasis is on 'control'. For Australia, we see growing Chinese involvement in projects from northern Australia to Tasmania, all providing little benefit to Australia but substantial benefits to China. Other examples of Chinese involvement have been in the funding and support of local academic conferences and seminars—the influence peddlers.

        One of the ongoing issues of mutual concern relates to regional and global security. The growing tensions between the United States of America and the People's Republic of China in terms of the imposition of trade tariffs is placing Australia in a challenging position given the importance of Australia's relationships with both these countries. Similarly, the views taken on China's growing military influence in the South China Sea remain of concern to the United States of America and, necessarily, Australia as an established ally of the United States. Regionally, China is having a growing influence by funding infrastructure projects for some of the Pacific island countries and Papua New Guinea. This runs the risk of changing the dynamic between Australia and our near neighbours.

        Australia is a destination of choice for many Chinese students to further their education in an Australian academic institution. In 2018 there were more than 166,000 enrolments of Chinese students in Australia, representing 43.3 per cent of the total international student cohort. A concern noted in some Australian universities is the potential dependence on full-fee-paying international students of the overall money pool available to university budgets. The concern is that, should those numbers suddenly diminish, it may leave some of the universities destitute.

        The unfettered Chinese development of five research bases within the Australian Antarctic Territory is of growing concern to many, at a time when Australian investment into its three bases in that territory has been considered relatively conservative by comparison. Given the potential for military and strategic use of these bases by China and resource extraction at some future time, there is need to consider this factor when examining our relationships with China.

        Australia is a favourite destination for Chinese tourists. This is shown by recent numbers. More than 1.3 million Chinese tourists visited Australia last year, representing 15 per cent of total visitors. This is a clear positive for Australia. At the same time there is a growing boom of tourists heading for China, which is welcoming tourists from around the world, including 700,000 from Australia.

        So we have a complex and strong relationship, but with potential for being derailed and hurting our country. Consider some of these recent developments. The Liberal Party's Andrew Hastie wants an inquiry into the relationship. He speaks out against China's violations. He was recently banned from visiting that country—just for speaking out. From memory Senator Kimberley Kitching, from the Labor Party, co-sponsored one of Senator Patrick's motions, yet we see the New South Wales Labor Party immersed in ICAC revelations. And we remember that former Senator Sam Dastyari's bills were being paid by the Chinese.

        There are questions over the Liberal Party's interactions with Chinese influencers. There is the Gladys Liu affair with its sloppy answers and repeated memory failures. She is honorary chairman of an institution of which she doesn't know the daily operations. There are contradictions, or at least serious questions, about facts. Bo 'Nick' Zhao was found dead in a Melbourne motel soon after claiming publicly that the Chinese government had approached him to stand as a candidate to be their man in this building. Are there others? Is Chinese Gladys Liu their person?

        Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

        Senator Roberts, I remind you to refer to those in the other place by their correct title.

        Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Thank you, Madam Deputy President. There is also Senator Patrick's vote on 12 September 2019, just days after we debated this motion for the second time, which enabled the government to escape scrutiny over the Liu affair, as it's known.

        Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

        Senator Roberts, unless you're quoting, that's really inappropriate. You need to refer to those in the other chamber by their correct titles.

        Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        Okay, I thought I was talking about the Liu affair, but I'll say the affair that involved Ms Gladys Liu.

        Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

        Don't forget to include Xenophon!

        Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        We'll get to that. Essential infrastructure like Darwin's port: how was the government not thinking strategically when it allowed China into this important northern gateway for 99 years? This port is the home of our local naval presence. Andrew Robb gave them the deal and then ended up on a salary of $880,000 immediately on leaving the parliament. Then we consider Mr Peter Dutton's recent comments, which were reported on 12 October this year:

        One of the Morrison Government's most senior figures has taken a direct swipe at Beijing, accusing the Chinese Communist Party of behaving in ways that are "inconsistent" with Australian values.

        That is significant for the third part of my contribution. Key points from Mr Dutton's comments were:

        Mr Dutton said the Federal Government would call out state actors if it was in the national interest.

        He said he wanted universities to be free from foreign interference—

        this is a senior Liberal government minister—

        The Home Affairs Minster also criticised China's Belt and Road Initiative and defended a ban on using Huawei to help build Australia's 5G network

        The report continued:

        … Minister Peter Dutton warned Australia would "call out" foreign interference in universities, as well as cyber hacks and theft of intellectual property … insisting it was the right thing to do.

        He, a senior minister in an important portfolio, is concerned. The article continued:

        It represents some of the strongest language yet from a Federal Government minister—

        just a month and a half ago—

        on the threat posed by China.

        Mr Dutton was further quoted:

        Our issue is not with the Chinese people—

        I wholeheartedly concur—

        not with the amazing Chinese diaspora community we have here in Australia, my issue is with the Communist Party of China and their policies to the extent that they're inconsistent with our own values," Mr Dutton said.

        I endorse that. The Chinese people have a long history in our country. They helped us develop the north and, indeed, the south. They have contributed remarkably and they continue to contribute. But do we hear of similar incidents—anything like this number—about India? No. Japan? No. Singapore? No. Taiwan? No. Malaysia? No. Thailand? No. Cambodia? No. Laos? No.

        Look at the government's gatekeepers of our country. The first is the Foreign Investment Review Board. We see the unhindered growth of Chinese assets in this country. China now owns 10 times the amount of Australian land that it did in September 2018—12 months, 10 times. They acquire the best of our assets, as Senator Patrick pointed out, for less, with little or no benefit back to the Australian people. As Senator Patrick said, they're picking the eyes out of the treasures—agricultural, mineral reserves, businesses, processing and assets in general. They're moving into secondary and manufacturing industry, as well as primary. The Foreign Investment Review Board, the gatekeeper, faced 11,855 investigations with a staff of one full-time executive and seven part-time people—4½ full-time equivalents, with one of them being an executive. Of the 11,855 investigations, five, or 0.04 per cent, were knocked back. How can these people possibly give full and proper consideration to each investigation? They cannot. It possibly needs to be renamed as the FISB, the 'foreign investment skimming board', or the FITB, the 'foreign investment tick and flick board'.

        Now consider the dairy industry. China has taken our best farms and our best milk products. They now ship our milk and milk products to China, paying a low cost here and value-adding and taking the profits to China. A couple of weeks ago, Bellamy's, a large producer of infant formula, went into Chinese hands. Dairy farmers out the front here at Parliament House today told me that the Chinese are not competent in the dairy industry and are wrecking the industry.

        Energy—think of the primacy of energy. I've discussed that many times. Energy is essential for competitiveness, for productivity, for wealth generation and for all aspects of our lives. I've talked about Kilcoy and the investment the Chinese look to be getting there in a massive solar industrial complex, which will end up with toxins in Brisbane's water supply, a removal of productive agricultural land, high energy prices—when we subsidise the Chinese investment!—and unsightly blight on the countryside. When the Japanese government bombed Darwin in 1942, John Curtin didn't send them a letter and a cheque saying, 'You need subsidies to protect your bombing.' But that's what we are doing with these Chinese who are investing in our solar and wind generation.

        Clive Hamilton has repeatedly warned us of the insidious threat from China. Huawei was banned from 5G implementation in this and in other countries. Huawei announced just yesterday that its new strategic council is Xenophon Davis. We all know that Nick Xenophon is a former senator, and I have learnt that Mark Davis is a former ABC and SBS journalist.

        Let's move to the third aspect. We've seen the huge potential—the strong relationship. We've also seen the recent increases in the intricacy. Now let's look at the incompatibility of Australian and Chinese government values. Chinese people are fine, but Australian values do not mesh with the Chinese government. Consider Australian citizen Yang Hengjun. I will read from an article in The Weekend Australian on 31 August 2019 that was written by Arthur Moses, a contributor, who is President of the Law Council of Australia. He said that Hengjun:

        … has been held in harsh conditions without charge, with limited access to consular assistance. He has not been permitted to talk to his lawyers or see his family.

        That goes against Australian values.

        His lawyers do not know the particulars of the allegations against him—just dragged off and incarcerated. As a blogger he has written thousands of articles promoting the rule of law, democracy and human rights and has built up a large following in China. All of that is entirely appropriate for an Australian. Our country goes back to the Magna Carta, the Constitution and the presumption of innocence. Not in China.

        Yang and detainees like him must be humanely treated in a fair, transparent manner. In his article, Arthur Moses further states:

        … it is the rule of law that most strongly drives economic performance.

        China does not have the rule of law; it has the rule of despots.

        Another article, just yesterday, stated:

        Australia says the treatment endured by one of its citizens in criminal detention in China is "unacceptable".

        That is what our government is saying of an Australian citizen. The article continues:

        Chinese-Australian writer Dr Yang Hengjun has been held in Beijing since January. He has been accused of espionage—charges denied by him and the Australian government.

        He now faces daily interrogations while being shackled and has been increasingly isolated, Canberra said.

        Imagine that in this country! The article stated further that on Monday 25 November, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, a senior member of this government's cabinet, said she was 'very concerned' about his condition, which was reported in a recent consulate visit. So the government, at the senior level—the home affairs minister and the foreign minister—knows about this. The article continues:

        Australia has also repeatedly requested that he receive "basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment" during his detention.

        The government is aware of China's standards and its power. The article went on to say:

        Australia's political class was rocked last week by allegations of Chinese espionage and interference in domestic issues. China has strongly dismissed the claims as "imaginary fears".

        Chinese government behaviour is not compatible with Australian values, and yet it has influence over some—many, possibly—Chinese in this country and influence over political parties, companies and who knows what else.

        Human rights is a huge issue where China and Australia have competing views—different views; incompatible views. Australia is a democracy and a signatory to many international agreements that preserve basic human rights. China, though, is a republic following a Communist regime that is very rigid, with little room to question the state and having limited rights for the individual. One only has to turn on the news and watch the demonstrations for freedom happening in Hong Kong to see how that goes down. Many Australians remember the events of Tiananmen Square that brought our Prime Minister at the time to tears. The detention of those whose views differ from that of the regime is a continuing disgrace and worthy of further review.

        Let's come to the next part of this, the fourth section. The Liberals and Labor have sold out Australia's heritage; the government and Labor have sold out Australia's inheritance. No wonder they don't want us to have a review of this catastrophe. What the Liberal-Labor-Greens triopoly has not sold out it has destroyed. We have bankers in charge, but a code of practice that is solid and truthful; it has integrity. We have the failure to implement the Hayne royal commission recommendations with integrity. According to the government, in the near future we'll have the imposition of a cash ban bill, if it gets through the Senate. That's not reinforcing integrity. We have the Glass-Steagall bill that's being avoided; that would eliminate vertical integration to ensure integrity.

        The government is not ensuring integrity, it is running away from integrity. We had the theft of property rights from 1996 onwards by both the Liberals and Labor, destroying productive capacity and the heart and soul of our rural sector. That is not integrity. It was led at the time by the Prime Minister, John Howard, who went around the Constitution to prevent farmers getting the compensation which they were rightly entitled to under the Constitution. We ask for restoration of compensation. I'll be doing that every time until they get it.

        Our productive capacity with water is being destroyed. We had thousands of farmers out the front yesterday and this morning, begging for action to fix that and to restore productive capacity. As I said a little while ago, our energy is being destroyed—our productive capacity. We are going from the lowest prices for electricity in the world to the highest. Meanwhile, we're exporting our key resource—the No. 1 export income earner for Australia—to China so they can generate cheap electricity and steal our jobs. Then we have the Defence department running roughshod over productive farmers by neglecting them, even after their own committee recommended buying back businesses affected by PFAS contamination. We're doing this within our own country, led by the Liberal-Labor governments of the last 20 years. And, at the same time, Liberal and Labor governments are refusing to investigate or to inquire into our relationship with China.

        These actions by China would appear to threaten the relationship of mutual respect between the two countries, and are worthy of inquiry. The actions of China threaten our honesty, fairness and humanity. One Nation supports the call for such an inquiry into a nation exerting powerful influences over our nation, with potentially far more powerful influences in our nation's future. For the people of Australia, we support Senator Patrick's motion.

        6:43 pm

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

        I rise to commend the motion to the chamber. It's about time the people in this place woke up to China's attempts to infiltrate our economy and our democracy. I can tell you that the other 25 million Australians out there have. Both sides of politics need to take a good, hard look at themselves and make sure they're acting in our national interest. Quite obviously, over China, they are not.

        To be really clear to the Australian-Chinese community: I'm not talking about you. I've made that very clear in the past. Chinese-Australians have been here since the gold rushes, and their place in and contribution to Australian life is profound. I'm sure they join all Australians who are watching on in horror at the stories that have come out recently. It's unbelievable what is being tolerated from inside this chamber.

        First of all we heard about a wealthy Chinese donor handing over an Aldi bag of cash to the New South Wales Labor Party. It contained $100,000. They tried to hide where it came from by splitting up the money and making it look like it came from a bunch of small donors. Does anyone really believe that money was handed over with no strings attached? Please! Does anyone really believe that it was just a friendly way for a Chinese property developer to support our democracy? I don't think anyone believes it. You might believe it in here, you lot on this side and that side, but I'll tell you what: the rest of the country isn't buying into it. Everyone knows that the communist Chinese government uses money to influence our political processes. Everyone knows that money opens doors and starts conversations, especially in the Australian parliament. Everyone knows that these sorts of activities are undermining our national interest.

        At least in New South Wales they got it right. They picked it up. They have a strong anti-corruption commission that can proactively stamp out this stuff, and they have some of the best donation laws in the country. This is why New South Wales regulators were able to smell a rat. It happened in other states too. The same Chinese donor, who, by the way, was stripped of his permanent residency and had his bid for citizenship rejected, donated—geez, this doesn't surprise me and it won't surprise many Tasmanians—$30,000 to the Tasmanian Liberal Party. We've heard pretty much nothing about it. It's: 'Nothing to see here,' according to the Tas Libs. Incidentally, in case the Tasmanian Liberals don't know, he's the same guy who was mates with Sam Dastyari, and Sam himself told the New South Wales ICAC that he believed the powerful Chinese property developer and major political donor may have been working to influence Australian politics. I'll take the 'may' out; I will call it: he was working to influence Australian politics. The fact is that there are basically no protections from stopping this happening at a federal level—not because there can't be but because there's no courage to make it happen. There's no enforcement of the rules and there's no follow-up if things look off. The scale of the problem is huge, and we've just been tinkering around the edges. The fact is that we'd never pick that sort of thing up if it happened at a national branch.

        Now we've heard that Chinese attempts to infiltrate our politics go even further. It keeps getting better! They're not just trying to influence politicians with money; they're trying to get elected to sit in this chamber. In the dark side and over the other side too—wherever they can buy or get seats in the Australian parliament, they're coming. This is really something else, isn't it? To you watching and listening out there, to the Australian public, this is something else, isn't it? It's an absolute shocker to think that someone who has links to the Chinese Communist Party could waltz in here on the back of a major party ticket. It's unbelievable. But the problem is it's not unbelievable anymore. They're coming. It's not just the Communist Party agents who will be privy to internal conversations about policy priorities and the agendas of the major parties; it also gives them a chance to look for weaknesses, to hear the gossip that goes around this place and potentially use that to influence or even blackmail people. There are no security checks. There's little to stop it from happening. It's absolutely beyond shocking.

        We're sitting ducks here. We're leaving ourselves open and we're letting the Communist Party in China come in here and undermine our democracy. There's still nothing to see here according to Labor and the Libs. People are literally showing up dead. Someone who was supposedly cultivated by the Chinese government to run as a Liberal Party candidate in the Commonwealth Parliament has shown up dead. Nothing's been proven, but it's really concerning, and I don't think anything needs to be proven; I think we all know what's going on here. What is clear is that China is actively trying to reshape our democracy, and no-one seems to be talking about that seriously enough. Honestly, where's your courage? What are you scared of? This is not some wacky conspiracy theory. This is happening.

        Top security experts in Australia are getting really worried. They've been worried for some time. It wouldn't be the first time I've spoken about this influence in the last five or six years in and out of here. Duncan Lewis, formerly the Director-General of Security at ASIO, told the Nine newspapers only last month that the Chinese government is seeking to 'take over' Australia's political system through its 'insidious' foreign interference operations. It might take decades, he said. I don't think it will. I don't disagree with it. I don't think it's going to take decades. They're coming in by stealth. You need to wake up. He said, for Australians to know the effects of their efforts, the risk is that we could 'wake up one day and find decisions made in our country that are not in the interests of our country'.

        This is an existential threat to our society, and Australians are scared. They're scared that our country is being bought up. The don't need to be scared because they already know what I do: it is being bought up. They're scared that their democracy may no longer represent them. It doesn't, by the way, Australians. I'll clear that matter up now. That's where we're going. I just want the government and the opposition to be honest with the people. They deserve honesty. They deserve it. That's all we're asking: just be honest about the scale of the problem and start working together to fix it. Ignoring the problem is not fixing it. Not having any courage to stand up to China is not fixing it. You're like a lame duck in here. Wake up.

        Did you know that over 25 per cent of Tasmania's agriculture land is foreign owned? Our fisheries and farms are being bought up. Prime agricultural land is being bought up. Across Australia we've sold off everything from our ports to our infrastructure. Now we find out that after buying Bellamy's Organic milk for $1.5 billion, the China Mengniu Dairy Company struck a deal to buy Lion Dairy and Drinks—up in my end of town—for $600 million. I don't think there's much left for the Chinese to buy down in Tassie, I'll be honest. We're not up for bloody sale. Major Australian brands, including Big M, Dairy Farmers, Pura, Berri and Daily Juice will be Chinese owned under the deal.

        Millions of Australians have questions that need answering on this, but we're so economically dependent on China—who puts all their eggs in one basket? The good thing is there are some of us up here that can't be blamed for that. There are two lots of parties to blame for that in here—one on either side: Liberal and Labor. The major parties have turned a blind eye. The tiny steps they have taken don't nearly match the scale of the problem. We're selling off Australian values for a quick buck. A third of Australian exports are China-bound. We ship out more than $120 billion in iron ore and coal exports to China and our universities—shame on them!—rake in over $32 billion from international students. They still keep propping them up. All up, we trade nearly $194 billion worth of goods and services between China and Australia—more than we trade with Japan and the United States combined. Who does that? Who leaves us in a position like that? All that money is making us complacent. There's no reason for us to be singularly focused on China.

        It's about time we developed a national strategy to handle this relationship. We have to start putting in more protections against China's attempts to influence our political processes. We have to pull back our economic reliance on them to buy up all our exports. We need to think more carefully about how much more we can share of our research and innovation. This government can and should be doing more to protect our way of life and our Australian values. They can and should protect Australia from the influence of communist China. We desperately, desperately need to start having these conversations now. I can tell you now we are chasing our tail. We are chasing our tail, and we will continue to do that, and that will get harder unless you stand up and be brave and show some courage.

        What's wrong with having these inquiries? What are you scared of? Not getting your brown paper bags with cash in them? Come on. You owe it to every Australian to have this conversation now. We need to know that the government has this under control, and you do not. We need to know that we have a plan for how to deal with this. At the moment it looks like you've taken your hands off the wheel. You have taken your hands off the wheel. It's been off that damn wheel for a long time. Labor and the coalition, I'm begging you, for the sake of this country, let's get this inquiry started. Let's get the ball rolling on this. Until we do, we're leaving our economy and our democracy exposed.

        6:54 pm

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

        It's times like these that I feel the only words that are appropriate are: politics makes for odd bedfellows on occasion. A more motley bunch of bedfellows supporting this motion, I suspect, you will never see in this place. But in lending my support to the motion, I include myself in that, because we are this strange crew, all concerned about the Chinese Communist Party's influence in Australia.

        Senator Farrell interjecting

        I note the rather unkind interjections about a former senator from Senator Farrell. I have something more to say about this, Senator Farrell, but—if I may, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—when Senator Farrell wasn't here, no-one said anything ill of him; it was all good will and light. Nonetheless, I shall not delay the Senate any longer. I commend this motion and I commend Senator Patrick for putting it up for the fifth time.

        6:55 pm

        Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

        Senator Bernardi caught me on the hop. I thought he was going to make a contribution to the debate. This is actually a very, very serious issue. I thank Senator Patrick for demonstrating the persistence he has in attempting to convince the major parties—or in fact either one of the major parties would be enough—to ensure that this parliament can adequately and comprehensively assess Australia's relationship with the Communist Party of China through the mechanism of a parliamentary inquiry.

        What the continued response of the major parties has been and will continue to be to these efforts by Senator Patrick shows us is in fact that both major parties in this place are riddled with CCP influence. It's not a claim that I make lightly, but it is a claim that is absolutely backed by evidence. There's abundant evidence. Senator Patrick went through some in his contribution; other senators went through some of it in their contributions. Ultimately, if you want to look for evidence, look at the vote that's about to happen in this place, where the two major parties will together vote no to a simple but important inquiry by this parliament and by its Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee.

        I say to the LNP and to the ALP: what are you worried about? What have you got to hide? If you haven't got any issues, you actually have nothing to worry about. We are in the ludicrous situation where the ALP have asked for briefings. They asked the government for briefings from security agencies. Government has said, 'No, you can't have briefings,' and Labor have once again fallen in a screaming heap and is refusing to stand up for our national interest. In fact, as Senator Patrick has just reminded the Senate, Labor to date have not even contributed to this debate and clearly have no intention of contributing to this debate. They have been gagged by the powerbrokers in their party, who know that Labor is riddled with CCP influence and we know that the LNP is riddled with CCP influence.

        Democracies are an incredible, robust, vibrant system of government, but they are like sponges. As water infiltrates into a sponge so can foreign influence infiltrate a democracy. We had the laughable situation yesterday—it would have been laughable if it weren't so serious—where we discovered that former Senator Nick Xenophon, who has now been engaged as the mouthpiece for Huawei, seemingly does not have to register under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. That's a scheme that was created relatively recently, in political terms, in order to, amongst other things, require that agents of a foreign influence register on an official government document. If Mr Xenophon is now going to act as a mouthpiece for Huawei—which, I might add, is effectively acting as a mouthpiece for the CCP—and he's not required to register under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, that scheme needs amending and it needs amending urgently.

        We're dealing here—in the CCP—with a government that has no regard for the rule of law. Their so-called justice system is actually a conviction factory. We've right now got Australian citizens in prison being tortured by the CCP, and the Australian government seems incapable of resolving that situation. We've got a young child who was recently found to be an Australian citizen of Uygur descent. The mother of that child has a visa to visit Australia, and the CCP will not allow them to leave China. And remember, Uygur children are often adopted out into CCP state-run adoption agencies, have their names changed and are adopted out to Han Chinese couples. That is what this young, Australian citizen baby is currently facing. We've got millions of Uygur people—some estimates put that number at over two million—locked up by the CCP in brainwashing camps or worse. In the middle of the last century, we saw a concerted effort to eradicate the Tibetan culture and many Tibetan people from the face of this earth. In the CCP, we are dealing with a government that does not respect the values of the rule of law, does not respect human rights, does not respect cultural integrity that is different from theirs and, ultimately, is exerting extreme influence in our country. And nowhere can you see that more than in my home state of Tasmania.

        The day before President Xi visited Tasmania in 2014, I predicted that he was coming to case the joint, and in fact that's just as it has turned out. So we need to have a serious look at our relationship with the CCP and the state of China. And that's what Senator Patrick is attempting to deliver here—a serious look at this issue through the mechanism of a parliamentary inquiry.

        But the LNP and the ALP—riddled with CCP influence as they are, riddled with dirty CCP money as they are—are going to collude, once again, to vote such an inquiry down. I'm telling you now, you're all standing on the wrong side of history here. History will be written one day. History will record those who stood up and tried to address this situation, and history will record those who rolled over and let the CCP tickle their collective bellies. And unfortunately, it remains the case that both major parties in this place will be on the wrong side of history.

        7:04 pm

        Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

        I thank the Senate crossbenchers for their contributions. I note that the government made a very small contribution—something like a minute—on this extremely important topic. That surprises me somewhat. I don't know whether the government and the opposition have noted this yet, but we are having a discussion about our relationship with China, except it's not including people from either of the major parties. Indeed, unfortunately at this point we're not receiving any contributions from academia, experts in trade, strategic experts or people familiar with the relationship—perhaps the Chinese government, the US government or Australian government officials. That's not happening. What we're getting, in effect, is silence. However, I will keep trying and keep debating this issue until such time as we get an inquiry up. I note that this is the fifth attempt I've made, this time with the support of all of the crossbench, in moving the motion. I note that the banking royal commission took 26 votes in order for the government to agree to it. I guess we have 21 more motions to go. Thank you.

        Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

        The question is that the reference to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee be agreed to.