The leader of Australia’s opposition party – and the country’s next possible leader – has come under scrutiny for visiting the home of a Chinese political donor months after his party was warned about the donor’s ties with Beijing.
Fairfax Media has reported that Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP), visited the home of wealthy Chinese Communist Party-linked political donor Huang Xiangmo in March 2016.
The report said Shorten and his family visited Huang at his affluent Sydney suburb of Mosman to seek donations for an advertising campaign.
The report said that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in 2015 warned the country’s three main political parties about Beijing’s interference in Australian politics using considerable financial donations. At the briefings, the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis reportedly told party officials – including the then ALP national secretary George Wright – that the country’s security service was alarmed about Huang’s murky ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
It is not clear if Wright told Shorten of these details before his visit to Huang’s home. ASIO personally briefed Shorten on their concerns over CCP interference in Australian politics in late 2016, months after he visited Huang’s home, reported Fairfax.
Shorten has not denied the report published Monday, Dec. 4, and sources told the newspaper that the ALP leader requested a “significant amount” from Huang.
The newspaper stated that since the 2015 ASIO briefing, the ALP has taken AU$141,000 (US$107,000) in donations from companies and associates linked to Huang. The coalition parties – the Liberal Party and the Nationals who currently run government – had also reportedly taken money. The Liberal Party took AU$122,960 (US$93,500) and the Nationals AU$15,000 (US$11,400) from those suspect sources.
Huang is a person of interest to Australian intelligence services because of his connections to the CCP, including how he was, until very recently, the head of a Sydney organization associated with the United Front Work Department — a CCP political lobbying and propaganda agency. Huang is also on record telling a Communist Party newspaper that “political demands and political donations” should be linked.
Sam Dastyari Under Fire
Monday’s report comes on the heels of other reports about one of Shorten’s party members, senator Sam Dastyari’s links with Huang. In those reports, Dastyari allegedly visited Huang at his home last year and warned the Chinese billionaire that his phone was likely being tapped by intelligence services, including those of the U.S. government.
Dastyari – who is seen as a factional ally and confidante of Shortens – has denied the allegations. The senator also received negative press last week over a 2016 speech he gave where he backed Beijing’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea went public. His comments were the complete opposite of his party’s policy on the issue.
At a press conference for Chinese language media, Dastyari made his remarks while standing next to Huang. Fairfax reported that Dastyari’s comments occurred a day after ALP defense spokesman Stephen Conroy openly castigated Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Conroy’s criticism resulted in Huang informing the ALP that he was withdrawing a promised AU$400,000 (US$303,900) donation for their 2016 election campaign.
Other aspects of the relationship between Dastyari and Huang were exposed last year as part of an in-depth investigation carried out by Fairfax and the ABC that revealed the extent of CCP interference in Australia’s political system and within the Chinese-Australian community.
The government will soon release new laws banning foreign donations and laws aimed at deterring foreign interference and espionage activities.
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