Australian Senator Slammed for Surveillance Tip-Off to Chinese Billionaire

By James Burke
James Burke
James Burke
November 29, 2017 Updated: November 29, 2017

The loyalty of an Australian senator has been publicly questioned by the country’s prime minister after media reports revealed he warned a Beijing-linked benefactor that his phone was likely being tapped by intelligence services.

Australia’s Fairfax Media reported on Nov. 29 that Sam Dastyari, a senator with the opposition Australian Labor Party, told wealthy Chinese Communist Party-linked political donor Huang Xiangmo that he was likely to be under surveillance, by government agencies, including those of the U.S. government.

According to reports, Dastyari met face to face with Huang at the Chinese billionaire’s mansion in the affluent Sydney suburb of Mosman last year. Dastyari advised Huang to leave their phones inside while they went outside to talk. Along with informing Huang about surveillance, Fairfax reported an official source saying that the Australian senator blamed the U.S. government for the scandal that he and Huang had been caught up in last year.

Several weeks before the meeting, Dastyari was forced to quit a Labor frontbench position after his links with Huang were revealed. Among the revelations were how Huang paid a $5,000 (US$3,792) legal bill for Dastyari and how he had asked Dastyari to act on his behalf in attaining Australian citizenship, a process that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) put on hold due to security concerns.

Huang is a person of interest to Australian intelligence services because of his connections to the Chinese Communist Party (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 CCP newspaper that “political demands and political donations” should be linked.

The revelations about the Dastyari-Huang meeting has increased pressure on the Iranian-born politician, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull questioning his loyalty.

“Whose side is Senator Dastyari on? Not Australia’s it seems,” said Turnbull according to the ABC.

Other high-ranking government officials have said likewise, with Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop accusing Dastyari of “actively seeking to thwart” a potential intelligence investigation.

Bishop said that Dastyari must publicly reveal “each and every discussion he had with his Chinese benefactor.”

“Senator Dastyari was acting against Australia’s national interest and against Australia’s national security concerns. That would make his position as a senator untenable,” she said.

Attorney-General George Brandis – who has responsibility for ASIO – said the most recent reports about Dastyari raises a series of serious questions.

“And one has to ask the question: why would anyone acting in good faith warn a benefactor to have a conversation consistent with engaging in counter-surveillance activity?” Brandis asked. “Why would an innocent person do that? What was he trying to hide?”

So far, Dastyari has denied the allegations and explained to Fairfax why he met with Huang during the time in question.

“After the events of last year, I spoke to Mr Huang to tell him that I did not think it was appropriate that we have future contact. I thought it was a matter of common courtesy to say this face to face,” said Dastyari.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has criticized his party colleague.

“I have made it clear to Senator Dastyari that this is not the first time his judgement has been called into question, but I certainly expect it to be the last,” Shorten said, reported the ABC.

Meanwhile, Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said he had no concern about Dastyari’s loyalty to the country and called it a “whole lot of innuendo.” Albanese said that Huang has also been photographed with ruling conservative-Liberal party figures including Turnbull and past Australian leader Tony Abbott.

The relationship between Dastyari and Huang was 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.

In response to the investigative reports, the government said it has planned to create laws to counter interference from Beijing and other state-players.

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James Burke