More than a dozen Australian senators voted Tuesday calling for an investigation into Australia’s relationship with China, with one politician saying that Australia is a “sitting duck” to foreign influence from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“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,” Jacqui Lambie, an independent Australian senator, said late Tuesday in response to a motion to start a Senate inquiry into Australian’s relationship with China.
The motion, led by crossbencher Rex Patrick, was supported by all the other crossbenchers: Senators Lambie, Stirling Griff, Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Roberts, and Cory Bernardi. Senators from the Greens party also supported the motion.
The motion, which required a 23 majority vote to pass, failed at 15 votes. No senators from Australia’s two major political parties—the Liberal and Labor parties—indicated their support. A total of 38 votes were cast against the motion.
Patrick said that the inquiry should examine all aspects of Australia’s relationship with China, including trade relations between the two countries, Chinese investment in Australia’s infrastructure and agriculture, and the influence and alleged interference in Australia, which includes the CCP-linked activities in Australian university campuses, as well as the CCP’s role in cyberattacks.
Prior to the vote, Lambie accused the Liberal and Labor parties of lacking the courage to protect Australia from Chinese foreign influence, saying that such parties have not only been influenced by money from the CCP, but also have been responsible for Australia’s economic dependence on China.
Both Lambie and Patrick noted how Duncan Lewis, the former Director General of Security at the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), told Nine newspapers in November that the CCP is seeking to take over Australia’s political systems through “insidious” foreign interference investigations.
“It’s about time the people in this place woke up to China’s attempts to infiltrate our economy and our democracy,” Lambie said, later adding, “Everyone knows that the communist Chinese government uses money to influence our political processes.”
Lambie cited multiple examples of such alleged attempts, including a case earlier this year where AU$100,000 ($68,284) in cash was donated to the New South Wales Labor party that became part of an investigation by the state’s corruption watchdog.
“Now we’ve heard that Chinese attempts to infiltrate our politics go even further … They’re not just trying to influence politicians with money; they’re trying to get elected to sit in this chamber … wherever they can buy or get seats in the Australian parliament, they’re coming,” Lambie said. “There are no security checks, there’s little to stop it from happening. It’s absolutely beyond shocking.”
“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,” Lambie added. “Nothing’s been proven but it’s really concerning … I think we all know what’s going on here.”
Bo “Nick” Zhao, a Melbourne luxury car dealer, was found dead in a Melbourne motel room in March. His death is under investigation. Zhao had earlier told ASIO that he was offered “a seven-figure sum” to run for a seat in Australia’s federal parliament.
“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,” Lambie said.
“This is an existential threat to our society, and Australians are scared,” she later said. “They’re scared that our country is being bought up … it is being bought up.”
Patrick noted how the Director General of Security Mike Burgess “couldn’t bring himself to actually name” China last week when he announced an ASIO investigation into allegations that the CCP tried to implant Zhao into Canberra.
“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,” Patrick said. “But it is a worrying thing when debate in this parliament is politically constipated for fear of reaction from Beijing.”
On trade, Lambie expressed disappointment and said that Liberal and Labor parties have failed to manage Australia’s economic dependence on China.
“The major parties have turned a blind eye … We’re selling off Australian values for a quick buck,” she said. “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.
“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.”
Prior to the vote, the Greens’ Senator Nick McKim said that the Liberal and Labor parties were “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,” McKim added.
“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.”