Australian Senator Resigns Amidst Ongoing China Controversy

Australian Senator Resigns Amidst Ongoing China Controversy
Australian Labor Party's Senator Sam Dastyari fronts the media in Sydney on Sept. 6, 2016, to make a public apology after asking a company with links to the Chinese Government to pay a bill incurred by his office. It was one of a number of mistakes that have piled up in relation to Dastyari’s links with Beijing that saw him resign on Dec. 12, 2017. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

An Australian senator has resigned due to pressure brought about by media reports on his links with a wealthy Chinese political donor and acts deemed favorable to the policies of China’s ruling Communist Party.

After mounting pressure, Australian Labor Party (ALP) senator Sam Dastyari announced his resignation from federal parliament on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

"I know Australia needs a Labor government and I refuse to let my personal situation put that prospect at risk. I have always put the pursuit of the Labor cause first," Dastyari said reported Fairfax Media.

"Reflecting on the events which led to my decision, I leave knowing that I've always honored my parliamentary oath," he said.

Dastyari’s steady fall from grace began last year after he resigned from a frontbench position when it became known that he had a large legal bill paid by Yuhu Group property developers and admitted he asked a Chinese government-linked group to pay a personal travel debt of A$1,670 (US$1,280), reported the BBC.
The legal billed paid was for A$40,000 (US$30,000), reported the ABC.

More recently, pressured ramped up on the 34-year-old senator when he allegedly advised the owner of the Yuhu Group, billionaire Huang Xiangmo, that his phone was likely being tapped by intelligence services, including those of the U.S. government.

Dastyari denied the claims first made in Fairfax.

Multiple reports followed over further links with Huang, a Chinese Communist Party-linked political donor, and reports of actions that were more in line with Beijing policy than that of Dastyari's own Australian Labor Party.

Dastyari also recently received negative press over a 2016 speech in which he publicly backed Beijing’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea. His comments, made while standing next to Huang, were the complete opposite of his party’s and the country’s stance on the issue.
More recently, Dastyari reportedly pressured his own party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, not to see a democracy activist in Hong Kong, reported Fairfax on Monday. Dastyari denied these claims as well.

Huang Xiangmo

But Huang’s involvement in Australia’s political behavior didn’t end with Dastyari.

An earlier report by Fairfax Media said that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in October 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 that the country’s security service was alarmed about Huang’s murky ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Fairfax 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 Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China which has ties to 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.

On Tuesday, the ABC reported that Huang paid $55,000 to have lunch with ALP leader Bill Shorten on October 5, 2015. The donation was made on October 20 and the next day Shorten dropped his opposition to the China-Australia trade deal, reported the ABC.
In a later report, the ABC further revealed the extent of money paid on 13 separate occasions by four companies owned by Huang to Australia’s two main political parties, the ALP and the ruling conservative Liberal Party. The donations ranged from $10,000 to $55,000.

Political Donations

Former ALP leader Kim Beazley said Dastyari was "on a spectrum" of politicians apparently influenced by foreign powers, reported Fairfax.

"This guy is just the most comprehensive example of what is an across-the-board pattern and that includes a lot of donations to both sides of politics," said Beazley.

According to an analysis by the Melbourne Law School Dollars and Democracy Database provided to The New Daily, political donations with links to mainland China represented 79.3 percent of all foreign donations.

The analysis reported that between 2000-2016, Chinese nationals and entities donated over A$12.6 million (US$9.5 million) to the Australian political process. Researchers also found during this period, the ALP’s political bodies were more popular with Chinese donors, receiving A$7.3 million (US$5.5 million) since 2000-01, while the Coalition received about A$5.4 million (US$4.0 million).

The ongoing concerns about Beijing’s inferring in domestic politics have resulted in the federal government introducing tougher foreign interference laws.
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