Politics

The view from Billinudgel

How good is Gladys Liu?
Scott Morrison ducks and weaves questions about the embattled MP

Member for Chisholm Gladys Liu and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: Facebook

According to Scott Morrison, Gladys Liu is the most innocent of innocent bystanders – a naive and trusting citizen, embroiled in a brutal conspiracy engineered by the evil inquisitors of the Labor Party.

The worst that can be said is that she stumbled (or more likely was entrapped) during an interview in which she was a little clumsy about her relationship with Chinese Communist Party–associated bodies working in Australia. But she has issued a statement (or had it issued for her) clearing all that up, so nothing to see here.

What’s more, she used to run restaurants and a pharmacy, and plays the trombone. Gladys Liu is a great Australian, so all together now, once more with feeling – how good is Gladys Liu?

Well, not quite as good as ScoMo’s fulsome tribute suggests. Far from being a hapless victim, Liu is a savvy and experienced political operative, and has been years. She sought Liberal preselection a number of times, and perhaps more importantly has been an energetic and highly successful fundraiser, reportedly delivering more than a million dollars to her grateful party, even if some of that may not have been properly disclosed.

As chairperson of the Victorian Liberal Party’s Eastern Multicultural Branch, she sought to ease investment rules to allow more scope for foreign investment in Australian agriculture. There have been reports, which have not been denied, that ASIO has investigated her links with Beijing.

None of this makes her in any way disloyal, but it does prompt legitimate queries over her suitability to be a member of the federal parliament – after all, others have faced similar scrutiny and in some cases have been forced to step down. And, initially at least, all Labor sought to do was to have Liu give a coherent explanation to the House of her position.

Morrison would have none of it, and, when he could not brush the problem away, played the race card: Liu was being subjected to a grubby smear campaign that wouldn’t have happened were she not Chinese, and as a result Labor’s campaign was an attack on the entire Chinese-Australian community.

Unsurprisingly, Labor hit back: it was Morrison who invoked race, they said. When a reporter asked Morrison to explain why it was racist for Labor to question Liu’s connections to China, but not racist for Scott Morrison to call Sam Dastyari (who eventually resigned amid growing concern over his links to China) “Shanghai Sam”, Morrison, as is his wont, denied ever having done so, despite it being an easily demonstrable fact.

All of this was diversion, distraction, prevarication – of course. But it worked. By being lured into Morrison’s chosen ground, Labor had lost the argument. If Morrison is good at anything (and there is not much, but one thing’s enough) he is the undisputed master of spin, the great practitioner of evasion and deception.

The debate is no longer about what Liu may or may not have done; it is about whether her interrogators are xenophobic, even racist. They are not, and even some of Morrison’s closest allies – think Andrew Bolt – believe that Liu still faces questions that should be answered.

But they won’t be: Morrison has the numbers. How good is that?

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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