The Politics    Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Espionage and clandestine interference

By Nick Feik


Bob Carr and questions about Chinese influence

It would be easy to write a column about Barnaby Joyce accepting $150,000 for an interview exposing his private life (after he earlier complained to the Australian Press Council that his private life had been exposed). But this is probably all that needs to be said: he is profiting from his parliamentary profile – receiving about twice the average working Australian’s annual income – to talk about something he refused to discuss at the appropriate time. Coalition colleague Kelly O’Dwyer was right this morning: “Most Australians are pretty disgusted by it.”

Something much more intriguing snuck into the news cycle in the past 24 hours. Fairfax reporters Nick McKenzie and Nick O’Malley wrote that “Former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr is using ALP senator Kristina Keneally to quiz the prime minister and senior officials about Malcolm Turnbull’s key former adviser on Beijing’s espionage and interference operations in Australia.”

They alleged that Carr had “asked Senator Keneally to use parliament to find out details of the employment, job title, and contract of government adviser John Garnaut,” because Garnaut (formerly of Fairfax, as it happens) was tasked by the prime minister “to conduct a highly classified inquiry with ASIO into Beijing’s clandestine activities in Australia”. Garnaut had contributed to a document that reportedly stated “that the Communist Party has attempted to compromise Australia’s major political parties for the past decade”.

“China’s activities have become so brazen and so aggressive that we can’t ignore it any longer,” Garnaut later said to a US government committee, and we can assume that’s what the report concluded too.

The top-secret report was one of the reasons why the foreign interference laws were introduced into parliament last year.

Why, if McKenzie and O’Malley are correct (and there’s no reason to assume they’re not), would Bob Carr want to dig into this?

Carr’s Australia China Relations Institute at UTS, generally thought to be pro-China, has received generous funding from businessman Huang Xiangmo, who, according to ASIO, is one of the two major Chinese donors in Australia (along with Chau Chak Wing, also a UTS supporter, named last week by Andrew Hastie). ASIO has been warning political figures on all sides since at least October 2015 about the opaque connections of these two to the Chinese Communist Party and that these associations may be linked to their donation activity. Needless to say, ASIO’s warnings were made because Australian politicians were accepting such large Chinese donations: these two men arranged donations of around $6.7 million to the Liberal, Labor and National parties over a decade. Not to mention millions to other local organisations and institutions.

The Fairfax report presents serious problems for Bob Carr and the ALP. Carr has reportedly asked a former colleague, Senator Kristina Keneally, who then involved another ALP senator, Kimberly Kitching, to use Senate Estimates to try to compel government bureaucrats to reveal what are essentially intelligence-related questions about a staffer in the PM’s office who is presumed to be working still with ASIO. (For the record, Carr denies “drafting” the questions categorically.)

Two things are worth noting here: first, that the federal government would also be uncomfortable at the airing of these developments, and by Carr’s alleged queries. In general, they have spent much energy assuring the Chinese government recently that Australia is a welcoming friend.

Second, after Andrew Hastie dropped Chau Chak Wing’s name under parliamentary privilege, it was said that Turnbull’s office hadn’t been pre-warned. But ASIO had. It’s a big game of shadows.

Australians across the business and political spectrum are caught in the headlights: on the one hand greedy for the benefits of a good relationship with China, on the other unwilling to accept that it comes with strings attached. Of course it does. And there’s no easy way to resolve this tension.

since this morning

Tony Abbott has attacked [$] energy minister Josh Frydenberg over plans to take the detail of the NEG legislation to COAG before Coalition MPs would have a chance to vote on it.

Barnaby Joyce says it was partner Vikki Campion who sold their interview after privacy invasions. Not his fault. He’s as pure as the driven snow.

in case you missed it

Peter Hartcher has some interesting background tidbits on why the $10 billion sale of electricity distributor Ausgrid to a Chinese-dominated partnership was blocked two years ago.

A report by the Productivity Commission has slammed the performance and transparency of the $2.6 trillion superannuation industry. Greg Jericho breaks it down.

The Turnbull government has set a June 28 deadline to decide its two major tax reform packages in a hard line on negotiations in the Senate.

A Wilderness Society analysis of government data casts shade on the effectiveness of the Coalition’s Direct Action climate policy.

by Don Watson
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The financial services royal commission has revealed more than anyone banked on

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Truth bombs are disarmed by the nuclear family in Diablo Cody’s latest film

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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