Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Huang out to dry
Political donors have too much influence


Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s calls for Scott Morrison to do something (it is not clear what) about revelations on last night’s Four Corners that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had a private meeting with Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo are not so surprising. Firstly, Turnbull does not need much encouragement to pick a fight with Dutton, who wrecked his prime ministership. Secondly, there are few lasting achievements Turnbull can lay claim to after his three years in office, but attempting to “reset” Australia’s relations with China by pushing back on foreign interference is one of them. If Dutton is undermining Turnbull’s legacy by having questionable dealings with Chinese donors, then Turnbull will have a natural urge to wade in and defend it. Whether former prime ministers should always give in to those urges is another question, and it raises the prospect that Turnbull will be a constant presence throughout the looming election – a friendly rather than miserable ghost, perhaps.

Aspects of last night’s Four Corners report were alarming, particularly revelations that Huang had former LNP minister Santo Santoro on an expensive retainer and used him to lobby his onetime factional ally Dutton, then immigration minister, to try to obtain citizenship, although he was ultimately unsuccessful. Former senator Sam Dastyari’s tweet last night, “I resigned for less”, was damning. On the other hand, there are a range of reasons why the Australian-owned Chinese-language media organisation Vision China Times could have trouble selling ads. While the Chinese consulate’s efforts to stop Georges River City Council doing a sponsorship deal with the paper are concerning, without evidence of widespread Chinese interference in local government, this may be a one-off.

Dutton said [$] it was all a beat-up and it was unremarkable that he had a private lunch with Huang: “He was a significant leader within the Chinese community. I was the immigration minister. There is nothing unusual in that at all. That’s the facts. Again, strip it back to the facts and tell me what the allegation is.” Turnbull today said the meeting was troubling for anyone concerned that “our politics is not influenced by foreign actors, and that our politics and political decisions and access is not available to be hawked around in the way that it is alleged it was”. It had to be “addressed at the highest level of security, priority, urgency by the prime minister,” Turnbull said.

This afternoon, Morrison said that he had spoken to Dutton, and that “there are no issues here that troubled me. No suggestion that Peter in any way, shape or form has a sort or been provided with any benefit here. The individual we’re talking about here had his visa cancelled while he was out of the country by Peter Dutton’s department, so if the object was foreign interference, well, the exact opposite has occurred.” But the government is clearly jumpy: in Senate Estimates this morning, chair Ian Macdonald reportedly shut down questions about Dutton and suspended hearings four times. 

Banning foreign donations is not enough. The real takeout is to underscore yet again the importance of thoroughgoing political-donations reform along the lines advocated by the Greens – banning donations from corrupting industries, and capping all donations at $1000 – as well as instituting a properly resourced national integrity commission with all the powers it needs to compel witnesses and conduct public hearings. Let’s deal with the problem at source, once and for all.


“Coalition MPs appear to have strongarmed the Environment Minister into granting Adani access to Queensland’s precious groundwater on the eve of the election … If the minister was pressured to rush through this approval before the election, that may open such a decision to legal challenge.”

Christian Slattery, Stop Adani campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation, responds to federal Environment Minister Melissa Price’s approval of Adani’s groundwater management plan.


“I am Captain GetUp the truth crusader. After 14 years of secret backroom deals they are finally letting me out of the office for this election campaign. My mission is to show the world what clever tricks we use behind the scenes to increase political correctness and manipulate voters.”

The talking points for “truth crusader” Captain GetUp, a mock superhero unveiled by conservative lobby group Advance Australia, who will tour marginal seats and made his first appearance in Tony Abbott’s seat of Warringah today.

The Number

The number of years it took the federal government to decide to ignore the key recommendation of a Senate inquiry on superbugs.

The Policy

“When it comes to delivering more fibre in the NBN there is no quick fix, and Labor will not make promises it can’t keep. To position for the future, Labor will direct NBNCo to undertake trials of fibre upgrades to validate costs and assess co-investment mechanisms to deliver targeted upgrades over the medium term.”

The list

“Like the political predilection for being photographed wearing hardhats and hi-vis, pretending that people have a choice between jobs and the environment is a very old, and usually very effective, piece of political messaging. As a bumper sticker reportedly seen in Townsville read, ‘Don’t take my job and I won’t take your soy latte.’ It also speaks to the enduring mythology that surrounds the coal industry, and the assumption that its significance to the economy means what is good for coal is good for Australia.” 


“Reports have shown that the CCP is systematically silencing critics in Australia and co-opting Chinese-language media here to present favourable views. The party is ‘astroturfing’ grassroots political movements to give the impression of Chinese community support for Beijing’s policies and leaders, while drowning out opponents. CCP-linked organisations are crowding out independent opportunities for ethnic Chinese political representation. They are channelling business and other professional opportunities to retired politicians and other influential Australians.” 


“Peter Phelps first saw the clip in a South Park meme, posted in a closed Young Liberals Facebook group. A former Howard government staffer, once employed by hard-right senator Eric Abetz, Phelps understood the import immediately: here was Labor’s New South Wales leader, Michael Daley, saying on camera that ‘young people from typically Asia with PhDs’ were taking Australian jobs and forcing people out of Sydney. Phelps’s next move was simple. He went looking for the original tape. Were it not for the fact it changed the course of the NSW election campaign, it would scarcely be worth reporting.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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