The Politics    Friday, September 13, 2019

Another Liu blow

By Russell Marks

Member for Chisholm Gladys Liu. © Lukas Coch / AAP Image

What does the scandal surrounding Gladys Liu tell us about Australian politics?

Revelations today that embattled Member for Chisholm Gladys Liu failed [$] to declare a $39,675 donation to the Liberal Party’s Victorian division three years ago have contributed to the already considerable controversy surrounding her. Depending on the lens you’re using, Liu is either a potential agent of foreign influence or a victim of a “grubby” partisan attack that verges on racist.

The Labor Party, the crossbenchers in the lower house (including former soldier and intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie), Professor Clive Hamilton and Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, among others, have expressed deep concern about links Liu may have to the Chinese Communist Party. The ABC reported this week that in February 2018 then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was advised by intelligence services against attending a “meet and greet” organised by Liu on the basis of the event’s guest list, which included “about 30 names from the Chinese community”. At that time Liu was valuable to the Liberal Party as a fundraiser, and in her internal endorsement application she claimed to have raised more than $1 million. The Herald Sun reported [$] that unnamed Victorian Liberal Party figures had told the paper that the party had been warned by unidentified “men in grey suits” against pre-selecting Liu because of concerns about her CCP links.

This advice is consistent with outgoing ASIO boss Duncan Lewis’s warnings about the “existential” threat to Australia posed by “foreign interference” from other states – mostly China and Russia. It’s impossible to independently assess the extent of these threats, though Lewis has no particular reputation for catastrophising, and ASIO’s record since Lewis was appointed director-general in 2014 has been largely uncontroversial. ASIO’s is hardly an unblemished record of political neutrality, though, and this is also a period during which national security laws have made it increasingly difficult for journalists to report on intelligence agencies.

The fear is that Liu is potentially acting as an agent of influence for the CCP in line with its policy of huaren canzheng, or “ethnic Chinese participation in politics overseas”, detailed in a secret report ordered by Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 into the extent of foreign interference. It reportedly claimed that the CCP had for at least a decade been trying to influence and infiltrate Australian political parties, and had succeeded. The report informed new laws that since December last year have required people acting on behalf of “foreign principals” in Australian politics to register and detail their activities on a public website.

Liu’s personal background and her efforts to navigate what are clearly significant challenges – she is Australia’s first Chinese migrant in federal parliament – complicates this picture. Liu was born in British Hong Kong and left for Australia in her very early 20s, well before Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule. She became a speech pathologist and worked for the Victorian Education Department for 14 years; she also ran restaurants and a chemist and advised two Victorian premiers. In June this year Liu reportedly [$] asked Duncan Lewis for ASIO’s help vetting anyone asking to meet her, and in July she publicly lauded [$] anti-CCP protesters in Hong Kong. In the now-infamous interview with Andrew Bolt this week she attempted to explain an apparent practice among Chinese associations of nominating well-known individuals to honorary positions without their knowledge, and she did endorse Australia’s position on the South China Sea. None of these statements would have been easy for Liu to make, given the potential for backlash among the 23,000 Chisholm residents who were born in mainland China.

Former foreign minister Gareth Evans, who is now chancellor of the Australian National University, and who therefore has an interest in promoting Australian education to international students, yesterday lamented the “bamboo ceiling” during a speech at the Asian-Australian Leadership Summit. Evans said the coverage of the allegations around Liu is symptomatic of a “current environment of hyper-anxiety” about CCP influence, which is “making it harder than it has ever been for Chinese Australians to aspire to leadership positions”.

Assessing the basis of fears around Liu is made even more difficult given the various interests held by all players in the debate. It may be that Liu is guilty of little more than a failure to disclose a large donation to the Liberal Party and an overly naive approach to fundraising and politics, or there may be something rather more sinister at work: her failure to declare her affiliations with several CCP-linked associations certainly hasn’t helped. But Australian suspicion of China is running high – it clearly preoccupies government, media and popular culture – and sits discordant against the apparent regularity with which Australian politicians accept donations, travel and meeting requests from Chinese individuals with alleged CCP links. If there’s a story about CCP influence here, it’s likely to be much, much bigger than Gladys Liu.

“I certainly hadn’t thought that Andrew Bolt would be a great fit for the ABC.”

Ita Buttrose says Prime Minister Scott Morrison placed no conditions on her accepting the role of ABC chair after his captain’s pick, and that even if he had, she wasn’t about to bring Bolt back to Insiders.

“Stop obsessing about the NAPLAN test and start obsessing about the NAPLAN results.”

Dan Tehan joins a distinguished list of federal education ministers who ignore consistent complaints among educators about the standardised testing of school students.

Holding onto Gladys Liu
As some backbenchers express doubt that Gladys Liu can stay in parliament, Scott Morrison is digging in behind his MP. Paul Bongiorno on the foreign influence scandals engulfing Canberra.

The amount that the Morrison government handed retail giant Wesfarmers on May 17, 2019 – the day before the election – in a non-competitive grant from the controversial Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

Bad apples

Live exports have again been under fire this week as footage emerged that allegedly shows Australian cattle being slaughtered inhumanely in Indonesia, and as a shipment of 5000 cattle to China was halted pending an investigation into possible ear-tag tampering.

The list

“A common tenet of the short story form is that it has no time to spare, and for this reason a story often commences as far into the action as possible, pushing up close to a single moment of reckoning. For Anton Chekhov this meant throwing away the first half of the story. For Kurt Vonnegut it resulted in a command that one begin as close to the end as possible. Josephine Rowe, in her second collection, Here Until August, tests this rule to marked effect.”

“An outback tour is not a luxury cruise. A cruise liner gives the impression that everything is taken care of, and available. This is impossible when you’re the sole driver/guide, and it doesn’t make for a good experience anyway. I prefer to give the illusion of barely contained chaos. It contributes to people’s sense of adventure and togetherness. When it’s going well, it will feel like you’re the captain of a pirate ship.”

“Five minutes into our interview Lebo M breaks into song, a famous line, one I first heard 25 years ago, sitting in a crowded cinema with my parents. The sun rose over an animated African savannah, and the animals, all from different links of the food chain, slowly made their way to Pride Rock.” 

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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