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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9862

Foreign Donations


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:10): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. Yesterday the Prime Minister finally announced long-overdue reforms to foreign donation laws, including bans on foreign donations, a move Labor has been advocating for years. Can the minister confirm that the coalition has voted on at least three occasions, including twice in 2009 and again in 2010, to defeat laws to ban foreign donations?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:10): No, I can't confirm that, Senator Farrell. You may be right, but I would have to check the record. But the fact is, Senator Farrell, we're not interested. The Australian public aren't interested in what may have happened eight or nine years ago. They're interested in what's happening today. They're interested in the fact that one of your colleagues who sits behind you on the opposition benches, Senator Dastyari, has been suborned by a foreign influence. Given the opportunity to deny the allegations made by credible journalists, that he was suborned by Mr Huang Xiangmo, he declined to deny those allegations.

The fact is that Mr Shorten, in failing to take decisive action to tell Senator Dastyari that he is no longer welcome in the Labor caucus, has shown his weakness yet again. He has shown his weakness yet again. Why might that be, Senator Farrell? Might it be that Mr Shorten owes his position to Senator Dastyari, just as, if I may draw a comparison, Kristina Keneally owed her premiership to Mr Eddie Obeid? You would know more than me about the ecology of the Labor factions, I suppose, Senator Farrell, but you would know that they are all bound together by these unpleasant relationships of power, dependency and influence. That is why Mr Shorten is just too weak to take the action that the Australian people are demanding in relation to a man who has allowed himself, for whatever motives, to be used as a Chinese agent of influence, to overturn your own party's policy. He is still welcome in the Labor caucus. Senator Farrell, that is a disgrace.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, a supplementary question.



Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:12): Can the minister confirm that, at the same time the coalition was voting against laws to ban foreign donations, Mr Turnbull was accepting donations from the US based Fortress Investment Group, a 'vulture company' which foreclosed on victims of Hurricane Katrina?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:13): No, I don't know that. I've never heard that said before. I will make some inquiries, but what I'm sure those inquiries will reveal is that all the donations received from corporate donors on my side of politics have been compliant with the disclosure obligations and other obligations under the Commonwealth Electoral Act. My side of politics takes donations from businessmen, including Chinese businessmen, and we make sure that they are disclosed. But the fact is that we have arrived at the view that the influence of foreign money on Australian politics, mediated through political parties and other third-party actors, has become a serious problem, and we are taking action to address it.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Farrell, a final supplementary question.



Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:14): Is the reason the Prime Minister has delayed banning foreign political donations, for over a year now, that he has received more than $1 million from Chinese donors?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:14): Senator Farrell, that is absolutely wrong. Far from having delayed, we have moved on this. The Prime Minister commissioned the policy work on this as long ago as August last year. In May of this year, he wrote to me and he wrote to Senator Cormann's predecessor as Special Minister of State—your good self, Mr President—to ask for the legislation to be prepared. By the way, it was legislation to deal with the problem of foreign money coming into and influencing not just Australian politics and Australian elections but also other vectors of influence, like the kind of influence we saw being exercised through your colleague Senator Sam Dastyari, to criminalise that sort of conduct. That is because the Australian political system and the Australian electoral system need to have integrity protected, not just from foreign money but from all of the other forms of foreign influence as well. This government has moved to do something about it. (Time expired)