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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9304


Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (10:20): I rise to take note of the statement in relation to Senator Dastyari resigning his position as deputy whip in the context of a number of media reports where he has acknowledged a fundamental lack of judgement in his engagement with the Chinese community in Sydney. We've heard the government response that people in this place should be accountable for their behaviour. I think it is entirely appropriate that senators are accountable for their behaviour, and I believe that Senator Dastyari has made that undertaking himself today. That proposition, of course, would be so much stronger if the government itself were able to uphold those principles with regard to the behaviour of the Prime Minister, the behaviour of the Attorney-General and the behaviour of many other ministers in this government. It would be a so much stronger proposition if it were clear that the government was beyond reproach when it came to the question of its dealings and financial relationships with donors. I think Senator Wong made the point that the issue around the integrity of our political system has been crying out for redress.

Senator Farrell: We've got a bill.

Senator KIM CARR: And a bill has been presented by the Labor Party to ban foreign donations—a bill which the government has failed to respond to. It is a proposition, a policy position, that the Labor Party will implement in government, which I trust won't be too far away. It would be, of course, a much stronger position for the government to maintain in terms of its criticisms of others in this place if the Prime Minister himself, just last week, had not dined with Mr Liu Xiaodong, a wealthy Chinese benefactor of the Liberal National Party in Queensland who provided $40,000 to the Liberal National Party's campaign in Queensland. It would be a much stronger case if the government had not, in the past, been subject to criticisms with regard to education. I see the education minister is with us today. I recall only too well the matter of the Top Education Institute, where Minshen Zhu had provided very substantial financial support to the Liberal Party and had sought changes to the visa arrangements, the policy position on automatic entry of students from China, under a Liberal government. It was a policy position which we opposed. I opposed it as minister—I was briefed quite extensively by the department—on the basis that that policy position would seriously undermine the quality assurance regime of our education institutions, but it was granted by this government. The SVP arrangements were shown to be such a circumstance. If one wants to talk about security implications when colleges are able to import students very much under their own supervision, one would have to ask a question or two. But of course that wasn't the issue that was ever raised in regard to this circumstance. It is quite clear that the Liberal Party would be in a much stronger position to criticise others if they had acted consistently.

Let's take the case of the Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Mr Laundy, who has received very substantial assistance from a Chinese benefactor. As reported in a Chinese media article, he has allowed a Mr Yang to act as an adviser and representative for him and provide advice. Mr Laundy has, in turn, appeared alongside Mr Yang waving Chinese and Korean flags, criticising the position of this government and supporting the Chinese position in regard to what his consultant has said about the position of the Chinese government on a number of foreign policy matters. So the Liberal Party's position would be so much stronger if it was more consistent.

It would also be more consistent, I would have thought, if this government wasn't itself the subject of some pretty serious questions about its misjudgement. The Prime Minister, I'm reminded, has sought to use the police on a number of occasions now. I'm reminded of the circumstances of the election night, where the Prime Minister told the entire country that he thought there ought to be a police investigation into the Labor Party over the Labor Party's campaign on Medicare. He, of course, was a man of great Liberal principles who came to office and this parliament as a man who was committed to these great Liberal principles. He then was part of a government that had three Labor leaders before royal commissions, costing many, many millions of dollars—Kevin Rudd on a pink batts royal commission, a $20 million display of vindictiveness; the trade union royal commission, a $45 million display of vindictiveness directed at Bill Shorten; and the royal commission with Julia Gillard about her time with Slater and Gordon.

We've had a government that feels it's quite reasonable to have police raids on national union offices, as we saw with Senator Cash. This is a government that doesn't seem to mind using the police. Minister Cash never managed under normal parliamentary conventions to come forward with some pretty simple propositions in regard to her behaviour and actions in these events Of course all of this was done in the context of the full blare of media publicity and the full blare of a police raid on a union office in the run-up to an opinion poll survey. We remember the situation in the last election campaign when we had police raids on leaders of the Labor Party—shadow ministers, in that case. The deputy leader in the Senate had the temerity to criticise the leader of the Liberal Party over the NBN in the full public glare, with television cameras on. Advisers' homes were raided—again in the full glare of publicity. And the Privileges Committee said that the AFP's actions constituted improper interference in the work of a senator. So we've got a pattern of behaviour here with this government's use of the media and use of state apparatus to try to belittle opponents.

If we want to talk about judgement, we can talk about this Prime Minister's judgement. We can talk about the circumstances of today. Why are we debating this today, when Senator O'Sullivan—who is Acting Deputy President at the moment—was going to have a bill before this chamber on a bank royal commission? What happened to that bill? The Prime Minister got his instructions from the banks, and I've got no doubt that they've got their terms of reference already drawn up. So we have the circumstance where the cabinet met this morning—and isn't it better to talk about this than to talk about what's going on inside the government?

Senator Brandis was very jovial in his reference to the National Party—very jovial indeed—but they've spent a lot of time putting the skids under Senator O'Sullivan's proposal for an inquiry into the banks. Isn't it much better for this sort of matter to be discussed than to be discussing what's happened with the government's backflip on that matter? So that is the circumstance. The government is desperate for a distraction. The government's only too happy to look to any possibility of a distraction. In the context of the government having form in election campaigns of using whatever desperate measures they can find, I think I'm entitled to ask: if the government are consistent about assessing people's behaviour, they ought to be consistent in assessing their own behaviour.

I think it's of interest—and Senator Wong made reference to this—that Fairfax Media reported this morning, and it's in yesterday's press as well:

Fairfax Media has confirmed that intelligence collected by national security officials corroborates that Senator Dastyari planned to make the comments before he delivered them …

That's a direct quote. I have absolutely no reservations in saying that I have enormous regard for Mr Duncan Lewis, the head of ASIO. I have dealt with him for many years. He is a person of utmost integrity and a person I have the very highest regard for. But I find it extraordinary that there are a number of references to security agencies in these reports when it is unusual, to say the least, for security agencies—and I don't specify which ones; I emphasise that—to engage in domestic political activity. If those reports are accurate, I think the Attorney-General has some other responsibilities as well. If we want to assess character and we want to have an assessment of judgement, then what's going on with these reports? What is the provenance of this information? We have not seen any transcripts. We have not actually seen any information that goes to the detail of these claims. We've seen media reports, electronic and printed, citing references to security officials. What's the Attorney-General or the security tsar, Mr Dutton, doing in regard to this intervention? I repeat: what sort of judgement allows that to go on?

There is a broader question here. Going again to questions of judgement, the Prime Minister has suggested the proposition, which we heard reflected again here by conservative senators, that there is an issue of patriotism. 'Whose side is he on?' asked the Prime Minister, suggesting that our No. 1 trading partner—I emphasise this point—is an enemy of this country.

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator KIM CARR: I've seen the reports—and, Minister for Education and Training, you made these points yourself—about international students. We understand just how important our international education system is and how important Chinese students are in particular. The cavalier way in which these questions have been treated by government ministers and so-called security experts defies description. I only hope you know what you are doing. There are major universities in this country for which your use of security in a partisan political way may well have serious implications. You may think it's in your interests to wrap yourselves in the flag for temporary advantage, but you should think carefully about the consequences.

The relationship between this country and China, our No. 1 trading partner, will evolve. It's evolving all the time. It requires a little bit more care than to suggest, in this cavalier way, that we can make a proposition such as, 'Which side are you on?' when there has been no suggestion whatsoever of breaches of national security—no suggestion whatsoever—by the Attorney-General in his statements to AM this morning, no breaches of the law, not even a suggestion that they've had access to those things.

You ought to now ask yourself what the consequences are of playing these party political games. Do you think you can influence an opinion poll? Do you really think that's the nature of the national interest these days? You are a government that's disintegrating before our very eyes, and you think that these party political games you are playing are in the national interest? Do you think, with the sorts of games you are playing, where you won't deal with the issues of foreign donations, where you won't deal with the questions of the influence of a number of countries operating within our political system, where you won't deal with the substantive issues in regard to our economic relationships with the region, that you can influence Newspoll next Monday? Do you think that's in the national interest?

I'm sorry to say that that is a very perverse view of the way in which politics should be conducted, and, frankly, I don't think the Australian people will reward you for that. We have seen this happen on various occasions in our history. It doesn't work. But it has to be called out for what it is: a desperate attempt to divert attention away from a government that is disintegrating and a Prime Minister who has no authority even in his own party room. It is a government that's not capable of actually managing this country anymore, a government that is failing dismally on just about every possible level and thinks it can play these petty little games. Particularly, the Attorney-General—who has responsibilities and has called upon this parliament to act in a bipartisan way on some really serious questions that go to national security—thinks that we can play out these sorts of issues in this petty, putrid attempt to influence an opinion poll.