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Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Page: 9203

Donations to Political Parties


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:11): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. I refer to reports that Mr Turnbull dined with a Chinese political donor, Mr Liu, four days after one of Mr Liu's companies donated $40,000 to the Queensland Liberal-National Party. On what date was the Prime Minister or his office aware that Mr Liu's company had made or was going to make a generous donation to the Queensland Liberal-National Party?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:11): I am not familiar with the details of those reports. But, since you raised the issue of foreign influence, Senator Cameron, what I can tell you is that this morning your senior colleague Senator Dastyari has been the subject of very, very serious allegations.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, on a point of order?

Senator Cameron: Yes, a point of order on relevance. There was a simple question here: on what date was the Prime Minister or his office aware that Mr Liu's company had made or was going to make a generous donation?

The PRESIDENT: I urged you last week to be somewhat more creative in attempting to restate the question when you are making a point of order. I am aware of the point you are making. Do you want to continue on the point of order without re-reading the question?

Senator Cameron: I'm happy to do that. I'm simply saying the minister's attention should be drawn to the question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron. Your question also included a preamble. I can't instruct the minister how to answer the question, but I remind him of the question.

Senator BRANDIS: As I say, I'm not familiar with the details of that report. But since you raised the issue, Senator Cameron, of foreign interference and foreign influence, then, look to your own. Look to the conduct of Senator Dastyari last year, when, at last, belatedly and under pressure, the opposition leader's hand was forced to demote Senator Dastyari to the backbench, but only briefly, only for less than five months, before he was restored to the opposition Senate leadership team. Now, this morning, as I said in response to the question from Senator Bushby, Senator Dastyari is once again the subject of very grave allegations.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron.

Senator Cameron: Again, on relevance: there may have been a very small introduction, but this was a very clear, specific question about a $40,000 donation and the Prime Minister being at a dinner with that person. I have simply asked about when it took place and when the Prime Minister knew.

The PRESIDENT: On the point of order, Senator Brandis.

Senator BRANDIS: I was going to observe that it is Senator Cameron who chose, no matter how brief his preamble may have been, to open the question of foreign interference.

The PRESIDENT: I was going to rule. Senator Cameron, as you are aware, ministers—

Senator Cameron: Can you draw his attention to the question at least.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Wong.

Senator Wong: Mr President, on the point of order, Senator Brandis's assertions are a misstatement of the question. The only preamble, as you are describing it, is a reference to the report that Mr Turnbull dined with a Chinese political donor after a $40,000 donation was made. That is the only preamble, which is absolutely germane to the question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Williams, on a point of order?

Senator Williams: A point of order, Mr President. When the question was asked of Senator Brandis, he immediately said he was not familiar with any gathering whatsoever. It was answered in the first statement.

The PRESIDENT: On the point of order, I thank Senator Wong for her assistance. In my view, that did introduce the issue. The minister is allowed to address issues raised in the question. I have previously reminded the minister of the question. I will do so again, but I believe he is addressing an issue raised in the question.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you, Mr President. Let us take at face value what Senator Cameron claims was asserted in this press report as nothing but the fact that, if it be true, the Prime Minister dined with a foreign national. I am advised that any such occasion was organised by the Queensland LNP. It does not bear comparison with Senator Sam Dastyari's conduct in deliberately and covertly concealing a conversation with a Chinese donor for the very purpose— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, a supplementary question.





















Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:16): Can the minister confirm that the Prime Minister was seated next to Mr Liu at the 12-person dinner? What did they discuss? Did the Prime Minister's office make inquiries as to who invited Mr Liu prior to the dinner?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:16): No, Senator Cameron, I cannot confirm any of those matters. I cannot confirm any of those matters. But let us take at face value what you say. How does that compare with a senior Labor senator—a member of your own Senate leadership team—as has been alleged by credible journalists in Fairfax media this morning, actually advising a foreign donor to take countersurveillance measures to ensure that a conversation between Senator Dastyari and that foreign donor could not be overheard in the event that there was intelligence surveillance of a mobile phone? Why on earth would anyone advise a foreign donor who has been reported to be a person of national security interest to conceal a conversation from the possibility of surveillance?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, a final supplementary question.



Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:17): Does the Turnbull government still oppose banning foreign donations to political parties?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:17): Yes, Senator Cameron, we do. We do. As I have told the chamber before, this is a matter within Senator Mathias Cormann's immediate responsibility as Special Minister of State. As you know, Mr President, as his predecessor in that portfolio, the preparation of legislation in that regard is very well advanced indeed. When that legislation is introduced, it will deal with situations including the apparent relationship between Senator Sam Dastyari and Mr Huang. But what it will not be able to deal with is to explain why it is that a senior Labor senator would say to a person of security interest, as has been reported, 'Let us make sure that our conversation cannot be surveilled by the intelligence agencies.'

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Collins. I have called you to order a number of times. There are opportunities after question time to raise issues.