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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9337

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (13:09): I too rise to discuss this very important issue. In the time I've been in this chamber, I have not heard or been aware of any issue that is more serious than this. As many of us know in this chamber, the threat of covert foreign interference—

Senator Watt interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left, Senator Watt. Senator Reynolds, please continue.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Why didn't you jump in and say something?

Senator Wong: How obvious is the government—we've only had one opposition speaker.

Senator REYNOLDS: Mr President, if Senator Wong would like the call, then she should ask for the call. But I do have the call at the moment on this most serious of issues.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Reynolds! Senator Wong, on a point of order?

Senator Wong: I have spoken. If the government were serious they'd proceed to a vote, but they've got Macdonald and Reynolds up. It shows it's a political stunt.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Wong! Senator Reynolds.

Senator REYNOLDS: As I was saying, I can't recall any issue that has struck at the heart of our democracy more than this issue does today. There is no doubt that the threat of foreign interference is a problem of the highest order and is only getting worse. As the D-G of ASIO has recently advised, foreign intelligence activity against Australians and Australia is occurring at an unprecedented level. Both espionage and covert foreign influence can cause immense harm to our national sovereignty, to the safety of our people and to the integrity of our democracy.

As the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I know our committee has reviewed this issue extensively, on a bipartisan basis. We've reported already on foreign donations, and I know the government is looking at both increasing in legislation anti-espionage and foreign interference measures and measures in relation to the electoral process. But what is very clear to me as the Chair of JSCEM is that only Australians should have the power to influence Australian politics. One of the issues we grapple with in the committee all the time is the public perception of the integrity of our own democracy and of corruption within that democracy. While Australia globally—

Senator Cameron: So you'll support foreign donation bans, will you?

Senator REYNOLDS: Senator Cameron, I will not take that interjection. You are the last one to talk about this issue in terms of respect of this place.

Senator Watt: We could be debating foreign donation legislation right now!

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left!

Senator REYNOLDS: You might not like to hear this, but it is absolutely true. This is a serious matter. It is a matter of national security and the integrity—

Senator Wong: Treat it seriously, not as a political stunt!

Senator REYNOLDS: You can run all the interference you like for Senator Dastyari and his pathetic two-minute explanation this morning on one of the most serious questions of integrity and of compromise by a foreign power we've ever had, that I can recall, in this chamber—

Senator Wong: That's a big allegation.

Senator REYNOLDS: Absolutely, they are big allegations, and that's why Senator Dastyari's pathetic excuse this morning—he didn't even try to provide explanations for not only his past conduct but the new allegations. To come into this chamber and make reference to his children and then make some reference to a royal commission is despicable. He has not in any way answered any of the serious questions of national security that have now arisen.

I would just like to read out what Senator Dastyari should be answering—and it's very good to see the Greens are supportive of this as well:

(1) Senator Dastyari be required to attend the Senate chamber at 3 pm. on 30 November 2017 to make a statement of not more than 20 minutes …

Two minutes was patently inadequate—

(b) the allegations made by Fairfax media on 29 November 2017 that Senator Dastyari gave Mr Huang counter-surveillance advice and conduct a covert conversation with him during a meeting at Mr Huang's home in October 2016, including full details of the covert conversation;

This morning, Senator Dastyari clearly reiterated that he has got a bad memory. He was at a press conference that he had convened on Mr Huang's behalf at a Commonwealth office, with Commonwealth podiums, with the Chinese media the only ones there, and he couldn't even remember. 'It didn't accord with my recollection of this discussion,' he said. I have never, ever heard such a piece of baloney in this chamber. He has either got such a bad memory on such an important thing or he is simply not telling the truth.

Senator Dastyari must come back to this chamber today and actually explain to us the nature of these allegations. Are they true? If they're not true, he needs, given the gravity of the situation, to come and explain to all Australians, who need to have faith that those in this chamber are not subject to foreign interference or influence in our democratic processes. For those opposite to run a protection racket on Senator Dastyari not once, not twice but now three times shames us all in this chamber. Senator Dastyari, come here and provide a proper explanation as outlined in these terms of reference.

What do we want to know from Senator Dastyari? We want to know: the nature of Mr Huang's involvement in the decision to hold the press conference; the full details of what was actually said by him at the press conference; the reason he used the press conference to contradict Labor Party policy; and, why he gave subsequent accounts untruthfully. (Time expired)