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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert and Annelise Nielsen: Sky News AM Agenda: 25 November 2019: Chinese interference allegations; protection for Chinese spy

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Senator James Paterson

Liberal Senator for Victoria

Monday 25th November 2019

Sky News: AM Agenda

Subjects: Chinese interference allegations, protection for Chinese Spy

Kieran Gilbert: Joining us is Senator James Paterson. Senator, thanks for your time. What do you make of this particular story. It comes just days after you were denied a visa to visit China. This is taking the suggestion of attempt at foreign interference to a whole new level?

Senator James Paterson: Kieran, it's difficult to imagine more profoundly serious allegations than these, particularly that an Australian citizen who was a Liberal Party member received an attempt of foreign interference, disclosed that to ASIO and subsequently has died. They are profoundly serious and troubling allegations.

Gilbert: Did you know him?

Paterson: He was a member in one of my patron seats. I don't have a strong memory of him. I probably have met him, though.

Annelise Nielsen: This is quite concerning. As we've been saying this morning, it's not just Cold War style tactics. It's the fact that China is one of our biggest allies at the moment and one of our biggest economic allies, really. How does this play for our relationship with China?

Paterson: Well, I think Australia just has to be really assertive about our sovereignty here. There can be no excuse for being weak or insecure about securing our national interests just because someone

is a significant trading partner. We have to follow the leads wherever they take us and even if those findings might be uncomfortable.

Gilbert: This individual who, as you said, is now dead, was obviously seen to be someone who was ripe for the picking, basically, in terms of trying to to influence because of his spending patterns and so on. Is this something that you feared might be the modus operandi of the Chinese?

Paterson: Honestly, Kieran, it's worse than I feared. I didn't think that allegedly anyone would go to the lengths of trying to run someone in parliament to be an agent in the federal parliament. That would be a profound blow to our national interests and security if that were able to be done.

Nielsen: Are you confident there's no one in parliament at the moment that would have received money from the Chinese government?

Paterson: There's no evidence to suggest that there is anyone. If they were, that would be an extremely serious matter. But there's no evidence to suggest it.

Gilbert: Should there be greater security checks on members of Parliament? Rex Patrick, your Senate colleague, wants checks done for members of the executive, for ministers. Is this something that you should consider now?

Paterson: I don't agree with Rex's proposed solution, although I agree with him we have a serious problem here. The problem with that solution is it would put our security agencies in a position of power over the federal parliament and over the ministry, and fundamentally undermine one of the core tenets of the Westminster system. The only criteria to being appointed to the cabinet is to be first elected to the parliament and second to be chosen by a Prime Minister. The idea that you would need a tick off from a security agency is going down the J. Edgar Hoover path and that's not something that any Australian would be comfortable with.

Gilbert: Can we be sure, can we be sure that there isn't an agent of a foreign government in this place?

Paterson: Unless there's evidence to suggest there is I think we can be confident that there isn't. It would be, I don't think we should make leaps to assume that there might be just because there's been an attempt in this case.

Nielsen: It's not like you don't have to comply with other checks on being in the executive or parliament. You have to declare about your citizenship and that can exclude you. Why isn't this something that we should be able to investigate?

Paterson: That's a constitutional requirement, which has been put there for a purpose many years ago. This would be introducing a new requirement that would be very unusual in our political system.

Nielsen: You can't be bankrupt either. And that's something where you can be declared bankrupt by the ATO. That's a non-government -.

Paterson: Again, a constitutional requirement inserted for good reasons 100 years ago. This would be a brand new requirement for an arm of the executive government to have a say over the parliamentary wing of our democracy. I think that would be a retrograde step.

Gilbert: China has sought to discredit Wang Liqiang the individual who says he's a China, former Chinese spy and is seeking asylum. Do you think we should grant him asylum, protection?

Paterson: One of the things that this episode highlights, Kieran, is the wisdom of the parliament refusing in March 2017 to agree to the extradition treaty with China. Had we done so right now, the Chinese Communist Party would probably be asking us to extradite this gentleman back to China for unrelated crimes. And that's often the way these extradition treaties work. Completely unrelated crimes are used to discredit and potentially even extradite people. But there's no legal basis for the Chinese government to make that request now or for us to comply with it and I think that's a good thing.

Gilbert: What about the protection?

Paterson: If his claims can be proven, if they are investigated by security agencies and demonstrated to be true, then I think he has a strong case.

Nielsen: Why wasn't this man protected, though? We can't really actually offer that against the Chinese government, can we?

Paterson: Well, we certainly are limited and we are a small country in what we can do. One option that we do have is to grant someone some kind of protection visa, though. And I know our agencies will be carefully considering the evidence for that.

Gilbert: Do you think that there would be an enormous backlash from Beijing if that were to happen. The last time, from memory, there was someone who defected from the embassy. There was quite a severe backlash from China.

Paterson: That happened under the tail end of the Howard government. And sometimes there are diplomatic consequences. I don't think we can allow those consequences to even enter into our minds when deciding this. We just have to look at the case on its merits. The law is very clear. If someone has a well-founded fear of persecution, then they have a right to claim asylum here in Australia and we have an obligation to consider their claim. We will consider this gentleman's claims and I think if they stack up on the evidence, he will have a very strong case.

Nielsen: Just on the issue of ensuring that there aren't any members of parliament who have been unduly influenced. If you don't agree with Rex Patrick's measure, what do you think needs to happen to stop that instance happening?

Paterson: Well, a lot of good things have happened in recent years. The passing of the foreign interference legislation, the banning of foreign political donations, we have actually substantially bolstered our architecture in protecting Australia's national interests and safeguarding the parliament. And frankly, there's been a bit of a wakeup call in the Australian political and media class over the last three to four years, where we are now much more sensitive to these claims as we should be and much more diligent in assessing our candidates. I think that's a welcome change.

Gilbert: It was a close run thing. From memory, in terms of the extradition treaty, though, there was quite a bit of support in some quarters to back that. At the time, you were one of those who said very strongly you didn't support that. Was there backlash at that point against yourself?

Paterson: I told the government that I'd be prepared to cross the floor if necessary to vote for the disallowance motion that Cory Bernardi was proposing to move in the Senate to prevent the extradition treaty from proceeding. That was not an easy thing to do. It was not something that was particularly well received by government at the time. I think with the benefit of hindsight, though, there is no one in the Australian parliament who would want us to revisit that decision.

Gilbert: But tha's why China blocked your visa. Essentially, that's what put your head above the parapet, I guess.

Paterson: It might be a factor, that's true. And I've also been outspoken about the human rights abuses of the Chinese Communist Party, their activities on Australian university campuses here, their activities in the South China Sea.

Gilbert:Yep. James Paterson, appreciate your time. An extraordinary story. And every day it seems to have a new angle to it. Thanks. Appreciate your time.

Paterson: Thank you.