Does the government have ‘China-phobia’?

Ross Greenwood speaks to Peter Jennings, Executive Director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, about Bill Shorten’s charge in its attempt to attack Labor over Sam Dastyari, the government is exhibiting ‘China-phobia’

Introduction: Does the government have ‘China phobia’?

Ross Greenwood:  Right now there is no doubt there is increasing pressure on Bill Shorten in regards to Sam Dastyari. Now, Sam Dastyari clearly has been sprung, not only taking money from China’s interest potentially, but also then there are question marks about the level of questioning inside our federal parliament. On behalf of China’s interest that he’s conducted, now might be completely innocent of course Sam Dastyari would say, “We had interest in the area that was it.” However, the problem right now for Bill Shorten is the mad is sticking, and so you sense that right now labor is preparing to jettison Sam Dastyari.

Speaker 1: How do you think that senator Dastyari has exhibited very poor judgment? I dumped him one last year, but again as new information emerged, we’ve dumped him again from positions. His career is going nowhere first let’s be straight about that, and he has exhibited poor judgment, but I’m going to say that I’m concerned that the government now seems to be spreading in its desire to attack labor is now creating a China phobia.

Ross Greenwood:  The interesting thing here I suspect is Bill Shorten knows has to be careful. China-phobia is one thing, because do you remember just the other day as we told you, the Chinese embassy in Australia pulled out a stinging rebuke to Australia, its politicians, and media in regards to what it said was highly damaging, and vicely made up stories about the interest of Chinese or security in Australia trying to gain intelligence. Now, do bear in mind it said it was going to be damaging to Australia relationship with China.

This is also partly about the whole situation of Australia now wishing to know who is in Australia, who is being funded by Chinese interests. You’ve seen a situation with the former trade minister Andrew Robb has vicely now come out, and basically, claim that there is a smear against his name that suggests treasonous activities, because he advises a Chinese company. Remember also the China said that this would damage Australia’s reputation with China and the world.

Well, I do note today that a Chinese state-run company has come out today and bid $463 million for mid-sized oiling gas company called AWA. Some have got to say you might think that it’s going to damage the relationship, but it didn’t stop them wanting to buy that particular oil and gas business. Let’s now go to Peter Jennings who of course is the Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute online right now. Many thanks to your time, Peter.

Interview with: Peter Jennings, Executive Director, Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Peter Jennings:  My pleasure, how are you?

Ross Greenwood:  Good thank you. Does this play out as a political story or does it play is has something about genuine relationship between Australia and China?

Peter Jennings:  I call it an espionage story. I think primarily that’s what has been motivating by government. I look very carefully at Malcolm Turnbull speech in parliament right at the end of yesterday, where he introduced a bunch of bills that are designed to crack down on espionage, and covert influence building. And what he says there is that our intelligence agencies becoming increasingly concerned in the last 18 months or so about this attempt at covert, shaping of political policies on the part of our major parties.

There is clearly something to it, and I think that probably explains why there was such a historical reaction from the Chinese embassy, and the press statement of yesterday as well in a sense they’ve been caught, and they now doing their best sort of divert attention away from them by that by saying that this is all some sort of racist exercise on the part of the government. It’s clearly not, and indeed Malcolm Turnbull goes to a great length to explain why that isn’t the case when his speech in parliament yesterday.

Ross Greenwood:  You would not be surprised, I would not be surprised, nobody would be surprised if the Chinese government sought to influence certain outcomes in Australia, either politically or from a corporate point of view, that would be I would suggest part parcel at the way that they would do business.

Peter Jennings:  Yes that’s right. That’s pretty normal. I think most countries attempt to get their policy listened to when they are doing business in Australia. The key difference here is what happens publicly, and was completely acknowledgment of the fact that is another country promoting its position, and what happens covertly through influence buying, through exchange of gifts and money or other means which is really designed to try to bring that change, but they actually admitting who’s sponsoring it, who’s responsible for it. There’s a big difference between those two things.

Ross Greenwood:  Okay what do you think of the reaction of Andrew Robb, our former trade prime minister who was instrumental in striking those free trade deals, and especially with South Korea, with Japan, and with China the key one?

Peter Jennings:  Well it’s two things I’ve said, one I think he should have moved more carefully at the speech that Malcolm Turnbull gave in parliament, because Turnbull makes a pretty clear that again what his concern is about covert attempts at influencing senior political figures by means of intelligence or things which are not going to be in the publicly acknowledged.

That’s quite different from pursuing normal business interest, but I think there is also a question of judgment which goes to the fact that it would seem Andrew Robb took a position with the Chinese companies the day before he actually left parliament house. I think a lot of people think that was perhaps at least he’ll considered, and that a metaphor his judgment to explain why that happened.

Ross Greenwood:  But the other aspect of this is clearly you need to separate the two issues completely one is Andrew Robb, and he quite clearly has been paid by a Chinese company the word is more than $800,000 to provide advice to that company, but then for the complete sort of full stop on that one then go to the next sentence which is senator Sam Dastyari, you’ve now go to Attorney General George Brandis given commission from the senate president to refer Sam Dastyari to the estimates committee, which has power to apply jail terms of up to six months, but again that’s a long way down the track, and investigation has to be undertaken, but the point is that’ll show the power even at their parliament to investigate Attorney?

Peter Jennings:  Absolutely and what’s more the privileges committee has the power to jail people if they feel that someone has actually acted in contempt to parliament. You quite right the two cases are extremely different. Andrew Robb never made any secret of the fact that he left politics to take on a business career including working for Chinese companies that always been publicly known.

Issue with senator Dastyari is that we are really talking about the passing of money which was not publicly known, and indeed the connection between that and the interview that senator Dastyari gave to Chinese language newspapers in Sydney, where he claimed on the one handle to have only sort of confused answer to a question about South China Sea, but it’s now emerged through tape recordings infact it’s a very precise answer which happened to a carbon copy of the position the Chinese government takes on the South China Sea rather than Australia.

That is frankly and much more serious matter, and it doesn’t surprise me that Senator Brandis has referred it to the privileges committee, because I think in addition to what came out with that interview to the Chinese press. We’ve now seen extensive comments in the Senate or estimate committee is that senator Dastyari might, which also aligns his views very closely with standard Chinese positions on things like the South China Sea.

Ross Greenwood:  Tell you what, great to have you on the program. Peter Jennings is the Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and that is a story that is going to keep bubbling along for quite some time and Peter you have a great weekend

Peter Jennings:  Thanks,  you too.

 

 

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