Sam Dastyari’s Chinese donations: What are the accusations and is the criticism warranted?
The Government is waging a personal campaign against Labor senator Sam Dastyari, raising a series of questions about his links to Beijing and pointing to a paper trail in his disclosure log which tracks a history of accepting Chinese money.
Most Government critics have stopped short of accusing Senator Dastyari of breaking any rules or laws, but they are suggesting the senator has been influenced by the payments in his comments on China.
Here’s a brief summary of what’s behind this political stoush.
What do the payments cover?
This month Senator Dastyari altered his declaration of interests to include confirmation that he had secured “support for settlement of electorate staff travel budget overspend”.
The declaration says the payment was made by Top Education Institute, a company with links to China.
The Government says this is not a political donation, but instead shows Senator Dastyari calling on the company to pay off a debt incurred by his office.
In 2014, Senator Dastyari declared that Yuhu Group – a subsidiary of a state-linked operation based in China – helped settle a legal matter for him.
In the declaration filed on November 20, Senator Dastyari wrote “support for settlement of outstanding legal matter”.
It reportedly cost $40,000.
In the same year, Senator Dastyari revealed the Australia China Relations Institute paid to cater an afternoon tea for him.
Flights, accommodation and hospitality for a 15-day trip to China in 2014 were funded by the Australian Fellowship of China Guangdong Associations Incorporated. A nine-day trip in January this year was supported by the China Australian Guangdong Chamber of Commerce Incorporated.
The Government has further pointed to donated bottles of wine from Yuhu Group – two bottles of Penfolds Grange – but Senator Dastyari said he donated the wine to the Exodus Foundation, an organisation to assist young people and families who are homeless.
Who are the donors?
The Yuhu Group is a subsidiary of a state-linked operation based in China, which former NSW treasurer and Labor politician Eric Roozendaal joined in 2014.
In addition to its payment and donation to Senator Dastyari, the group donated $435,000 to branches of the Liberal Party and $100,000 to federal Labor throughout 2013 to 2015.
The group is also linked to a number of other donors to both parties.
Its founder and chairman Xiangmo Huang helped establish the Australia China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney in 2014.
Mr Huang remains chairman of the institute and is also the president of both Australian Fellowship of China Guangdong Associations Incorporated and China Australian Guangdong Chamber of Commerce Incorporated – groups which paid for Senator Dastyari’s travel.
He is also president of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, whose patrons include Senator Dastyari, as well as Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, Bob Carr and Philip Ruddock.
The council’s honorary chairman Guo Wen Cheng, donated $100,000 to the NSW Labor Party branch in 2013-14, while its executive vice president Eng Joo Ang also donated $110,00 the NSW Labor party branch in 2014-15.
Deputy chairman of the council Peter Chan is also responsible for Sydney-based Sunpac Resources Pty Ltd, which donated $200,000 to federal Labor in 2013-14.
Frank Chou – the chairman of the Australia Chinese Teo Chew Association which made a donation of $30,000 to the NSW branch of the Labor Party in 2013-14 – is also the council’s life senior honorary advisor.
Committee member Ken Su donated a combined total of $200,000 to Labor’s NSW and federal branches. He is recorded as an agent for Mr Huang’s YuHu Investment Trust and uses the same email as two other donors, who together gave $300,000 to the Liberal Party in 2013-14.
In addition to donating the funds to establish the Australia China Relations Institute, the Yuhu Group and its officials have also been photographed with Philip Ruddock and John Alexander while making other donations to local organisations and schools.
Mr Huang also donated $3.5 million last year to establish the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at Western Sydney University and is also a patron of the Australia China Economics, Trade and Culture Association.
In February, he attended the launch of the association’s Chinese New Year Lantern Festival with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Senator Dastyari, as well as Chinese Government officials.
Top Education Institute’s principal is Minshen Zhu, who Zhu has reportedly been photographed with senior Chinese officials, including Premier Li Keqiang, and the Chinese Government is said to have recommended the training provider.
What are the Coalition and Labor saying?
While it is clear the groups behind Senator Dastyari’s payments have also made donations to both Liberal and Labor, comparisons to the most recent revelations have been rubbished by the Coalition.
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop told reporters last week the circumstances in which Senator Dastyari received funds “are completely different from that of an individual or a company donating to a political party”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has labelled the situation as “cash for comment”, but Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has defended Senator Dastyari and rejected insinuations the Senator’s political views on China have been influenced by overseas donations.
Mr Shorten said he had spoken with Senator Dastyari and “he has made clear to me that he has learned his lesson”.
Labor Senator Doug Cameron has also insinuated that the Government attacks were hypocritical, citing previous donations from Hancock Prospecting chairman Gina Rinehart to Coalition politicians.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the ABC in 2013 that Ms Rinehart donated $50,000 to his campaign fund, while the Australian Electoral Commission detailed a $25,000 donation from Hancock Coal Infrastructure to the Curtin Liberals – Julie Bishop’s branch – in 2013-14.
In a statement, Senator Cameron said Mr Joyce was a “walking, talking lapdog” for the mining magnate.
“This is the bloke who happily backs his truck up to accept donations from Gina Rinehart and pushes her agenda any chance he can get,” he said.
“This bloke flew to India to help Gina Rinehart land a mining deal, and then he charged taxpayers for the trip home … Barnaby Joyce is the acting prime minister for vested interests.”
Labor have also cited the Prime Minister’s comments on Chinese company Huawei, which reportedly invited Mr Turnbull to tour its facilities in 2011.
The company had been banned from being involved in the national broadband network, something which Mr Turnbull called to be reviewed following the 2011 trip.