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The Chinese political donations blow up

Well the dragon is out of the bag. The Chinese political donations scandal has taken front and centre stage in Australia, with politicians now dotting their “I’s” and crossing their “T’s”, distancing themselves from being implicated. To avoid the jury by media and the court of public opinion, they are advised to deny, deny, deny.

But the question is, how long has this been going on for, and why it has only been now that the Government is jumping up and down about it? The fact that it implicates Chinese companies and business people makes this saga all the more inflated, triggering prejudicial feelings among regular Australians and presumably the fear of a Chinese economic invasion. To those active in the Chinese community in Australia, political donations is nothing new, in actual fact, it is the norm, meaning that this is how the “Chinese” do business. This is not saying that political donations is right and ethical, but it is more so to point out that Chinese businesses do things differently than “western” businesses.

Chinese Australians are also relatively cautious when it comes to standing up and being overtly politically active. To mainstream Australia, the perception is Chinese Australians are hardworking, excel academically and in essence live the model minority life. To an extent this is not wrong. The earlier Chinese in Australia are taught to study hard and not make a big deal in the public sphere. Hence, many Chinese who were born and raised in Australia tend to shy away from schoolyard skirmishes and not to confront but negotiate and be diplomatic. And in some cases to give in, because asides from becoming a target nothing more will be achieved. It is also this perception and mindset that has worked against the Chinese in Australia, placing them in the situation they are in today. Anything which mentions the words “Chinese investment” and bidding for farmland, natural resources, electricity and purchasing mines will turn heads and cause unconscious and conscious xenophobia.

What is most interesting is that Chinese political donations to political parties, is not new news – well that is not to the Chinese Australian community. In China, the controversy surrounding Sam Dastyari wouldn’t even bat an eyelid. Corporate political donations for current/future business/publicity favours is how business is done there, and paying a legal/travel bill for a politician is part and parcel of a business/political relationship. The Chinese way of business and influence speak to the way Australia does it are on completely different sides of the cube. Where this style of doing business is frowned upon in Australia, it is acceptable within certain sections of the Chinese community. This is not saying the Chinese political donations saga is right or wrong, but it is just to make a point which has not been relayed adequately in the mainstream media.

So let’s talk about what has transpired and how did Sam Dastyari get mixed up in all this. But to understand how this all blew up, is to have some knowledge on the background to Chinese political donations in Australia. For those who take an active interest in Australian politics know that both Labor and Liberal Parties have Chinese fundraising groups, using the names of “Chinese Friends Of…” and/or “Chinese Association For…” and a number of similar style group names. Their sole purpose is to hold fundraising events and garnering support for the respective political parties, and having these groups are a way to channel Chinese political donations. The man of the minute, Huang Xiangmo and his company Yuhu Group, attends these fundraising events (on both sides of politics), as well as other Chinese and Chinese Australian business people, and this is one way where donors are able to discreetly make a donation. At these events many politicians from the respective political party are in attendance – their way of guaranteeing that they are in the good books with the Chinese Australian community – you know, taking photos, shaking hands and looking pleasant. Both Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten and other senior MPs would make concerted efforts to speak and be present at these events. The more senior the MP that attends, the better chances of receiving better donations and fundraising outcomes.

Sam Dastyari was merely a scapegoat, collateral for the media to pounce and jump on. His crime in the court of public opinion was having asked and received a payment of $1,670 from the Top Education Institute, run by the businessman Minshen Zhu for travel costs. Sam declared this money. Following rules, and in the name of transparency, this declaration became public and Sam moved to pay this money back. One thing led to another, and it was found that before Sam became a Senator, Huang Xiangmo of Yuhu Group, paid $5000 to cover some legal bills. Reason for the legal bill is unknown. The only thing Sam has publicly stated is that it was for a personal matter and that the media trial by jury coordinated by the Government is just a distraction. He is not wrong there, because like Sam, other more senior politicians, such as Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, George Brandis, former Premier Bob Carr, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have all been photographed with Huang with some politicians, including Sam himself having visited Yuhu headquarters in China.

Former MLC (NSW Upper House) Eric Roozendaal went to Yuhu Group after he resigned from politics, which paved the way for Ernest Wong, former Deputy Mayor of Burwood and friend of both Sam Dastyari (back then General Secretary of NSW ALP) as well as Huang Xiangmo to replace Eric Roozendaal as an MLC (NSW Upper House). Ernest has a strong presence and influence within certain sections of the Chinese Sydney community as well as sections of the Chinese Australian media, so politically, he was the ideal candidate. Sam as the General Secretary of NSW ALP back then justified Ernest’ entrance into NSW Labor as being a Chinese representative in Parliament, and where this is noble and is required, there was no consultation or even consideration of other candidates within the Chinese Australian community who would also be suitable for the position. But remember, Ernest is a known fundraiser and networker for the NSW Labor Party, so he was the more convenient candidate. There is not more to say on the story behind this saga, because it is adequately reported all over Australian media outlets and reports.

Although, one interesting fact which has not been clearly reported in the media, is that there is not a whole lot of backlash from the Chinese Australian community, particularly those who read, listen and watch Chinese Australian media because these media outlets are controlled by the same people who organise and coordinate these political fundraising sub groups. It pretty much operates like Chinese state owned media. The people with the biggest pockets and political influence will be able to dictate what goes in and what gets left out as well as how issues and columns are communicated.

So where to from here? Well I guess we will just have to see how deep the cracks grow and spread, and how much trial by media the Australian public demands. But it makes you wonder, whether the Chinese are being targeted for prejudicial reasons, and what about political donations from British, American, Canadian, New Zealand or other European companies – would these be seen in the same light as Chinese political donations? Remember making anything remotely “Chinese” publicly will always attract the attention of the mainstream and give media reports more crunch. And as for Sam, well he will be fine on the back bench and being young, will have adequate time for soul searching and to make a comeback when things die down. Rest assured politicians who have been associated with Huang, Zhu and other Chinese companies who make big political donations will be quiet and not comment on any media questions and reports. Remember, there is nothing remotely wrong with corporate political donations, it is really about tougher regulations and ensuring greater transparency.

Erin Chew is Convener of the Asian Australian Alliance, and Asian Australian Alliance Women’s Forum.

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  1. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Ban all private donations and gifts full stop and that also removes any possible xenophobic implications.

  2. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    As always, the politicisation of the issue prevents it a) being properly understood and b) being appropriately dealt with. And, despite all their protests and calls for change, that is exactly how politicians seem to want it.

  3. Matters Not

    to point out that Chinese businesses do things differently than “western” businesses.

    Very true. Australia do not have a ‘gift giving’ culture that is found in many countries across the world and particularly in Asia. The ‘rituals’ involved including the initial refusal, the wrappings, the colours, the ‘pecking order’, the correct way to ‘present’ and so on usually escape the Australian mentality.

    Enjoyed this piece because it brings back memories.

  4. randalstella

    A very unconvincing piece. The opposite of reassuring.
    Forget the ‘trial by the Media’. How about the trial by the facts?
    This seeking of preference by those with the money is simply unacceptable in any State that claims and promotes itself as democratic, with MPs campaigning to represent their electorates, not donors. Average citizens do not have cash available to throw at politicians.

    Not only is it unfair, more aspects of it should be illegal, at criminal law.

    Sam Dastyari, Labor urger and powerbroker, is not a scapegoat. He’s a naughty boy. He is compromised. I assume you know what that means.
    He’s compromised as a rising star in the Party that traditionally represents working men and women, with a very proud heritage of established practices and institutions for equity in working conditions and pay, health, education, and general social welfare.
    Without the historical work of the Labor Party and those fighting with it, the average person would be a poverty-stricken wage-slave for ruthless profiteers, as in so many other countries.
    More of this ‘gift giving’ and Labor can be talked of in the past tense, except for the name.

    This piece encapsulates this danger to Labor and therefore to Australia. It presents its presumption as if a virtue.

  5. Trish Corry

    Some good points about prejudicial reasons. It is something I hadn’t thought of in this entire debate.
    How else will the Liberals appease Pauline Hanson? She is scared about Asians taking over the country. She tells blatant lies about everything and gets away with it. She is sick.

    Today she accused refugee children in my town of abusing teachers and they had to call police in – absolute lie. The school she said doesn’t even have refugee kids and the one that does has 13 out of about 1500 students and the teachers union said there are no concerns and no reports. She is a bare faced liar. How dare she defame these innocent kids. What is her purpose, so other school kids will beat them up? What exactly is her purpose?

    Its not as if they can target Dastyari for being a Muslim is it? – her other pet project. That would create public backlash.

    Dastyari worked within the rules. He did everything by the rules. It is about public opinion of an ethical position and that should force a bad rule to change. I’m pretty sure Bronwyn Bishop also worked within the rules, but it was also backlash of public opinion.

    The other reason is that the Libs have absolutely no agenda and they will be targeting anyone and anything to deflect away from that. Sam was just their first pitstop. Also don’t forget the biggest Liberal supporter runs the media. Compare and contrast how social media was the impetus for the MSM to report on Bronwyn and how they lagged behind and how the MSM has ran with the Dastyari saga like they are at the journalism Olympics.

  6. Trish Corry

    Matters Not, that is something I have thought about and wonder if it does pose an issue when dealing with various cultures and how they do show thanks or respect with gifts etc.,

  7. paulwalter

    No quarrels with it. How sick many Australians are of dog whistle politics over the spectrum of its various permutations.

  8. guest

    ‘Gift giving’ or ‘fragrant grease’ is an old Asian custom – and not confined to Asia. The idea that there has been billions of dollars worth of business between China and Australia and there has been no ‘gift giving’ and no politicians have been involved is rather naive.

    Then we have the idea that ‘gift giving’ is legal but ‘wrong’ – a strange conundrum which makes one wonder why Sam would document his ‘gift taking’ for all to see. It is the kind of ‘gift’ the Government seizes with glee,

    We have seen some interesting claims for expenses, including Bronnie’s $5000 helicopter ride which was ‘legal’ but ‘wrong’. Or the parliamentarian author who claimed traveling expenses to promote his book, the $9000 or so finally paid by the publisher. Or the Treasurer who ran up $10 000 ‘expenses’ which he paid back – but Slipper was not allowed to pay back $900 (because he ‘lied’?)

    So it is plain that politics plays a big part in these accusations about what is ‘legal’ but ‘wrong’.

    Nor should we think that individuals are not wealthy enough to pay ‘bribes’. Remember that here in Oz we use the brown paper bag. Or someone pays for the candidate’s car, office and expenses. A group of individuals could easily do that with the expectation that there would be some benefit. Lobbyists do it, the amount of contact time available commensurate with the amount paid.

    One figure bandied about by the Government is the $40 000 legal expenses supposedly paid on Sam’s behalf. I did not find it here. And it is not clear what that was about. Any clues – or is it a decoration on the story?

    What is clear is that anything to do with China is tricky. On the one hand there is the use of cheap labour to increase profits; on the other hand there is this fear of the take-over of Oz by a communist country. That fear is reduced when the actual Chinese ownership in Oz is revealed, but the idea of the ‘Yellow Peril” is well established in Oz from way back. It makes a good whipping post for belting Labor, who of course are socialist/commie/Marxist/Mao miscreants and not to be trusted. LOL.

    As for Sam’s stupidity, who knows. One can only wonder why a school would be a front for using cash for comment, some kind of piggy bank for politicians – as if they are not paid enough.

    And if every word spoken by a politician is picked over for nuances and revelations, then Bernardi’s comment about SSM being a slippery slope to bestiality is a good reason not to have a plebiscite which would allow such ‘hate speech’ to predominate.

  9. diannaart

    For once if the MSM keep carping on about Dastyari, the LNP will look bad – given their track record on ‘donations’ & other political “entitlements” compared to Labor’s. I do believe this is one time the public are getting both sides of a story.

    Just wish a return to focus on stuff that really matters like cutting (more holes in) the welfare net, climate change, those destitute refugees on offshore islands, corporate/uber-rich tax, infrastructure, health, education and so it goes…

  10. Kaye Lee

    Sam was sued by an advertising firm because, in 2013, when he was the secretary of the NSW Labor Party, he organised a campaign in ethnic media outlets in western Sydney. The firm had done some preparatory work and then Rudd replaced Gillard and the campaign was scrapped. They sued for $40,000 but settled out of court for $5,000.

    This is not new news. It was reported on 18 months ago. And I still can’t see why the bill wasn’t footed by the Labor Party.


    The fact the the Coalition did nothing about it back then makes me think that they saved it up and used it now to deflect attention from ICAC findings and to try to damage Dastyari’s call for an RC into banks and crackdown on tax evasion. That is what the Libs do – collect dirt files.

  11. Tom

    Agree randalstella a “very unconvincing piece”.

    ‘Cash for Comment’ – that is what this bout of Chinese gift-givers is offering.
    It’s part of a long term agenda to ensnare our elected leaders into making decisions not in the public interest. What surprises me is how cheaply politicians can be bought out for – obviously the welfare of Australia counts for nought.

    Insights into Beijing propaganda machine can be seen here:

    Professor Fitzgerald – Swinburne Uni from 12:16sec and again from 19:53sec
    ‘a decade ago Beijing spotted a weakness in our national leadership and decided to drive a wedge down the middle by offering cash for comment . . 6 media organisations (includes Fairfax conglomerate and Bob Carr’s Australia-China Relations Institute) entered into a deal overseen by the Chinese propaganda bureau in Sydney – signing a commercial deal’.

    What could possibly go wrong, other than absolute bias towards Chinese interests over ours?

    “Times are tough, especially for newspapers and we can only assume that’s why Fairfax Media has recently agreed to take money from the Chinese for spreading their propaganda.”


  12. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    Kaye – good point. It is very telling that the Libs chose the opportunity to dig that one out of the dirt file and present it when they did. It reveals that they are clearly feeling very under the pump! Interestingly in a conversation today with a family relative who “reads The Australian”, it was clear that she was very disappointed in Turnbull, but also commented that a) he looked unwell, and b) he seemed to be getting rather angry about somewhat minor things. Clearly there is a lot happening just under the surface just now, as can be seen by the very clear climb down on the funding of the plebiscite campaigns.

    Poor Mal. I almost feel sorry for him.

  13. Maureen Walton⛲ (@maureen_walton)

    Yes Kaye Lee, LNP did save Sam D up, I have been thinking same thing for days now. I watched Turnbull on QT today and he went on and on about Sam D instead of the answereing questions he should have about moving Australia forward. No such thing just laughing and Ranting on about Sam D. I actually did not get angry. I thought What a terrible Boring MP Malcolm Turnbull is a Do Nothing PM.

  14. Kaye Lee


    My cousin and I were watching Malcolm perform and her comment was “Sydney Grammar School, second speaker in the debate” and now I cannot see anything else – the guy who presents the smaller arguments and tries to jazz up the lack of substance with theatrics.

  15. helvityni

    Kaye, he’s pathetic, what does he believe in…besides holding onto his prime ministership at any cost…?

  16. Kaye Lee

    The question I would ask Turnbull if I got out of my jammies to join the media pack would be

    “Considering these payments were disclosed years ago and the Chinese connection reported in the media 18 months ago, did you time your attack on Senator Dastyari to deflect attention from the release of the ICAC report into Senator Sinodinis or was it retribution for his determination to combat tax avoidance and make banks accountable?”

  17. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Kaye @ 8.16 pm,

    wouldn’t it be great, if Malcolm Muck had the balls to actually answer that question?

    Must be hard to be in Muck’s shoes knowing he has to protect Sinodinos (since he helped get him the Prime Minister title which he lusted after.)

    Or, it must be hard to shield the filthy, greedy banks and their CEO’s and venture thingys, who ressemble him in his former slimy life.

    Muck soiled his own bed when he chose economic supremacy over social decency and has perpetuated that wrongdoing. I look forward to seeing the muck all over Muck’s face.

  18. Matters Not

    Let’s be clear. Dastyari’s actions (behaviour(s) etc) are to be seriously condemned, particularly when evaluated from an Australian cultural perspective. While he will probably be political resurrected somewhere down the track, his unconscionable behaviour will not, and should not, be forgotten.

    But I don’t ‘see’ the thrust of this article as being about Sam. Rather it’s about how different cultures operate when it comes to ‘common sense’, broadly defined to include ‘acceptable’ behaviour.

    I will provide just a couple of examples. Some years ago, I travelled through Europe with a couple from Manilla. They were seriously rich. She was President of a Bank. He was the Principal of a construction firm. Their three children were left behind in charge of two ‘nannies’. I fessed up that I was a ‘bureaucrat’, which eventually led to several discussions as to ‘correct’ behaviour when it came to the exercise of power.

    They couldn’t understand the notion of public servants being ‘neutral’ when it came to decision making. That decisions should be ‘rational’, ‘disinterested’ and the like was the source of amusement. Their ‘common sense’ was along the lines, that positions of power were ‘useless’ unless they translated to both individual and family advancement.

    The second example relates to China. Interested in how much the Mayor of a particular city ‘earned’. The guide advised me that his ‘official’ income was in the order of X but his actual income was more likely to be 4X.

    Have an acquaintance who owns a bar (otherwise known as a brothel that serves beer) in Pattaya (Thailand). There it’s just ‘common sense’ that the local police chief (tourist variety) will call in on a regular basis to collect what we would call a bribe but what he would call a reward for services offered.

    While I am not suggesting that we proceed down their ‘common sense’ tracks, I am suggesting that we understand that our ‘common sense’ is just that.

    The concept of ethnocentricism seems relevant.

    evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture

    We don’t have a monopoly when it comes to ‘common sense’ behaviour.

  19. axel

    “”The fact that it implicates Chinese companies and business people makes this saga all the more inflated, triggering prejudicial feelings among regular Australians and presumably the fear of a Chinese economic invasion.”” – yes many people whose forebears fought in two world wars are very prejudiced against dictatorships like China. The use of the word prejudiced in this quote is poorly distinguished. It seems to imply as many defenders of China’s increasing influence in Australia that any opposition is racially prejudiced. That is a convenient cop out. People value our democracy, they dont want dictatorships that deny their own people the liberties we take for granted starting to influence our way of life here in Australia. Australia fought China in the Korea War to try and prevent the establishment of North Korea. China fought us in order to set up North Korea and look at the human suffering there now and the behaviour of its regime. China still props up North Korea. We dont hear people express concerns about Japanese or South Korean presence in Australia’s life because they are democracies. This dog whistling that somehow opposing China is based on race is crap.

  20. Robert

    Why not just call it what it is and forget all of this politically correct (what an oxymoron) nonsense. A political donation is nothing more that a straight up bribe, often ‘donating to both parties’ then, when the time is right call in your favour and collect on their investment from treasonous corrupt politicians.

    Who in their right mind would want to give anything to these lowlife parasites unless you were assured of future preferential treatment, oh corrupt foreign governments and corporations that’s who.

  21. Max Gross

    Well, as my Great Uncle Kiril used to say, there are whores and there are poiiticians but I know who I’d prefer in my bed

  22. townsvilleblog

    I agree with the usual people on this, however I feel it is just another scandal that the right wing of the Labor Party has engineered to bring the party into disrepute. The public are used to corruption from the L&NP but they don’t like it when it appears in ‘our’ side of politics. Can someone please explain to me why the ALP need a right wing? I thought the party stood for the advancement of ‘labour’ i.e. workers and working families, not business. The L&NP have traditionally cared for business large and small. Labor should move back to its traditional constituents, and truly represent workers and working families, God know we can do with all the help we can get at the present time.

  23. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I agree, townsvilleblog.

    I would also add, Labor needs to truly represent unemployed workers and their families too by advocating for a livable and dignified Newstart …

    … until new jobs are created by innovative thinking that would come hand in hand with Labor’s enlightened incorporation of Modern Monetary Theory in their budget planning and economic programs.

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