“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.” George Orwell, 1984
Nothing in our politics excites such primitive passions than a public shaming of a traitor – and his expulsion from our virtuous midst. Especially if this involves a public lynching. And so it is with the extraordinary story of the casting out of diabolical Sam Dastyari which dominates the week in politics eclipsing even the Bennelong bunfight, a bit of a non-event save for a 6% swing to Labor so far which would win it the next federal election. But nothing will ever rescue Sam.
Spurned by his leader, abandoned by colleagues, tormented by Coalition foes, Dastyari is hounded from office, Tuesday, amidst a frenzy of anti-Chinese hysteria, or “Chino-phobia” as Bill Shorten says, which fuels wild accusations of betrayal all cynically engineered by an embattled Turnbull government desperate for distraction and a scapegoat for its woes.
Yet it’s overkill. The harrying of Sam has all the fecund irrationality of a witch hunt. Which it is – at least in part.
Perhaps, also, somehow we’ve dredged up a monster from the deep. Phil May’s Mongolian Octopus has re-surfaced, its writhing, slimy Chinese tentacles threaten every element of our innocent nation’s virtuous (multicultural) ways of life.
One thing is clear. Expulsion is too good for Sam. Even after his exit, Dastyari’s detractors continue their insults.
What is so dastardly about Dastyari? Ben Eltham writes, “Dastyari has been forced to resign, not so much for taking money from foreign donors, but for so obviously showing the political favour that can be bought with such largesse.”
The tragedy of Dastyari’s forced political exit results less from being found by the kangaroo court of Sydney talkback radio to be a spy – or, in Grand Inquisitor Peter Dutton’s dud phrase, “a double agent” – than from his leader, Bill Shorten’s expediency. Shorten must sacrifice Sam lest he mess up Labor’s chances in the Bennelong by-election.
And worse. The Coalition and its media claque are destroying Dastyari to redouble their attack on “Shifty Bill” Shorten’s trustworthiness, his credibility and leadership. Sam must go. Yet nothing about the decision is easy.
Even Sam’s carefully scripted exit lines evoke the self-styled party martyr more than any type of penitent confession.
I’ve been guided by my Labor values, which tell me that I should leave if my ongoing presence detracts from the pursuit of Labor’s mission … It is evident to me we are at that point, so I will spare the party any further distraction.”
Dastyari is a talented politician; a factional ally and a party power broker with a history of personal loyalty to his leader.
And Shorten is indebted to Sam the king maker. As NSW Labor Party Secretary, he rallied Labor’s Right and managed Shorten’s campaign well enough to gain victory over Anthony Albanese in Labor’s leadership stakes, 13 October 2013.
It was a close contest. In Labor’s first leadership ballot to include grassroots party members, the ALP parliamentary caucus gives Shorten 63.95% of the vote while with 60% grass-roots support, Albanese is more widely popular.
Yet Bill doesn’t shilly-shally. Unlike Turnbull’s 18 months agonising on the banks, Shorten takes 13 days to sack Sam. Aaron Patrick in The Australian Financial Review admires the Labor leader’s decisiveness . But how has it come to this?
Sam’s fate is part-sealed when a patriotic Fairfax publishes Sam’s South China speech, a talk he gave in China 17 June 2016 in which he backs the Chinese Government’s refusal to abide by international court rulings on the South China Sea.
“The Chinese integrity of its borders is a matter for China,” he says.
The “Iranian-born-Australian”, (how the ABC loves to diminish Dastyari’s citizenship) opposes Australia’s and Labor’s position on China’s bullying in the South China Sea. He tells his listeners and benefactors what they want to hear.
Labor and Liberal Party donor, billionaire businessman and head of YUHU group, Huang Xiangmo is present.
It’s not the carpeted Persian’s first offence. Sam’s already been pilloried mercilessly in parliament and press; endured a year of gibes for allowing another fat cat, Dr Minshen Zhu, to pay a $1600 office travel expense for him.
Neither of these comes within cooee of Andrew Robb’s $800,000 PA secret China contract for a part time position with Chinese company Landridge which in the words of former NSW supreme court judge Anthony Whealy, means “on the face of it, he is required not to do anything and still get a whacking great fee”.
The Turnbull government is to come up with a beaut new public register for those who lobby on behalf of foreign interests which will capitalise on the anti-Chinese hysteria it’s created while cracking down on GetUP! And crippling the vital advocacy work done by overseas charities and other international bodies who may criticise offshore detention.
Robb is upbeat. The register would not apply to him because” he doesn’t do business here”. But not so Dr Zhu.
Dr Zhu, a senior adviser at the University of Sydney’s Confucius Institute, and principal of Top Education Institute, donates to both Liberal and Labor. Photos show him with pals Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Scott Morrison, Kim Carr, Bob Carr, Brendan Nelson and Julie Bishop in various roles across government and opposition.
Australian Electoral Commission records show Top Education gave $230,000 to both parties since 2010. Like Huang and almost every other outstandingly successful businessman in our political Yum Cha he has Beijing links.
Yet the Fairfax story 29 November is a bombshell. Using material that Labor figures contend came from “intelligence sources”, a shadowy but beguiling oxymoron, Fairfax reports another meeting between Dastyari and Huang.
On the unlikely face of it, good old Sam is just doing his pal a favour. Weeks after Dastyari had to quit the shadow ministry, he is said to have warned Huang his phone was most likely being bugged by intelligence agencies.
This is either insultingly gratuitous advice or a clumsy intelligence operative’s ex post facto attempt to verbal Sam.
Now the shit hits the fan-tan. Inveterate ham actor that he is, Turnbull milks the incident for all its worth.
“Here he is, an Australian senator who has gone to a meeting with a foreign national with close links to a foreign government and advises that foreign national Mr Huang to put their phones inside to avoid the possibility of surveillance.” Turnbull bellows in the house. “Whose side is Sam on?”
As Dave Donovan notes, Sam’s quite reasonable caution about likely phone-tapping tells us a great deal about the era of Turnbull and Trump. And it beggars belief that Huang would not suspect his phone was being bugged. But that’s what double agents do. Is this the obviously fake detail to throw us off the scent? Make us miss the habeas corpus?
No habeas corpus exists. As from this week an MP can be hounded out of office just if government makes enough fuss.
Dastyari’s major crime … was telling a contact their privacy may be compromised because he was most probably under surveillance by the CIA. Given subsequent events, it appears Dastyari was on the money. Apparently, wanting to exercise your rights to privacy and free association is prima facie evidence of treason in this new Orwellian age, says Dave.
Has Sam been set up? There are disturbing clues that Sam may be the fall guy in some bigger intelligence sting. As Labor figures suggest, Dastyari’s phone advice could come only from some intelligence agency. Unless, of course, Huang, himself is a double agent. Yet, regardless of source, the story becomes terminally damaging to Dastyari.
Clearly Sam has stuffed up. Now his opponents and some of his party accuse him of fatal errors of judgement.
What follows, however, is more serious and disturbing for a nation which prides itself adhering to the rule of law, especially the cardinal principle that all people are presumed innocent unless proved otherwise.
Sam is judged guilty of treason based on unfounded accusations made without due or proper regard for evidence. Dutton’s nonsense that he is a double agent, for example, is endlessly repeated verbatim. If Sam were a double agent, he’d be pretending to spy for China while actually spying on them for Australia.
If Sam were a double agent, the AFP would be busting his place apart with crews from all major TV channels filming.
The government, assisted by the media and hyper-egomaniac George Brandis, a bulked-up Big Brother body double, aka the Attorney General from hell, who dubs Sam “a serial offender” despite Sam’s never having been convicted of a crime, subjects Dastyari to a McCarthyite witch trial.
Sam is tried in a theatre of extreme cruelty with a lynch mob’s contempt for his right to a fair and just process. In CIA jargon, his career is “terminated with extreme prejudice”. Yet, even then, voices are baying for his blood.
“He should get out of the Senate, and Bill Shorten should boot him out of the Labor Party,” Turnbull shrieks on 3AW.
Knowing – as he surely must – that the second call is nonsense, doesn’t get in the way of hate-speak. The PM’s vindictiveness is echoed by Liberals’ deputy leader, Julie Bishop who makes another stupid demand,
“Sam Dastyari should resign effective immediately. He shouldn’t receive another cent in salary from the Australian people.”
It’s an unprecedented dismissal, as Phil Coorey notes in the Australian Financial Review.
“Plenty of politicians have committed acts of stupidity and worse over the years but it’s hard to recollect anyone who has been frog-marched out of Parliament.”
What has Sam done wrong? Everything, it seems. A political tall poppy in all but height, the mildly obnoxious, self-promoting Dastyari has long been unjustly caricatured as an over-ambitious, self-promoting, attention-seeking creature of Labor’s shady NSW Right even though, at 34, he is one of the youngest ever state Labor Party secretaries.
Yet, in April 2015, he led a crusade to get multinational corporations to pay tax. He chaired a Senate Inquiry into Corporate Tax Avoidance. This July, when he ran a senate committee into the future of public interest journalism, another tantalising oxymoron, he clearly recognised the gravity of its decline.
“This is a serious problem. We have got to the point of no return. If we want to have a proper journalistic industry here in Australia then we have to actually start taking steps to protect it.”
Sam was also highly effective in questioning the CEOs of our Big Four banks.
Yet all of this is irrelevant unless you subscribe to the theory that Sam’s fatal career move was to take on the banks. And upsetting multinationals who are funny about being asked to pay tax. Not only is he outed as some sort of spy, moreover, his own leader is so wedded to his own political survival that he is prepared to throw Sam under a bus. Yet there’s a wider perspective, also in which Sam is merely a bit-player in the murkier interstices of our US Alliance.
The political lynching of Dastyari, forced to resign over accusations he’s a mole; a “double agent” betraying his nation’s interests by being a paid advocate for China’s policy in The South China Sea, may also make him a casualty of a Coalition keen to play craven sycophant to its “great and powerful friend” the USA – a Turnbull government which will do anything to boost its chances of winning a Bennelong by-election on which rests its parliamentary majority.
Right on cue, Sam’s downfall is seized upon by US commentators keen to point up how China threatens western democracies, Australia and New Zealand. Marco Rubio, former Republican presidential candidate, brings up Sam at a bipartisan, congressional executive commission, during a two-hour hearing he just happens to be chairing Wednesday.
“What we saw in Australia [was] a member of Parliament resigned after there were accusations made that, not only had he tipped off a Chinese national of some alleged intelligence operation being conducted against him, but that he had allegedly received cash from a wealthy Chinese national,” Senator Rubio says.
The hapless Dastyari could also be the canary in our nation’s political coal mine. Surely this weekend’s battle for the Bennelong by-election is the low point of a long campaign of Liberal gutter politics, smearing AWU unionists, refugees on Manus and now a Labor senator – if not the nadir of Malcolm Turnbull’s career?
Surely, also, it is another epic failure of political judgement; a serious miscalculation of consequences?
Certainly, the government’s frenzied attack on the Labor senator, eagerly inflamed by its unctuous toadies, the mainstream media, including the increasingly partisan ABC, is widely condemned both within Australia and in China.
“Needlessly nasty” Labor heavyweight mate Graham Richardson, former Hawke and Keating numbers man, writes in The Australian of the wanton destruction of the Labor senate back-bencher’s political career. He would know.
“Carpet-bombing” says Paul Bongiorno, needing military metaphor to capture Malcolm Turnbull’s over-the-top attack.
“Hysterical, paranoid and racist” says The China’s People’s Daily, our largest trading partner’s official voice.
Wednesday, the Chinese rag accuses Turnbull of “pandering to anti-China bias”. Is Yellow Peril 2.0 the Panda in the room? Never one to skimp on rhetorical reiteration, the paper also alleges Fairfax Media and the ABC are “jointly whipping up an anti-China backlash”. Turnbull is buying into “an orchestrated media falsehood”.
China is not happy. Whichever pejorative term you prefer, the despatching of Dastyari is classic Turnbullian over-kill. Experts warn that reprisals may follow although given the volume of our vast trade, they have yet to narrow the field. Fewer tourists? Cuts in overseas students? Options for payback are vast.
James Laurenceson in the Australian Financial Review cautions that “cooperation on removing outstanding bilateral trade and investment barriers, not to mention on bigger regional challenges, might be put in the slow lane.
Chinese households might start to find that California wine tastes better than ours and the views at Waikiki eclipse those along the Great Ocean Road.”
A manic Turnbull is all over the airwaves like a man possessed. The magic pudding of public hysteria gets endless stirring. He dubs Dastyari a double-agent. Excoriates Sam for jeopardising our national security. Helping China to spy on us, even though Sam says he has no secrets to sell. The slur is unsullied by a shred of evidence yet impossible to refute.
Dutton calls him shady. He has no evidence, he says, but his slur is based on “what he knows of Dastyari so far”.
The government elevates Dastyari to Public Enemy Number One in order to dent Labor’s chances in Saturday’s Bennelong by-election, a one-sided contest between parliamentary seat-warmer, John Alexander, who boasts of putting table tennis tables in Bennelong’s schools and not missing a local fair or fete.
A courageous raconteur, his anecdotes and cringe-worthy off the cuff remarks speak for themselves.
Charges against Sam are laid in the court of Sydney talk-back by Peter Dutton, an MP who is tasked with protecting our borders from the Armani-wearing people-smuggler enabling riff-raff who would come in the backdoor via boat as illegal maritime arrivals instead of hopping on the next plane. Or that’s Dutto’s potted version of his brief.
Nasty Dastyari is a “double-agent”, alleges Dutton, leading an orgy of public denunciation in an attempt to hound him out of office in a warm-up to his assuming super-minister powers when he becomes Home Affairs Minister next week. Perhaps then, he’ll find some way of stripping Sam of his citizenship and repatriating him to Iran.
Panjandrum Pete will head up a super-ministry which does not include a Hate-Speak department by name, as yet, but which, innovatively, sets up an Orwellian Office of National Intelligence. Expect it to call out spies, denounce GetUP! and other enemy agents in our midst, whilst it supports Sydney shock-jocks in denouncing un-Australian activity.
Home Affairs’ powers remain nebulous. What is clear, however, is that details will soon become scarcer. As we have seen with Border Force, operational matters preclude transparency and accountability. It’s all part of Pooh-Bah Dutton’s watching brief over us. He will keep Australia safe, protect our freedoms and nurture our multi-cultural democracy. Don’t you worry about that.
Not only will Home Affairs persecute traitors like Sam, it will be a one-stop shop for cradle to grave protection. An English language test, for example, for new citizens, is undergoing a bit of fine-tuning after initially being howled down by a Coalition-dominated parliamentary committee last September – a rare achievement in this government.
But it’s not just about language. The test is part of an exciting new package proposal which has passed the lower house and aims to introduce a four-year waiting period for permanent residents before they can apply for citizenship while imposing tough English language requirements and a test on “Australian values”. Even if these are yet to be articulated.
Home Affairs (HA) is clearly keen to ensure we get the right kind of migrant and for this alone it needs be a huge outfit.
HA will combine ASIO, the AFP, the Coalition’s pet police force and our quiet achievers, the secretive Australian Border Force, who only this week, returned a boatload of 29 Sri-Lankan asylum-seekers to Colombo and certain persecution.
Given Dutto’s conspicuous lack of success in merging Immigration with Border Force, the wisdom of Turnbull’s over-promotion of the Immigration Minister is self-evident. It’s simple self-preservation. Keep the mongrel so busy he can’t make trouble. Every man for himself is team Turnbull’s motto.
Dutton will be so busy, schemes strategic genius Turnbull, that he won’t pose any leadership threat. The flaw in this cunning plan is that Dutto’s alarming lack of success in any department is certain to continue into HA. Combining so many departments may have a crisis-multiplier effect. But given operational secrecy, no-one will ever know.
The nation has much to give thanks for now that our state show trial apparatus is set up. Enemies of the state beware.
We look forward to feeling hugely more secure with the elevation of paranoid Peter Dutton, Australia’s most unpopular, most secretive, least competent minister to a position of unparalleled power in a Home Affairs super-ministry which experts universally expressly warned the Turnbull government never to set up. Expect a show trial next week.
Given the huge success of the lynching of Sam Dastyari and building on recent AFP union raids to recover ten-year old receipts, the nation can expect to see similarly brilliant strategies deployed against Labor or indeed any other organisation including GetUp! or unions which pose a threat to Liberal rule – or any other outfit or individual whose actions or beliefs may interfere with the enlightened despotism of Menzies’ sensible centre as mediated through Malcolm Turnbull’s top secret Coalition agreement with the Nationals.
This week has seen the nation take another step into emulating the political dystopia George Orwell warned us about in 1984. The trouble with the Coalition – and their pals in the United States of America is that they think it’s a primer.