Sam Dast­yari's loy­alty to Aus­tralia ques­tioned af­ter he tipped off Chi­nese donor

The Guardian Australia - - News - Katharine Murphy Political edi­tor

Turn­bull gov­ern­ment min­is­ters have ques­tioned the loy­alty of the strife­prone La­bor sen­a­tor Sam Dast­yari to Aus­tralia af­ter a re­port that he tipped off a Chi­nese political donor that his phone was prob­a­bly be­ing tapped by se­cu­rity agen­cies.

Fair­fax Me­dia re­ported on Wednesday that Dast­yari had warned the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist party-linked political donor Huang Xiangmo last year that his phone was prob­a­bly tapped by gov­ern­ment agen­cies, in­clud­ing the US gov­ern­ment.

The warn­ing was re­port­edly made face to face, with phones left out­side the room.

Dast­yari did not deny the con­ver­sa­tion but he is­sued a state­ment on Wednesday morn­ing say­ing he could not have passed on pro­tected in­tel­li­gence to any­one be­cause he didn’t have ac­cess to it.

“I re­ject any as­ser­tion that I did any­thing other than put to Mr Huang gos­sip be­ing spread by jour­nal­ists,” Dast­yari said.

“I have never been briefed by any se­cu­rity agency, or re­ceived any clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion about any mat­ter, ever. I’ve never passed on any pro­tected se­cu­rity in­for­ma­tion – I’ve never been in pos­ses­sion of any.

“And as I’ve said pub­licly be­fore, I would al­ways act in ac­cor­dance with any se­cu­rity ad­vice I was given.”

Dast­yari said he had met Huang to tell him that it wasn’t ap­pro­pri­ate to have fu­ture con­tact, and a face-to­face meet­ing rather than a tele­phone call was “a mat­ter of com­mon cour­tesy”.

But the at­tor­ney gen­eral, Ge­orge Bran­dis, said Dast­yari’s po­si­tion was “un­ten­able” if Wednesday’s me­dia re­port was ac­cu­rate, and the for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter, Julie Bishop, sug­gested he was act­ing against Aus­tralia’s na­tional in­ter­ests and na­tional se­cu­rity con­cerns.

Bran­dis said the lat­est rev­e­la­tion was a sig­nif­i­cant test for the La­bor leader, Bill Shorten, be­cause this was not the first time Dast­yari had courted con­tro­versy with Chi­nese donors.

Dast­yari re­signed from La­bor’s front­bench 12 months ago amid ques­tions about do­na­tions from a wealthy Chi­nese busi­ness­man, a con­tro­versy that trig­gered moves to ban for­eign political do­na­tions.

“If the al­le­ga­tions re­ported in the Fair­fax pa­pers this morn­ing are true, then se­ri­ous ques­tions arise about Sen­a­tor Dast­yari, about his loy­alty to Aus­tralia, about the ex­tent to which he is un­der the in­flu­ence of for­eign in­ter­ests,” Bran­dis said.

“And one has to ask the ques­tion: why would any­one act­ing in good faith warn a bene­fac­tor, to have a con­ver­sa­tion in cir­cum­stances that are only con­sis­tent with en­gag­ing in counter-surveil­lance ac­tiv­ity?

“Why would an in­no­cent per­son do that? What was he try­ing to hide?”

As Bran­dis fore­shad­owed ac­tion against Dast­yari in the Se­nate, La­bor moved early to ques­tion the source of the Fair­fax story, in­fer­ring that se­cu­rity agen­cies may be in­volved.

“I am con­fused about the source of this in­for­ma­tion,” the op­po­si­tion spokesman on de­fence, Richard Mar­les, told Sky News, adding there ought to be an ex­pla­na­tion.

Asked by re­porters why the gov­ern­ment had not moved to ban for­eign do­na­tions more quickly, given that con­tro­ver­sies about for­eign donors had been around for the best part of 12 months, Bran­dis said the gov­ern­ment would pro­ceed with leg­is­la­tion soon.

Shorten re­leased a state­ment on Wednesday say­ing he had spo­ken to Dast­yari and had been as­sured that the sen­a­tor had not passed on any clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

But he made it clear that Dast­yari had no more chances.

“I’ve made it clear pub­licly and pri­vately that La­bor will not ac­cept do­na­tions from Mr Huang. Mr Turn­bull has re­fused to do the same for the Lib­eral party,” Shorten said. “I re­ceive reg­u­lar con­fi­den­tial brief­ings from our se­cu­rity agen­cies.

“I don’t dis­cuss the de­tail of those brief­ings with any­one, in­clud­ing Sen­a­tor Dast­yari, how­ever I do not be­lieve the sen­a­tor is the sub­ject of any na­tional se­cu­rity in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I have also spo­ken to Sen­a­tor Dast­yari, who has never made a se­cret of the fact that this meet­ing took place. He has again con­firmed that he did not pass on any clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, be­cause he didn’t have any.

“I wrote to Mr Turn­bull months ago ask­ing for the gov­ern­ment to con­sider a for­eign agents reg­is­ter and ban­ning for­eign do­na­tions. Turn­bull’s mon­u­men­tal fail­ure of lead­er­ship and his de­ci­sion to can­cel par­lia­ment this week means that th­ese mat­ters can­not be con­sid­ered.

“I have made it clear to Sen­a­tor Dast­yari that that this is not the first time his judg­ment has been called into ques­tion, but I cer­tainly ex­pect it to be the last.”

The at­tor­ney gen­eral, Ge­orge Bran­dis, and the for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter, Julie Bishop, have ques­tioned sen­a­tor Sam Dast­yari’s loy­alty to Aus­tralia. Pho­to­graph: Dean Lewins/AAP

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