Dast­yari hounded De­fence over China

The Observer - - NATION NEWS -

EM­BAT­TLED La­bor Se­na­tor Sam Dast­yari hounded se­nior De­fence of­fi­cials over three years with at least 115 ques­tions rep­re­sent­ing China’s con­cerns about is­sues such as the South China Sea and Aus­tralia’s friend­ship with Ja­pan.

Se­na­tor Dast­yari’s re­peated grilling of then sec­re­tary of the De­part­ment of De­fence Den­nis Richard­son and former DFAT sec­re­tary Peter Vargh­ese con­tra­dicts his claims he sim­ply mis­spoke when sup­port­ing a proChina line on the South China Sea is­sue in a press con­fer­ence along­side donor Huang Xiangmo.

In­stead, it was a po­si­tion the Se­na­tor had ar­tic­u­lated over and over, caus­ing con­ster­na­tion in parliamentary es­ti­mates com­mit­tee hear­ings.

An anal­y­sis of es­ti­mate com­mit­tee tran­scripts shows Se­na­tor Dast­yari has framed 115 ques­tions rep­re­sent­ing China’s con­cerns to se­nior for­eign af­fairs and de­fence bu­reau­crats since his ap­point­ment to the Se­nate in Au­gust 2013.

In Fe­bru­ary 2014 he grilled Mr Vargh­ese on what he claimed was For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop’s pref­er­en­tial treat­ment of Ja­pan over China.

“If there is a for­mal and pub­lic re­buke to China over the Air De­fence Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Zone, why wasn’t there a sim­i­lar process un­der­taken with Ja­pan over (PM Shinzo) Abe’s Ya­sukuni Shrine visit if both of them are con­tribut­ing to ten­sion in the re­gion?” he asked.

He also asked why Aus­tralia had de­scribed Ja­pan as an “ally” and “best friend in Asia” and whether this had “had any nega­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions”.

In an­other se­ries of ques­tions, Se­na­tor Dast­yari claimed the Australian Gov­ern­ment was risk­ing the relationship with China.

“How are you able to cat­e­gorise the cur­rent for­eign policy relationship be­tween Aus­tralia and China as strong, when the se­ries of events as out­lined has put that relationship at risk?” he said.

On July 2, 2014, he queried Mr Richard­son about Aus­tralia tak­ing sides in China’s ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes, sug­gest­ing Aus­tralia’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in a “lon­grun­ning dis­pute re­gard­ing ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters is it­self the act of tak­ing a side”.

In July 2015, he was still in­ter­ested in why Aus­tralia would get in­volved in China’s ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes, and three months later he ques­tioned Mr Vargh­ese on what the Gov­ern­ment was plan­ning to do with re­gard to free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion ex­er­cises in the South China Sea. – Sharri Mark­son

The Daily Tele­graph

PHOTO: AAP

CHINA ON HIS MIND: Se­na­tor Sam Dast­yari.

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