La­bor tar­gets PM over Gla­dys Liu's al­leged links to Chi­nese Com­mu­nist party

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Sarah Martin Chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent

La­bor has tar­geted Scott Morrison over the cre­den­tials of Chi­nese-born MP Gla­dys Liu, ask­ing what steps he had taken to en­sure she was a “fit and proper” per­son to sit in par­lia­ment.

In ques­tion time on Wed­nes­day, the shadow at­tor­ney gen­eral, Mark Drey­fus, led the at­tack on the gov­ern­ment over Liu’s al­leged links to the Chi­nese com­mu­nist party, but most of the op­po­si­tion’s ques­tions on the MP’s back­ground were ruled out of or­der.

Morrison de­fended re­marks made by a Liu in a widely con­demned in­ter­view with An­drew Bolt on Tues­day night, say­ing her po­si­tion on the South China Sea could not be com­pared to re­marks made by the for­mer La­bor sen­a­tor Sam Dast­yari.

“Not only was he a … shadow min­is­ter … in the ex­ec­u­tive of the op­po­si­tion at that time, he seems to for­get the fact that money changed hands be­tween the then sen­a­tor Sam Dast­yari – money changed hands, and his po­si­tion was bought by that,” Morrison said.

“He was caught in his own web of cor­rup­tion, Mr Speaker. He should have re­signed, and he did.”

Asked sev­eral times on Tues­day night if she be­lieved China’s ac­tions in the South China Sea amounted to theft and were un­law­ful, Liu said it was “a mat­ter for the for­eign min­is­ter”.

“I def­i­nitely put – I would put Aus­tralia’s in­ter­ests first, and that’s ex­actly what I have been do­ing,” she said.

“My un­der­stand­ing is a lot of coun­tries is trying to claim own­er­ship sovereignt­y of the South China Sea be­cause of var­i­ous rea­sons, and my po­si­tion is with the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment.

The for­eign min­is­ter, Marise Payne, was also asked in the Se­nate if she was sat­is­fied that Liu was “fit and proper” for the seat.

“Any sug­ges­tion that that is not the case is of­fen­sive,” Payne said.

In a state­ment is­sued on Wed­nes­day, Liu said she “should have cho­sen her words bet­ter” in the in­ter­view that can­vassed her views on China and in which she re­peat­edly re­fused to crit­i­cise the regime of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

Liu, the first Chi­nese-born Aus­tralian MP, said she had cut ties with var­i­ous Chi­nese in­sti­tu­tions with links to the Com­mu­nist party, and was con­duct­ing an au­dit to make sure no or­gan­i­sa­tions had made her an hon­orary mem­ber with­out her knowl­edge.

“I am a proud Aus­tralian, pas­sion­ately com­mit­ted to serv­ing the peo­ple of Chisholm, and any sug­ges­tion con­trary to this is deeply of­fen­sive,” Liu said.

“As a proud Hong Kong-born Aus­tralian I do not un­der­es­ti­mate the enor­mity of be­ing the first Chi­nese-born mem­ber of Par­lia­ment.

“I know some peo­ple will see every­thing I do through the lens of my birth­place, but I hope that they will see more than just the first Chi­nese woman elected to Par­lia­ment. I hope they will see me as a strong ad­vo­cate for ev­ery­one in Chisholm.”

A po­lit­i­cal storm has erupted over Liu’s al­leged links to the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist party af­ter the ABC re­ported that a Chi­nese gov­ern­ment on­line record listed her name as a council mem­ber of the Guang­dong pro­vin­cial chapter of the China Over­seas Ex­change As­so­ci­a­tion be­tween 2003 and 2015.

The as­so­ci­a­tion was an arm of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s cen­tral po­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive body, and has since been merged with the Com­mu­nist party’s pro­pa­ganda arm, the United Front Work Depart­ment.

In a Sky News in­ter­view with An­drew Bolt on Tues­day night aimed at hos­ing down the al­le­ga­tions, Liu said she could not re­call if she was a mem­ber of the group and strug­gled to an­swer a se­ries of ques­tions about China’s ac­tiv­i­ties in the South China Sea.

De­fend­ing the in­ter­view on Wed­nes­day, Liu said she was a new mem­ber of par­lia­ment and would be “learn­ing from this ex­pe­ri­ence”.

“Aus­tralia’s long­stand­ing po­si­tion on the South China Sea is con­sis­tent and clear,” Liu said. “We do not take sides on com­pet­ing ter­ri­to­rial claims but we call on all claimants to re­solve dis­putes peace­fully and in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional law.

“Our re­la­tion­ship with China is one of mu­tual ben­e­fit and un­der­pinned by our Com­pre­hen­sive Strate­gic Part­ner­ship. China is not a democ­racy and is run un­der an au­thor­i­tar­ian sys­tem. We have al­ways been and will con­tinue to be clear-eyed about our po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, but do so based on mu­tual re­spect, as two sovereign na­tions.”

In an at­tempt to clar­ify her mem­ber­ship of var­i­ous Chi­nese or­gan­i­sa­tions, Liu said she had been hon­orary pres­i­dent of the United Chi­nese Com­merce As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia, hon­orary pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian Jiang­men Gen­eral Com­mer­cial As­so­ci­a­tion in 2016, and an hon­orary mem­ber of the Guang­dong Over­seas Ex­change As­so­ci­a­tion in 2011.

She said she no longer had links with the or­gan­i­sa­tion, and pointed to

sim­i­lar links held by Jen­nifer Yang, the can­di­date pre­s­e­lected by La­bor to run against her in Chisholm.

“I have re­signed from many or­gan­i­sa­tions and I am in the process of au­dit­ing any or­gan­i­sa­tions who may have added me as a mem­ber with­out my knowl­edge or con­sent,” Liu said.

“Un­for­tu­nately some Chi­nese as­so­ci­a­tions ap­point peo­ple to hon­orary po­si­tions with­out their knowl­edge or per­mis­sion. I do not wish my name to be used in any of these as­so­ci­a­tions and I ask them to stop us­ing my name.”

La­bor was ex­pected to target the gov­ern­ment over Liu’s in­ter­view in par­lia­ment, com­par­ing her re­marks on the South China Sea to those made by the La­bor sen­a­tor Sam Dast­yari, which ul­ti­mately led to his res­ig­na­tion from par­lia­ment.

Penny Wong, the party’s shadow for­eign min­is­ter, said Liu’s suit­abil­ity as an MP was now a “test for Scott Morrison”.

“There have been ques­tions raised for some time about whether Ms Liu is a fit and proper per­son to be in the Aus­tralian par­lia­ment,” Wong said.

“This is a test for Scott Morrison. He needs to come to the par­lia­ment, make a state­ment and as­sure the Aus­tralian par­lia­ment and through them the Aus­tralian peo­ple that Gla­dys Liu is a fit and proper per­son to be in the Aus­tralian par­lia­ment.

“I can re­call the Lib­eral party mak­ing Sam Dast­yari a test of Bill Shorten’s lead­er­ship; well, this is Scott Morrison’s test.”

Dast­yari also weighed into the con­tro­versy, say­ing it was clear Liu needed to an­swer “some se­ri­ous ques­tions”.

“Her state­ment is shock­ing,” the for­mer NSW sen­a­tor said on Twit­ter. “She should be held to the same stan­dard that I was – a stan­dard the PM set. I re­signed. I took re­spon­si­bil­ity. That was the right de­ci­sion in my cir­cum­stances.”

Pho­to­graph: Mike Bow­ers/The Guardian

Gla­dys Liu in par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day. The MP for Chisholm has de­fended an in­ter­view in which she did not an­swer di­rectly about Chi­nese ac­tiv­i­ties in the South China Sea.

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