Public policy should be made for all Australians – not just those with the resources or connections to lobby and influence politicians. And mostly it is. But sometimes bad policy is made or good policy is dropped because powerful groups have more say and sway than they should.
Australia’s political institutions are generally robust, but many of the “risk factors” for policy capture by special interests are present in our system. Political parties are heavily reliant on major donors, money can buy access, relationships and political connections, and there’s a lack of transparency in dealings between policymakers and special interests.
Better checks and balances are needed. But the question of what to do about undue influence is tricky. Interests should be able to advocate for themselves, and donate money to support causes they believe in. Lobbying helps to introduce new ideas and reduce the likelihood of uninformed or damaging decisions by those in office. We propose a suite of reforms to reduce the risks of policy capture while still protecting the rights of all individuals and groups to contribute to policy discussions.
Transparency isn’t a silver bullet, but it can play an important role in reducing the sway of special interests. Greater transparency means more opportunity for the public, media and the parliament itself to scrutinise the policy-making process and call out undue influence or give voice to under-represented views.
We recommend three key reforms to improve transparency.
Publish ministerial diaries so people know who ministers meet with
Create a public register of lobbyists who have unescorted access to federal Parliament House. These reforms would substantially reduce the secrecy around money and access.
Transparency is not enough on its own – strong voices are still needed to call out problems, and voters still need to hold elected officials to account. But transparency gives them better information to do so.
Boost public trust in politicians
Trust in government is in decline: in a 2018 survey, 85% of Australians thought at least some federal MPs were corrupt. We recommend setting clear standards for all parliamentarians to avoid conflicts of interest – particularly around hospitality, gifts and secondary employment.
Codes of conduct for parliamentarians and lobbyists should be independently administered, to build public confidence that the high standards of public office are respected and adhered to. A separate ethics adviser could also encourage public officials to seek advice when they’re in doubt.
And a federal integrity or anti-corruption body should be established to deal with tips and complaints of serious misconduct. It should be empowered to investigate corruption risks, publish findings, and refer any corrupt activity to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
The best defence against policy capture is healthy public debate
Greater transparency and accountability would help reduce the risk of policy capture by special interests. But ultimately Australia’s best defence is countervailing voices in policy debates. Who’s in the room matters – but who’s not in the room can matter even more.
Consumers, community groups and those less privileged are consistently under-represented in public debate. Our analysis of ministerial diaries in Queensland and NSW shows well-resourced special interests account for the bulk of senior ministers’ external meetings.
People who lack the resources or organisational capacity to band together can struggle to be heard – even when they represent a large chunk of Australian society – taxpayers, consumers, small business and young people, for example. Special interests are particularly likely to win out in technical, niche or complex policy areas because they are more difficult for other groups, voters and the media to engage with.
We suggest two reforms to reduce the influence of well-resourced special interests and promote broader participation in public debate:
First, a cap on political advertising expenditure during election campaigns would reduce the imbalance between groups with very different means to broadcast political views. It would reduce the reliance of political parties on major donors and might redirect communication to less-superficial channels that are conducive to deeper discussion, such as political debates and interviews.
Second, government can boost countervailing voices through more inclusive policy review processes and advocacy for under-represented groups. This would give politicians better information with which to adjudicate the public interest.
The reforms proposed here are in line with OECD recommended practice. They would strengthen Australian democracy by enabling voters to better hold government to account and could boost the public’s confidence that the system is working for them.
In December, the Turnbull Government tabled sweeping new national security legislation in response to what the PM called “disturbing reports of Chinese influence” in Australian politics.
An ongoing parliamentary review of the proposed laws has attracted hundreds of public submissions, with intelligence agencies and civil society organisations predictably lining up on opposite sides of the argument.
More surprising, perhaps, is the controversy the laws have sparked within Australia’s community of China experts.
The open letter argued the bill directly threatened academic freedom, and that the “alarmist tone” of recent public discourse over China was impinging Australia’s ability to calmly and rationally deal with the issues.
In particular, it warned that “a racialised narrative of a vast official Chinese conspiracy” was taking shape:
We should be vigilant that public discourse in Australia does not create undue pressure on one particular section of our society to demonstrate its loyalty to Australia at the expense of its freedom to criticise Australian policies and actions.
A week on, a different group of China and Asia experts submitted another letter — ostensibly in response to the first — defending public policy debates over the issue in light of “well-documented reports about the Chinese Communist Party’s interference” in Australia. It read:
We firmly believe the current debate is not characterised by racism and that it is crucial for Australia to continue this debate. Indeed, Chinese Australians are among the main initiators and drivers of this debate.
In fact, the two letters share a great deal in common. Both call for informed debate over the issues; both denounce racism; both affirm scrutiny of the CCP’s activities in Australia and the application of legal penalties where evidence of wrongdoing is clear.
Most signatories would agree that discussion of the set of issues raised is necessary, and that it is not motivated by racism. They would also agree that new laws may be necessary but must be carefully drafted, and there have been problematic elements in the public debate as it has unfolded so far.
Both lists of signatories contain trenchant critics of Beijing, as well as relatively China-friendly voices.
Yet, I’m aware of only one person who signed both.
Why have Australia’s China scholars cleaved into two camps on a matter of great public interest that requires their collective expertise — camps that seem to cut across personal networks and ideological preferences?
To some extent, as ANU National Security College head Rory Medcalf has observed, this reflects healthy scholarly disagreements among colleagues.
But the rival letters are also indicative of a less-than-healthy polarisation in the discourse at a time when identifying consensus views might be more valuable. After all, the letters were substantively in agreement on many of the key issues.
It may help, then, to clarify what we do disagree about.
As a signatory to the first letter, but not the second, I can identify four main points of contention. Yet, as shown below, even within these four areas there appears to be more agreement than the rival letters might suggest.
Four points of contention
The scope of CCP activities in Australia
While the first letter cautions against conflating distinct China-related issues in Australia into “a vast official Chinese conspiracy”, the second offers a list of ten bullet-point examples of the “CCP activities” Australia should be vigilant against.
The list ranges from espionage and intimidation of dissidents, to university student groups and pro-China political rallies.
The view that vigilance is warranted over the party’s activities in Australia should be uncontroversial. It is an unreformed and increasingly dictatorial Leninist regime with a ministerial-level department tasked with instrumentalising non-party actors to advance the party’s interests and counter its perceived enemies.
The scope of this “United Front Work” system is vast and expanding, and it is rooted in a thoroughly cynical vision of the world. It is an institution and a vision that Australians — especially political elites — ought to be properly educated about.
But it should also be equally uncontroversial to affirm that a person or group’s inclusion as a target within the scope of united front work does not constitute grounds for suspecting them of disloyalty or subversiveness if they espouse a CCP-friendly view on an issue.
Causes of racist and alarmist sentiments
The first letter criticises the Australian media for fanning “suspicion and stigmatisation of Chinese-Australians”.
The second letter acknowledges the public discourse has prompted “alarmist and racist sentiments”, but argues this is an inevitable side effect of having a debate in the first place.
Perhaps we could at least agree that the prevalence of racism and alarmism on the fringes of a debate depends significantly on the language used by those in the mainstream debate.
If so, this would narrow the disagreement down to whether or not the costs of using inaccurate and inflammatory language such as “Chinese”, “invasion”, “infiltration”, and “penetration” are acceptable.
The meaning of sovereignty
The first letter argues there’s no evidence that the PRC’s activities are aimed at challenging Australia’s sovereignty. The second letter, by contrast, advocates action to counter “threats to sovereignty”.
Each appears to have a different notion of sovereignty in mind.
If the word means, narrowly, paramount legal authority within territorial limits, then a PRC challenge to Australia’s sovereignty implies that it seeks to lay claim to parts of the Australian landmass, or reduce its polity to a tributary “vassal”. But as the first letter pointed out, there is to date no credible evidence of this.
On the other hand, there have been clear instances of PRC violations of Australian sovereignty in recent years. In 2015, for example, Chinese undercover police pursued a fugitive on Australian territory. Importantly, in that case, Beijing admitted its wrongdoing.
Interference with the political freedoms of residents of Australia, such as intimidation of dissidents’ families in China, also arguably violate Australia’s sovereignty in a broad sense.
Neither letter defines sovereignty, but both invoke the word’s emotive power. Those of us speaking of a CCP threat to Australian sovereignty (or absence thereof) might be able to agree on more if we specify in what sense this is (not) the case.
Threats to democratic politics in Australia
Whereas the second letter emphasises the threats that CCP activities pose to democracy and free speech, the earlier letter suggests the sweeping proposed national security laws and alarmist public discourse were creating an even more immediate threat to democratic political rights.
It is hardly in doubt that the CCP’s activities undermine the political values of democracy, liberalism and openness. It is openly hostile to them.
But there are well-documented cases of self-censorship resulting from the alarmist tone in Australia’s public discourse on the issue, with reports of some Chinese-Australian politicians growing afraid of associating with CCP-linked community figures.
The second letter affirms that all residents of Australia “should be able to express their point of view free of fear or censorship, whether from forces foreign or domestic”.
This suggests, once again, that there is significant overlap among China scholars even within this ostensible area of disagreement. Specifically, both seem to recognise that threats to democratic rights exist inside Australia as well as outside.
A risk-management approach
Where to from here? In an upcoming report, I argue that if Australia wants to maintain a broad engagement with a powerful, increasingly dictatorial Leninist party-state ruling a billion-plus people while maintaining a liberal democracy, it will require careful understanding and management of the risks involved.
It will not be possible to simply disallow all CCP “operations of influence” without impinging on the very democratic rights the CCP threatens.
Conflating distinct issues (for example, espionage, lobbying, Chinese-language media, student activism) under single sweeping labels (such as “influence” or “operations”) that imply they’re all part of one Beijing-orchestrated campaign of subversion is also not helpful in developing methodical, systematic responses.
Policymakers in Beijing may dream of coordinating a vast conspiracy involving ethnic Chinese all over the world advancing the CCP’s interests, but that does not make it a reality.
Australia’s approach, I argue, should be to carefully disaggregate the various problems under discussion in this debate and risk-manage them individually, rather than grasping for some kind of resolution that will free Australia of “CCP influence”.
This article has been amended. The line that originally read: Yet, I’m not aware of a single person who signed both has been changed to Yet, I’m aware of only one person who signed both.
Academics in Australia might reflect on the fact that scholarly books critical of the Chinese Communist Party are now shunned by publishers. Scholars who work on China know that continued access to the country requires them to play by Beijing’s rules, which for most means self-censorship – the dirty secret of China studies in Australia.
Despite refusing to publish my book, Silent Invasion, I am privileged in my access to free speech in a way that most Chinese-Australians are not.
In February, Alex Joske, my researcher for the book and of Chinese heritage himself, wrote in the New York Times that as Beijing’s interference in Australian society intensifies:
… the voices of the Chinese-Australians alarmed by Beijing’s encroachment are being drowned out by an aggressive Chinese government campaign to silence critics here.
Once quite vocal, pro-democracy activists, supporters of Tibetan autonomy, and Falun Gong practitioners are barely heard nowadays. In my book, I describe how this marginalisation has been carried out.
Examples are legion. The New York Times recently reported that Taiwanese workers at restaurants in Sydney have been sacked because, when asked whether they believe Taiwan belongs to China, they say “no”.
It only takes a few examples like this to send a signal to all Taiwanese in Australia to keep their views to themselves if they go against Beijing. This kind of violation of democratic principles — not to mention employment law — has for years been ignored by the mainstream.
Soon after Allen & Unwin pulled publication of my book, a retired businessman phoned. For years he has been taking in Chinese students as lodgers. Recently, he was walking through the CBD with one of those students when they came upon a Falun Gong practitioner collecting signatures on a petition. When he said “let’s go over”, she begged him not to. She kept walking while he signed the petition.
Two weeks later, the student’s parents back in China had the Ministry of State Security knocking on their door. They were warned to keep an eye on their daughter, who was creating trouble in Australia.
Think about that. Chinese authorities in Australia are monitoring Falun Gong practitioners on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, photographing anyone who interacts with them. They can identify any ethnically Chinese person and put them on a watchlist.
In the course of researching my book, I spoke with pastors at Chinese churches in Australia who believe their congregations and community groups have Communist Party agents spying on behalf on the consulate. Some Chinese-Australians cannot even go to their places of worship without Beijing’s vast security apparatus watching and reporting on them.
Few religious groups of modern times have experienced more coercion and violence than practitioners of the peaceful spiritual practice Falun Gong. Working through the consulates, the sinister 610 Office has harassed, threatened and bullied Falun Gong practitioners in Australia and frightened off sympathetic politicians.
Last year, Feng Chongyi, an associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney, was forcibly detained in China for a week while doing research on human rights lawyers. China does not like what he is uncovering and wanted to send an unambiguous message that he should change what he works on in Australia.
It’s important to understand that the effect of Beijing’s suppression of critical voices in the Chinese-Australian community is not confined to pro-democracy and Tibetan autonomy activists. The dominant narrative in the community is now one that supports the Communist Party view of the world.
Leading Sinologist John Fitzgerald has shown how the once-diverse Chinese-language media became overwhelmingly pro-Beijing. Chinese-language media in Australia is subject to Beijing’s censorship regime. Chinese-Australians who speak about human rights violations or complain about Beijing’s interference in Australian politics are vilified.
A young Chinese-Australian who wants to enter politics knows that any criticism he or she may make of, for example, party influence operations in Australia will result in bad press and pressure from “community leaders”. If they were to persist, family members in China may receive intimidating visits from state security. It’s much easier to stay out politics.
This is a denial of their democratic rights. It means that Chinese-Australians critical of the Communist Party have no representation in parliament. Who will speak up for them if their family is threatened, or if their business in Australia is sent broke by a boycott organised by the consulate?
Enabling the silencing
Instead of giving these critics of the Communist Party a voice, some of our political leaders have collaborated in their silencing. They shun them, even condemning them when they protest outside the Sydney consulate, while mixing with and responding to “community leaders” who typically head United Front organisations guided by the party through its network of agencies that operate in Australia.
In February, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen expressed outrage in parliament because Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had threatened violence against any Cambodian-Australians who staged a protest during his visit to Australia. Bowen declared he would defend the right of Cambodian-Australians to protest and would not allow peaceful protesters to be harassed and bullied.
Good for him. But where is Bowen when Chinese-Australians are threatened and intimidated by China’s state security apparatus in Australia? Where is he when supporters of Tibetan autonomy are drowned out and intimidated on the streets of Sydney?
Bowen is a prominent member of the New South Wales Right faction of the Labor Party and accordingly has been the recipient of largesse from wealthy Chinese businessmen close to Beijing. He has been flown to China at the expense of the Communist Party and an organisation run by Huang Xiangmo, the businessman ASIO warned the major political parties to avoid taking money from.
Bowen has been a patron of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, the peak United Front body closely associated with Huang Xiangmo.
As my book appeared in the bookshops, the big beasts of the NSW Right came out to monster me because I have said they are too close to Communist Party front groups and agents of influence. Bob Carr, Paul Keating and Graham Richardson attempted to trash my reputation and make me out as a Sinophobe and closet racist.
They are embarrassed when anyone draws attention to the evidence of the deep penetration of the Chinese state into their part of the Labor Party. They should know that the more they try to shut down critics, the more we will ask what they have to hide.
Like others, I have puzzled over the astonishing level of naivety in this country about what China is doing here.
It doesn’t seem enough to speak, as some have, of being blinded by the money or referring to the natural openness of Australians. For some, it’s almost a wilful unwillingness to see, despite the powerful evidence of China’s aggressive intentions.
When writing Silent Invasion, I anticipated that its arguments would be dismissed as rooted in xenophobia and that I am just stirring a cauldron of anti-Chinese racism. I have a pretty good record of anti-racism over the decades, but for some that counts for little.
More to the point, in the book I tried hard to reflect the experiences of those Chinese-Australians who are critical of the Chinese Communist Party and feel threatened by it in their new home.
I discussed with some of them the risk of racist groups misusing the book to reinforce their prejudices. The typical response was: “Well, what’s the alternative? Should you just say nothing?”
The judgement of these Chinese-Australians is that they may have to take some collateral damage to win the larger battle. They are much more worried about the vast apparatus of Communist Party coercion than some wave of anti-Chinese sentiment.
From the moment I began researching and writing Silent Invasion, I resolved to ensure that none of the criticisms I made of the Chinese Communist Party could be construed as anti-Chinese or anti-China.
I knew that nothing I did would deter the party from its usual conflation of the party and the nation. And true to form its spokespersons in Canberra and Beijing have stuck to the party line, attacking the book as “racist bigotry” and “anti-Chinese”.
If you just read Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, Chinese Embassy statements, and Beijing’s trolls on social media, you’d think the danger we face in Australia is not Chinese Communist Party interference operations but the risk of inflaming anti-Chinese racism by calling out the party.
The problem lies not in Xi Jinping’s aggressive assertion of a newly risen China, but the stain on our own history. Our first goal must not be to resist growing foreign interference, but to keep the lid on fringe sentiments here.
But what of China experts in Australia? Surely they can see what is happening. Most of the serious ones can and have been trying to draw attention to it for some years.
Others, like the University of Sydney’s David Brophy, prefer to put their ideological purity on display. In a ranting “review” of Silent Invasion, he argued that when discussing the Chinese Communist Party’s interference operations in Australia, people like me and the string of China experts who take a similar view have got it all back to front.
For Brophy, when the issue of foreign interference arises, we must not “shift the blame onto China” but “confront our own failings”.
Concern about Communist Party interference in Australia, opines Brophy, actually “reflects a deep malaise in Australian society”. Really? Then Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, the US, New Zealand and several European countries, where the same debate is taking place, must be suffering from the same malaise.
In truth, when someone who is being bullied or violated is accused of just imagining it, we call it victim-blaming.
When Brophy dismisses the mountain of evidence of Communist Party interference in Australia as “imagined subversion”, he shares the assessment of his vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, who has labelled the mounting warnings by the government, based largely on ASIO reports, as “Sinophobic blatherings”.
As I suggest in Silent Invasion, Spence’s University of Sydney is among the most compromised of this country’s academic institutions.
It’s not Silent Invasion, but the reaction to it, that has highlighted something troubling in the intellectual life of the nation. The fault is not an incipient xenophobia ever-ready to burst forth in anti-Chinese racism, as if our universities inherited the culture of the gold fields.
No, the fault lies in the sacrifice of intellectual rigour to the guilt felt by politically correct academics for what happened on the goldfields. For the Chinese Communist Party, this fault is a rich seam to mine in its quest to exert its influence here.
Financially, many Australian universities depend on international students from mainland China. It was recently suggested that 16% of the University of Sydney’s revenue comes from these students. Over the past two decades, this rapid change has made universities look and feel different.
From a financial perspective, it didn’t really matter if universities changed; the more enrolments the better. From a social perspective, university administrators suggested that the presence of Chinese students would create mutually beneficial cross-cultural communication and exchange. Academics initially thought that while it might take a while, Chinese students would “adjust” to Australia.
More recently, academics have come to a more pessimistic conclusion: Chinese students in Australia inhabit a “parallel society”, in which they engage with Australian society only rarely.
The combination of these factors — Australia’s financial dependence on China, the increasing Chinese presence in Australia, the disconnection of mainland Chinese students from Australian society and culture, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) increasing global assertiveness — has begun to create conflict.
Nothing about student protest is inherently undesirable. In fact, it is a manifestation of the academic freedom that university students deserve – and would not have in China. But what constitutes a “contentious issue”, and who is orchestrating this criticism? Examining the issues disputed makes two things clear: first, that the issues Chinese students deem “contentious” are exactly the same issues that the Chinese government deems “contentious”, particularly those relating to China’s territorial integrity and history. Second, that the
organisations orchestrating the response to these issues, particularly the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), are funded by and work closely with Chinese state bodies such as consulates.
This runs in parallel with a steady intensification of “ideological education” in the PRC, together with attempts to shape how China is seen by the world through Confucius Institutes, the CSSA, and other “soft power” bodies. At last week’s Party Congress, President Xi Jinping stated China’s priority is to become a globally “stronger” nation.
So, should universities and the Australian government draw the line at some point? Should they ban or restrict contentious organisations? And if these groups cause friction on campus, how should university students and administrators respond?
In some ways, yes. The chain of command is clear: from the PRC government to consulates to student organisations to students. On the other hand, students often don’t need to be encouraged to support Chinese interests. Teachers hear spontaneous outbursts of nationalism in class all the time.
Students in the CSSA are being manipulated by the PRC government, but they are individuals too. Universities should set a high standard for suppressing individual views. Supporting one government’s policies does not meet that standard.
Who is really being harmed here?
Broadly speaking, local students and academics are hearing views they don’t want to hear, often inaccurate, and frequently phrased in an inflammatory way. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Student politics is fundamentally confrontational. If local students and academics disagree, we can speak up, as several students have done.
The more severe harms are to Chinese-background students,
whether or not they are from the PRC. Chinese culture is not the same as PRC culture. It is complex and diverse, and Chinese students have wide-ranging views on many topics. As a teacher of Chinese students, I am not particularly concerned when my students support the PRC. They have many reasons to do so. But I am extremely concerned when students tell me that they are afraid to criticise China, even in essays, because they are worried that their fellow Chinese students will attack them.
When dissenting Chinese students are ostracised by student organisations, this harms the dissenting students, who lose the valuable cultural connections and support that student organisations provide. It also harms the majority of PRC students, who never get the opportunity to debate ideas suppressed in the PRC media, and who accept too frequently that the views of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are correct and normal.
What right do universities have to intervene in student organisations?
As a rule, academic freedom should apply to everyone in the university. While it is reasonable to suggest that it should be restricted in some circumstances (for example, to restrict fascist organisations), the trend towards censoriousness on campus is also concerning. Free speech should be paramount, even when the CSSA says things people don’t like. Banning or restricting the CSSA, for example, would have no effect on the PRC but would irritate and harm many Chinese students.
It should not end there. Universities can actively facilitate diversity in debate. Responsible universities would prioritise funding to the setup of Chinese student groups without political alignment and to facilitating debate about contentious topics relating to China. They would also give prominent dissenters, like Wu Lebao, special support.
Universities need to have the courage to do two contrasting things: they should both acknowledge that the opinions of the CSSA are opinions that many Chinese students hold, and provide avenues for alternative points of view. This would allow students to hear debates about China and reflect on China critically — something they cannot do within Chinese borders. This would not create a new band of anti-PRC revolutionaries, but it would do something rather rare at Australian universities — treat Chinese students as humans with the capacity for rational thought.
This week’s ABC Four Corners/Fairfax expose of Chinese activities in Australia is alarming – not just for its revelations about a multi-fronted pattern of influence-seeking, but also for what it says about our political elite.
Are its members – on both sides of politics – naive, stupid, or just greedy for either their parties or themselves?
Why did they think Chau Chak Wing and Huang Xiangmo – two billionaires with apparently close links to the Chinese Communist Party – and associated entities would want to pour millions of dollars into their parties?
Did they believe that, in the absence of democracy in the land of their birth, these businessmen were just anxious to subsidise it abroad? Hardly.
Even worse, after ASIO had explicitly warned the Coalition parties and Labor in 2015 about the business figures and their links to the Chinese regime, how could the Liberals, Nationals and ALP keep accepting more of their money? Seemingly, their voracious desire for funds overcame ethics and common sense.
And why would former trade minister Andrew Robb not see a problem in walking straight from parliament into a highly lucrative position with a Chinese company?
The spotlight is back on Labor senator Sam Dastyari who last year stepped down from the frontbench over a controversy involving a debt paid by Chinese interests. Monday’s program reported that Dastyari’s office and he personally lobbied intensively to try to facilitate Huang’s citizenship application. The application had stalled; it was being scrutinised by ASIO.
While the Liberals will, quite legitimately, renew their attacks on Dastyari, the case of Robb, also highlighted in the program, raises a more complex question.
Robb brought to fruition Australia’s free-trade deal with China. He announced his retirement late in the last parliament, stepping down as minister but seeing out the term as special trade envoy. He was one of the government’s most successful performers.
On September 2 last year Robb’s appointment as a senior economic adviser to the Landbridge Group – the Chinese company that had gained a 99-year lease to the Port of Darwin – was announced on the company’s website.
Landbridge’s acquisition of the Port of Darwin was highly controversial, despite being given the OK by the defence department. The Americans were angry they were not accorded notice, with President Barack Obama chipping Malcolm Turnbull about it.
Monday’s expose revealed that Robb was put on the Landbridge payroll from July 1 last year, the day before the election, and that his remuneration was A$73,000 a month – $880,000 a year – plus expenses.
Robb was touchy last year when his new position was questioned, saying: “I’ve been a senior cabinet minister – I know the responsibilities that I’ve got. I’ve got no intention of breaching those responsibilities.”
He did not give an interview to Monday’s program, but told it in a statement: “I can confirm that I fully understand my responsibilities as a former member of cabinet, and I can also confirm that I have, at all times, acted in accordance with those responsibilities”.
The formal responsibilities for post-separation employment are set out in the Statement of Ministerial Standards, dated November 20, 2015.
Ministers are required to undertake that, for an 18-month period after ceasing to be a minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as minister in their last eighteen months in office.
Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.
Ministers shall ensure that their personal conduct is consistent with the dignity, reputation and integrity of the parliament.
While Robb is not a lobbyist, and would argue that he has not contravened the letter of this code, it is hard to see how quickly taking such a position does not bring him into conflict with its spirit.
Why would this company be willing to pay a very large amount of money for his services? The obvious answer is because of who he is, his background, his name, his knowledge, and his contacts.
Robb surely would have done better to steer right away from the offer.
Both government and opposition, having for years been caught napping or worse about Chinese penetration, have started scrambling to be seen to be acting.
Turnbull last month asked Attorney-General George Brandis to lead a review of the espionage laws. Brandis says he will take a submission to cabinet “with a view to introducing legislation before the end of the year”.
The government is planning to bring in legislation in the spring parliamentary session to ban foreign donations, a complex exercise when, for example, a figure such a Chau, an Australian citizen, is involved.
In an attempt at one-upmanship, Bill Shorten – again on the back foot over Dastyari – says Labor won’t accept donations from the two businessmen featured in Monday’s program, and challenges Turnbull to do the same.
Shorten already has a private member’s bill before parliament to ban foreign donations, and on Tuesday wrote to Turnbull calling for a parliamentary inquiry “on possible measures to address the risk posed by foreign governments and their agents seeking to improperly interfere in Australia’s domestic political and electoral affairs”.
Out of it all will come action on foreign donations and perhaps tighter espionage laws. But it is to the politicians’ deep discredit that they have been so cavalier about the integrity of our political system for so long.
The link below is to an article from a foreign news site that reports on Australia’s current asylum seeker policy and that of the opposition – it would appear to have some Coalition influence concerning some aspects of the report.
Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air.
LOS ANGELES, April 7 (CDN) — One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in the open air this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year.
The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 1,000-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year.
Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening.
“Normal” (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered church activity is usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, especially if the people are related and can cite the gathering as a family get-together, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said.
“For a larger group of Christians to meet in any ‘unregistered’ location led by an ‘unregistered’ leader is illegal,” he said. “The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being ‘visible’ ends up giving an impression of being a political ‘protest.’”
The congregation believes China’s Department of Religious Affairs has overstepped its jurisdiction in issuing regulations limiting unregistered church activity, according to a statement church leaders issued this week.
“Out of respect for both the Chinese Constitution [whose Article 36 stipulates freedom of worship] and Christian conscience, we cannot actively endorse and submit to the regulations which bid us to cease all Sunday worship activities outside of [the] ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’ – the only state-sanctioned church,” according to the statement. “Of course, we still must follow the teachings of the Bible, which is for everyone to submit to and respect the governing authorities. We are willing to submit to the regulations with passivity and all the while shoulder all the consequences which . . . continuing to worship outside of what is sanctioned by these regulations will bring us.”
The church decided to resort to open-air worship after a prospective landlord backed out of a contractual agreement to allow the congregation to meet at the Xihua Business Hotel, the church said in its statement.
“They had signed another rental contract with another property facility and announced during the March 22 service that they were to move in two weeks,” the source said. “In spite of the fact that they had signed a formal contract, the new landlord suddenly called them on March 22 and refused to let them use the facility.”
The landlord offered various excuses for reneging on the contract, according to church leaders, and that disappointment came after 15 months of trying to obtain the key to another property the church had purchased.
“The space in Daheng New Epoch Technology building, which the church had spent over 27.5 million RMB [US$4.2 million] to purchase, has failed to hand the key over to the church for the past year and three months because of government intervention,” the church said in its statement. “For the past year, our church has not had a settled meeting place.”
Beginning as a house church in 1993, the Shouwang Church has been evicted from several rented locations. It also met outside after its last displacement in 2009. The congregation does not believe its calling is to split up into smaller units.
“For the past several years the church has been given a vision from God to be ‘the city on a hill,’” the source said. “Especially since 2009, when they officially began the church building purchase, they have been trying to become a more officially established status. At this point, they feel that they have not completed the journey in obedience to God.”
The number of Protestant house church Christians is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Yu and others have concluded that house churches are a positive influence on society, but the government is wary of such influence.
Yu estimated another 18 to 30 million people attend government-approved churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, which number around 74 million.
The government-commissioned study by Yu and associates suggested that officials should seek to integrate house churches and no longer regard them as enemies of the state. The study employed a combination of interviews, field surveys and policy reviews to gather information on house churches in several provinces from October 2007 to November 2008.
Yu’s team found that most house or “family” churches fit into one of three broad categories: traditional house churches, open house churches or urban emerging churches. Traditional house churches were generally smaller, family-based churches, meeting in relative secrecy. Though not a Christian himself, Yu attended some of these meetings and noted that the focus was not on democracy or human rights but rather on spiritual life and community.
The “open” house churches were less secretive and had more members, sometimes advertising their services and holding public gatherings, he found. Urban emerging churches functioned openly but independently of TSPM churches. In some provinces such as Wenzhou, these churches had constructed their own buildings and operated without interference from local officials.
While some house churches actively seek registration with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, they would like the option of registering outside the government-approved TSPM structure, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.