Labor powerbroker Sam Dastyari continues to face criticism for receiving donations from businesses with Chinese interests, with the PM calling it “cash for comment”.
Senator Dastyari has denied that his donations have swayed his views on the South China Sea issues, saying that he has always supported Labor’s stance on foreign policy.
“I support the Labor party position on the South China Sea dispute,” he told The Guardian.
The Senator has been under intense scrutiny since a donation of two bottles of wine was discovered last week. Mr Dastyari declared that the donated wine was worth $300 per bottle and that he ended up giving them to charity.
The gifts, which were later found to be Penfolds Grange valued at $600 per bottle, were donated by a company called Yuhu – the same company that had allegedly paid a $40,000 legal bill on behalf of Mr Dastyari before he became a Senator.
Although there have been claims that Sam Dastyari broke ‘ethical rules’, so far, his actions are within the rules of parliamentary entitlements.
This hasn’t prevented the Coalition from attacking Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for Mr Dastyari’s actions, with the Government calling on Mr Shorten to sack the embattled Senator.
Mr Shorten told Parliament that he had expressed his unhappiness at Mr Dastyari’s actions, but was sticking by his Senator.
“I’ve just said to him that he shouldn’t have done it and he said he won’t do it again,” said Mr Shorten.
Malcolm Turnbull, who is in China for the G20 Summit, has attacked Mr Shorten for defending Dastyari’s “right to take cash” while undermining Australia’s foreign policy.
“I’m here in China standing up for Australia,” said Mr Turnbull. “Back home, Bill Shorten is standing up for Sam Dastyari’s right to take cash from a company associated with a foreign government and then express a view on foreign policy that undermines the Australian government’s foreign policy which had been supported by Mr Shorten himself.”
Mr Turnbull is referring to Chinese media reports that Senator Dastyari’s stance on the South China Sea opposed the policy of his own party.
But Mr Dastyari has told the ABC that he fully supports Labor’s foreign policy, claiming: “I’m not responsible for how the Chinese media reports my comments.”
Since the donation scandal, Labor has again called on the Government to ban all foreign political donations. Two Coalition cabinet ministers, Steve Ciobo and Darren Chester, have suggested that political donations can only be made by individuals on the electoral roll – effectively banning donations from corporations and unions – a move Labor does not support. Labor does, however, support the expansion of full disclosure laws, to allow the public to see all donations made sooner than the current six-month embargo.
Senator Dastyari’s actions are indeed questionable, but one can’t help but think that this ‘saga’ is a thinly veiled distraction from the Coalition’s struggle to govern the country.
There are also elements of hypocrisy running rife through this attack on the Labor party. No one seems to be questioning the Coalition for selling off Australia’s dairy and agriculture industries to Chinese interests, or the way in which these deals have been done.
One thing is for sure: Sam Dastyari shouldn’t have taken the wine. He shouldn’t have allowed a Chinese company with links to the Chinese Government to settle legal debts on his behalf. He should have settled his own travel overspend. And yes, it is well past time that the Government banned all foreign political donations and looked into reducing the influence on our political systems by corporations and unions, both foreign and local.
But the Coalition is not without its own links with Chinese political donations. Why isn’t Mr Turnbull attacking his own Foreign Minister – someone with actual government influence – from receiving half a million dollars for the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party over the last two years from Chinese businessmen with links to the Chinese Government?
It’s a little more than two bottles of wine and a settled legal debt.
It’s also worth noting that Mr Dastyari is the one leading the charge against banks for corporate wrongdoing – a cause which goes against the Coalition’s interests. With that in mind, one can’t help but think that this may be a bit of a witch hunt.
Still, maybe the best move for Bill Shorten is to make an example of Sam Dastyari, that way he gives the Coalition one less excuse to not do its job.
The idea of limiting political donations to those on the electoral role seems a wise one. That way, only people who have a vote can donate to the cause. That way, we don’t have the threat of influence from corporations, unions and foreign interest.
Regardless, the Sam Dastyari saga is distracting the media, and the public, from the real issue at hand – a Government that is struggling to govern. The sooner this is put behind us, the sooner the Government can get to the business that they are paid by the Australian taxpayer to do – run the country. I for one can’t wait to see what it can do without further excuses.
What do you think of this affair? Should Bill Shorten sack Sam Dastyari? Is this a witch hunt? Should the Coalition deal with its own history of dodgy dealings with the Chinese before pointing the finger elsewhere?