Australian politics

Australian Senator Sam Dastyari under fire for allegedly tipping off Chinese donor about phone tap

Dastyari resigned from Labor’s frontbench 12 months ago amid questions about donations from a wealthy Chinese businessman

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 1:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 November, 2017, 10:11pm

Australian ministers have questioned the loyalty of the strife-prone 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.”

I have never been briefed by any security agency, or received any classified information about any matter, ever
Labor Senator Sam Dastyari

Dastyari said he had met Huang face-to-face to tell him that it wasn’t appropriate to have future contact, and a face-to-face 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,” Richard Marles, the opposition spokesman on defence, 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.