The Australian National University rejected a multi-million-dollar donation from a billionaire property developer last year after its vice chancellor was warned by ASIO that the benefactor had links to the Chinese Communist Party.
- ANU’s vice chancellor was briefed by ASIO about alleged donor links to the Chinese Communist party
- ASIO holds concerns about the influence of two Chinese billionaires in Australian academia
- Labor has called for a parliamentary inquiry into foreign influence, the PM has asked the A-G to review espionage and foreign interference laws
The news comes as the Opposition presses for an inquiry into foreign interference in Australia, conducted by Parliament’s powerful joint intelligence and security committee.
The committee’s deputy chair, Labor’s Anthony Byrne, said the need for an inquiry was urgent.
The intelligence committee has the power to call agencies to give evidence in private, and he would be willing to interrogate politicians from all parties in public.
“How bad is it?” Mr Byrne asked.
“How bad is it when intelligence agencies are starting to talk about the threat of donors and what they could do to subvert the political system? It’s critical in the present period of time”.
A Four Corners-Fairfax investigation named two billionaires that ASIO identified as having links to the Chinese Communist Party: Dr Chau Chak Wing and Huang Xiangmo.
Between them they have donated $6.7 million to the major parties.
One million dollars of that flowed after ASIO’s director general Duncan Lewis warned the Labor, Liberal and National parties that the money could come with strings attached.
Both men are also big donors to academic institutions, particularly the University of Technology in Sydney.
Dr Chau donated $20 million to build the Frank Gehry designed Business School at UTS and Mr Huang gifted $1.8m to help establish the Australia-China Relations Institute. He also claims to have hand-picked its director, former foreign minister Bob Carr.
ASIO clearly also holds concerns about the men’s influence in academia.
The ABC has confirmed that one of the two billionaires offered the ANU a multi-million dollar donation. It was rejected last year after the university’s vice chancellor, Brian Schmidt was briefed by the intelligence agency.
In a statement ANU said it has “no comment on any private briefings to the vice-chancellor”.
Labor calls for more action on foreign influence
Mr Byrne said Australia’s laws on foreign states and foreign state actors were inadequate and the political process was being subverted.
“This has been going on for too long the time for finger pointing is finished,” Mr Byrne said.
“The Australian public deserves strong laws that protect the national interest. They do not have them in the field of foreign donations at the moment, they need them and I’ll be doing my utmost to ensure they get them.”
So far, the Government has refused to back to back the Opposition Leader’s call an intelligence committee inquiry.
Instead, the Prime Minister has asked the Attorney-General to review on the espionage and foreign interference laws.
After that the committee would be tasked with reviewing the findings and could hold public hearings.
Both major parties now also support a ban on foreign donations and the Government response is expected in the second half of the year.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has gone a step further, pledging Labor will no longer accept donations from either of the two men named in the Four Corners-Fairfax investigation.
By Chris Uhlmann