AUSTRALIA’S two major political parties have received almost $6 million from a shadowy “front” for the Chinese Government.
Parliamentary researchers have uncovered the massive extent of donations made to the Liberal and Labor parties by pro-Beijing figures in the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China.
Amid growing fears about China’s influence in Australian politics, the Herald Sun can also reveal the Turnbull Government will introduce legislation next month to ban foreign donations to political parties and associated entities.
In a confidential report obtained by the Herald Sun, the council is classed as an “agent of the Chinese state” whose members are “covert conduits” for the Communist Party’s efforts to influence policy.
But the crackdown may not stop donations from some council members because they are Australian citizens.
Key figures including property billionaires Huang Xiangmo and another Chinese businessman combined to donate $2.6 million to the Labor Party and $3 million to the Liberal Party in recent years.
Labor MP Michael Danby, former chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Defence and
Trade Committee, said the council was acting “as a business front” for the Communist Party and the donations were part of a “well-funded and prolonged influence operation by Beijing”.
But the council “totally dismissed” claims it was a Communist front and said it was “unfortunate that some people continue to portray the Chinese community in a negative light to create division”.
It was founded in 2000 with Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke as patrons and describes itself as a “autonomous, non-government organisation” which promotes economic and cultural exchanges.
Mr Danby said donations by council members — who also gave millions to universities and hospitals — appeared to be “directed by a foreign authoritarian power”.
He said this was part of Beijing’s strategy “to interfere in Australian foreign policy”, which also included funding “fake pro-China think-tanks” and purchasing Chinese language publications.
NSW Labor received the bulk of the donations to the ALP, including $350,000 from Mr Huang and his company in 2012-13, which was a quarter of the branch’s total donations that year.
Mr Huang also donated $100,000 to the Bayside Forum, which helps the Liberals in the Victorian seat of Goldstein, when Andrew Robb was the local member and the Trade Minister charged with negotiating a free-trade agreement with China.
The parliamentary report said the council was overseen by the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and had “opaque” financial arrangements.
“It may be the case that the wealthy business members and affiliates provide all funding, with the businessmen considering such funding as part of their ‘patriotic duty’, and being rewarded with positions on Chinese bodies and possibly commercial opportunities in China,” the report said.
The council said in a statement: “Whether or not individual members have ever donated to political parties or other causes is a matter for them.”
Earlier this year, a parliamentary committee urged a wideranging ban on donations from foreign citizens and entities to all “political actors”, citing a need to protect national sovereignty.
It is understood dual citizens living in Australia or overseas will be exempt from the government’s proposed ban, as will non-Australian permanent residents who live here.
The move is broadly supported by Labor and the Greens but it is unclear whether they will back attempts to extend the foreign donations ban to third parties and activist groups such as progressive lobby group GetUp!
By Tom Minear, James Campbell and Rob Harris