Ex-trade minister’s China links queried


The Turnbull government has defended the integrity of former trade minister Andrew Robb amid controversy over his links to China and a $880,000 job post-politics.

Mr Robb, the architect of the China-Australia free trade agreement, walked straight out of parliament last year and into a job with a billionaire closely aligned to the Chinese Communist Party.

There are reports his personal campaign fund the Bayside Forum received $50,000 from a Chinese donor on the same day the free trade deal was finalised.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale raised the issue in Senate question time on Tuesday asking government leader George Brandis whether such potential conflicts of interest were raised in cabinet before or after deliberations on the trade deal.

“Knowing Mr Robb as I do, having worked with him as a colleague and known him as a friend for many years I regard Mr Andrew Robb as a person of the greatest integrity,” Senator Brandis responded.

The former MP had left politics and was entitled to pursue a career in the private sector, he said.

“If Mr Robb hadn’t given the prime years of his career to public service in the parliament he would be a very wealthy man,” Senator Brandis said.

He refused to discuss cabinet deliberations.

Domestic intelligence agency ASIO cautioned both major parties in 2015 against taking donations from two high-profile businessmen suspected of being conduits to the Chinese Communist Party, with concerns the money may have strings attached, but their warnings were not heeded.

Meanwhile, in the lower house Foreign Minister Julie Bishop accused Labor senator Sam Dastyari of trashing the opposition’s foreign policy for a donation of $400,000.

The ABC last week reported a Chinese donor had withdrawn a promised donation of that sum because the opposition’s then-defence spokesman, Stephen Conroy backed freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.

Senator Dastyari resigned from the opposition frontbench last year following revelations he asked a Chinese businessman to pay a bill when he exceeded his parliamentary entitlement for travel.

It sparked accusations he’d been compromised, as reports emerged he had taken a pro-China stance on the South China Sea dispute, at odds with his party’s position on the matter.

“What did the leader of the opposition do? In the face of the most extraordinary public admission of foreign interference and influence, he slapped him on the wrist, sent him to the backbench for a couple of months and Senator Sam Dastyari is now back in a leadership position in the Labor Party,” Ms Bishop told question time.

By Lisa Martin
Australian Associated Press


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