Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ordered a major inquiry into the nation’s espionage and foreign interference laws, amid concerns about Chinese influence in Australian politics.
A Four Corners-Fairfax investigation has discovered Australia’s spy agency ASIO warned the Coalition and Labor about taking donations from two billionaires with links to the Chinese Communist Party.
But the parties did not stop, with the Coalition then accepting $800,000 and Labor $200,000.
Attorney-General George Brandis said he was examining whether the espionage offences in the criminal code are adequate.
“The threat of political interference by foreign intelligence services is a problem of the highest order and it is getting worse,” Senator Brandis said in a statement.
“Earlier this year the Prime Minister initiated a comprehensive review of Australia’s espionage and foreign interference laws, which he asked me to lead.
Power and influence
ASIO investigation sparks fears the Chinese Communist Party may be influencing the Australian political system as questions are raised over millions of dollars in foreign political donations.
“I will be taking legislative reforms to Cabinet with a view to introducing legislation before the end of the year.”
Between them, the businessmen and associated entities have donated about $6.7 million to the major parties over a decade.
It was also revealed Labor senator Sam Dastyari personally contacted the Immigration Department twice to support one of the donors, Huang Xiangmo’s, application for Australian citizenship. ASIO has stalled the request.
Crossbench senator Cory Bernardi is now demanding a public inquiry into China’s influence in Australian politics.
“There needs to be a royal commission into the corruption or attempted corruption of our body politic,” Senator Bernardi said.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young argued a federal corruption watchdog was more important.
In a statement, Senator Dastyari said it was his job “to assist constituents with migration matters including liaising with the Department of Immigration”.
By Chris Uhlmann and Caitlyn Gribbin