Key members of Federal Parliament’s national security committee are backing a move to use the committee’s powers to publish an explosive book on Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia.
Committee chair and Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and deputy chair Anthony Byrne, a Labor MP, are among those supporting the move despite the potential for diplomatic fall-out, according to multiple sources.
Fairfax Media has also confirmed that the office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been briefed on the deliberations of the committee and has no objection to it publishing the manuscript.
Two major publishers ditched the manuscript, by a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University, Professor Clive Hamilton, citing fears Beijing or its proxies would launch legal action.
The publishing of the manuscript by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security would further jolt relations between Canberra and Beijing, as the book exhaustively details clandestine efforts by the Chinese government to co-opt and influence Australian politicians, universities, think tanks and the media.
It may also anger several influential ex-politicians, including former foreign minister Bob Carr and former trade minister Andrew Robb. The book is highly critical of the pair’s dealings with billionaire businessmen closely aligned to the Chinese Communist Party.
But by receiving the manuscript of Silent Invasion: How China Is Turning Australia into a Puppet State as an exhibit, the committee has retained a power to publish it.
One of the concerns raised last week inside the committee about publishing the book was the appropriateness of granting it the parliamentary power of qualified privileged – which prevents the authors of submissions from being sued, and protects others such as journalists who re-publish the contents of the book.
Three committee members were understood to have been concerned that tabling the manuscript would enable a commercial publisher who otherwise wouldn’t print the book to do so.
But that concern has been made redundant this week, with Fairfax Media on Monday confirming that publisher Hardie Grant has already sent the book to the presses and would release it in March.
Why is this even a question? Publish it and bring on the blowback. The relationship needs a good airing.
Meanwhile, the push back is also in trouble:
The government has flagged it could make changes to its foreign influence legislation as it emerged that companies might have to disclosure donations to charities and expenditure on social issues such as same-sex marriage.
As well, the controversial foreign influence regime might mean the Minerals Council, the Business Council and Industry Super Australia would all have to register as political campaigners.
It could also require the political affiliations of senior executives to be made public, according to legal advice for the Australia Institute, which has now called for the regime to be dumped.
Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist said the government’s plans “are not only an attack on democracy, but would tie business in red tape as well. The legislation should now be abandoned altogether.”
And be replaced with what? Wholesale Chinese bribes? It should not be dumped. It should be tailored.