What did Gladys Liu buy for Beijing?

The Saturday Paper kept Liugate running on the weekend with a fascinating piece starring “Shanghai Sam” Dastayari:

Over the past week or so, Sam Dastyari has tried to contact Gladys Liu.

The former New South Wales Labor senator feels some sympathy for the beleaguered Victorian Liberal MP, having lost his political career through involvement with Chinese money and a man he now describes as “an agent of influence”.

Unsurprisingly, Liu – facing questions about her links to the Chinese Communist Party and her fundraising efforts – has not returned his calls.

Watching the debate over Gladys Liu’s ties to organisations linked to the CCP, Dastyari has a sense of déjà vu. But he’s changed his view of fundraising.

“Do not underestimate just how much pressure political parties and political apparatchiks are under when it comes to fundraising,” he told The Saturday Paper this week.

“This is an arms race and the arms race has built into it, now, what is kind of a mutually assured destruction to the system. And that is what we are seeing played out. You cannot go into an election campaign being massively outspent by your political opponents and expect to win.”

Dastyari is now a campaigner for electoral funding reform.

He has joined calls for a publicly funded electoral system in which political parties no longer raise private funds.

He says although it may require a constitutional amendment to ban private donations, the current system creates the risk of corruption.

The former senator points to allegations being levelled against Labor and Liberal figures in his home state of NSW, where he was formerly Labor state secretary. “Shady dealings, Aldi bags and cash in the NSW branch – people shake their heads and say, ‘Why do these things happen?’” he says.

“They happen because the system has inbuilt an arms race.”

Instead of just looking at the symptoms, he says, policymakers should examine the cause. “Sometimes the best option is to flip the card table and start again.”

Dastyari says people don’t understand what donated money buys. Rarely is it a direct policy change or specific decisions.

“That’s far too simplistic an interpretation of a very complex system,” he says. “What you actually end up doing is getting access … [The] opportunity to put your case – and frame an argument in the way in which you want that argument to be framed with decision-makers – is of huge value.”

Opportunity seekers pay a lot. While small crowdfunded contributions are also sought, they are not the focus.

“That’s not the model of political donations in this country,” Dastyari says. “The model is a small group of people giving very large amounts of money, either individually or through their organisations. The most innocent interpretation – that they’re simply doing it to support ideological views they already have – in itself distorts the system.”

Sam Dastyari says that pressure to raise money naturally affects MPs’ attitudes, just by virtue of spending so much time around rich people. “The thing they all have in common is that they have money. Your value system is simply going to get skewed.”

Donations are never for nothing.

“Don’t kid yourself that money doesn’t buy access,” he says. “If I walk in, prepared to make a large donation of, say, $50,000 or $100,000 or $150,000 to a political organisation, that will get me dinner – either through an auction or even a direct party program. That will give me access to the senior leadership. And even in its most innocent interpretation, you have to ask, ‘Is it the best outcome for a system that those with money can buy a seat at the table?’”

Dastyari says Chinese business figures donating in the Australian political system are just like others, in the sense they want access to further their business interests.

But there is an extra dimension – they are seeking to also create a personal network of Australian political connections that helps them earn power and status back in China.

“What was different about these Chinese donors was the scale was quite large,” he says. “It was very noticeable. We’re talking about what, in Australian politics, is large sums of money. We’re talking millions of dollars being donated across the political spectrum.”

Dastyari says some donors also have “a more nefarious agenda”, pushing not only business interests but geopolitical issues as well.

…“I’m not saying this as some academic in an ivory tower who’s never raised money. I’m saying this as … probably one of the largest fundraisers the Labor Party has ever had, right? And looking back on the system with a failed career and the benefit of hindsight.”

When asked whether others endorsed what he was doing while only he paid a price, he declines to comment.

Dastyari acknowledges some will view his anti-fundraising conversion with cynicism and says reaching that realisation earlier might have saved his own career.

“I’m saying these are the warning signs for others.”

Not so far. Gladys Liu remains firmly ensconced in parliament, strings to Beijing and all.

So, the question is, what did Gladys Liu buy for Beijing?

David Llewellyn-Smith
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  1. I’m very impressed by Sam Dastyari’s new attitude and his campaign to ban private donations.

    Taking it on face value, he admits to doing evil, and now he is trying to make it easier for others to do the right thing.

      • No, no, Sam does need to disappear. He made his bed, now he needs to lie in it.
        Again with the breaking of arms to pat him on the back. Like no-one could figure this out with Sam Dastaryi saying it.
        Kumbaya, lets hold hands around the campfire.

    • I’m not impressed at all. I think it’s a carefully calculated attempt to reinvent himself in the eyes of the public.

      Everyone knows all these big companies et al don’t donate large funds to both sides of the politicial spectrum because they love democracy, they buy it because, somewhere down the line, they expect something in return. For Sam to get up and give it a “whoops mea culpa” tells me he’s either a liar or an idiot. And I don’t think he’s an idiot.

    • I agree, Claw. I think he’s recognised that his ahem, somewhat unique experience in this area, gives him a position from which to talk and to advocate for change. I think he’s really suffered from his downfall and has determined that the only way to put things right is to try to play a part in the solution to the donations/lobbying/bribery arms race. I’m not sure that what he’s proposing is the solution, but I also know that doing nothing because “it’s too hard to fix” isn’t the solution, either.

  2. The Horrible Scott Morrison MP

    Only a communist would endorse publicly funded political parties. Although Union funding should be made illegal immediately. Sensible policies for a fairer Australia.

    • The former senator points to allegations being levelled against Labor and Liberal figures in his home state of NSW, where he was formerly Labor state secretary. “Shady dealings, Aldi bags and cash in the NSW branch – people shake their heads and say, ‘Why do these things happen?’” he says.

      Let’s get some perspective here, they are using Aldi bags, not true blue Coles or Woolies bags. I think the shooting gallery is too kind for this lot of traitors. They clearly worship the German’s first.

      • John Howards Bowling Coach

        Back in the day ALDI would have been selling the most durable and strong bag, those bags that Coles and Woolies gave away freely with the groceries in the past were not only semi transparent (rendering them unsuitable for the brown paper bag replacement), but they also likely would have torn open under the load of $100k of legal tender.

        No need to get racist about this stuff, but the German discounter was ahead of the game in terms of a quality bag for carrying a loot.

  3. it may require a constitutional amendment to ban private donations

    Huang never had an Aussie passport – the founding fathers of the constitution were absolutely against foreign control of Aussie politicians.

    And as I have been saying, get the AEC to adequately fund the political parties – that would require no referendum because the AEC already gives some money to the senators.

    • Refine that…ban foreign political donations and for every private donation it provenance of the funds needs to be 100%, and that would mean a full audit for all donations. They go into a trust fund and if they can’t be proven to be genuine the funds then go to consolidated revenue. There might be more tweaking needed, but anyone found to be using foreign funds for any political purpose is immediate jail…10 years should do it. And….I’d add property developers banned as well to any political fund, and banned for any lobbying.

    • No, that just makes entry to politics impossible for all but the (very) wealthy and those willing to toe a party line. Much like the idea of ONLY public funding it will act to cement the status quo by practically eliminating independent candidates.

      Donations just need to be limited to natural persons only (or, say, registered voters) and to a low amount (a few grand) per year. With brutal punishments (forfeiture of pension, mandatory gaol time) for those who try and circumvent the system.

      We’ll soon find out which candidates and parties the people support in those circumstances.

  4. Banning donations won’t stop anything. They treat all donations like a slush fund. So then they get more public dollars directly. And the Chinese and corporate influence money goes to some “independent” organisation that will use it on behalf of the party/candidate. And you won’t be able to ban that because it would be anti free speech. So all that will happen is the thieving politicans get more public money.

    • corporate influence money goes to some “independent” organisation

      That already exists. It is called The Murdoch. The Murdoch rants against poor voters and cheers on Scummo.

      Lobbying was a felony in USA until 1960! Not a coincidence that USA has gone down the drain since then.

      It is a good idea to ban Harvey Norman and Metricon from giving money to the ALP and Scummo. How can the ALP possibly cut immigration – to improve the lives of the plebs – when billionaires are funding the ALP.

  5. John Howards Bowling Coach

    I am extremely disappointed in the media. They have gone too quiet, we need someone to dig up another smoking gun to follow on from the already uncovered weight of incriminating evidence against Ms Liu.

    As many predicted, she looks to be just weathering the storm on this due to the Elephant Hide she possesses. It just goes to show how suitable the treasonous Ms Liu actually is to pursue a career in politics.

    Deny Deny Deny