NSW Liberals accepted donations linked to pro-Beijing group | Australia news
Huang, a major political donor, has been effectively blocked from re-entering Australia after authorities reportedly cancelled his residency and blocked his bid for citizenship.
The Chinese billionaire was the long-term chairman of a peak Chinese Community Party-linked lobby group, the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, and was heavily scrutinised for his dealings with Labor senator Sam Dastyari.
The party accepted two $1,000 donations from Charlton Lok, who was previously a vice chairman of the council at the same time Huang was the organisation’s honorary chairman.
The first donation was accepted on 15 November, the same day the federal Coalition’s ban on foreign donations – part of its wider crackdown on foreign interference in Australian democracy – passed the Senate. The second was received four days later.
Both donations to the NSW Liberals were made during fundraising events held by the NSW Liberals. NSW state ministers Victor Dominello and Dominic Perrottet spoke at the respective fundraisers.
The federal foreign donations ban was not in force at the time of Lok’s donations. Even if it were, it would not have applied to donations to state branches of the major parties.
The council’s secretariat said in a statement that Lok, an Australian citizen, was free to “make donations to any political party that he may wish and his intention is private”.
“Mr Lok is an Australian Citizen for many decades. He belongs to many community organisations, and is a well-respected leader of the Chinese Community in Sydney and Australia,” the council said in a statement.
The council said he should not have to be questioned by the press.
Lok did nothing wrong by making the donations, but they raise questions about the NSW Liberals, given the the timing and Lok’s long involvement with the reunification council.
Lok is not listed as holding a role on the council’s executive committee in its current eighth term, which began in August, before the donations were made.
Academics researching foreign interference have told both the Australian parliament and US congress that the global network of reunification councils share close links to the Chinese Communist Party. The Australian arm answers to the Beijing-based Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, which experts say is directly subordinate to the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee.
The council received significant scrutiny over dealings between Huang and former Labor senator Sam Dastyari, which eventually forced Dastyari out of public office.
Dastyari warned the Communist party-linked Huang in 2016 that he was probably under surveillance by government agencies.
Huang has previously denied the organisation is an affiliate of the United Front Work Department, telling the ABC it was an “autonomous, non-government organisation” that “supports economic and cultural exchange programs and charitable causes”.
China foreign influence expert, Clive Hamilton, questioned the acceptance of the donations by the NSW Liberals.
Hamilton’s own research has suggested the individual donor shares connections with various other bodies that “come under the guidance or directions of the United Front Work Department”.
“After the Sam Dastyari affair, you’d think the NSW Liberals would be vigilant about accepting money from people linked to the Chinese Communist Party,” he told Guardian Australia. “If nothing else, the optics of taking money from people linked to the Chinese Communist Party are terrible.”
“Luckily for the Liberals, the Labor Party is in no position to score points off their actions.”
A spokesman for the NSW Liberal party said it “fully complied” with its obligations under “Commonwealth and state electoral funding laws, and declares donations in line with those obligations under the relevant legislation.” The party has fully complied with disclosure obligations around the donations.
A spokesman for the special minister of state, Alex Hawke, said the foreign donation laws did not apply to donations made for state electoral purposes. He said the donations ban was designed to support the integrity of Australia’s democracy and sovereignty.
“Foreign governments, foreign billionaires and foreign companies have no legitimate role in funding any activities that influence Australian politics, and that’s why we’ve banned foreign donations,” he said.
“If there is an arrangement contrived to avoid these new laws, then the act has anti-avoidance measures prohibiting such donations. The Morrison government is confident that the AEC will ensure compliance with these important laws, as the Australian public rightfully expect.”