Senator BERNARDI (South Australia): I feel I need to make a contribution to this debate because I belled the cat about Senator Dastyari asking for his personal over expense for his travel bills of some $1,200 or $1,800 to be paid for by a donor linked to the Chinese Communist Party. It was disclosed in his register of interests, as if that were some sort of virtue. It was not just an oversight; it was an indication of the New South Wales Labor Party culture of getting other people to pick up your tab that has crept into this place. It is cancer, a cancer that destroyed the New South Wales government—which was the most corrupt government in my memory—and which saw Kristina Keneally become the puppet Premier to mop up the mess left by the corruption of the New South Wales Labor mob. It was as crooked as it gets; they know that. And that corruption, that stench, has crept its way into this chamber and has manifested itself in Senator Dastyari.
Look at the track record here. This is not just about one transgression; this is about an individual who thinks it’s okay to have their personal bills picked up by a donor who is allegedly an agent of a foreign government. This is a political party and an organisation that is defending an individual when they have been warned that this person risks compromising Australian political life through their abundance of money. They are defending Senator Dastyari—as if it’s some sort of penalty to punish him by sending him into purgatory and banishing him from being the Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate. It is a mockery and it makes a mockery of this place. He not only had his personal bill picked up but he also had his legal expenses picked up, to the tune of $5,000. We know from media reports that Senator Dastyari’s office in his time as the ‘fixer’ in the New South Wales division has been the Chinese diaspora, if I can put it like that. We’ve seen people resign from New South Wales parliamentary places and then Senator Dastyari’s people and his conduits into the Chinese community installed in their stead. We’ve seen reports of Senator Dastyari and his staff’s involvement in infiltrating councils. We’ve seen Senator Dastyari give a dubious and outright false account of his press conference given to Chinese media in Commonwealth parliamentary offices—ostensibly about safe schools, when it was all to do with Chinese foreign policy. And it’s only because video evidence has emerged that contradicts Senator Dastyari’s claims that we’re in this position today.
You cannot trust what Senator Dastyari says. You cannot rely on what he says—unless you are a Chinese billionaire and he’s come around to your house to have a covert chat and he says, ‘Can we leave our phones here and go outside, because you’re under surveillance from ASIO.’ What a disgrace. What an absolute disgrace. And he tries to turn it into some sort of virtue; he comes in here and says, ‘Oh, Mr Shorten rang me last night and told me I need to stand down from my frontbench position, and my daughter has been having to explain my behaviour at school.’ Welcome to the world, Senator Dastyari. Those of us with children know that they are, unfortunately, sometimes in the frontline of abuse because of the sins of the father. I know that, because I’ve gone through the vicissitudes of public life myself. But to use that and to tear up in here and say, ‘Oh, it’s been so hard on my family’—because of his crooked behaviour, his dodgy behaviour! And it’s repeated again and again. There is a pattern of abuse. It is the migration of New South Wales corruption into this place.
It’s not good enough for Mr Shorten to run a protection racket for Senator Dastyari and say, ‘I’ve admonished him for his summer holidays,’ as Senator Brandis put it. It’s not good enough. You’ve got to cut him loose. You’ve got to cut those ties—cut those crooked ties—and boot him from the Labor Party. But they won’t do that, of course, because Senator Dastyari knows where the skeletons are buried. He’s got too much dirt on Mr Shorten, too much dirt on the New South Wales group, and they need him. Mr Shorten needs him as a counter, as a foil, to the threats from Mr Albanese for the leadership.
This is a real test. It’s a test for this place. It’s a test for Mr Shorten. It’s a test for the Labor Party. We know that both the major parties are on the nose. The Australian people do not trust them; they do not believe them. And yet here we have a blatant case of a senator being dishonest, colluding with the agent of a foreign government. You can’t put it any more succinctly than that. They are colluding. They’re telling them how to avoid surveillance by our very security agencies. It wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t a flippant comment. It was: ‘I don’t want our security agencies or our intelligence agencies to know what we’re going to talk about, so we’re going to leave our phones here and we’re going to go outside.’ Why would you do that? Why would you do that unless you had something to hide?
The problem is that Senator Dastyari continues to come in here and go with the line, ‘I’m a little kid who doesn’t know much of what he’s talking about,’ and pretend that it’s just some sort of hiccup in the road. It’s not. This is willful. This is deliberate. This is a culture, a culture that is permeating politics, and it’s emanating out of New South Wales, and we cannot stand for it here. And the Labor Party cannot stand for it here. It’s interesting to note that Senator Wong didn’t defend Senator Dastyari. She obfuscated. She said that Senator Brandis has overreached. He hasn’t overreached in this at all. In fact, I would say that Senator Brandis has understated the problem, and it’s probably by virtue of the fact of his role as Attorney-General and information he may have that he’s not prepared to actually bell the cat. Well, I don’t have the information that Senator Brandis might have in his arsenal of knowledge, but what I do have is an acute sense of something that stinks to high heaven. Senator Dastyari can brush it off all he likes with his one-minute statement, but it’s not good enough. And Mr Shorten can come out and say, ‘Senator Dastyari has paid a heavy price.’ It’s not a heavy price at all!
What Senator Dastyari has suffered is some public humiliation, which is not good, but it’s humble pie; you’ve got to eat that. He might have suffered a small cut to his salary of some $10,000 or thereabouts, which is probably a fraction of the money that he’s received from donors and benefactors to pay his personal expenses. He hasn’t suffered anything within the Labor Party organisation itself. He will still be pulling the strings. But it’s not good enough for the country. I don’t care about Labor and Liberal. I don’t care about team blue and team red, but I really am deeply concerned about the integrity of this place.
People may excuse the scandals, the corruption, the crookedness that has been at the heart of some state politics, but we cannot allow that to compromise the standing or status of the Commonwealth parliament. It is a disservice. It would do us a disservice to allow that. And no amount of likability, jocularity or media-friendly persona should allow this to get through, because the pattern is clear to anyone who wants to see it. I should point this out: Mr Shorten and others have said that Senator Dastyari lost his job on the frontbench because of the South China Sea policy. That’s not true. Senator Dastyari lost his job on the frontbench because he asked a Chinese billionaire, whom the Labor Party had been warned had close links to the Chinese Communist Party, to pay a personal bill. It’s not even a bill that could bankrupt someone.
We’re not talking about how Senator Dastyari facilitated the bankrolling of crooked Craig Thomson. We’re talking about a travel account of some $1,400 or $1,800—less than a couple of grand and a fraction of Senator Dastyari’s weekly salary. Rather than have to dip into his own pocket or suck a bit of cash out of the mortgage, he thought he’d just ring up a Chinese billionaire and say, ‘Hey, look, I’ve got a personal account. Would you mind fixing it up?’ That would be wrong no matter the nationality of the person involved. It would be different, I guess, if it was your father and you said, ‘Hey, I’m a bit short. Can you give me a couple of bucks to pay my electricity bill?’ or something. That would be different. But if I rang my friend Mrs Rinehart and said, ‘Can you please pay my personal bill for a couple of thousand dollars?’ I would say that’s wrong, too. If I rang a billionaire from any other country, a millionaire, or people I didn’t know who were political players and said, ‘Can you pick up the tab for something?’ it would be wrong. And, yet, that’s what Senator Dastyari did. He did it with an agent of a foreign government. He did it with an individual whom the Labor Party had been warned—warned!—about by our intelligence services. That is not just bad judgement; that is flat-out crooked. That’s why he lost his job. Let’s not pretend it’s some virtuous thing about policy. It wasn’t. The policy was subsequent to that.
Where does it end? If we keep tugging at this thread, where is it going to end? Is it going to lead all the way to Sussex Street? That’s the question I’m asking myself. Where does it end? And why is it being defended by those on that side of the chamber? Why is it? How can it be? How can they gloss over the significance of what we’ve got here? We have an individual, a fixer in the Labor Party, who has been at the very heart of Labor culture. He has been at the centre—the epicentre—and he has been boasted about and revered within the Labor Party for his ability to raise funds out of the Chinese community. Former foreign minister Bob Carr, I think, wrote about how Senator Dastyari managed to raise $200,000 at a function. That may be entirely reasonable and legitimate, but what are the things we don’t know about? What we do know is that Senator Dastyari cannot be relied on to tell the truth. He can gloss it up by talking about ‘recollections’ and things of that nature, but he’s not the type of bloke that forgets anything. He stores it all away so he can use it against other people later.
In this case, unfortunately, Senator Dastyari has been hoist with his own petard. This is not strike one, strike two, strike three, strike four or strike five. You can go through the litany of influences on Senator Dastyari from the Chinese community and it leads to only one conclusion—Senator Dastyari has been thoroughly compromised. Whether it is money, prestige, influence or a promise of some job after he leaves this place, he has been compromised. Every time he stands in this chamber, we have to presume that his words are the product of that compromise because his character has now been diminished to such an extent that we cannot rely on what he says. We cannot rely on his public actions because they contradict what is discovered subsequent to the event.
If anyone in this place thinks that it is good enough for a member of this place to be here while they’re compromised in such a manner, I will disagree. Just as I’ve said in recent months over citizenship scandals and all sorts of things, when you know someone here is not telling the truth it brings into question the entire standing of this place. Senator Dastyari has been caught, again, not telling the truth. He’s been caught trying to subvert alleged surveillance activities for our national interest, he’s been caught siding with a foreign power in a policy dispute against our national interest and he’s been covered up for again and again by the machine men on the other side.
This is a character test. This is a character test for the Labor Party, it is a character test for Mr Shorten and, ultimately, it’s a character test for Senator Dastyari himself. I bear him no ill will—
Senator Kim Carr: You just imply it!
Senator BERNARDI: but I care more about the integrity of this parliament, confidence in the body politic and the future of this country than I do about the short-term pain of Senator Dastyari. When I said, ‘I bear him no ill will,’ I heard mocking laughter from Senator Kim Carr. That is just extraordinary, but it goes to the heart of the problem that eats away at Labor. It’s always about them. It’s always about the tribe. Unfortunately for Senator Carr and others, the country is much more important than their political status or tribalism. By supporting Senator Dastyari, by allowing him to stay in that red tribe on that side of the chamber and by allowing him to pollute the integrity of the body politic here, they are diminishing the standards that are expected by the Australian people.
Words like ‘traitor’ have been used; I don’t want to get into that. But the point is that Senator Dastyari has been acting in his interest against the national interest. He’s been acting in the Chinese interest against the Labor Party’s interest. He’s been acting in his financial interest against the interest of the country and this parliament. What more do we have to know to say he shouldn’t be here? He shouldn’t be here because we deserve better and Australia deserves better. If the Labor Party want to continue to defend him, it’s an indictment on their character and their integrity. They would be much better served, the country would be much better served and Senator Dastyari would be much better served, quite frankly, by cutting the strings. Let him go and work for some Chinese billionaire outside of this place, if that’s what he wants to do. Let him peddle his brand of influence in politics outside of this chamber. Let him influence the Labor Party and be promised whatever he likes from Mr Shorten should he attain government later on, but let’s cut the thread that stinks to high heaven—the thread of corruption, the thread of crookedness, the thread that always seems to lead to Sussex Street. That is the problem. Do not defend it, I say to the Labor Party. Do not defend it to yourselves. Do not defend it to the Australian people. Do what’s in the interests of the country. Do what’s in the interests of your party and do what’s in the long-term interests of Senator Dastyari. Cut him loose. Tell him to announce his resignation and tell Mr Shorten to actually grow a spine and say something powerful rather than demonstrate how captured he is by the power of the Sussex Street mob.
Chamber Senate on 30/11/2017 Item STATEMENTS – Dastyari, Senator Sam Speaker: Bernardi, Sen Cory