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Is Dan Andrews’ Labor too friendly with Beijing?

Crikey logo Crikey 7/11/2018 Bernard Keane
a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Daniel Andrews © Provided by Private Media Operations Pty Ltd. Daniel Andrews

The rushed, secret deal between the Andrews government and the Beijing regime over the latter’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative is perhaps best understood in the context of Victorian Labor’s donations: this is a party that likes Chinese money.

The memorandum of understanding, rushed to conclusion before the caretaker period for the coming Victorian election, has been hidden from taxpayers and, as Nine’s Chris Uhlman found out, even kept secret from the federal government. The Andrews government also lied about its consultations with the Commonwealth, delivering a propaganda coup for Beijing. 

Don’t worry too much about DFAT being kept in the dark, though. The business-class frequent flyers of DFAT routinely negotiate trade deals with foreign governments in total secrecy — deals that at best do little for Australia and often materially damage Australia’s national interests, but which DFAT refuses to show to anyone until it’s too late. They haven’t got a leg to stand on in accusing other governments of acting in secrecy — nor when it comes to undermining the national interest. It’s also typical of Victoria that the public has been kept in the dark on the deal — successive state governments and the Victorian courts routinely suppress information that the public has a right to know.

But why was Victorian Labor so eager to rush a deal before caretaker, regardless of its damage to the national interest and the propaganda value it provided for one of the planet’s greatest human rights abusers?

A major part of the answer may lay in the political donation data provided to the Australian Electoral Commission for 2014-15 for the party, which encompasses the period for the 2014 election that saw Andrews elected. Chinese interests, such as investor couple Jianping Fu and Min Zhang and Richard Gu’s AXF Group, contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party in 2014-15; another, CBD Development Group, gave $50,000 in 2015-16. The two 2014-15 donations were disclosed 18 months later, prompting media coverage of the role of Chinese donors on all sides of politics.

The Andrews government — to its credit — overhauled donation laws earlier this year to ban foreign donations and cap donation amounts, but it is unlikely Australian companies owned or part-owned by Chinese interests, or people with Australian residency, would be captured by the new laws. Donation caps will certainly affect the Chinese donor tradition of handing large, often six-figure amounts to political parties, but parties have been shifting away from straight donations to non-donation revenue such as subscriptions and lobby group fees that are not currently caught by donation restrictions.

Chinese-owned property developers remain crucial to the Victorian real estate market, despite property investment restrictions both in China and Australia slowing the inflow of real estate investment. The Herald Sun has also detailed direct links between the Andrews government and Chinese property developer/donors.

Daniel Andrews’ refusal to allow voters to see what deal he’s negotiated with Beijing will only encourage the view that special interests get special access to governments.

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