“..In his three years in the Senate, Labor frontbencher Sam Dastyari has waged sanctimonious and irresponsible attacks against banks, multinational companies, the $73 billion Gorgon gas project in Western Australia and business in general. But his ubiquitous “soak the rich” spiel has less substance than the serious questions he needs to answer about why a Chinese company paid a $1670 travel invoice he received from the Department of Finance. To use one of the senator’s favourite lines, it “doesn’t pass the sniff test”.
By attempting to donate an equivalent amount to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation — which returned the gift because of the controversy — as well as repaying the money to the Finance Department, Senator Dastyari has acknowledged he did the wrong thing. Even his Labor colleagues admit it. The controversy has a long way to run given concerns about Chinese interests increasingly cultivating “soft power” in Australia and internationally. Many other governments also offer travel and hospitality, as reported today.
Senator Dastyari must explain why he sent the bill to the Top Education Institute, a company with links to the Chinese government, and why the institute paid it. The company’s owner, Minshen Zhu, was a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Beijing Conference in 2014 and is on the board of Sydney University’s Confucius Institute. The public has a right to know what return, if any, the institute expected from its gesture and the extent of its links to the senator.
Senator Dastyari’s explanation will need to be full and frank if his political career is to survive. In February, Malcolm Turnbull sacked former human services minister Stuart Robert for breaching ministerial standards after it emerged that Mr Robert had an indirect financial stake in a company he helped in Beijing. In 2009, Labor’s former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon resigned from the Rudd government after he failed to declare trips to China paid for by Chinese businesswoman Helen Liu.
Instead of using his soapbox for ill-founded and populist “corporate corruption” and bank-bashing rhetoric, Senator Dastyari must provide answers..”