An Australian senator quit parliament today over his links with China in a scandal that coincided with Canberra proposing new foreign interference laws that have sparked fierce criticism from Beijing.
Labour opposition politician Sam Dastyari, a one-time high-profile powerbroker, has been under heavy scrutiny over his relationship with a wealthy political donor associated with the Chinese Communist Party.
“Today, after much reflection, I have decided that the best service I can render to the federal parliamentary Labour Party is to not return to the Senate in 2018,” he said as pressure for him to go grew.
“Reflecting on the events which led to my decision, I leave knowing that I have always honoured my parliamentary oath, I have always acted with integrity, and I remain a loyal, patriotic Australian.”
It recently emerged that he had told billionaire businessman Huang Xiangmo — who has donated to both Labour and the ruling Liberal coalition — that his phone was likely being tapped by spy agencies.
Huang’s company last year paid a legal bill for Dastyari.
Reports also said Dastyari had appeared at a media conference alongside Huang, held for Chinese media, where he contradicted Labour’s position on the South China Sea issue.
And this week, he was accused of pressuring the party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman not to meet a Chinese political activist during a visit to Hong Kong in 2015.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made clear Dastyari’s position was untenable.
“Dastyari has quite plainly been acting in the interests of another government or another power,” he told broadcaster ABC.
The scandal came to a head as Canberra announced wide- ranging reforms to espionage and foreign interference legislation.
The new laws followed an inquiry ordered by Turnbull after media revelations that the nation’s spy agency had warned the country’s political elite two years ago about taking donations from two billionaires with links to China.
The reports said intelligence agencies had major concerns that China was interfering in Australian institutions and using the political donations system to gain access.
Turnbull last week singled out China as a focus of concern, citing “disturbing reports” about Beijing’s influence, drawing an angry response and an official protest.
Beijing said Canberra should “immediately stop making wrong remarks” that would undermine trust and cooperation between the two countries, while attacking local media stories about infiltration as fabricated.