Sam Dastyari has been sacked once again by the Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, abruptly ending the troubled politician’s rehabilitation.
Mr Shorten called Senator Dastyari this morning and instructed him to resign his post as a Senate whip after revelations in Fairfax newspapers that he had been less than transparent about his dealings with a Chinese businessman.
The senator dubbed “Shanghai Sam” by a gloating Coalition had been rebuilding his position in the Labor Party after being forced to quit his role as consumer affairs spokesman last year during an outcry about his asking a Sydney-based Chinese businessman, Huang Xiangmo, to bail him out over an expenses claim. He had also embarrassed the party by contradicting its policy on Beijing’s South China Sea expansionism at a private function he addressed alongside Mr Huango, who had been donating substantial funds to Labor as well as the Liberal Party.
When that speech leaked he claimed he had been misrepresented and that his comments (contradicting official Labor policy) were no more than a garbled, spontaneous response to a curve-ball question.
“I gave the wrong answer to a complicated foreign policy question that I was naïve enough and perhaps silly enough to take,” he told ABC journalist Quentin McDermott on Australian Story.
“I’m not the first, I certainly won’t be the last, Member of Parliament to take a question and give the wrong answer.”
Yesterday’s media reports, apparently based on information leaked by Australian intelligence sources, came as a bombshell for Labor, severely embarrassing Mr Shorten, who had defended Dastyari after the 2016 debacle, when he said “Sam is a young bloke with a bright future ahead of him. He has a lot more to offer Labor and Australia.”
Huang warned about surveillance
But the emergence yesterday of audio from that Sydney event showed Mr Dastyari’s comments were a crystal clear statement, apparently carefully scripted, defending China’s expansionism and saying it was not Australia’s place to question the Chinese actions. (Mr Dastyari told colleagues the tape “did not match my recollection of events” but he accepted responsibility for his faulty recall.)
Worse still, the reports suggested Mr Dastyari had warned Mr Huang, who is regarded by some observers of the Chinese regime as a puppet of Beijing’s Chinese propaganda operation, that his mobile phone could be monitored by the Australian intelligence services.
The incident handed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull useful ammunition to deflect questions about his blatant U-turn this morning on a Royal Commission into the banking sector.
During a heated Question Time in the Lower House Mr Turnbull demanded that Mr Dastyari withdraw from politics altogether as he clearly was “not on Australia’s side”.
Mr Shorten acknowledged that Mr Dastyari’s actions had destroyed his trust in the senator: “I think having sacked him once, and now again having removed him and stripped him of his positions, he knows that his colleagues are deeply frustrated with him, and he has a long journey to rebuild trust.”
During Question Time in the Senate, Labor’s Doug Cameron supported Mr Shorten’s decision to sack Senator Dastyari but raised concerns about how the intelligence information was leaked.
“One of the key issues arising out of this is how do the so-called ASIO or security investigations become public?” he said. “I think that is a key issue and that Is what we need to have a look at.” He did not receive an answer from the Government. – Shannen Findlay / Edited by Tony Kleu
Top image: Sam Dastyari speaks alongside Huang Xiangmo at a Sydney event in July, 2016. Supplied image was shared by Fairfax media in the revelations that led to Mr Dastyari’s dismissal.