Questions raised over MP’s China links
Clouds continue to gather over Liberal politician Gladys Liu, with multiple unanswered questions over alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party.
The MP for the Victorian seat of Chisholm has been the subject of damning allegations almost from the moment she was elected in May - the latest coming yesterday.
It was reported that Ms Liu advocated for a Beijing-backed company and Liberal Party donor now embroiled in a serious criminal probe.
She has moved to distance herself from the matter, and has for months declined to be drawn on repeated attacks by Labor.
Ms Liu today told news.com.au that she has adequately explained herself and won't be dragged into political game-playing.
But the Opposition and conservative commentators say Ms Liu still has questions to answer on a number of topics.
"We need to be diligent about ensuring that the parliament looks after these issues," Labor leader Anthony Albanese told reporters in Canberra yesterday.
"Every day there's issues that seemed to be raised about the member for Chisholm and the government won't let Gladys Liu make a statement to parliament."
As one prominent academic put it, there are "legitimate doubts" about whether she owes "allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power".
MULTIPLE MONEY DRAMAS
The embattled MP is in a brawl with her own party over $100,000 she gave to the party for her campaign for Chisholm at the May election, according to reports.
The Sydney Morning Herald today claims Ms Liu has asked for the money back, saying it was intended as a loan, but the Liberal Party has refused on the basis that it believed it to be a donation.
A spokesman for Ms Liu told news.com.au that she and her campaign had complied with all of relevant electoral donation laws.
"Any financial support provided to the Chisholm campaign will be declared in the usual way," he said.
It comes just a day after the Herald exposed Ms Liu's 2015 association with a company and donor to the Liberal Party that is linked to the Chinese Community Party.
That organisation, Brighsun New Energy, has since been implicated in a serious organised crime investigation into money laundering.
Ms Liu was central in co-ordinating access between Brighsun executives and the federal government, principally senior minister Greg Hunt, the newspaper reported.
"In the months before the police operation was launched, Brighsun donated $105,000 to the Liberal Party, according to donation records," it said.
Ms Liu told the Herald she knew nothing about the police investigation, and it's not suggested she had any knowledge of criminality.
It should be pointed out that in late 2015, Victorian Labor Government Industry Minister Lily D'Ambrosio praised a Brighsun electric bus project in an interview with the ABC.
Greens Senator Janet Rice also described the company's low-carbon transport ideas as a "game changer".
A spokesman for Ms Liu said she "assisted Brighsun by inviting ministers to their events". e
In her bio on the Liberal Party's Victorian branch website, Ms Liu is described as "one of (its) most effective fundraisers".
Ms Liu has raised more than $1 million for the party.
But the Herald Sun in September raised questions about $300,000 she secured for the Liberals, saying the party had to return the money.
Last night Gladys Liu completely denied @theheraldsun story about the Victorian Liberal Party returning $300K of fundraising bids to her dinner guests. The party admitted the donations at the time in 2015, so if never returned where is the disclosure of these donations? #auspol pic.twitter.com/fII1o7QPHj— Anthony Galloway (@Gallo_Ways) September 11, 2019
THE DEAD SPY TARGET
Melbourne luxury car dealer Nick Zhao was found dead in a motel in March this year, shortly after approaching Australia's spy agency ASIO.
Mr Zhao said he was offered $1 million to infiltrate the nation's parliament as a spy. ASIO continues to investigate the matter.
Mr Zhao's cause of death hasn't been determined, but police sources told The Australian it was believed to have been a drug overdose - either accidental or deliberate, with no suggestion he met with foul play.
The alleged espionage plot was exposed last week, along with claims from a man who alleged to be a Chinese spy who wanted to defect to Australia.
Ms Liu told reporters that she had no recollection of ever meeting Mr Zhao.
Photographs emerged at the weekend of him sitting next to her at a gathering inside her home in 2016.
Her spokesman maintains that: "Ms Liu has no recollection of meeting Mr Zhao."
There is no suggestion that Ms Liu had any knowledge of the alleged plot Mr Zhao notified ASIO of.
TIES TO COMMUNIST PARTY GROUPS
It emerged in August that Ms Liu had ties to an international arm of the Chinese Government, the World Trade United Foundation (WTUF), of which she was made honorary chair in 2016.
The group claims it merely promotes free trade, but global security commentators claim it serves to promote the Communist Party's interests abroad.
WTUF is part of China's United Front.
Gerry Groot, senior lecturer in Chinese studies at the University of Adelaide, described United Front as a "special department … responsible for organising outreach to key Chinese interest groups, including ethnic Chinese abroad, and representing and influencing them".
"In its simplest terms, the (United Front) is about uniting those who can help the party achieve its goals and neutralise its critics," Mr Groot wrote in a piece for The Conversation.
"Its work is often summed up as 'making friends', which sounds benign, and often is. But it can have other meanings, such as helping to stifle dissent at home and abroad."
Clive Hamilton, a professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, was much more blunt in his assessment.
"One of the department's tasks is to co-opt and guide ethnic Chinese people living abroad so they act in the interests of the Communist Party," Professor Hamilton said.
"Its size and importance have increased sharply under President Xi Jinping, who has described United Front as one of the party's 'magic weapons'."
Professor Hamilton said a prominent arm of the United Front was a group known as the China Overseas Exchange Association, which he described as a global "propaganda and influence outfit headed by high-ranking party officials".
"Documents show that Liu has been a council member of this organisation," he said.
She initially told reporters she "couldn't recall" being a member of the group but the next day admitted her association.
Ms Liu told the ABC, who uncovered her association with the WTUF, that she joined for "no other reason than to support the promotion of trade".
In a statement to news.com.au, her spokesman said: "Ms Liu has very clearly stated that she does not wish to be a member of any organisation that has not received her explicit consent.
"She has asked that she be removed from all organisations that have not received her consent.
"Ms Liu is confident that she is not linked to any organisations that may have inappropriate associations."
Despite the growing controversy, Ms Liu has so far resisted repeated calls to stand in the parliament and explain herself.
Speaking at the weekend about the defeat of the government's anti-union Ensuring Integrity Bill, Kristina Keneally, Labor's spokeswoman for Home Affairs, questioned the silence.
"Questions continue to swirl around Gladys Liu and whether she is a fit and proper person to sit in the Australian parliament," Senator Keneally told reporters.
"The Prime Minister won't put her forward to make a statement to the parliament, won't let her make a statement to the parliament about whether she's a fit and proper person. It is time for the Liberal Government to ensure the Australian people that all its members who are there are fit and proper, that they are acting with integrity."
A spokesperson for the PM's office said: "Ms Liu has answered questions asked of her by journalists about various matters."
It should be pointed out that it's not parliamentary convention for an MP to rise to offer an explanation unless they've misled the house.
Ms Liu hasn't spoken to these various issues in parliament.
Her spokesman told news.com.au that she had adequately explained herself and "won't be playing into Labor's political games".
There's also no suggestion that Mr Morrison "won't let" Ms Liu make a statement, as Labor has claimed.
She has in the past rubbished doubts about her loyalties to Australia.