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Holding onto Gladys Liu

Sep 13, 2019 • 16m29s

As some backbenchers express doubt that Gladys Liu can stay in parliament, Scott Morrison is digging in behind his MP.

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Holding onto Gladys Liu

79 • Sep 13, 2019

Holding onto Gladys Liu

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas, This is 7am.

While some backbenchers doubt that Gladys Liu can stay in parliament, Scott Morrison has given her his full support. At the same time, he is in the difficult position of attempting to capitalise on ICAC, while voting against a federal integrity commission. Paul Bongiorno on the foreign influence scandals currently engulfing Canberra.

[Theme music ends]

[Phone rings]

PAUL:

Hello.

ELIZABETH:

Hi Paul. How are you?

PAUL:

Yeah good.

ELIZABETH:

Paul, Parliament is sitting again this week. There’s a lot of attention being directed at Victorian MP Gladys Liu. Who is she?

PAUL:

Gladys Liu is the Liberal Member for Chisholm. She's the first Chinese born member of the House of Representatives.

Now Chisholm’s an interesting electorate. 17 percent of the electorate are Chinese- born and Liu’s Labor opponent Jennifer Yang is also ethnic Chinese.

ELIZABETH:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30 year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.

PAUL:

Her win was very exciting for the Liberals because I thought they were going to lose it and she won in a very tight race.

Archival tape -- Gladys Liu:

“I love Chisholm!”

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“How good is Glaydys Liu? She’s awesome, she’s so awesome.”

PAUL:

So there was controversy over election signage that was in Mandarin and which appeared to be from the Australian Electoral Commission but which was telling voters the correct way to vote was by putting ‘one’ next to her name. It's also interesting to note she's aligned with the conservative right of the party in Victoria. She's worked for Michael Sukkar, the Member for Deakin. During the election she was forced to distance herself from comments she made against safe schools saying Chinese people come to Australia because they want good things for their next generation.

Archival tape --Gladys Liu:

“Not to be destroyed. They use the word destroyed by these concepts of same sex, transgender, intergender, cross gender and all this rubbish…”

PAUL:

Liu initially denied that the comments reflected her views but when a tape emerged she pulled out of media interviews.

ELIZABETH:

So why all the attention on her this week?

PAUL:

She's in the news because she was named as a member of the Guangdong
Overseas Exchange Association. An organisation linked to united front and to the Chinese Communist Party's attempts to influence foreign governments. And there was a car crash interview with Andrew Bolt during the week.

Archival tape -- Andrew Bolt:

“Gladys thank you so much for your time. Can I just start with you on the committee of two chapters of the China overseas exchange association?”

PAUL:

Liu said she couldn't remember if she was a member but later confirmed she was. Tellingly she had not checked with the prime minister's office before doing the interview and I'm told she's in Canberra without any staff at all. Bolt asked Liu if she was on the committee of an organisation linked to China's foreign interference operations and he was incredulous when she answered that she couldn't remember.

Archival tape -- Andrew Bolt:

“How can you not recall a membership of 12 years? I mean, we've just shown your name listed there.”

Archival tape -- Gladys Liu:

“Well I can tell you that I have never been a member of this council and it can happen. They can put your name there without your knowledge.”

Archival tape -- Andrew Bolt:

“….OK?”

PAUL:

Three times she failed to state the government's position on the South China Sea and she defended Xi Jinping from Bolt's accusations he was a dictator. Well the interview ended with Bolt asking if she was a spokesperson for the Chinese government for china.

Archival tape -- Andrew Bolt:

“Gladus Liu, are you are you a you in effect...a spokesperson for the Chinese communist regime in Australia.

Archival tape --Gladys Liu:

“The simple answer is No.”

Archival tape -- Andrew Bolt:

“Thank you so much for your time.”

ELIZABETH:

And what happens when an interview goes out like this. Does everybody in the government watch it and then formulate an idea about how to respond?

PAUL:

Well I don’t know if everybody watched it live as it were, but they certainly got to watch it when they heard what had happened. Andrew Bolt is quite a militant conservative commentator. Malcolm Turnbull once said with friends like Bolt, you don't need enemies. But the next day, with the help of the prime minister's office, Liu tidied up her act in a statement which she put out on Twitter. So far we haven't heard her come into the Parliament and make a statement. And people are wondering why not. There's a difference between saying something on Twitter and saying something in parliament because it's a very grave offence if you mislead the Parliament. Anyway, she now remembered belonging to a Chinese government organisation but she didn't throw any real light on whether she shared its purpose of influencing foreign governments. It's just something there. The Chinese Communist Party particularly with the arrival of Xi Jinping at the top has upped its efforts to get the people of Chinese ethnic origin to become very active in the politics of democracies like ours. They're far more advanced in Canada but they're also trying it in the United States and in the United Kingdom. On Wednesday, speaker Tony Smith ruled out four Labor questions about Liu. He said they were out of order. Now Smith was well aware that the opposition was flouting standing orders to capitalize on Liu’s situation.

Still, when questions are ruled out of order and the government doesn't give answers - it looked like Liu was being protected. Of course that wouldn't have been lost on labor. Now one question went directly to a Herald Sun report that said the Liberal Party returned 300 thousand dollars in donations from dinner guests associated with Liu because of security concerns. Now Liu told Bolt the story was made up. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus asked Morrison: “is she correct?” Well we may never know. Labor of course is asking for reassurance from the prime minister that Liu is a fit and proper person to be in the Parliament. A question asked and not answered. It didn't help matters that late in the week it was revealed that when he was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was warned by ASIO not to attend to Chinese New Year meet and greet organised by Liu because of security concerns about the guest list. Liu says people should stop seeing quote “everything I do through the lens of my birthplace.”

ELIZABETH:

Paul I mean I know it's an outside chance, but if there is the chance that Gladys Liu is going to be asked to step down that's going to have huge implications for the government.

PAUL:

That's right Elizabeth the government will do everything in its power to hang on to Gladys Liu because it has a working majority of one on the floor of the House. If Liu is forced to quit and there's a by election, the Liberal Coalition Government could be plunged into minority. There is pessimism on the Government backbench about it. Some think that there is no option but for her to quit.

ELIZABETH:

Is there just the possibility here that she's kind of got freshmen jitters and she doesn't know how to handle this kind of scrutiny?

PAUL:

That's a very kind view of it. She's not one of the biggest fundraisers in the Victorian division of the Liberal Party for nothing.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[MUSIC ENDS]

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ELIZABETH:

Paul, Gladys Liu has created difficult headlines for the Coalition this week but the Labor Party is also dealing with its own Chinese donations scandal in New South Wales after extensive ICAC proceedings, has Morrison been able to capitalize on that?

PAUL:

Yeah well the Prime Minister delighted an auditorium full of Liberal Party delegates last weekend when he said none of us in this room are surprised with what's come out of ICAC: the revelations of the Labor party receiving $100,000 in cash from a banned property developer have already cost the state Labor Party boss her job. On Tuesday with the protection of Parliament a fired up Morrison rejected Labor leader Anthony Albanese's attack on Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

He said Albanese had a desk in the headquarters of a party that quote stinks of corruption.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“The Liberal Party and the National Party will not be lectured by someone who used to work in the New South Wales branch of the labor party.”

PAUL:

He said the Labor leader is presiding over a party that is chaos and confusion. And even corruption.

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“as we see it every single day in the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which has your state secretary right under their gaze.

PAUL:

Well Albanese jumped up and reminded the Prime Minister that ten New South Wales Liberal MPs, including two ministers, had to resign after ICAC found they had accepted donations from banned developer donors in New South Wales it's a state law. Developers are banned from giving donations to political parties and candidates.

Anyway it seems Elizabeth some never learn. The Daily Telegraph revealed on Wednesday that a Chinese property developer Ming Sheng a business partner of state Liberal Minister John Sidoti donated seventeen hundred and fifty dollars to the MP at a fundraising dinner. Those allegations have not been picked up by ICAC so far and there are reports on Thursday that the state Liberals in New South Wales have given the money back.

ELIZABETH:

So this is complicated because the Coalition is trying to land a blow on labor but at the same time they're fending off attempts to create an anti-corruption body.

PAUL:

Yeah indeed. This is not a very good look and the Liberals so far haven't woken up to it. This week the Morrison government in fact voted 10 times in the Senate and the House against integrity and accountability. Not only did they vote against a Greens bill to set up a strong independent national integrity commission, that bill won the numbers in the Senate with Labor, the Greens and other members of the crossbench voting for it. When it came down to the House of Representatives, the liberals - the government applied the gag and sent the bill off to the never never. Attorney-General Porter told Parliament he needs another 12 months to refine his model, which if it's the same model the Liberals took to the election campaign will be a toothless and invisible watchdog.

ELIZABETH:

So what is it that the government is doing instead, what’s their strategy this week?

PAUL:

Well Elizabeth it's applying a time honoured tactic of shouting “Look over there!” when you're being mugged by an uncomfortable reality, you try to set up a diversion. So it balled up to Parliament a debate where the old conservative staples of union bashing and welfare baiting dominate.

ELIZABETH:

And what about this reintroduction of a bill on mandatory jail terms for child sex offenders.

PAUL:

Yes this is the most blatant example. The last parliament in fact rejected the idea, many in the legal profession are appalled by it. But some of Labor's caucus fear that if Labor rejects the bill they'll hand the government a very big stick. There are concerns shared by the law Council of Australia and Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent. Broadbent fronted Christian Porter when the Attorney-General briefed a backbench committee on Monday night. The backbencher believes mandatory sentencing interferes with the separation of powers and takes away important judicial discretion. Well, Porter scarcely concealed his political intent slapping down Broadbent for sharing the same views as Dreyfus.

ELIZABETH:

And Paul to step back for a second, how do you think Porter’s thought to be going as Attorney-General within the government?

PAUL:

Well it's clear that Scott Morrison thinks a lot of him because he's given him not only the AGs role with things like coming up with some sort of integrity commission, but he's also made him the Minister for Industrial Relations. There's a lot of pressure on the Morrison government to shrug off the reluctance to go hard on industrial relations. This term they're trying it on again and Porter has been given the job of placating the Liberals big backers, particularly in business and industry to take on the unions. Now Porter is very quick witted - he has that lean and hungry look. No one doubts that he has ambitions to lead the Liberals one day and it will depend very much on how he carries out the very hard task he's been given by Morrison that will either add or detract to his leadership credentials.

ELIZABETH:

In all this I guess Paul I mean getting there and speaking about all these other issues things like mandatory sentencing, things like...

PAUL:

Well drug testing for people on Newstart.

ELIZABETH:

I suppose it allows the government to speak about things other than the economy.

PAUL:

Well that's right. This week we've had further evidence of business confidence slumping. This was the claim that if you vote liberal you'll get a strong economy, because we know how to manage it. If you vote Labor you'll get a weak one. Well, on their watch so far, and by so far, I don't only mean since the election I mean in the past six years, instead of seeing a strengthening economy we've seen a weakening one. When you think about it, the promise of a strong economy was the core promise of the Liberals at the last election.

ELIZABETH:

Paul thank you so much.

PAUL:

Thank you. Bye.

[MUSIC ENDS]

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[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

On Thursday afternoon, the area in front of Victoria's Parliament House was evacuated after a man parked his station wagon near the entrance and attempted to set himself on fire. He was arrested a short time later after police broke the windows to his car and removed him from the vehicle. He was later taken to hospital without signs of injury.

And the UK government has published a secret document that outlines the quote, "reasonable worst-case assumptions" of a no-deal Brexit after MPs voted to make it public. It details the risks of a Brexit going ahead without a deal having been negotiated with the EU. These include extensive delays at British ports, drug shortages, increases in livestock disease and higher electricity prices. The six page document is dated August 2 and was published after a Parliamentary motion passed on Monday. A number of related documents were supplied to cabinet but were not released publicly.

7am is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem.

Erik Jensen is our editor.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

Please consider subscribing to the show through your favourite podcast app. Or even better, leave us a review if you listen on iTunes or Stitcher.

This is 7am. I'm Elizabeth Kulas. See you next week.

[Theme ends]

While some backbenchers doubt that Gladys Liu can stay in parliament, Scott Morrison has given her his full support. At the same time, he is in the difficult position of attempting to capitalise on ICAC while voting against an integrity commission. Paul Bongiorno on the foreign influence scandals engulfing Canberra.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

The politics of integrity in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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79: Holding onto Gladys Liu