Features Australia

Below the belt —and road

7 September 2019

9:00 AM

7 September 2019

9:00 AM

In the Land of Oz, when Labor apparatchiks follow the yellow brick road  to the end of the rainbow — helpfully paved by Chinese property developers —they find, not a pot of gold, but a reusable Aldi shopping bag, stuffed with $100,000 in unmarked 100-dollar bills.

It’s the perfect brand alignment for a party that shows its commitment to recycling by encouraging its operatives to reuse the shopping bags that well-wishers use to make their six-figure donations and by recycling its staff through the revolving door at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Labor has shown itself to be an admirable equal opportunity employer when it comes to dodgy dealings and does not discriminate against any ethnicity.  Earlier hearings were attended by Eddie Obeid, his ‘left testicle’ Ian McDonald and Joe Tripodi. This time around, ICAC is investigating whether the Wizard of Oz is Huang Xiangmo, a billionaire property developer with close links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Sadly, for Labor, the party that invented the White Australia policy, Huang and his mates appear to be the 21st century incarnation of the Yellow Peril.

Huang can’t appear before ICAC because he has been banned from returning to Australia over concerns that he is interfering in Australian politics by buying influence on behalf of Chinese Communists. Whatever could have given ASIO officers that impression?

For his part, Huang said it was ‘an objective fact that Australia was ‘a giant baby’ but that didn’t mean ‘Australia has to feel inferior.’ He said he moved to Australia for the beautiful scenery and ‘simple folk customs.’ Presumably he meant customs like being able to pay the legal bill of former Labor senator Sam Dastyari, who returned the favour by spouting Chinese policy on the South China Sea rather than that of his own party.

Fronting ICAC this time is Huang’s friend Ernest Wong, who was deputy mayor of Burwood Council in Sydney before he was shoe-horned into the NSW upper house in 2013, when the party generously handed him the seat of former NSW Labor treasurer Eric Roozendaal, who conveniently retired.

When Michael Daley, the short-lived NSW Labor leader said that ‘our kids’ were moving out and ‘foreigners are moving in and taking their jobs,’ perhaps he was talking about the NSW Labor party.  In any event, Roozendaal was not forced off to the Centrelink office as he scored a job at Yuhu Group, a company led by none other than Huang, and which fronted a deal that scooped up two of Australia’s most prominent tower projects, one at One Circular Quay and Jewel, a development on the Gold Coast.

ICAC’s chief commissioner, Peter Hall, seemed impressed with Wong’s story-telling skills, and repeatedly asked him if he was ‘making all this up as you go along.’ Wong claims Huang was just a billionaire delivery boy running an errand when he delivered an Aldi bag of cash to the NSW Labor general secretary Jamie Clements. ‘Did this come as somewhat of a surprise to you? Here was this alleged billionaire offering to do a delivery run with a bag full of cash?’ Hall asked. ‘Not at all,’ said Wong. ‘My gut feeling at the time… (was) he was someone who would like face, because he has not contributed to this event.’

Sitting at the top table with the then federal and state opposition leaders, Bill Shorten and Luke Foley, was none other than errand boy Huang, who, Wong insists, did not buy his seat or the influence that might come with it.

Meanwhile, south of the border, there has been not even a hint of influence peddling. Comrade Dan of Victoria-stan has simply signed an MOU with China on its Belt and Road Initiative and China’s state-owned construction company, which calls itself the ‘leader’ of the BRI is a key player in one of the consortiums short-listed for the $7-9 billion contract to build the North East Link, the state’s biggest road project.

The lure of the Belt is everywhere. In the Northern Territory, one of the most powerful Indigenous land councils wants to attract BRI investment into Aboriginal land, which makes up more than half the territory’s land mass.  Former Labor MP Marion Scrymgour is leading the charge.

In East Timor, Chinese workers are waiting to resume work on a $500 million expressway, also part of the BRI. Unfortunately, part of the expressway has already collapsed, which a Chinese contractor blames on the Indonesian design, and hardly anyone uses it. Australia spends more money than China in East Timor but focuses on rural roads and schools. The real question however is who will develop East Timor’s 56 per cent stake of the $50 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields — China or Australia?

Meanwhile, the belt is tightening in Hong Kong, where the people are bravely protesting the erosion of their freedom and human rights. After peaceful pro-Hong Kong protesters were attacked by nationalistic Chinese Communist mobs in Brisbane and Melbourne, Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a stern warning against Chinese interference but Labor was missing in action. Comrade Dan was conspicuously silent. Federal Labor’s Penny Wong confined herself to calling for a calm and mature debate. At least one Hong Kong lawyer, who grew up in Australia, wondered what Hongkongers got from the ALP? ‘How hard can it be to speak up against Chinese nationalistic bullying against pro-Hong Kong voices on Australia’s own shores?’ he asked.

The only Labor voice to speak out was Kevin Rudd, or Lu Kewen, as he calls himself when vaunting his sinological prowess. He accused Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who is the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, of ‘going all hairy-chested’ over China, when Hastie warned of an erosion of ‘our sovereignty and our freedoms’ if Australians did not respond to the threat China’s behaviour poses. Rudd, who is not famous for the hairs on chest so much as the wax he ate out of his ear, famously said at the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009 that ‘those Chinese ratf—kers are trying to ratf—k us.’ These days, however, he sings from the Beijing song sheet, warning that Australia must be careful not to slide into ‘neo-McCarthyism.’ With Paul Keating and Bob Carr already making it clear that they would take a conciliatory approach to China, whatever ICAC and the courts ultimately determine about NSW Labor’s latest murky money scandal seems almost beside the point. Whether anyone made illegal donations or not hardly matters since the party seems to have already sold its soul to China for a song.

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