Just 18 months ago Labor senator Sam Dastyari’s Chinese connections cost him his frontbench job.
Today history repeated with Opposition leader Bill Shorten sacking him as the party’s Senate deputy whip and removing him as a senate committee chair after damning audio emerged of Dastyari contradicting Labor policy on China at a media conference last year.
Shorten told Dastyari to resign last night, issuing a statement saying he expects the senator “will learn from this experience”.
Yesterday Shorten yellow carded the halal snack pack advocate over claims that he’d warned a Chinese donor he was under surveillance. Within 12 hours Shorten was forced to dismiss Dastyari after the recording emerged.
“I told Senator Dastyari that his mischaracterisation of how he came to make comments contradicting Labor policy made his position untenable,” Shorten said this morning.
“I also told him that while I accept his word that he never had, nor disclosed, any classified information, his handling of these matters showed a lack of judgment.”
When doubts were raised about his comments last year after they first appeared in a Chinese-language newspaper in Sydney, Dastyari attempted a lost in translation defence. But the audio reveals he said the “role Australia should be playing as a friend is to know that, with the several thousand years of history … where it is and isn’t our place to be involved.”
His comment aligns with the ruling Communist Party’s position of the South China Sea territorial dispute and contradicts both Australian foreign policy, and Labor’s policy.
It’s a position China reiterated last week following the release of Australia’s foreign policy white paper.
Dastyari annnounced his resignation from Labor’s leadership team in the Senate this morning saying he was “shocked” by the recording, and claims that he was “anything but a patriotic Australian deeply hurtful”.
He denied passing on classified information saying he’d never had any in his possession.
Here’s part of what he said:
In June last year, I held a press conference where I made comments that were in breach of Labor Party policy. I have never denied this.
The price I paid for that was high but appropriate. More recently, my characterisation of that press conference was called into question. A recent audio recording shocked me as it did not match my recollection of events. I take responsibility for the subsequent mischaracterisation.
Dastyari’s comments also put the media-savvy former general secretary of the ALP’s NSW branch, who parachuted into the Senate in 2013, in danger of being expelled from the party. Shorten stopped short of asking him to resign from the Senate.
This morning Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he should resign from Parliament.
“Sam Dastyari should get out of the Senate, fullstop. That’s his duty. If his statement is not a statement of resignation, then he is letting everybody down and Bill Shorten has to take responsibility for this. All of this merely-mouthed ‘He’s on his last warning’. That is nonsense. This is not a lapse of judgment, this is a failure of loyalty,” he said.
Last year, Dastyari resigned from the ALP’s shadow ministry in the wake of a scandal over a getting an education company with close links to the ruling Chinese communist government to pay his travel expenses.
In recent months, Australia’s first Iranian-born politician was running a slick redemption campaign off the back of the 34-year-old’s autobiography “One halal of a story”.
Things started to go awry for Dastyari yet again yesterday when Fairfax Media detailed a visit to a Chinese businessmen and political donor, Huang Xiangmo, at his Sydney home to warn him that his phone was being tapped by governments, including the US.
Fairfax alleges Dastyari gave Huang counter-surveillance advice, telling him to leave their phones inside while they spoke outside.
Dastyari denied the claims.
Attorney-General George Brandis said Dastyari’s position was “untenable” if the allegations were true, adding he “was acting against Australia’s national interest”, although a photo of Huang standing beside foreign minister Julie Bishop began circulating soon after and Brandis defended the Liberals accepting donations from the Sydney-based Chinese businessman.
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