A MUST READ!
SOME KEY POINTS …
– Liberal minister Santo Santoro’s dealings with Huang have been ignored amid the fallout from ICAC this week
.Santoro was also put on a retainer by Huang
- IT APPEARS TO MANY OF US THAT UNLESS THE GOVERNMENT … THE MAJOR PARTIES … THEY’d BETTER MOVE FAST … ‘CAUSE WE WILL NO LONGER HAVE A COUNTRY, AND THE POLLIES TOO WILL BE OUT OF A JOB! *
–ICAC’s narrow terms of reference — restricted to who allegedly helped disguise Huang’s illegal donation by using straw donors
–Huang’s refusal to participate with the inquiry from his new home in Hong Kong means the most pressing questions about him are unanswered
-the most serious issue to emerge … Huang may have been doing the secret bidding of the Chinese Government in Australia
–what crippled Huang’s pernicious networking was media coverage
-further public reporting in 2017 by The Herald, The Age and the ABC of the ASIO warnings forced the major parties to re-think about the umbilical cord with Huang
-the most serious media revelation about Huang; his decision to withdraw a promised $400K donation to Labor after Stephen Conroy challenged China’s aggression in the South China Sea
WHAT prevented either ICAC or ASIO from slowing down Huang’s prolific political networking?
-ICAC has not enquired why Labor collected hundreds of thousands of donations from an associate of Huang suspected to be involved in illegal tobacco importations and CCP front work
–why Labor acquiesced to give one of Huang’s acolytes, *Simon Zhou, a job as a party adviser; is this the same Simon Zhou, a Ryde Councillor?*
–why did Huang put Santoro on his payroll? Why did Huang enjoy privileged access to Robb during trade negotiations with Beijing?
–how did Huang convince the UTS to launch a China-Australia Think Tank; headed up by Bob Carr and Deputy James Laurenceson
.the think tank has sought to even besmirch those — such as China expert John Garnaut— warning that Huang and the Chinese government might be covertly meddling in Australia’s political affairs
–despite ICAC’s narrow focus and limited jurisdiction, its scrutiny of some who surrounded Huang is adding to the jigsaw puzzle about his activities
–why agencies such as ASIO are yet to prosecute a single person for foreign interference
ICAC revelations against an infamous Chinese donor are a small part of the story
October 13, 2019
Before he was expelled from Australia by the Home Affairs department on national security grounds, billionaire property developer and prolific political donor Huang Xiangmo regularly held court at Master Ken’s Seafood Restaurant in Sydney.
His guests included Chinese government officials and a Who’s Who of Australian politics, although Huang kept the identities of many of them secret from each other.
The venue was carefully selected. To meet Huang, his guests had to pass through Master Ken’s heavy wooden doors which were only opened to restaurant members and those they invited.
Guests would walk past cabinets stocked with Penfolds Grange and tanks of lobster and abalone.
One review describes the absence of menus as a mark of its exclusivity: “If you have to ask how much [dishes cost]– you shouldn’t be here”. But even the uninitiated knew enough to know Huang could afford the bill. (Huang a Crown Highroller)
On Wednesday, former NSW Labor boss Jamie Clements outed himself as one of Huang’s guests at Master Ken’s. Clements also revealed that Huang had given him $45,000 in cash to pay for legal expenses and help a right-wing union avoid an “election challenge”.
When Clements resigned as party secretary after a sexual harrassment allegation in 2016, Huang hired him as a consultant on a $200,000 yearly retainer.
Clements’ disclosures were not voluntary. He was forced to answer questions in the witness box at a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into allegations Huang and other Labor associates funnelled a $100,000 donation to the party’s NSW branch in breach of state laws banning donations from property developers. Huang still denies he was the source of the $100,000 donation. (NSW Labor boss dragged into ICAC cash scandal)
But nor is Clements the only political figure who was put on Huang’s payroll or feasted with the billionaire behind Master Ken’s imposing wooden doors. Earlier this year, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed former Howard government cabinet minister Santo Santoro was also put on a retainer by Huang.
The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and Four Corners have obtained a recording in which former Liberal minister Santo Santoro boasts about a direct line with Peter Dutton.
The Age and the Herald confirmed this week that Santoro charged Huang a similar fee to Clements, totalling around $200,000 a year.
*Santoro’s dealings with Huang have been ignored amid the fallout from ICAC this week, along with a host of other questions about why Huang was so willing to put political figures on his payroll or to fund their campaigns.
*ICAC’s narrow terms of reference — restricted to who allegedly helped disguise Huang’s illegal donation by using straw donors — and Huang’s refusal to participate with the inquiry from his new home in Hong Kong mean the most pressing questions about Australia’s most infamous political donor are still unanswered.
*Santoro claimed he provided Huang with political advice, an arrangement in which the ex-politician posited himself as a wise tutor to a naive charge, and pocketed money along the way.
*Clements has proffered that it was he who “cultivated” Huang as a potential donor for the 2016 federal election campaign.
But who was really cultivating who and for what purpose?
*The most serious issue to emerge from Huang’s six years in Australia has only been hinted at during ICAC’s inquiry: that Huang may have been doing the secret bidding of the Chinese government in Australia.
If he was doing this, as evidence suggests, it’s not the ICAC that stopped it, or even ASIO. For years, neither agency slowed Huang’s prolific political networking.
The most startling thing about Huang is how many millions he crop dusted across the political landscape and how many political insiders paid him homage at Master Ken’s before he was brought to heel.
*What slowed and finally crippled Huang’s pernicious networking was media coverage.
*Dylan Welch of the ABC was the first reporter to query Huang’s motives and political fundraising in August 2015. At the same time, ASIO boss Duncan Lewis privately warned senior figures inside Labor and the Coalition that Huang’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party meant his campaign largesse may come with strings attached.
*Inexplicably, Lewis’s warnings didn’t slow the flow of money from Huang to the major parties. Nor were his warnings passed by party officials to vulnerable politicians being duchessed by Huang, including Labor’s Sam Dastyari and now-Immigration Minister, the Liberals’ David Coleman.
Further public reporting in 2017 by The Herald, The Age and the ABC of the ASIO warnings which had been issued by Lewis 18 months earlier finally forced the major parties to re-think whether it was wise to maintain a financial umbilical cord with Huang whose role as the head of the Communist Party’s key Australian influence body pointed to his fealty to Beijing.
CLICK ON SOURCE LINK FOR ‘HUANG’S POLITICAL DONATIONS DECLARED (2012-16)’
Huang’s political donations declared (2012-16)
TOTALS: Labor: $1,090,000 | Liberals: $1,207,000 | Nationals $15,000
Dastyari’s scandalous dealings with Huang, which were exposed by the media and included the Labor senator tipping off Huang he might be under ASIO surveillance, cost him his job. It also sparked for the senator a personal realisation that during all those years he thought he was cultivating Huang for donations, it was the Labor powerbroker who may have been the one being cultivated.
*It was also the media that revealed Huang had invited Bill Shorten to his daughter’s wedding, poured money into trade minister Andrew Robb’s re-election campaign and then foreign minister Julie Bishop’s electorate, and sought Dastyari’s and Santoro’s help in getting an Australian passport.
*In March 2016, Santoro organised a lunch between then immigration minister Peter Dutton and Huang at Master Ken’s. It was an awkward affair in which a brusque Dutton – perhaps sensing the danger of the meeting – offered Huang no firm promises.
Still, most frustrated citizenship applicants could only dream of the sort of direct access to the minister that Huang obtained.
*The most serious media revelation about Huang involved his decision to withdraw a promised $400,000 donation to Labor after its defence spokesman Stephen Conroy challenged the Chinese government’s territorial aggression in the South China Sea.
This appeared by Huang a blatant attempt to shape public policy and debate by dangling donations in front of a major party.
Exactly why Huang did this has never been fully explored before any public inquiry. Also unexplained is why Huang and close associates from a Chinese Communist Party front organisation in Sydney donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Labor in 2013 as they were pushing for their friend and confidant, Ernest Wong, to gain a Labor seat in the NSW upper house.
*While Wong has been grilled at ICAC over his role allegedly disguising Huang’s 2015 donation of $100,000, there has been no serious scrutiny of the extent to which Wong may have been cultivated by Huang as he was parachuted into parliament.
And while ICAC has shredded Labor NSW boss Kaila Murnain about her handling of the $100,000 donation, likely costing Murnain her job, she’s not been asked about why the party collected hundreds of thousands of donations from an associate of Huang suspected to be involved in illegal tobacco importations and Communist Party front work.
*Or why Labor acquiesced to Huang’s request in 2016 to give one of Huang’s acolytes, Simon Zhou, a job as a party adviser.
*The Liberals have avoided having to answer their own difficult questions, such as why Huang put Santoro on his payroll or why Huang enjoyed privileged access to Robb during trade negotiations with Beijing.
*And there’s been no mention of how Huang convinced the University of Technology Sydney to launch a China-Australia think tank headed by former premier Bob Carr and his trusty deputy James Laurenceson.
*The think tank has sought to play down or even besmirch those — such as China expert John Garnaut— warning that Huang and the Chinese government might be covertly meddling in Australia’s political affairs.
It was Garnaut who, along with Malcolm Turnbull’s national security adviser Justin Bassi, convinced then-Prime Minister Turnbull that Huang’s activities were part of a pattern of foreign interference that needed to be scrutinised and criminalised via new laws passed in 2018.
*Despite ICAC’s narrow focus and limited jurisdiction, its scrutiny of some of those who surrounded Huang during his eight years in Sydney is adding to the jigsaw puzzle about his activities.
*Yet this theatre show lacks its leading man. As ICAC was preparing for public hearings this year, Huang was enjoying life outside of its jurisdiction. He was recently one of very few privileged businessmen to be addressed by President Xi Jinping.
*There is also a risk that the ICAC inquiry will ultimately lead to fewer questions being asked about the full scope of Huang’s activities in Australia, questions perhaps best asked by a national ICAC that, as yet, doesn’t exist.
One of these questions is why agencies such as ASIO are yet to prosecute a single person for foreign interference, despite repeatedly warning Australians that spying and meddling in our political system is at a level even greater than that during that Cold War.
The public, for now at least, is left to wonder about all that really went on behind Master Ken’s wooden doors.
Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter for The Age. He’s won seven Walkley awards and covers politics, business, foreign affairs and defence, human rights issues, the criminal justice system and social affairs.