Council committee sought opinion of Chinese consulate on newspaper’s sponsorship
April 23, 2019
Members of an events committee at a Sydney council sought the opinion of the Chinese consulate on receiving sponsorship from an Australian-owned media company over fears it may be deemed “anti-China”.
The Georges River Council Major Events Advisory Committee (MEAC) committee members raised concerns that news outlet Vision China Times supported Falun Gong – a movement labelled a “heretical cult” by the Chinese Communist Party – a day before the sponsorship deal was hastily scrapped.
“I am aware that member(s) of MEAC directly contacted the Office of the Chinese Consul-General of the People’s Republic of China … to ascertain it views on the sponsorship,” then-acting general manager David Tuxford, who was at the meeting, said in a file note of the January 16, 2018 meeting.
In that file note, among a bundle of documents discovered under freedom of information laws, Mr Tuxford said a Chinese consulate representative contacted the council a day after the meeting, expressing concerns about Vision China Times sponsoring the council’s Lunar New Year event due to the organisation being “politically anti-China”.
He said that “as acting GM, due to the concerns raised and decisions made by MEAC, as well as the correspondence received from the Consulate General” he supported a decision to cancel the sponsorship deal.
Councillor Vince Badalati, who chaired the MEAC meeting, told the Herald the committee decided to “sound out” the views of the consulate, as it had been a long-time supporter of the Lunar New Year event, but denied having heard what the consul-general’s position was until later that year.
“We were aware of the angst between the chinese consulate and the Falun Dafa [aka Falun Gong],” Cr Badalati said.
Critics of the paper, including those opposed to its occasionally critical reporting of the Chinese Communist Party, have long spread rumours that it is linked to the Falun Gong, although this has never been substantiated and is vehemently denied by the Vision China Times.
A motion will be moved at the next council meeting to immediately disband the MEAC following revelations aired in a joint investigation by the Herald and ABC’s Four Corners that the Chinese Government bullied the council to black ban sponsorships by the newspaper.
The council officially told Vision China Times its sponsorship was cancelled as the council wanted to focus on its existing media partners for the upcoming event.
Cr Badalati confirmed to the Herald he had been in a November 8 meeting with council executive Fiona Campbell in which he described Vision China Times’ sponsorship as a “problem” and raised concerns that the Consul-General would not attend the 2019 Lunar New Year event. It is not suggesting that Badalati, or any other individual councillor, made the decision to terminate the sponsorship alone.
“You’ve got to understand the event’s been going since 2002 or 2003 and the consulate had been supportive of it from day one,” Cr Badalati said.
In a November 12 email Georges River general manager Gail Connolly emailed Cr Badalati in response to his “recent enquiries regarding the Vision China Times and Falun Dafa association”, stating the MEAC cancelled the sponsorship “as the Chinese Consul-General claimed the media group was ‘politically anti-China.”
But at a November 26 council meeting Cr Badalati said claims of foreign pressure were “based on no facts at all”.
He later told the Herald he meant that he had never personally been pressured by the Chinese consulate.
“I have never been contacted by them,” he said.
General manager Gail Connolly said at the November 26 meeting that information detailing the consul-general’s position on the sponsorship deal was relayed to the MEAC members after the January meeting, to which Cr Badalati stood up and replied “that is not true.”
In a statement issued earlier this month, the council said the MEAC acted outside its authority in cancelling the Vision China Times sponsorship.
The Chinese government has since rejected claims it interferes in Australia’s domestic politics and accused Australian media outlets of “colluding with a heretical cult Falun Gong”.
It comes after the Herald reported Crs Badalati and Con Hindi were referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption over a 2016 Chinese trip they took with a developer, whose projects they helped push through without declaring any conflict of interest.
The Herald is not suggesting the circumstances are linked to the more recent scandal involving the council.
Angus Thompson is a court reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.