A former school teacher from Copacabana Beach has just locked horns with the four most powerful private institutions on the planet. And they don’t like it. The shoddy audit standards, massive government consulting business and global tax avoidance operations of the Big Four accounting firms, EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC, now finally face government scrutiny. Michael West reports.
On a crisp Thursday morning early this month, Deborah O’Neill walked into the Senate with a good idea. The Senator from the Central Coast of NSW had watched events unfold in London, the retinue of scandals which had enveloped the Big Four; and their intimate connections to a raft of corporate collapses and their attendant, gargantuan, conflicts of interest.
Here, the Big Four accountancy firms – shadowy partnerships who reveal nothing of their spiralling profits – had staged another breezy escape from accountability. In the Royal Commission into the Banks, where they booked another breathtaking bevy of advisory fees, they fielded nary one question as to their own culpability in the systemic fraud perpetrated upon ordinary Australians.
Yet in the UK, the calls were rising for the oligopoly to be broken up; too big, too profitable, too failed in its self-appointed role as the Guardian of Global Commerce.
At 11.49 am, O’Neill rose in the Chamber to speak. “I move that the following matter be referred to the Parliamentary Joint Inquiry into Corporations and Financial Services …”. She went on to note the failure of audit in detecting fraud, and conflicts of interest arising from their government consulting fees. As well as booking monster fees from advising multinational corporations on how to dodge tax, it was audit and consulting which had helped the Big Four to double-digit revenue rises in recent years – yes, rises in revenue, not profits; much of this coming at the expense of taxpayers.
Hansard from August 1 records: “Question agreed to”. What Hansard did not record was the dismay at how O’Neill managed to get away with this motion, nor the surprise and high indignation of the Big Four, the bewilderment of Liberal party senators across the floor, and even the surprise among her own colleagues.
The Big Four are among the largest donors to both major parties, tipping in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to both Liberal and Labor coffers, effectively political bribes to garner government business and to avoid precisely this kind of nosy, intrusive government activity.
This had been coming for a while, Deborah O’Neill told michaelwest.com.au last week. “They (the auditors) escaped scrutiny in the Hayne Royal Commission. ASIC has been calling on the Government to deal with the quality of auditing for the past seven years and they have done nothing. What impact does their consultancy work, which is unregulated, have over their capacity to audit independently?”
For the Big Four, the dollars at stake are mind-boggling. The following chart shows Federal Government consulting fees which have gone to these four firms alone over the past seven and a half years until this month when O’Neill called her probe. In the red is Department of Defence, in the blue, all other departments.
Big Four fees. Source: Greg Bean analysis of Austender.
In the three weeks since the Inquiry was announced the phone calls from the Big Four have been flowing. “What a cheek it was to announce this inquiry without so much as consulting us” … “there is nothing to see here anyway”, sums up the mood of indignation.
“She slipped that one through,” said one long-term Labor Senate operative. Canberra insiders are variously surprised and amused that the motion was not killed from the start. Now the word is the Committee is stacked with Liberals keen to kill it and Labor senators under pressure to kill it.
One senior lawyer au fait with the practices of the firms confided the Big Four had already enlisted senior partners at the big city law firms and their Big Four colleagues in London to kill it. They will be vigorously looking at their “document retention” policies, he old this reporter, “which really means document destruction”.
“Make no mistake, they (EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PwC) will be prepared, they are preparing already. They are not, in the least, worried about this”.
Indeed, the last time they faced parliamentary scrutiny was during the 2015 Senate Inquiry into Corporate Tax Avoidance where the Big Four despatched a tight platoon of slick witnesses to bat away committee questions with casual efficiency. Their clients: Google, Uber, News Corp, Microsoft and the oil majors were suitably shown up, embarrassed for their tax chicanery. Yet, on the masterminds of global tax avoidance themselves, not a glove was laid.
As the Big Four practise their defence strategies for the audit inquiry, their lobbyists, PR people and senior partners have shifted into overdrive with phone calls to the major parties and even the press. One newspaper boss in the financial media has been summoned to the gleaming Barangaroo headquarters of one of the firms to be scolded over the “unhelpful” Big Four coverage by one of his more dutiful news reporters.
O’Neill herself is not taking anything for granted. This is not a Royal Commission and large financial institutions have “given the bird” to past inquiries, lied and refused to co-operate with documentary evidence. She expects a battle.
Five of the ten-person Committee are Liberal MPs, four are from Labor and there is one Green. The Committee chair, young Liberal Senator James Patterson, is a member of the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs and unlikely to do Deborah O’Neill any favours. Another, Andrew Bragg is ex EY, one of the Big Four. Another, Jason Falinski, has already been hosing down expectations via the Financial Review that the Inquiry will find anything of significance.
The Liberal faction, say sources, is expected to “drop ASIC in it”, that is run the line that the embattled corporate regulator the Australian Securities & Investments Commission is to blame for any deficiencies in the accounting regime. The Committee itself was reformed after the Election, newly composed with O’Neill replaced as deputy chair by South Australian MP Steve Georganas.
Greens’ senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who is big on corporate malfeasance, is likely to take the fight up to the Big Four. O’Neill herself has experience, having presided in four Corporations Committee hearings. But the power and money behind the opposing forces are formidable.
Part of the reason the Inquiry was not struck down by a vote on the floor on August 1 was that the Liberals were somewhat wedged by findings in the last Parliament that there were big problems with audit standards in Australia.
“For some time, the PJC on Corporations and Financial services has been reporting on the quality, or more accurately lack of quality of auditing in Australia,” she says. “This issue should have been dealt with in the Terms of Reference of the Banking Royal Commission.
“The Liberal-National Government failed Australians and our financial sector when they chose to exclude audit from the scrutiny of the Hayne Banking Royal Commission. I am concerned about the potential conflict of interest of these companies originally designed exclusively for audit who now offer extensive consultancy services.
“When auditors secure less than 25% of their income through auditing work, the question needs to be asked – what impact does their consultancy work, which is unregulated, have over their capacity to audit independently?”
Here is another snapshot of the fee-fest. The chart below shows fees by Big Four firm from 2012 to 2018. Defence consulting is in red and all other departments blue.
Total revenue is $3.7 billion, according to analysis done for michaelwest.com.au by data expert Greg Bean. In the 313 days before Deborah O’Neill announced her inquiry Big Four revenue rose by $600 million. Collectively therefore, they make around $700 million a year for providing advice to the Federal Government alone.
Big4 v All Other. Source: Greg Bean
Previously, the four firms had been taking 60% of their revenue out of the cash cow which is DoD. Defence spending went ballistic in the year after Tony Abbott became prime minister. Though things have tapered off slightly. In 2018, they took 50% out of DoD and so far this year have only taken 44% of total fees out of DoD.
Meanwhile, as pointed out for three years by this website, audit standards in Australia are poor, marked by persistent failures to adhere to Australian Accounting Standards (AASB) which means – as the Corporations Act requires companies to comply with AASB – that Australia’s largest companies are routinely breaking the law.
The regulatory establishment is entirely captive. There were even recent revelations that Bill Edge, the chairman of the government’s audit body, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), was taking payments from his old firm PwC. Yet the firms have so infiltrated government that they have become “beyond regulation”.
Last week, the Committee met without representation from Labor and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg agreed to an extension of the submissions deadline from September to October 28. The Big Four are stacked with former political operatives of both major persuasions such as ex union boss Paul Howes who is now a partner of KPMG. They will not be needy of external advice on how to filibuster.
If they manage to kill the inquiry, or at least neuter it, the Big Four will buy another few years of unrestrained growth at the expense of government (which is increasingly outsourced to them), taxpayers and stakeholders in the companies which they purport to be guarding.
In the long run however it is an untenable situation to have an oligopoly of four auditors “guarding” the biggest institutions in the world, advising them how to dodge tax while advising government on tax policy and literally taking over the business of government via their consulting divisions.
A key factor in the outcome therefore will be media, which has yet almost entirely ignored these things. In its defence, the Big Four play a suave media game. Yet the spate of global document leaks such as Panama Papers, LuxLeaks and Paradise Papers, while focussing on celebrity tax avoiders, has ignored the Big Four perpetrators.
Worse, the myriad files remain locked in a document trove controlled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) as it grows stale and beyond the access of the public. For now, the Big Four has covered all bases. The Senator from Copacabana Beach, and her colleagues, surely have their work cut out.
WHAT is the basis of all of this ‘grief for Australian Constituents’?
Apart from GREED?
.to benefit the Big End of Town ... we will continue to refer to them as such!
Their Population Ponzi that created the congestion and artificially a demand for more transport infrastructure … Taxpayers having footed the bill initially for Transurban privatisation …
MORE of the same with NSW INC having destroyed Heritage Windsor’s Thompson Square and the Windsor Bridge … WestCONnex and its tentacles tunnelling across Sydney … through Compulsory Acquisition … AND NorthCONnex too … the loss of our Heavy Rail Network for a privately owned Hong Kong Consortium MTR METRO … more tunnelling with high-rise development … high-rise Precincts and Medium-Density Housing Code underway for more foreign buyers to park their ‘black money’ … to become ‘Permanent Residents’ …
SEARCH CAAN WEBSITE TO FIND OUT MORE …
‘Crazy stuff’: Residents’ fears grow over motorway tunnels under homes
Leichhardt home owner Nikki Wedgwood said she had understood that the tunnel beneath her Emma Street property would be about 25 metres deep. The latest map showed it will be eight metres.
“My main concern is once the tunnels have been built there will be constant vibrations and noise and my house will be uninhabitable and unsellable,” she said.
“I still have hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off my mortgage, so I’d be paying off a home I couldn’t live in and couldn’t sell … I’m incredibly worried about it.”
Another Emma Street resident, Alesoun Marsden, was previously told the tunnel would run 12 metres below her home.
The latest mapping shows the road will overlap a 29-metre-deep tunnel for the M4-M5 link and sit eight metres below the surface.
“I’m very concerned there will be ongoing noise and vibration that will make my life unliveable,” Ms Marsden said.
Leichhardt Against WestConnex spokeswoman Christina Valentine was disappointed the depths appeared to have “materially changed without any community consultation”.
A Transport for NSW spokesman said some changes and improvements had been made to the project after the original environmental impact statement following “detailed design work”.
He said residents might notice vibration and noise during construction directly below or near their properties. They would be offered “mitigation measures”, including alternative accommodation, where appropriate.
“In most cases, ground-borne noise from tunnelling will be less than the noise of a refrigerator,” he said.
The spokesman said the average depth of the tunnels was 35 metres. About 169 properties will sit above tunnels 15 metres deep – “the equivalent of a four-storey building” – or shallower.
Residents have previously been told they will not hear traffic when the tunnels open.
Inner West councillor Pauline Lockie said the new depths were “particularly concerning” given residents above deeper tunnels in North Strathfield claimed the project had cracked their houses.
“Now we’re talking less than 10 metres in some cases, and nearly 200 homes where the tunnels are less than 15 metres [below properties],” Cr Lockie said. “This is crazy stuff.”
The Transport for NSW spokesman said the contractors would use “well-established construction methods”.
“While no impact to homes is expected, any impact found to be caused by construction will be addressed at no cost to residents,” he said.
Civil engineer Philip Pells, who has worked on some of Sydney’s biggest tunnelling projects, has heard of some residents living above road tunnel construction “hearing the excavator at night – a vague grinding noise in the distance”.
“It’s possible for a house sitting six metres above the tunnel they may – may – feel the vibration [of traffic]. But most of the tunnels are way below that,” he said.
Dr Pells said the “real issue” was the potential damage to houses, buildings and infrastructure due to ground movement.Play Video
Residents on Carrington Street in Strathfield near WestConnex stage one are fighting for compensation, claiming their walls have cracked because of underground tunnelling.
“In almost all these other projects – the Eastern Distributor, NorthConnex, WestConnex or the M5 East – there have been a significant number of claims [for compensation over property damage],” he said.
“I don’t know how it’s going to play out; the fat lady hasn’t sung yet on these projects.”
SMH Photo: So funny … isn’t it? We’re so clever … hehe …
Has Parliament House turned into ‘high farce’?
Does the Constituency mean so very little to the Liberal Party that ‘the player’ has been granted the opportunity to vet her association with all Chinese community organisations … a number of which are associated with the United Front …
Isn’t it astounding that her associations have not been examined by an external party … for example … the AFP?
It appears the Government can’t be bothered to conceal its contempt … for the Australian People!
The Liberal Party … they are so clever … but they too may find in no time at all … before they know it … they may find they are out on their ear … it won’t be enforced by the Australian People … will it be from our ‘Big Neighbour to the North’ … ??
High treason the new black in Australian Parliament
The fundamental operational principle of Westminster democracy is that MPs take responsibility when things go wrong in their electorates or departments and resign. No more. Via Domain:
Federal Liberal MP Gladys Liu is confident she no longer belongs to any “inappropriate” Chinese Communist Party-linked organisationsafter a “lengthy” probe of her association memberships.
The first-term Victorian MP vowed to audit any Australian-Chinese community organisations that had added her as a member without “knowledge or consent” last month after Ms Liu admitted she was at one time a member of a group that later became a Chinese government propaganda unit.
…In a statement provided to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, a spokesman for Ms Liu said she had spent “a considerable amount of time” over the past three weeks reviewing her association with all community organisations.
“With nearly 1000 Chinese organisations in Victoria alone it has been a lengthy task,” the statement said.
“Ms Liu is confident that she is not linked to any organisations that may have inappropriate associations.”
He said Ms Liu had “very clearly” stated that she does not wish to be a member of any organisation that had not received her explicit consent.
“She has asked that she be removed from all organisations that have not received her consent,” the statement said.
*And this accepts responsibility for lying to the Australian people, posing as a double agent for the CCP, disbursing inappropriate millions to political parties, and misleading the Chisholm electorate how?
All this PR exercise does is normalise treasonous behaviour. But then, that is Australian democracy “with CCP characteristics” so get used to it.
It is interesting to juxtapose the Gladys Liu public relations exercise with Penny Wong today, also at Domain:
Labor will accuse Prime Minister Scott Morrison of putting politics ahead of the national interest with “lightweight” ideas that fail to deal with the rise of China, widening the gulf between the two major parties on foreign policy.
Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong will use a major speech on Monday to warn of increasing populism under Mr Morrison’s approach to foreign affairs while warning of “increasing assertiveness” from China.
Senator Wong will also dismiss the results from Mr Morrison’s closer ties to US President Donald Trump, saying the Prime Minister has produced political distraction rather than solid outcomes.
“There’s no doubt Scott Morrison is the best political tactician in Australia right now,” Senator Wong will tell the the Australian Institute of International Affairs conference.*
“He is the master of the political manoeuvre, but he hasn’t delivered anything of substance because that’s not who he is.”
Penny Wong’s loyalties are above reproach and this speech makes good sense. But in her case the treason is the inverse. She is being dragged down by a party that is so corrupted by Chinese cash that her words carry no substance, via the ABC:
New South Wales Labor’s head office is set for a shake-up, with a new review aiming to “strengthen a culture of compliance” with rules and laws governing the party.
Federal and State Opposition Leaders Anthony Albanese and Jodi McKay announced the comprehensive review into the structure of the state’s head office and role of the general secretary.
It comes in the wake of damning revelations at the current Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigation into alleged illegal donations.
Both parties have now effectively normalised high treason.
The Coalition is asking Australians to trust that it will bury Glays Liu and prevent her access to sensitive information, as well as stop any undue CCP influence from spreading into the government, even as her fund raising activities continue.*
The Labor Party is awash with that cash but continues to aggressively prosecute the case for being closer to China, promulgating a monstrous hypocrisy in place of the national interest.
And both parties are still ducking any and all structural reform to change it.
Australia’s top universities could be aiding the Chinese Communist Party’s mission to develop mass surveillance and military technologies, amid rising concerns from Australian intelligence agencies that they are putting national security at risk.
Leading Australian universities have research collaborations with Chinese companies that have been blacklisted by the US
Australian security officials warn the joint research could compromise national security
Global data-mining company GTCOM is majority owned by the Chinese Government and spruiks links to Australian universities
A joint Four Corners-Background Briefing investigation has uncoveredextensivecollaborations between Australian universities and Chinese entities involved in Beijing’s increasingly global surveillance apparatus.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Samantha Hoffman has spent months uncovering GTCOM’s global and Australian connections.
She said the company’s intent was to support the Chinese Communist Party’s security interests.
“Whether it contributes to a state security product or propaganda or military intelligence, all of the data they’re collecting can then be turned into information that supports those objectives,” said Dr Hoffman, who is releasing a major report on GTCOM tonight.
“So immediately that raises red flags.”
Professor John Fitzgerald, who served as a chair on DFAT’s Australia-China Council,said Chinese companies were capitalising on Australia’s science and technology expertise.
Follow this story to get email or text alerts from ABC News when there is a future article following this storyline.Follow this story
“Australia’s science and technology priorities are being set by the Chinese Government because we enter into collaborations that have really been designed to support China’s goals, not ours,” he said.
“Many universities are very happy to proceed with whatever it is … because of the money and prestige involved.
“There’s a possibility that some of this research will go towards uses which could place Australia at risk.”
Professor Lu was last month awarded a $3.2 million fellowship from the Australian Research Council for a project to enable artificial intelligence to learn autonomously from data.
UTS has told Four Corners there is no joint laboratory and the Chinese media reporting is “a complete misrepresentation”.
The university has confirmed it has a research project with Haiyun Data to develop technology for handwriting recognition.
Haiyun Data did not respond to questions from Four Corners.
*Former head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre at the Australian Signals Directorate Alastair MacGibbon said universities needed to understand the implications of their international research deals.
“If it’s a firm that’s backed by a regime … and it’s engaging in what could be developments that help suppress people, then that’s a dangerous thing,” he said.
CETC has also been implicated in the mass monitoring of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, but UTS denies its research contributed to their surveillance.
Under the 2017 deal, CETC funded several projects, including one focused on public security video analysis.
Four Corners has been told the university is abandoning that project and two others with CETC because of concerns raised by Australia’s Defence Department.
The university’s review of the CETC deal recommended a number of areas where UTS should improve its risk management practices and scrutiny, including “more detailed analysis and documentation of subsidiaries of organisations involved in collaborative research”.
*UNSW Professor of Artificial Intelligence Toby Walsh said Australian universities were walking down a dangerous road and should consider carefully who they collaborate with.
“We’ve seen such rapid advances in the last few years, that we do now have to wake up and consider seriously the implications and how the technology that we work on can be misused,” he said.
Australian universities have also collaborated with Chinese defence universities.
Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) have worked on dozens of such studies, including a 2019 study on covert communications with the China’s National University of Defense Technology, which was blacklisted by the US four years ago.
The study authors said it could have military applications, including “for a stealth fighter … to be able to hide itself from enemies while communicating with its military bases.”
ANU vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt told Four Corners he was not aware of the study but “if there are specific areas of research that are detrimental to the national interest, we need to look at them”.
Deepening political rift between Australia and Beijing
“We want to make sure it’s very clear what the responsibilities of universities are when it comes to collaborating with any foreign government, because it’s incredibly important … that collaboration is in Australia’s interests,” he told Four Corners.
Are Australians aiding China’s surveillance state?
In the shadow of Hong Kong protests on university campuses, Australia’s top universities are failing to scrutinise blacklisted Chinese tech firms, according to critics.
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Chinese academic Professor Chen Hong, who was provided to Four Corners by the Chinese embassy for interview, denied that China posed a threat.
“We’ve noticed actually the ASIO and other intelligence units in Australia making allegations direct or indirect, against China,” he said.
“We think actually these allegations are unfounded and without substantial evidence.”
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson, a member of the Federal Government’s taskforce, said universities already abided by rules on research collaborations.
“The Defence Trade Controls list is a very long list and it’s reviewed every single year to keep it really up to date, and universities aren’t just diligent, they’re incredibly diligent about making sure that their research collaborations are absolutely inside the letter of the law,” she said.
Professor Clive Hamilton, who has spent years researching Chinese Communist Party interference at universities, described the research situation as “astonishing”.
“Australian universities have not been sleepwalking, they’ve been in a coma,” he said.
“Perhaps three of four years ago university vice-chancellors could have said, ‘Oh well, we didn’t know’.
“That is no longer an excuse.”
Watch Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop’s report on Four Corners tonight at 8:30pm on ABC TV.
Check this out … how can there be any doubt that Diaspora are not operating within our communities? * Within many if not all political parties?
This may explain why it is evident there there is a divergence in amongst our political parties from their original “core values”, goals, policies, beliefs, agendas ….
Why it is that many of us cannot find a Party to address the needs of the Australian Constituency …
HOW shocked, how stunned must the Yanks be? With our poor proprietary behaviour; that we sell our National Assets to companies that have strong links with foreign governments, and the foreign governments through their agents contribute to our political parties, with organisations the beneficiaries of foreign donations ….
CHINA’s OPERATION AUSTRALIA … The Go-Betweens
ALP donor Helen Liu had deep ties to Chinese spy Liu Chaoying, who was caught out trying to influence US politics. So why did ASIO give Helen Liu the all clear?
Richard Baker Nick McKenzie Philip Dorling
As befitted a man who spent his life in the shadows, General Ji Shengde chose to wait in the kitchen of an abalone restaurant in the Chinese coastal resort town of Zhuhai until his dining companions arrived.
The ultra-secretive chief of Chinese military intelligence was on the lookout for his protege, a well-dressed, 37-year-old businesswoman called Liu Chaoying. She was bringing her new friend, a California-based entrepreneur called Johnny Chung who had a penchant for over-the-top jewellery and a knack for getting inside Bill Clinton’s White House.
Once the pair arrived and the group was seated, they talked American politics. It was 1996 and Clinton was running for a second term.
“We really like your president. We hope he will be re-elected,” General Ji told Chung.
“I will give you $300,000. You can give it to your president and Democrat party.”
A few days after this August 11 meeting, Liu Chaoying wired $300,000 into Taiwan-born Chung’s account. Some of this money ended up in the coffers of the Democrat’s Clinton re-election campaign in breach of US laws banning foreign political donations.
This transaction later became the focus of US criminal and congressional investigations into a major political scandal dubbed Chinagate by the US media. It was part of a broad Chinese plan to influence American politics to favour Beijing’s acquisition of sensitive, advanced technology.
Today, Fairfax Media can reveal a direct Australian connection to the Chinagate scandal that raises serious questions about a series of Chinese donations to the Australian Labor Party.
Just why Helen Liu’s company Wincopy Pty Ltd sent this money to Liu Chaoying is not known. Whatever the case, the transfer effectively topped up the bank account of a company US prosecutors later claimed as a front for China’s military intelligence. A copy of Wincopy’s financial statements and reports prepared by the company’s accountant – and obtained from a Federal Court file – recorded the $250,025.00 transfer as “overseas marketing expenses”.
Like the others, Helen Liu was interested in politics. But her focus was Australia. At the time of the quarter-of-a-million-dollar transfer into Liu Chaoying’s Marswell company, she had just made her first donation to the ALP and had forged links to the federal Labor front bench and the NSW Labor government.
Australia’s freewheeling donations laws meant that Liu’s donations never created a scandal like that seen in the United States, and the links have never been adequately examined by Australian authorities. But evidence uncovered by Fairfax Media and the ABC means that might be about to change.
Helen Liu arrived in Sydney from Shandong province in northern China in the late 1980s as a seemingly modest student and worked at a firm exporting wool to China. But it did not take too long for her life to undergo a massive transformation.
“It was like the tap had been turned on and all this money suddenly started pouring out,” said a close associate at the time. “Top-line European cars were being bought with cash.”
The money came from Chinese Government-controlled entities such as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Beijing Hengtong Trust, the Jinan Iron and Steel Group and the Shandong Fisheries Corporation. All had entered into joint ventures with companies associated with Helen Liu and her then boyfriend, Humphrey Xu.
The pair set about amassing a Sydney property portfolio worth tens of millions of dollars. Among their tenants was a NSW government department. They exported Australian iron ore and wool to China. In their homeland, the couple embarked on huge real estate developments across several provinces in close co-operation with local officials.
They achieved Australian citizenship through sham marriages to a far younger Sydney couple then began building a network of politically powerful friends in their adopted country. Their target: Australia’s most ruthless political faction, the NSW Labor Right.
The foundation stone of this relationship was laid in 1993 when one of Helen Liu’s companies, Diamond Hill International, took a knockabout federal Labor MP, the late Eric Fitzgibbon, on a first-class trip to Liu’s home province of Shandong. Fitzgibbon’s job was to shake hands with an array of Communist Party officials and tell them just what a big deal Helen Liu and her boyfriend were back in Australia.
Eric Fitzgibbon asked if his son Joel, a rising star in NSW Labor, could come along. Joel Fitzgibbon, a trained auto electrician who was working as his father’s electorate officer, was Eric Fitzgibbon’s prospective successor as Labor candidate in the working-class regional seat of Hunter at the 1996 federal election.
That Shandong trip was the beginning of a long friendship between Helen Liu and the Fitzgibbons which only became public in 2009 when Joel Fitzgibbon was Australia’s defence minister. His early political career was supported by $40,000 in donations from Helen Liu, including $20,000 for his 1998 election campaign from her company Wincopy – the same company that sent $250,000 to Liu Chaoying’s Hong Kong account in 1996.
Fairfax Media makes no accusation of wrongdoing or impropriety against Joel Fitzgibbon in this report. No evidence has emerged to suggest he knew of Helen Liu’s links to Liu Chaoying.
While she has not outright denied the Wincopy payment of $250,000, she has attempted to cast doubt on the documents obtained from Federal and Supreme court files in NSW which formed part of a bitter 1990s legal battle with her former boyfriend and business partner Humphrey Xu.
Fairfax Media has found no evidence to suggest Helen Liu or her legal team during the 1990s had contested the veracity of these financial documents, many of which were obtained under subpoena.
There is no doubt that NSW Labor itself reaped at least $100,000 from Helen Liu and her sister Queena in donations and fundraising between 1999 and 2007. During this time, Helen Liu grew close to other Labor politicians as notable as long-serving NSW premier Bob Carr. She was photographed with former prime ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd and former Opposition leader Kim Beazley – not to mention Bill Clinton, who her friend Liu Chaoying was also snapped with.
Helen Liu’s friends in the ALP have long decried any notion that financial support from her or other Chinese donors raises a national security risk. But the revelation that Helen Liu had a direct connection to a key player in the Chinese military intelligence operation to influence an American presidential campaign makes it necessary to examine her involvement in Australian politics through a different lens.
The admiral’s daughter
When Liu Chaoying came to spend time with Helen Liu in Sydney in 1997, those who met her were left in no doubt as to her importance. With a love of high fashion and gambling, Chaoying was never shy about her position near the top of China’s government and military.
“She was introduced to me as a director of China’s Long March missile program,” recalled one of Helen Liu’s long-standing business associates, “and she was straight down to business. The first thing she asked me was if I knew where she could source metallurgical coal for making steel.”
Liu Chaoying was vice-president of China Aerospace International (CASIL) Holdings, a state-owned company responsible for China’s missile, satellite and rocket technology. She was also a Lieutenant Colonel in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), working closely with its military intelligence unit, the Second Department of the PLA General Staff.
Her biggest claim to fame was that her father, Liu Huaqing, was the most senior military officer in China during the 1990s. Credited with building China’s modern navy, Admiral Liu was vice-chairman of the country’s Central Military Commission and a member of the all-powerful Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee.
That family connection made Liu Chaoying a so-called princeling, a child of the Communist revolution’s elite. Her heritage and connections opened doors and opportunities in China and abroad. Like other princelings and other Chinese intelligence assets, her personal and business interests were often closely entwined with those of the state.
What is known of Liu Chaoying’s military and business career shows that she had a deep involvement in the procurement of weapons and military technology as well as communications. It has been reported in the Hong Kong press that she played a crucial role for Chinese military intelligence in financing the deal that procured the former Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag from Ukraine. Now refurbished and renamed, the carrier Liaoning is the pride of China’s rapidly expanding navy.
For most ordinary Chinese, someone like Liu Chaoying was an untouchable.
She was an intimidating figure, someone to treat with caution and respect. But for Helen Liu there was no sign of deference. “They were like sisters,” recalls one observer.According to Helen Liu’s statement though, she had no idea about Liu Chaoying’s military role: “Helen only knew that Liu Chaoying was a director of Hong Kong listed company and knew her through the business relationship in the telecom company. She did not know (if it be the case) that Liu Chaoying worked for China’s military intelligence or the PLA.”
Helen Liu was also from a family of some renown in China, particularly in Shandong province. Her father, who she described in a court affidavit as a “ranking official” in China’s government, was responsible for appointing various Communist Party officials to provincial power. This created a powerful network for his family.
By 1997, Helen Liu’s property empire in Sydney and China was worth tens of millions of dollars. She was a fixture on the NSW Labor scene, mixing business and pleasure through lavish dinners at the Golden Century Chinese restaurant next to the ALP’s NSW headquarters in Sydney’s Sussex Street. Her connection with the Fitzgibbons, Joel and his father Eric, and her generous donations were well known to senior NSW Labor figures.
This made Helen Liu the ultimate go-between. Chinese government companies tasked her with sourcing iron ore from Rio Tinto, BHP and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting.
Helen Liu became vice-chairwoman of a Chinese government-linked organisation called the World Federation of Overseas Chinese Associations. This organisation was led by a former PLA officer, Ren Xingliang, and worked closely with the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department to promote Beijing’s objectives through the Chinese diaspora. US intelligence analysts have long regarded the United Front as a facilitator for China’s overseas influencing campaigns.
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While Helen Liu’s star was rising, Liu Chaoying had some real troubles. Early in 1997, legendary Watergate reporter Bob Woodward dropped a bombshell report in the Washington Post declaring that the FBI and US Justice Department were investigating foreign donations to the Democratic campaign to have Bill Clinton re-elected in 1996.
The money trail from Johnny Chung led back to Liu Chaoying and Marswell Investments and, soon enough, their names were on the front pages of America’s biggest newspapers. Liu Chaoying was publicly identified as a Chinese military intelligence officer in Newsweek magazine and elsewhere.
But the Chinagate publicity in the US did little to temper Liu Chaoying’s ambition to expand her corporate presence in Australia. Throughout 1997 and 1998, records show that she established four companies in Australia. She also became a director of the Australian branch of China Aerospace.
Being outed as a Chinese intelligence operative didn’t stop Liu Chaoying from expanding her operations in Australia. Her precise objectives remain unclear but almost certainly involved a mixture of her own interests and those of the Chinese state.
As for Helen Liu, she claims in her statement that she was not aware of her business partner’s troubles in America. And she said that the common address for their respective companies was the Sydney residence of her sister, Chun Mei Liu.
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Liu Chaoying’s $300,000 payment to Johnny Chung is the case US Republican congressman Mike McCaul can’t let go of.
McCaul was a prosecutor at the Department of Justice before entering politics. He spent 1997 and 1998 leading the investigation into the political financing activities of Chung, Liu Chaoying and other players in the Chinagate scandal.
McCaul, who now chairs the US House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee, secured Johnny Chung’s testimony about the meeting with General Ji and Liu Chaoying in the abalone restaurant and his receipt of $300,000.
Although he knew more than anyone about Liu Chaoying’s business activities, McCaul said he was not aware of an Australian connection to her until he was approached by Fairfax Media and Four Corners with records showing Helen Liu’s company’s $250,000 transfer. McCaul was unable to uncover the Australian transfer because the Chinese government had blocked his attempts to access Liu Chaoying’s Hong Kong bank accounts.
Of the company Liu Chaoying used to make the US political donation, McCaul said:
“I believe Marswell was really a front for Chinese intelligence activities.”
McCaul believes the Chinese wanted Clinton re-elected because his administration had eased export restrictions on satellite technology to China. This area was one of Liu Chaoying’s specialities at China Aerospace.
The congressman’s view is supported by the finding of a bipartisan congressional committee, which is specially convened to investigate China’s political donations. It described the $300,000 as an attempt to “better position [Liu Chaoying] in the United States to acquire computer, missile and satellite technologies”.
Classified US intelligence material provided to congressional investigators also put Liu Chaoying at the forefront of illegal arms sales and smuggling operations. She was twice found to have entered the US using false identities.
McCaul said the revelation that a prominent Chinese donor to Australian politics such as Helen Liu was financially and personally involved with Liu Chaoying at the time of Chinagate was “deeply disturbing”.
“Quite frankly, I was a bit surprised [to learn] that Australia does allow foreign contributions.”
“And if you look at the numbers, which I was privy to, a lot of these donations are coming from China. They want a stronger presence in Australia and what better way to do that than to influence political figures through foreign contributions,” McCaul said.
Despite the controversy in the US, Helen Liu appeared unperturbed about continuing to do business with Liu Chaoying. Hong Kong court records show the pair established a company in the British Virgin Islands in 1999 with the intention of investing in telecommunications in China.
But their relationship soured in 2001 when a Hong Kong bank took them to court after they failed to make repayments on a substantial loan.
An unusual letter
In February 2009, a senior Australian defence department official posted anonymous letters to two of the journalists who have written this story, one at the investigations unit of The Age, the other then at The Canberra Times.
The letter referred to a potential conflict of interest involving Fitzgibbon’s brother’s company, health insurer NIB, and its interest in government contracts. But much of the letter was taken up with the then defence minister’s relationship with a Chinese-born businesswoman and Labor donor named Helen Liu.
The letter revealed that the minister received a suit from his friend and was living in a Canberra townhouse he rented from Helen Liu’s family. Most notably, the letter specifically asserted that Helen Liu was associated with Chinese military intelligence.
Until this point, Helen Liu was unknown to anyone in the Australian media let alone the wider public. Despite 15 years of involvement in Australian politics through donations and fundraising, she remained beneath the radar. Fitzgibbon’s register of interests lodged with Parliament made no mention of Helen Liu despite their long friendship.
Ahead of the publication of a series of Fairfax articles about Helen Liu in 2009, Fitzgibbon was asked if he had received any gifts or benefits from Helen Liu that would require declaration. His answer was no – as it was when asked the same question at a doorstop on the day the story broke.
But later that night, his office announced that the minister had forgotten to declare two very quick trips to China in 2002 and 2005 that had been paid for by Helen Liu. Just why he took those trips and what he did on them remains unclear.
The failure to declare the trips badly weakened his grip on his Cabinet position.
Since amending his records, Joel Fitzgibbon has consistently maintained he has received nothing further from Helen Liu that he needed to declare nor had ever been involved in or benefited from her business affairs.
Fairfax Media makes no suggestion that Mr Fitzgibbon has anything else to declare. But he has not answered questions about whether other members of his immediate family, such as his late father Eric Fitzgibbon, had received cash, gifts or company shares from Helen Liu.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with meeting and dining with visiting foreign dignitaries. It is an often tedious but necessary part of the job for many Australian MPs.
Joel Fitzgibbon said he could recall possibly two occasions where he had dined with Chinese associates of Helen Liu during their visits to the Hunter Valley. “My memory is that they were Government officials,” he said.Fairfax Media understands that a handful of federal and state Labor politicians used their official letterheads to write to various Chinese leaders and Australian immigration officers on behalf of Helen Liu and her immediate family. Mr Fitzgibbon said he was not among them. “I have never written to a Chinese official,” he said. Helen Liu said she had no recollection of asking any politician for such favours.
The ASIO all-clear
Perhaps the strangest thing in the Helen Liu saga was the statement released by Australia’s top counter-espionage agency, ASIO, a day after the initial story about her broke in late March 2009.
Kevin Rudd’s Labor government was already having problems on the China front. The Mandarin-speaking Rudd had just been criticised after he “secretly” hosted the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda chief at the Lodge. Before that, Rudd and other Labor MPs were in the gun over a series of trips they made – and declared appropriately – to China paid for by Chinese entrepreneur and political donor Ian Tang.
ASIO’s customary approach is to never publicly comment on security matters involving individuals or organisations. It is a policy endorsed by both Coalition and Labor governments and almost always strictly adhered to.
But in the case of Helen Liu, Rudd’s government decided to buck convention. Hours after Fairfax’s first article about Helen Liu was published, the office of Labor’s attorney-general, Robert McClelland, released a statement saying “the Acting Director General of Security has advised me that ASIO has no information relating to Ms Helen Liu which would have given rise to any security concern regarding her activities or associations.”
Paul Monk is one of Australia’s foremost experts on China’s intelligence apparatus. A former head of the China desk at Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisations, Monk is perturbed by the circumstances that led to the former Rudd government releasing such advice from ASIO.
“First, [that the ASIO statement] contravened long-standing intelligence community practice in commenting publicly on operational matters; second, that it should have lacked such information, in all the circumstances; and, third, that unimpeachable information has now come to light showing that, in fact, there were, well before 2009, grounds for very grave concern about Helen Liu’s bona fides and links with Chinese military and intelligence agencies at the highest level,” Mr Monk said.
The ASIO statement was used by the Labor government as a shield against critics raising security concerns in relation to Helen Liu and her close ties to the defence minister. Ministers relied on it to repel opposition Senate estimates questions.
Some of Helen Liu’s closest friends in Labor went on the attack.
Bob Carr said it was “pretty shameful for the media to brand this woman as suspect on security grounds without the remotest evidence – indeed in the face of ASIO stating she is of no interest to them.”
NSW state MP Henry Tsang wrote that Helen Liu has been “wrongly portrayed as a national security threat”. Joel Fitzgibbon said his friend was a “highly regarded and respected Australian businesswoman”.
“Her name has been dragged through the mud … and her reputation has been tarnished in a highly defamatory way. I’ll certainly be taking any action I can to ensure she’s not personally attacked in that way in the future.”
The ASIO statement was even used by senior Australian Defence Department officials to privately assure their American counterparts that there was no need to be concerned about Helen Liu, according to leaked State Department cables released by Wikileaks.
As for Helen Liu, she told News Limited tabloid The Daily Telegraph she was “brokenhearted”.
“It is unfair to me what people have said. I know people have said that I am a national security threat.”
Litigation and legacies
Joel Fitzgibbon survived as defence minister until mid-2009. And it wasn’t his ties to Helen Liu that did for him in the end. It was an alleged conflict of interest involving his brother’s company.
But the story of Helen Liu wasn’t going away. Subsequent reports based on material supplied by new informants resulted in a long-running and expensive legal battle instigated by Helen Liu in a bid to find out their identity.
Thanks to his standing in the NSW Labor right, Joel Fitzgibbon became federal Labor chief whip in 2010 and served as a member and briefly chairperson of the Parliament’s influential Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
Following the June 2013 Labor leadership spill, he was appointed agriculture minister in Kevin Rudd’s second ministry. He now serves as shadow agriculture minister on Labor leader Bill Shorten’s front bench.
As for Liu Chaoying, she and her family appear to be on the rise again in China after some difficulties in the early 2000s when her father fell out with then president Jiang Zemin, resulting in her brief arrest, and her boss, General Ji, receiving a 20-year prison sentence for corruption.
In 2007, US diplomats reported that Liu Chaoying was “involved in arms sales to foreign countries through Huawei and other military or quasi-military companies on whose boards she sat”. Her elder brother, Liu Zhuoming, is an influential navy admiral and member of the National People’s Congress.
In September last year, Chinese president Xi Jinping paid a lengthy personal tribute to Liu Chaoying’s late father on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, declaring Liu Huaquing to be one of the greatest leaders of the modern Chinese military.
Meanwhile, it is understood that Helen Liu has spent nearly all of her time in China in recent years. Two of her family’s companies have encountered some legal trouble in China. A 2014 court judgement from Hainan Island records that the chairwoman of Australia Diamond Hill Holdings Limited admitted to having bribed a local official with $34,000 and a bottle of red wine.
The judgement identifies a female with the surname “Liu” as chairwoman but does not specify whether it is Helen Liu, her sister or someone else.Chinese media reports between 2000 and 2012 name Helen Liu as the chairwoman of Australia Diamond Hill Holdings. In her statement she denied any recent involvement with the companies named in the Hainan court judgement.
Her Double Bay residence has long appeared neglected and empty. Recently, however, she and her sister re-established a corporate presence in Australia. Just what this means remains to be seen.
In August it sent a shock letter to 190 planners aligned with the group, informing them they would be axed by the end of October.
Sacked advisers facing ruin
Most had bought the businesses from AMP with a promise that if they were ever forced to sell, it would be on the same terms. That is no longer the case. Many now are facing ruin.
“I feel [like] a complete failure and that I have let my family down, I am anxious and fearful for the future,” one planner wrote in an email to fellow AMP adviser John Kevin, who has been speaking to planners he is worried about.
“I have contemplated whether my life insurance is the better option for my family, for me. I have now had my will prepared so AMP can’t get a single dollar … I tell you this because I believe I’m not the only one thinking like this.”
“AMP is robbing us,” another wrote. “I suffer ongoing mental health issues.”
“I’m not saying this lightly — a lot of people are on the edge of suicide,” Neil McDonald from the AMP Financial Planners Association said.
Mary Benton is an AMP financial planner who has not been terminated but has applied to leave.
She has been counselling about 30 planners who have been terminated.
“Even when they think they are coping, they’re not,” she said.Follow this story to get email or text alerts from ABC News when there is a future article following this storyline.Follow this story
“They’re not making good decisions, they can’t think straight.
“They are so worried about their marriages, losing their homes, how this will affect their families.
“I am trying to call as many as I can to let them know they are not alone, there are people to call, there are people in the same boat as them.
“They really believe that AMP has really tried to divide and conquer with what they are doing.”
AMP’s guarantees to advisers fall by wayside
The termination letter from AMP gave advisers an October 31 deadline to accept what has been described as “very unfair” exit terms.
The terms vary, but generally planners can either sell their business back to AMP for half of what they paid, and what has previously been guaranteed by AMP, or convince another planner, who AMP wants to keep, to buy the business and take them on as a planner.
For years AMP operated the aligned financial planning business by guaranteeing planners it would sell them businesses at four times the annual earnings of each business, but also guaranteed they would be bought back for the same amount.
It is now only offering 2.5 times annual earnings.
AMP Bank also lent planners the hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy the businesses.
Nearly all the affected advisers who have contacted the ABC have said they will be left with substantial debts as a result of AMP forcing them out.
“The deadline is less than three weeks away and they still don’t know how much AMP will pay for their business, still no answer on whether they will forgive any of the debt, or whether special consideration will be given if you are a genuine retiree,” Mr McDonald said.
If advisers fail to make a decision by October 31, AMP will cancel the planner’s licence and take back their clients, with any loans remaining payable to AMP Bank.
Another financial planner who has spoken to the ABC is under significant stress knowing that at the end of October he will have no business, an unserviceable debt of about $400,000, and a five-year office lease he cannot get out of. And he is doubtful he will be able to find another job given the state of the financial planning industry.
It is far from an isolated case
“If you were to ask me, ‘Are you OK?’, the answer is no. Not anymore. And neither is my wife. And neither is my family, ” another Sydney-based planner told the ABC.
The ABC cannot name the advisers, as AMP has confidentiality clauses in its termination letters, which advisers fear means will leave them with nothing if they speak out.
Planners left in debt
One planner has been in the industry for 10 years and bought his book of clients from AMP “back when it was a respectable, good brand, with a good reputation”.
As a migrant, he said, he worked hard in his community and brought many new clients to the business and serviced them on a fee-for-service basis.
He said he understood many people would have little sympathy for an AMP financial planner given what came out in the royal commission, but he insisted the bad eggs were not the people AMP was getting rid of.
“AMP is terminating planners who don’t sell enough product, who don’t make enough money for AMP,” he said.
“The smaller planners like me that just charge for advice for clients who are not super rich, do a good job — that’s who AMP is terminating. I have never had one complaint or investigation into me.”
He is preparing to sell the family home, and has already pulled his children out of day care, meaning his parents have had to help.
His wife has been looking for work, but only found it in regional towns well away from the family.
The termination will leave him in significant debt, a debt AMP has said it will pursue.
“This just seems all so wrong,” he said.
AMP facing backlash
Ms Benton is one of many who have tried to contact the AMP board to make sure it is aware of what is happening, but has had no response.
“I’m incredibly worried, incredibly worried about the planners I’m speaking to,” she said.
Matters raised through her counselling and campaign are ringing alarm bells at the Small Business Ombudsman’s office.
“We are aware of the situation,” ombudsman Kate Carnell said.
“It appears that a lot of financial planners have had unfair treatment related to contracts with AMP. This is a major issue and something that we are very keen to look into.
“Those with concerns should get in contact with the office, and this can be done anonymously.”
The Financial Services Union is also in negotiation with AMP on behalf of a member and it is expected to reach a conclusion shortly.
It is also understood that a class action against AMP will be announced in the coming days and NSW Shadow Minister for Finance and Small Business, Daniel Mookhey, is also pressuring the NSW Government to investigate.
In a statement AMP said: “We care deeply about the welfare of our advisers and their families, and have offered them a range of support options including counselling.
“The decision to reset our Buyer of Last Resort (BOLR) terms for aligned advisers was a difficult but necessary change made due to the significant economic changes that have occurred across the industry.”
Extinction Rebellion, also known as XR, began in April 2018 when a small group of British activists met in Bristol to discuss how to achieve what one early member called “radical social change”.
It started as part of the Rising Up network, which describes itself as being born out of the Occupy movement and includes among its aims “a rapid change in wealth distribution and power structures”.
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XR’s first major action, on October 17, 2018, was to occupy Greenpeace’s offices in London, with the aim of gaining media attention and distinguishing itself from earlier movements.
“The point of this was to say, ‘Greenpeace, we love you, but we need to talk. There is an emergency and you have a role to play in this’,” wrote Ronan McNern, Extinction Rebellion’s media and messaging coordinator.
Later that month, academics, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, attached their name to an open letter which stated we’re, “in the midst of the sixth mass extinction” and that the British Government had failed to take adequate action.
Extinction Rebellion was officially launched in the UK on October 31, 2018, with a protest at London’s Parliament Square to declare rebellion against the UK Government.
*In large part, the protest is about minimising climate change and the problems associated with it, from rising seas to food insecurity.
Specifically, in the UK, the movement wants the Government to “tell the truth” and declare a climate and ecological emergency; reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 and stop biodiversity loss; and create a “Citizens’ Assembly” to guide decisions on these issues.
*For some key figures in the movement, it’s not just about climate change.
Sam Knights, who has been part of the movement from its inception and co-edited This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, wrote in his introduction to that book:
*“The challenge we now face is extremely daunting. Because the problem, unfortunately, is not just the climate. The problem is ecology. The problem is the environment. The problem is biodiversity. The problem is capitalism. The problem is colonialism. The problem is power. The problem is inequality. The problem is greed, and corruption, and money, and this tired, broken system.”
“XR isn’t about the climate. You see, the climate’s breakdown is a symptom of a toxic system that has infected the ways we relate to each other as humans and to all life. This was exacerbated when European ‘civilisation’ was spread around the globe through cruelty and violence [especially] over the last 600 years of colonialism, although the roots of the infections go much further back.”
The movement was founded on a rejection of traditional protests, according to Roger Hallam, one of its organisers.
*”Sending emails, giving money to NGOs, going on A-to-B marches. Many wonderful people have dedicated years of their lives to all this, but it’s time to be honest. Conventional campaigning has failed to bring about the necessary change,” he wrote in This Is Not A Drill.
*Instead, the movement preaches economic disruption — most significantly, the blocking of roads — arguing that, “Without economic cost the guys running this world really don’t care“.
However, XR says actions taken in its name must be non-violent, drawing inspiration from the American civil rights and Indian independence movements.
“As soon as you allow violence into the mix, you destroy the diversity and community basis upon which all successful mass mobilisations are based,” Mr Hallam wrote.
While the movement says it is decentralised, and open to anyone who agrees with its aims and methods, Mr Hallam says it has nevertheless been carefully planned, “unlike many of the spontaneous social-media-fuelled rebellions and uprisings in recent years”.
For instance, the focus on city centres is intentional:
“The truth is, they don’t mind you doing stuff in the provinces. They do mind when you set up camp on their lawn, because they are forced to sit up and pay attention,” Mr Hallam wrote.
Mr McNern wrote in This Is Not A Drill about XR’s media strategy, which included protesting at the BBC’s London headquarters, offering exclusive stories to target media, and creating a WhatsApp group for sharing information with journalists.
“The families arm is a way for people to get involved in the Extinction Rebellion who might be feeling a little bit nervous about the idea of mass civil disobedience,” she said.
But while many of the XR activists risking arrest are young people, not all of them are.
In April, Farhana Yamin, a lawyer who had been a lead author for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, was arrested when she superglued her hands to the ground outside Shell’s headquarters in London.
*“I wanted to show how ridiculous it is that a law-abiding — indeed, law-making — mother of four should be handcuffed while the world’s major polluters remain unaccountable for ecocide,”she wrote in Nature.
Yesterday, journalist Chloe Adams, a mother of two small children, described why she chose to join the movement despite having lived a law-abiding life.
“I am haunted by one image: the moment my children are old enough to understand the gravity of the climate crisis, and they look me in the eye and ask, ‘but what did you do Mummy?'” she wrote.
IT appears to some of us that a grooming process … currying favour has been underway for decades … firstly with trade and cheap goods … Australian business going offshore … to the extent China now predominantly manufactures much of what we used to …
Multiculturalism … stems from a Cultural Idea that there are ‘no Australians’, our society is only a collection of people of different cultures living together – unlike that of China …
And it would seem culturally the values propagated by this type of thought leadership is having an impact not unlike termites devouring a house … eating away at the structure of the Australian Society … to the point now where a whole Cohort of Australians have been locked out of home ownership as those from Our Big Neighbour to the North fly in and buy up our Real Estate …
Our Title Deeds appear in fact to be our Biggest Export!
The LNP being the major recipient of ‘political donations’ it would seem was the passage for Huang and others to cultivate influence also with the Opposition Labor Party …
This Chinese mogul made powerful friends in Australia. Now he’s a case study on worries over Beijing’s influence.
The leader of Australia’s opposition party Bill Shorten holds a photograph of then foreign minister Julie Bishop and Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo at a Parliament session on June 14, 2017, in Canberra, Australia. (Micka Tsikas/AP)
By A. Odysseus Patrick
SYDNEY — Australian tax authorities know where to find their man — living in a gilded quasi-exile in Hong Kong.
*They also know what they want. That would be back taxes of 140 million Australian dollars, or about $100 million.
Yet there’s more than just a mega-tax bill at the center of the case into Huang Xiangmo, a Chinese-born tycoon with a penchant for living large and spending big in political circles — including once dropping off a political donation worth about $70,000 in a supermarket shopping bag.
*The investigation is widely seen as a potential deep dive into pro-Beijing networks and influence-peddling in Australia, which is struggling to balance its trade dependency with China and its older military and intelligence-sharing ties with the United States.
*It also illustrates an awkward consequence of the explosion of Chinese capital around the world. Western countries have embraced the wealthy foreign investors from China but are discovering that many remain loyal to the Chinese Communist Party and its political agenda.
Beijing’s influence is becoming a particularly acute concern in Australia, which has a large Chinese population and whose mineral and natural gas companies have major export markets in China.
* the past two years, the suspected influence by Beijing has been an almost constant source of political and media debate — including intimidation tactics by pro-Beijing students from China on campuses, and politicians from all sides who may have been links to Chinese investment interests.
*“Trying to collect 140 million [Australian dollars] is an exercise that’s well and good,” said David Chaikin, a former head of law enforcement and security in the international division of Australia’s attorney general’s department. “But the national security is worth more than 140 million.”
A court has frozen Huang’s remaining Australian assets, and his Australian visa has been canceled. Huang, also known as Changran Huang, now appears to live in Hong Kong, where he owns a $66 million apartment, according to court documents.
Having made a fortune in property development in the Chaoshan area of southern China, Huang moved to Australia in 2013 and invested in shopping malls, apartment buildings and offices.
*He bought a beautiful house in one of Sydney’s most affluent suburbs, became a benefactor to prominent charities and educational institutions, and was appointed leader of several groups close to China’s United Front Work Department, a group with close ties to Beijing’s leaders that seeks to muzzle any opposition to the one-party state and its policies, said Alex Joske, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Huang’s wealth and generous political donations made him a popular guest at fundraisers with senior politicians, including Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister from 2015 to 2018, Julie Bishop, the foreign minister from 2013 to 2018, and Bill Shorten, the former leader of the opposition Labor Party. Shorten attended Huang’s daughter’s wedding in Sydney three years ago.
Huang’s high profile and access to powerful people attracted the interest of the intelligence services, too.
In 2016, a Labor Party politician, Sam Dastyari, warned Huang that his phone was likely being monitored by government agencies, a warning that ended Dastyari’s political career when the call was revealed by the Sydney Morning Herald a year later.
Huang’s involvement with pro-Beijing organizations and contact with senior politicians has fed speculation that he was pushing policies favored by the Chinese government.
Even Turnbull, when he was prime minister, suggested that Huang’s donations had led Dastyari to side with China in its international disputes over the South China Sea, where China’s claims of full sovereignty are strongly opposed by the United States and its allies.
Huang could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, wife and son did not respond to email requests seeking comment.
In 2015, Huang personally delivered 100,000 Australian dollars — worth about $70,000 and held together with rubber bands — to the Labor Party head office in the state of New South Wales.
Political contributions by property developers are banned in the state. When a legal inquiry in Sydney last month revealed the donation, the party’s top administrative official was forced to resign.
Huang refused to give evidence in the inquiry, and a donation-disclosure filing asserted that the money came from 10 employees at a Sydney Chinese restaurant where he had dined with Shorten and other Labor politicians.
When investigators ordered one of Huang’s executives, Leo Liao, to answer questions in person about the money, he committed suicide. In a note to his wife and daughter, Liao said the summons triggered memories of his father being interrogated in China.
“Eventually he ended in jail,” he wrote. “It was petrifying.”
*Australian officials are apparently collecting information about Huang’s wider network in Australia.
Ross Babbage, a former head of strategic analysis at the Office of National Assessments, an Australian intelligence agency, said that “there may be an interest in official circles in using such a prosecution to uncloak some of the realities” of the Chinese Communist Party reach in Australia.
Reports submitted by tax officials to the court said that Huang had declared less than $35,000 in assets outside Australia and claimed earnings of about $1 million from 2012 to 2015. The tax office claims he generated about $120 million in income over the same period.
Huang’s lawyer has denied in court that his client owes the money.
The government canceled Huang’s visa the day after he left for China in December 2018.
Huang’s wife, Jiefang, left Australia on Sept. 11, the day she and her husband were hit with the tax bill, according to government records.
Five days later a federal court froze the Huangs’ assets in Australia up to the value of $100 million, even though the judge, Anna Katzmann, said that it was unclear whether there was that much money left and that the debt couldn’t be enforced in Hong Kong.
“The amount of the tax liability is considerable and there is a real danger that, without the freezing orders, assets will be removed from Australia or otherwise dissipated,” Katzmann wrote in the judgment.
Huang has severed ties with his Australian business, Yuhu Group, which has extensive real estate assets and is run by his son, Jimmy. Yuhu officials did not respond to a request for comment.
IF there’s no proof that Voters can be persuaded to change their Vote … well why then does the LNP invest in so much signage, pork barrelling, media, WeChat, Sco mobile, Spin, deals, lavish events costing paying guests $THOUSANDS?
… Yates, Hall and Garbett argue that by instructing voters on the “correct” or “right” way to vote, the signs implied that a vote for anyone other than the Liberal candidate would be invalid and they therefore did meet this higher threshold.*
The AEC admitted the petitioners’ translations were correct and that Liuand Frydenberg’s signs had used “the same” colour scheme as the AEC …
Josh Frydenberg and Gladys Liu election challenges should be thrown out, AEC says
There’s no proof voters changed their vote after seeing Chinese-language signs, electoral commission tells court
The AEC has asked the federal court to throw out both cases, arguing the petitions do not contain enough detail to overturn the election of the treasurer and deputy Liberal leader in Kooyong and the Liberal MP in Chisholm.
The petitions to the court from the unsuccessful independent candidate for Kooyong, Oliver Yates, and Chisholm constituents Naomi Leslie Hall and Vanessa Claire Garbettcomplain that Chinese-language signs were likely to mislead voters because they used the AEC’s purple colours and instructed voters the “correct” or “right” way to vote was to put a 1 next to the Liberal party candidate.
Frydenberg and Liuhave claimedthe Liberal party’s acting Victorian director, Simon Frost, “intended” the signs to say “to make your vote count put a 1 next to the Liberal candidate” but admit the translation meant “correct way to vote”, “correct voting method” or “the right way to vote”.
In near-identical responses to both cases, the AEC told the court that the “petition fails to set out at all, let alone with sufficient particularity, any facts or matters on the basis of which it might be concluded that it was likely that on polling day, electors able to read Chinese characters, upon seeing and reading the corflute, cast their vote in a manner different from what they had previously intended”.
The AEC admitted that “it is possible” that votes in Chisholm and Kooyong were cast by electors who read the Chinese signs or were told about them by someone who had read the signs.
But it said the petitions failed to set out “the facts or matters on the basis of which the petitioner alleges that it is likely” that people then voted number 1 for or gave their preference to Liu or Frydenberg “notwithstanding that such was not the vote that they otherwise intended to cast”.
It submitted the petitions failed to comply with section 355 of the Electoral Act – which requires facts to be detailed with “sufficient particularity” – and that as a result the cases should not be heard, citing section 358 which allows a court to throw a case out for technical failures or allow it to be heard despite some missing detail.
The AEC raised the same technical objection in relation to paragraphs of the petitions claiming that the two candidates’ preferred results were “likely to have been affected” by the signs.
The AEC responses admit that on election day, 18 May,it formed the view the Chinese-language signs did not breach the provision banning publications which are “likely to mislead an elector in relation to the casting of a vote” and so did not order them to be taken down.
It explained that the provision bans misleading voters with respect to “the act of recording or expressing the political judgment which an elector has made rather than the formation of that judgment”.
*Yates, Hall and Garbett argue that by instructing voters on the “correct” or “right” way to vote, the signs implied that a vote for anyone other than the Liberal candidate would be invalid and they therefore did meet this higher threshold.*
The AEC admitted the petitioners’ translations were correct and that Liuand Frydenberg’s signs had used “the same” colour scheme as the AEC; Frydenberg and Liu conceded only that it was “similar”.
Australia’s dairy farmers are leaving the industry in droves as drought and sky-high prices for water take their toll.
An estimated400 dairy farmers have left the Murray Valley region in the past year
This is thesecond consecutive year NSW irrigators cannot legally access water from the Murray River
Farming communities are demanding major reform to water management by authorities
The Murray Valley region, stretching from northern Victoria to southern New South Wales, is one of the regions which has been hit the hardest.
An estimated 400 farmers have left there in the past year, milk production has halved to 1 billion litres, and saleyards are flooded with unwanted, surplus dairy cows — the less productive ones are destined for the meatworks.
“Truckloads and truckloads — hundreds a week — [are] getting killed out of the area,” stock and station agent Nathan Everingham said.
“These are cows that have had 50 years of [artificial insemination] breeding, just all getting their heads cut off.”
In Finley, New South Wales, lack of fodder is a serious problem.
“We can’t milk cows without fodder; we can’t have fodder without water to grow it,” dairy farmer Lachlan Marshall said.
The lack of spring rain has seen pasture and crops wither, and cruelly, despite the Murray River that runs through the valley being swollen with environmental flows released from storages upstream, it’s out of reach for farmers.Follow this story to get email or text alerts from ABC News when there is a future article following this storyline.Follow this story
It’s the second year in a row New South Wales irrigators cannot legally access any of its water.
Farming communities along the river say speculators and corporate farmers have been allowed to buy vast volumes of water at the expense of family farms.
They’re demanding major reform to the way state and federal authorities manage water resources.
The Marshall family opted for a dry-lot dairy, feeding their 900 cows a mix of fodder from harvested crops to conserve valuable water.
And it certainly is that. The short supply of water means it’s currently selling for up to $800 a megalitre.
Despite surging export demand for products such as yoghurt and infant formula, Australia’s dairy industry continues to shrink.
Even with milk at historically high prices due to its scarcity, that’s beyond the reach of irrigators growing feed for dairy cows.
“When you’ve got input costs that have increased 250 per cent for grain, 25 per cent for fodder, then of course water in those irrigated regions, it’s very difficult to make a margin, even with a pretty good milk price,” dairy analyst Joanne Bills said.