ABSOLUTE POWER: Chinese President Xi Jinping.
ABSOLUTE POWER: Chinese President Xi Jinping. Ng Han Guan

I'm not a commentator but... beware the influence of China

REPORTS of recent times give us cause for concern.

They are reports on different topics but they do share an underlying commonality: potential foreign interference in Australian politics.

Concerns about Chinese interference have been doing the rounds for a while but cannot be understated or dismissed as being xenophobic hysteria.

The potential interference is subtle rather than forceful, with concerns ranging from financial support for politicians in exchange for pro-China propaganda (remember Sam Dastyari), to trying to gain influence through our academic institutions.

Recent reports that our intelligence agencies have warned Government against allowing Chinese investment in our telecommunications sector must be heeded.

It is of some comfort that sections of our media and our intelligence communities seem to be on the ball, even if sometimes our MPs tend to lag on the issue.

The rise of President Xi Jinping to the position of absolute and unquestioned power in China creates a new dynamic in Australia's relationship with our major trading partner.

Xi's passive-agressive approach to how China conducts its international relations should put our political system on guard.

We need to ensure our politicians adopt a multi-partisan stance in terms to the way this country deals with China.

In the current political environment, it does worry me that the Coalition and Labor don't seem to be able to agree on important issues without politics getting in the way.

Rather than adopting the same open hostility towards China as they show towards each other, our MPs should perhaps adopt a stance of respectful suspicion.

The other concern raised recently in the media deals with the potential erosion of Australia's gun laws as the result of foreign (read American) weapons manufacturers buying political influence.

If reports can be substantiated, these foreign companies (via their local subsidiaries) are adopting practices straight out of the Chinese playbook.

It is alleged they are funding the campaigns of some minor parties and independent candidates.

The strategy is that their campaigns would not highlight our gun laws during the election process.

Only should any of these candidates be elected would pressure be brought to bear on them to push for the dilution of our gun laws.

The Sam Dastyari scandal highlighted the desperate need to reform our political donation laws to ban funding from foreign entities.

If these latest reports prove to be accurate, then any reforms in that area need to go further to include donations made by local subsidiaries of foreign corporations.

Now that we have a crossbench that appears to be enthusiastic about pushing for reforms in this area, we might actually get somewhere. If left to the major parties, it remains doubtful that reform would go far enough. Labor has only come to the party after the embarrassment suffered by the Dastyari scandal. The Coalition shows a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the concept.

The need to tighten political funding laws beyond what the Government and the Opposition seem prepared to do is obvious. A significant portion of the Australian electorate's trust problem with our politicians is to do with the perception influence and the ear of government can be bought.

It took the Dastyari scandal to make Labor change its tune to some extent on both the issues of political funding and the establishment of a federal anti-corruption commission.

We need both to happen. One just wouldn't work effectively without the other. Labor and most of the crossbench appear to be now on board.

One must ask why the Liberal Party in particular remains so resistant.

Given its rhetoric of recent years about defending our borders and how Australia will make up its own mind on this issue and that issue without foreign pressures being exerted (eg Tony Abbott's personal disdain of the Paris Climate Accord), one would think it'd be the most supportive of any measures to ensure foreign influence doesn't corrupt our democratic systems.

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