Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. File photo/ Reuters
Australia’s hardline immigration minister was swept up in the deepening saga over Chinese meddling in domestic politics on Tuesday, delivering another blow to a government facing defeat in next month’s election.
An investigation by national broadcaster ABC revealed that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton met privately in 2016 with Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo to discuss obtaining Australian citizenship.
Huang has been at the centre of a series of scandals including accusations he bought influence in Canberra with millions in donations to major political parties. He has long denied any wrongdoing.
The ABC alleged Huang paid a lobbyist thousands of dollars for private access to Dutton, throwing Australia’s governing coalition into the foreign interference saga even as it trails in polls ahead of an expected May 18 election.
Huang was eventually denied citizenship on the advice of Australian spy agencies and barred last month from the country on suspicions he is part of a Communist Party influence campaign.
Dutton Tuesday dismissed allegations of interference as “nonsense.”
“I have never received a dollar from this individual. I had one meeting with him over lunch. I have never seen him since,” he told reporters.
Former opposition Labor party senator Sam Dastyari, who was forced to quit politics because of his ties to Huang, told the ABC Dutton in 2015 fast-tracked a request for the billionaire’s family to hold a citizenship ceremony.
Dastyari said it “blew him away” when Dutton took a few weeks to approve a fast-track request that would typically take months to rubber stamp.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his government Tuesday, labelling Dastyari a “disgrace” for “betraying” his country.
But former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who last year introduced sweeping reforms to Australia’s espionage and foreign interference laws, said the ABC report was “very concerning.”
Turnbull, who was ousted in a party coup late last year by a hard-right faction led by Dutton, likened the latest revelations to the Dastyari case.
“Peter Dutton has a lot to explain about this,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“He is supposed to be the minister responsible for the domestic security of Australia,” said Turnbull, calling on Morrison to do more.
Canberra banned foreign donations as part of its reforms, with China called out as its primary concern.
Beijing has dismissed the claims of meddling as hysteria and paranoia.
The city is now also seeking to amend laws to allow individuals to be extradited to mainland China, despite grave human rights concerns towards Beijing.
The United States and China said they made progress in trade talks that concluded on Friday in Beijing that Washington called “candid and constructive” as the world’s two largest economies try to resolve a bitter, nearly nine-month trade war.
China’s Huawei Technologies, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, reported a 25 per cent jump in 2018 net profit, buoyed by a solid performance in its home market and a booming smartphone Business.
Australia is expected to extend its enviable recession-free run of growth into a third decade, the government said on Tuesday even as it downgraded forecasts for coming years. Despite that, the government was able to promise a return to budget surplus in 2019/20 starting July 1, the first since 2007/08 before the global financial crisis hit. The improving budget position enabled the government
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