Agent of influence (Image screenshot afr.com)

Now that so-called "double agent" Dastyari is gone, maybe the mainstream media will begin to focus on some of the bigger fish. Managing editor Dave Donovan reports.

ACCORDING TO the Liberal Party, Sam Dastyari is an “agent of influence” for the Chinese — even, according to some, a "double agent".

Maybe he is, or maybe he isn’t. In any case, he's gone now — resigning from the Senate on Tuesday after the mainstream media spent weeks talking about nothing else. The only thing they enjoy better than a witch hunt is a good kangaroo court.

Dastyari's major crime, it would appear, was telling a contact their privacy may be compromised because he was most probably under surveillance by the CIA. Given subsequent events, it appears Dastyari was on the money. Apparently, wanting to exercise your rights to privacy and free association is prima facie evidence of treason in this new Orwellian age.

Sam’s contact was Chinese and a political donor, and so, with this country's latest version of the “Yellow Peril”, this meant the pair were doubtless plotting something dastardly. Even more so, given Dastyari is one of Labor’s top fundraisers and, moreover, a “wog” — an Iranian immigrant, just like many of those we persist in locking away on malaria islands in the South Pacific.

Now – surprise, surprise – the media appear to be going after Shorten.

Anyway, let’s go along with the overblown political rhetoric and breathless media hype, and assume Dastyari is, indeed, an “agent of influence” — even a "double agent". Who knows? Maybe he is? China, being a rising superpower, probably does have a few of these sorts in our Parliament — just like America does. (And Britain probably does too — I’m looking at you, Tony Abbott.)

But if “Dasher” is indeed an agent of influence, he isn’t a very influential one. Before Shorten stripped him of his roles, Dastyari was Assistant Opposition Senate Whip and Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. What is it thought the Chinese were hoping for? To bring down Australian democracy by weakening Labor Party discipline in the Senate? Or perhaps by strengthening it? Were the fiendish devils angling to undermine the cause of capitalism in Australia by pushing for a wide-reaching banking inquiry? (Actually, the latter claim was exactly what Treasurer Scott Morrison did allege on ABC radio a week or so ago.)

The point is, if the Chinese have agents of influence, surely they have someone better than poor, silly Sam Dastyari. Agents of actual influence — heavy-hitters. People of who can get things done, not just sleeper agents in some Byzantine Manchurian Candidate-esque Cold War conspiracy.

Looked at that way, it would seem that the most likely targets for Chinese manipulation, persuasion or coercion would be inside – or at least closely associated with – the Government — not the practically powerless Opposition.

If you are looking for a real “agent of influence”, then how about Andrew Robb? Robb is, this very day, an actual agent of influence for the Chinese. That’s his job! He works as a consultant for a Chinese company, Landbridge, earning $880,000 a year. Lucky for some! And what does Robb do to earn this stipend of close to a million a year? Well, according to his contract, nothing much at all, really.

One could almost be forgiven for thinking it is a payment for services previously rendered.

Indeed, all Robb is required to do under his contract is report to Landbridge CEO Michael Hughes and its owner, Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng. Landbridge is the same company to which the then Northern Territory Coalition Government controversially sold the Darwin Port in 2015, making the Americans very cross indeed. Ye Cheng is also a Chinese Communist Party apparatchik and member of the national Chinese People's Consultative Committee — an advisory body Chinese President Xi Jinping directed to ‘uphold the CPC [Chinese Communist Party] leadership without wavering’.

Of course, Robb isn’t in the Government. Not anymore, anyway. He got his job with the Chinese company the day before (not after, oddly enough) he retired from Parliament. Obviously, he must have been in negotiations with the Chinese company well before that time. Yet it seems, just as former Liberal Small Business Minister Bob Billson was working as a lobbyist for the Franchises Council in his final months in Parliament, there’s nothing wrong with doing a bit of paid “agent of influence” work while you’re still in politics — so long as you happen to be a Liberal Party MP.

Robb’s final job in Government, before announcing his role with the Chinese, was a few months spent as a roving “Special Trade Envoy” for the Government. Prior to that, up until April 2016, Robb was the Trade Minister. He was the one who signed Australia up to that unpopular TPP deal we were lucky to escape from. He was also the one who sealed the China-Australia "Free Trade" Agreement (ChAFTA). 

Like Dastyari, Robb is also linked to the Chinese businessmen Dastyari was bugged with — property developer Huang Xiangmo. In 2014, Huang donated $50,000 to Mr Robb's campaign slush fund, the Bayside Forum. He did so on the very day ChAFTA was signed. Another extraordinary coincidence.

Recently, after angrily denying his links to the Chinese Communist Party, Robb told Fairfax the United States – not China – was the "biggest source of instability" in the region. Just the sort of thing an “agent of influence” might say...

All up, there seems to be plenty of evidence Andrew Robb was a Chinese “agent of influence” whilst in Government, just like he, in fact, is now out of it. And if he was as an MP, he was surely much more influential and productive one than little Sam Dastyari ever could have been. But of course, this is all just idle speculation — just like we have seen politicians and the press willingly engage in with respect to Dastyari recently.

There could be others. What about Foreign Minister Julie Bishop? Bishop has been busily sounding the alarms about Chinese “soft power” in recent times, as well as taking repeated swipes at Dastyari. Yet in 2016, it was revealed that Chinese businessmen with links to Julie Bishop had donated over $500,000 to the Liberal Party in the previous two years.

Then, in June this year, we found out that a female Chinese donor to the Liberal Party, Sally Ζou, had set up a company called the Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation. Apparently, despite Bishop admitting she regularly met with Ζou, she had never heard of the company. How strange! Last month, we heard that Ζou had paid some of her gold mine employees out of a knapsack bulging with $120,000 in banknotes. This is a strange way to pay workers — although not such an unusual way to pay bribes.

Of course, none of this means Julie Bishop is an agent of influence. None of it, in fact, is any more suspicious that what happened between Sam Dastyari and Huang Xiangmo, or Andrew Robb and Ye Cheng, or Andrew Robb and Huang Xiangmo. Speaking of which, Julie Bishop has also been seen and photographed numerous times with Mr Huang.

Finally, we have Malcolm Turnbull loftily pontificating about the evils of Sam Dastyari and this insidious Chinese secret agent, Huang Xiangmo. Yet, Turnbull has also been photographed at functions glowing with delight, cuddling up to and seemingly holding hands with the same Huang Xiangmo.

A prime minister certainly would be a well-placed agent of influence.

Mr Huang’s Yuhu Group has been a major donor to both sides of politics — although electoral disclosures suggest Huang invests more heavily in the Liberal Party. In 2015, Labor stopped accepting donations from Yuhu. The Liberal Party, on the other hand, have no such reservations about dealing with this Group. Indeed, Huang’s adviser and interpreter, Tim Xu – who was in the room during that fateful bugged meeting with Sam Dastyari – was recently pictured handing out how-to-vote cards in Bennelong for the Liberal Party’s John Alexander. How odd.

It looks like the Chinese Communist Party has spread its tentacles far and wide throughout Australian politics, just like several other nations. But who is to say who is an agent of influence and who is not? Maybe we should be a little more concerned about the ones who possess real influence rather than worrying about feeble little Opposition backbenchers overheard fretting about being overheard.

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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