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Political need overrides national security in Gladys Liu saga

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Gladys Liu and her Liberal Party supporters are in hot water (screenshot via YouTube).

The Liberal member for Chisholm, Gladys Liu, caused concern in intelligence circles before the Party pre-selected her as their candidate for the May 2019 Election. 

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was advised by ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis not to attend a meet and greet organised by Ms Liu in February 2018, on the basis of the guest list compiled by Ms Liu.

Despite the intelligence agency’s concerns with Ms Liu’s alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party, she won pre-selection and then the seat of Chisholm. During the election campaign, Ms Liu was revealed to have engaged in spreading misinformation about the Labor Party amongst the Chinese community, using the WeChat app.

The fake news she propagated included claims about the perils of the Safe Schools policy and erroneous information about how Labor would manipulate the refugee intake to disadvantage Chinese Australians. 

Liu now faces allegations that she twice failed to declare donations to the Liberal Party and failed to disclose her membership of Chinese Government-linked associations before her pre-selection, including a powerful propaganda arm of the Chinese Government: the China Overseas Exchange Association.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is staunchly defending his MP using much the same strategy he employed when defending Treasurer Josh Frydenberg against allegations of dual citizenship. It was anti-Semitic and racist, Morrison claimed, to question Frydenberg’s alleged Hungarian citizenship because his Jewish family had survived the Holocaust.

In the case of Liu, Morrison is crying foul on the grounds of xenophobia, given Ms Liu’s ethnicity which apparently, like Mr Frydenberg’s, provides a shield from scrutiny, but only when the Liberal Party say so. One’s ethnicity is usually considered by the Liberal Party to be sufficient reason to demonise, exclude and abandon you. In the current situation, questioning Ms Liu’s allegiances is, according to Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, a dastardly act of racism because she is Chinese.

Identity politics normally loathed by the LNP are expediently invoked by a Government with a precarious one-seat majority.

It’s interesting to speculate how this tactic might be playing out with Dutton’s base, for example, given that demographic’s inclination towards nativism, racism and xenophobia, more generally expressed in hostility to refugees and First Nations people. There is also a long and inglorious tradition of prejudice towards the Chinese amongst Australian racists. It might be rather confronting for his base to witness Dutton’s rush to defend and protect Ms Liu against charges of allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, rather than Australia.

We live in interesting times.

As disturbing as the Liu story is, what is even more disturbing is that our Prime Minister, aided by Dutton, is determined to thwart any possibility of an investigation into the allegations of foreign allegiance against Ms Liu. These are serious allegations of foreign allegiance by an Australian MP. The Australian Prime Minister apparently sees no reason at all to pursue this. Take a moment to digest that.

Surely the Prime Minister cannot thwart inquiries into the allegiances of one of his MPs without transgressing some national security law?

Ms Liu has been the subject of considerable interest by our intelligence agencies. The Liberal Party has been warned more than once of the dubious nature of her allegiances. She is or was allegedly a council member of the propaganda and recruitment arm of the Chinese Government. It is also alleged that Ms Liu had to return some $300,000 raised for the Liberal Party, on account of the dodgy nature of the donors.

Despite all this, Morrison is actively working to prevent any pursuit of her.

Thus far, the accusations of racism seem to be failing as a deterrent. Minister Dutton has now resorted to declaring that if he and the Prime Minister are satisfied that Ms Liu is not in any way a security risk, everybody else should be as well. In short, “we don’t comment one way or the other on intelligence matters, but she’s in the clear.”

National security and intelligence agencies are fluid references for the Liberals. Mostly they are invoked as reified concepts whose gravity and credibility are beyond question. However, in the case of Gladys Liu, national security considerations and agency advice take a very poor second place to the Party’s need to hang onto Gladys and her seat. The advice is ignored because it is inconvenient and thwarts a desired political outcome.

It won’t be difficult to argue, after this debacle, that the Government has lost all credibility on national security and can no longer legitimately invoke it as a reason for anything.

It would be interesting to know if there are any charges that can be brought against Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton for failing to protect our national security by their refusal to have Liu investigated. Indeed, the Liberal Party endorsed Liu and invited her into our Parliament, despite ASIO’s concerns. In this failure, aren’t they just as much a security risk as is Liu?

What is the point of security agencies advising politicians of security risks and foreign allegiances if politicians are perfectly free to ignore that advice, possibly to the detriment of the country?

It would seem most improbable that Morrison or Dutton have links to the Chinese Communist Party themselves. What seems more likely is that, in their arrogance and desperation, the Liberal Party has decided it will get away with enabling the ascension of Liu to the House of Representatives, deeming it a risk worth taking to win a seat they desperately needed.

In other words, it sadly comes as no surprise that the Liberal Party put its own interests before those of the nation and continues to do so in its protection of Liu. 

Our Government is declining to act in our country’s best interests by refusing to establish if Liu is a security risk or not and whether any foreign interference has occurred. If the Government continues to decline to clear this up, they cannot be seen to be acting in Australia’s best interests.

Are we now facing a situation in which our Government is the greatest national security risk of all?

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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