Rising calls to ban foreign political donations

Rising calls to ban foreign political donations

SBS World News Radio: Calls for banning all foreign political donations are intensifying following revelations about the financial dealings of Labor senator Sam Dastyari.

Senator Dastyari has admitted he allowed an Australian-based Chinese businessman to pay a $1,670 personal debt to the Commonwealth on his behalf.

Labor wants overseas donations made illegal, as do the Greens, and they have now been joined by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi.

He says the time to act is now.

Labor senator Sam Dastyari recently altered his declaration of political interests to include confirmation he had secured financial support for settling a bill for staff travel.

The declaration says the payment was made by Top Education Institute, a company with links to China.

The Government says that is not a political donation but a direct and personal payment to Senator Dastyari, and it wants Labor to sideline him.

Attorney-General George Brandis has told the ABC that donations reform has nothing to do with the issues surrounding Sam Dastyari and he needs to go.

"The issue is Senator Dastyari. And I think it confuses the issue to speak of this payment as a donation to Senator Dastyari. It wasn't a donation. It was a gift. It was the payment of money into his bank account to settle a personal debt, by a company with very close links to the Chinese state. And what we saw was Senator Dastyari take this money, no different (than) if someone had given him a bundle of cash and he put it in his pocket."

It has also been revealed Senator Dastyari has had other financial dealings with companies linked with China.

In 2013, he accepted $40,000 from the Yuhu Group to cover his legal bills when he was sued over an advertising-account dispute.

And the China Institute of Foreign Affairs and the International Department of the Communist Party paid for two separate trips to China.

But Opposition legal-affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus has rejected the calls for Senator Dastyari to step aside, insisting he has made full disclosure and broken no laws.

Mr Dreyfus says the Liberal Party could have a ban put in place on foreign donations very quickly.

"The Greens party has indicated, as I understand it this morning, that they are prepared to agree to a banning of foreign donations. Labor's had that proposal on the table for a very long time, including at the last election. We've got a range of other proposals about improving transparency in relation to donations. It's high time* that the Liberal Party engaged properly with transparency of donations to the political process."

Mr Dreyfus is calling on the Government to look into claims Foreign Minister Julie Bishop accepted an iPad, airfares and accommodation from a Chinese-owned company.

And he wants the Government to look into the fact her division of the Liberal Party accepted more than $500,000 from donors with links to the Chinese government.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale says there appears to be one set of rules for the Government and another for the Opposition.

"This nonsense that it's okay for foreign interests to be giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to a political party -- for example, the West Australian Liberals -- that's okay, but it's not okay for a foreign entity to pay for a bill, well, that's nonsense."

Liberal backbencher Cory Bernardi says donations should only be accepted from voters on the electoral roll.

He joins others from the Coalition with the same view.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Mr Turnbull needs to listen to the growing chorus of support for change.

"Plenty of people are now saying it's time to act. I acknowledge Senator Bernardi from the Liberal Party, Craig Laundy, other members of the Liberal Party are now saying we should have a ban on foreign donations. The Greens have joined the debate, even though they voted against some of these reforms previously. So you have Liberal backbenchers and, indeed, some frontbenchers, you've got the Greens political party and you've got Labor calling for donation reform and a ban on foreign donations."

Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm says there is nothing wrong with accepting foreign donations.

He says the problem is transparency and disclosure.

Senator Leyonhjelm says his concern is that, the more political donations are constrained, the more money taxpayers will be forced to contribute.

Australian Electoral Commission records show, from 2013 to 2015, the Coalition and the Labor Party received more than $5 million in political donations from foreign sources.


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