Chinese businessmen with links to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop have donated half a million dollars to the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party during the past two years, political disclosures reveal.
All the donors have links to the Chinese government, and the vast bulk of the money was given by companies with no apparent business interests in WA. Ms Bishop, the leading federal member of the party in that state, has singled out each of the three key donors for praise.
Several of the donations have been obscured by the channelling of funds via executives or related companies, or by the donors’ failure to disclose them to the Australian Electoral Commission, in apparent breach of Commonwealth law.
A spokesman for the AEC acknowledged a loophole in Australia’s disclosure laws, saying: “While the commission can seek compliance, overseas donors cannot be compelled to comply with Australian law when they are not in Australia”.
The revelations raise further questions about foreign donations linked to ministers with trade and diplomatic responsibilities. Coming amid calls for a ban on foreign money flowing into Australian politics, they will heighten anxiety about the influence of foreign governments in Australian politics and business.
These concerns are mirrored in the United States, where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has pledged to ban foreign donations to her fundraising entity, the Clinton Foundation. On Tuesday, emails released under freedom-of-information laws revealed that foreign donors were given special access during Ms Clinton’s stint as Secretary of State..
Ms Bishop did not respond to questions about how she handled potential conflicts between her responsibilities as a party fundraiser and minister. A spokesperson said that donations to the WA branch were “a matter for the party”.
Chau Chak Wing
In 2014-15, billionaire Chau Chak Wing’s Hong Kong Kingson Investment Ltd gave $200,000 to the WA Liberal Party. The donation is listed on the party’s disclosure to the AEC, but the company made no disclosure.
The controversial tycoon has given millions to Liberal, National and Labor parties over several decades. His Kingold conglomerate has expanded from property development to hospitality, education, finance, health, media and culture that extends “from Guangzhou, Beijing and Hong Kong to Sydney and Brisbane in Australia,” according to its website. No business interests in WA are listed.
Among his local interests is the Chinese-language publication Australia New Express Daily, which is reportedly backed by the Chinese government. In 2008, the newspaper helped urgently import 1000 Chinese flags for pro-China student groups during the Canberra leg of the 2008 Beijing Olympics torch relay to “dye Australia red” and drown out pro-Tibet protests.
Dr Chau’s representatives in Australia declined to comment.
In February 2015, Ms Bishop launched the Chau Chak Wing building at the University of Technology, Sydney, partly funded by a $25 million gift from the tycoon. Ms Bishop paid tribute to Dr Chau, praising his philanthropic “investment” and linking it to the recently-signed Chinese Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).
The Foreign Minister also appeared alongside Dr Chau on September 16, 2015 to launch a multimedia studio sponsored by Kingold at the Australian War Memorial, where former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson is director.
In 2004 and 2005, Dr Chau partially funded trips to China for then future prime minister (and foreign minister) Kevin Rudd, future foreign minister Stephen Smith and future treasurer Wayne Swan. John Howard, Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan have all been guests at Chau’s estate, north of Guangzhou in China, which includes a 6000 square metre museum and a 27-hole golf course.
This week Mr Swan called for tighter controls on foreign donations warning they could be “skewing” political decision-making.
Meanwhile in 2013-14, Chinese-Australian conglomerate the Yuhu Group gave $280,000 to the WA Liberal division. According to Yuhu’s disclosures to the AEC, $230,000 was donated over three days in August 2013, the last sum coming just a week before the federal election.
Company secretary of a Yuhu subsidiary, Anna Wu Meijuan, gave a further $50,000 in April 2014, making a separate disclosure. Her link to the Yuhu Group was obscured by the use of a personal email address.
Yuhu has interests in property development, agriculture and infrastructure, but no WA investments. However, its chairman, Huang Xiangmo, is president of a pro-Beijing lobby group whose activities include lobbying against independence movements in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet.
During the 2013 federal election campaign, Mr Huang reportedly attended a fundraiser with Tony Abbott and Ms Bishop. In May 2014, Ms Bishop singled him out for praise at the launch of the pro-Beijing Australia China Relations Institute at UTS. The Yuhu Group is a generous donor to both sides of politics.
“To link China or Chinese-related donations to the Chinese government is not only ridiculous, but smacks of racial discrimination,” he said.
The WA Liberal Party also disclosed a $20,000 donation from Xavier Soo in 2013-14. No donor disclosure was made to the AEC.
The Chinese address listed on the Liberal party disclosure is the headquarters of the Waratah Group, a Chinese-Australian company with building materials, mining and property development interests, which is owned by Kenny Zhang. Company records reveal “Xaviera Soo” was a co-director of another of Mr Zhang’s companies at the time.
In July that year, less than two months before the election, then shadow minister Ms Bishop attended “another highly successful fundraising dinner” in her honour hosted by the Waratah Group, where she praised Mr Zhang for his promotion of trade and cultural ties. The dinner was attended by former Howard government minister and high commissioner to the United Kingdom Richard Alston, who was appointed Waratah chairman in December 2013. The following year, Mr Alston was made federal president of the Liberal Party.
The Waratah Group did not respond to Fairfax’s calls or emails.
In May, Fairfax Media revealed Yuhu Group executives donated $100,000 to then trade minister Andrew Robb’s fundraising entity, including $50,000 on the day the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was settled. Mr Robb’s former staffer Cameron Hill is now working for Yuhu.
Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong pointed to Labor’s commitment at the last election to ban foreign donations.