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Chinese Communist Party - Political Influence in Tasmania

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 17 September 2020

Tags: China, Chinese Communist Party

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I thought after the unpleasantness of the last sitting the most useful thing the Greens can do on the issue of Chinese government interference is to assist our colleagues understand the nature of the challenge. I rise on the adjournment tonight to address the issue of political influence undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party and its operatives in lutruwita/Tasmania.

In the news this week we have again seen more examples of the Chinese Communist Party's wide-reaching and multifaceted strategy to influence and interfere in Australia's democratic institutions, with around 35 000 Australians captured on a cache of data sourced in China. This is a critical issue for all Tasmanian politicians. It is not just a foreign relations matter to be handled by our federal peers. It connects directly to the state and its future and as leaders we must take seriously our responsibility to address it.

The first thing to understand is that the CCP has a deliberate strategy to exert and expand its influence and propaganda work globally. This is a well-established fact meticulously documented by experts from all around the world. One key element of this strategy is encouraging mainland China's companies to heavily invest in large-scale infrastructure, agricultural land and trade in target economies. This may seem relatively innocuous, but many Chinese companies have ties to the Chinese government and all are bound by article 7 of the national intelligence law that requires companies to assist in intelligence operations even if based overseas. Chinese companies operating in Tasmania are bound by this law.

Pouring money into various aspects of an economy creates a strong incentive for local governments, politicians and business leaders in that jurisdiction to increasingly follow the money. In other words, they modify their words and actions to make sure the cash keeps flowing in. This massive financial involvement can have a particularly significant impact on smaller economies like ours.

We have seen this play out right here in this parliament. Last year when the Greens raised the matter of a fake Chinese police vehicle being seen on Tasmanian streets, we put a motion to the House calling on the Attorney-General to address the matter and the chilling effect that it had on people from Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang. In their contributions to the debate, members of both the Liberal and the Labor parties cited our trade relationship with China as a reason not to support this motion. Let us be clear: that is the political influence of China working as intended.

This is just one example but it is a worrying demonstration of how this works. Given the evidence of this concerted strategy of influence around the world and having seen it occurring in Tasmania, the Government and all members of this parliament should be working cooperatively to tackle this issue. Instead, we see the Coordinator-General relentlessly soliciting investments from mainland China. We still send trade delegation after trade delegation to China and none to Taiwan. The minister, Guy Barnett, went to China last December in part to flog native forest woodchips. We have naïve MPs in this place unwittingly falling prey to United Front work in Tasmania.

Another way China looks to exert influence is through direct involvement in the political system, either through political donations, running candidates in local state or federal elections or staffing in political offices. A high-profile example was Labor's Sam Dastyari resigning over his connection to a billionaire political donor who also donated to the Tasmanian Liberals and has since been stripped of his permanent residency in Australia.

More recently, we have seen another Labor MP embroiled in a controversy, as one of his staff stands accused by ASIO and the Australian Federal Police of working with the leading Chinese spy agency, the Ministry of State Security. Again, this is an issue that is particularly relevant to Tasmania, as we have no political donations laws of our own and, instead, rely on extraordinarily lax federal laws.

Our system as it stands lays out the red carpet for influence via donations from a range of interests, but it is particularly concerning that it could be and already has been exploited by foreign actors who do not have Tasmania's best interests at heart. It makes the need to reform our Electoral Act even more urgent.

Once Chinese Government interests are embedded into a particular economy they can start to leverage players from that economy to further CCP interests in other areas. This is concerning. Not only are we putting our own interests second to here at home, we start to see Tasmanian companies actively working to further expand CCP influence elsewhere.

Hydro Tasmania and its consultancy wing, Entura, have been doing just this. They have worked very closely with Chinese state-owned companies like Power China on projects that are expanding Chinese soft power and influence into the developing world. The involvement of a publicly owned company from a western democracy helps to legitimise projects like this and the overall goals of the Chinese government's expansion into new areas. The attraction of money from China is again a big driving factor and we have seen it lead to Entura overlooking serious violations of human rights in relation to projects like the Karuma Dam in Uganda.

Another example of Tasmania facilitating China's expanding influence is the use of the Port of Hobart as their gateway to the Antarctic. This is despite the fact the Chinese government is accelerating its activity on the Antarctic continent with their bases built on Australian Antarctic territory. They have conducted undeclared military exercises and said they hold the right to make a sovereign claim on the continent after 2048.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute and other observers believe China is laying the foundation for resource extraction from the currently frozen continent, but our governments turn a blind eye, instead signing an agreement for increased cooperation with the Chinese Government in Antarctica. We should remain committed to international cooperation for scientific work but should not allow ourselves to be co-opted into furthering strategic objectives of foreign powers particularly where the conflict with our own interests and sovereign democratic values.

Of course, aside from our interests there is the serious moral question of supporting a brutally repressive regime that is perpetrating gross human rights violations against millions of its citizens on a daily basis. If members here have not yet come to terms with the reality of political influence at home they should at least be able to accept the fact of what is occurring in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Mongolia. I ask each member to seriously reflect on how history will view our state's engagement with this regime and whether they are comfortable with being silent in the face of this horror in echo of the relative silence in Germany before six million Jews were sent to the gas chamber.

Unfortunately, it seems right now that other members are more focused on condemning critics of the CCP than they are on the actions of the CCP itself. That pleases Beijing.