Just who really runs Western Australia? How long will it be until some Sam Dastyari-style scandal emerges in the state’s ALP?
As China ups the ante with its latest bullying tactic against Australia by asking the United Nations to declare the Great Barrier Reef “in danger”, concerns have again emerged about the closeness of some state premiers to China.
Daniel Andrews’ involvement in the Belt and Road initiative is well known. However, the main focus should now be on WA Premier Mark McGowan, who has been free in his criticism the Morrison government’s handling of Australia’s biggest trading partner.
Meeting with the Prime Minister ahead of his departure for the G7 meeting, McGowan, according to The Australian, said that the pair had had a lengthy discussion about the relationship with China and had ultimately “agreed to disagree”. He added tellingly, however: “All this language I see coming out of the Commonwealth government about us going to war with China, I have never heard something so insane in my life.
“The idea that somehow we should be promoting the idea of armed conflict with a superpower is madness and I don’t get why there are the senior Commonwealth government officials, why there are defence force officers, why there are senior politicians in the Liberal Party talking about this. It’s absolute madness.”
A few days later, Mr McGowan was at it again, telling attendees at a major oil and gas conference in Perth: “The federal talk of conflict, trade retaliation can and must stop. We should always protect our interests, our institutions, our independence, our democracy and our freedoms. That goes without saying.
“But how is it in our interests to be reckless with trading relationships that fund and drive our prosperity and our nation forward?”
The following day, responding to a question by the Chinese Communist Party-controlled Beijing Daily, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian praised Mr McGowan at a regular press conference saying, according again to The Australian, “The Australian government should heed these constructive opinions.”
Indeed, McGowan has been warning the federal government over provoking China as far back as May last year, even offering to help rebuild the relationship last December.
Now it has emerged that the WA government appointed two pro-Beijing community leaders to a new paid advisory council before McGowan escalated his criticism of the Morrison government’s handling of the China relationship.
As reported in the Nine newspapers last Tuesday, in February McGowan’s government appointed Dr Edward Zhang and Dr Ting Chen, as the only two Chinese community representatives, to his 15-member multicultural council.
Zhang is on record as condemning the federal government’s position on the disputed South China Sea. “We overseas Chinese are the first line of defence for our motherland,” he said in 2016.
The report reveals Zhang is a founding member and honorary chairman of the WA branch of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, a group tied to Beijing’s United Front Work Department, an integral part of the state apparatus tasked with recruiting people at home and abroad to push the interests of the Communist Party.
Its Sydney president, billionaire political donor Huang Xiangmo, was banned from re-entering Australia in 2019 on advice from intelligence officers.
The report tells how Chen, the second representative on the council, has been vice-president or president of WA’s largest and oldest Chinese association, Chung Wah, since 2017.
It outlines the association’s shift to a pro-Beijing organisation ushered in by former president Richard Tan after years of internal hostilities sidelined second-generation Australian-Chinese members.
Tan says there was no official affiliation with United Front but many individuals had ties with groups in the network, including himself. Chen founded WA’s Fujian association – a United Front linked operation – with his colleague Ding Shaoping. Chen then succeeded Ding as the president of Chung Wah.
The report quotes Tan as saying: “The links with the United Front is something so obvious, or it has been so obvious in the past. It’s just that Australian politicians knowingly ignored it, or pretend they don’t know.”
Tellingly, the report goes on to quote a former senior Liberal party figure, on condition of anonymity, as stating that Chung Wah struggled to resist demands from the Chinese Consulate, which often underwrote the association’s functions, pressured it to host events and linked it to United Front groups.
In fact, concern about the closeness of the WA Labor party to China, and the links to the United Front in particular, goes as far back as 2015.
A report by Chris Uhlmann on 12 September 2019 in Nine Newspapers, exposes how an archived web page of the United Front’s own newspaper raised questions about the links between the same organisation and the West Australian branch of the now-defunct Australian Chinese Labor Party Association.
The banner on the website published on March 16, 2015 reads China United Front News Web and declares it to be a publication of the “Chinese Communist Party Central Committee United Front Work Department Propaganda Office”.
The short story underneath celebrated the establishment days earlier of the ACLPA’s WA branch at a gathering of “nearly 100 Chinese community leaders and Labor Party MPs”. In the centre of the accompanying photograph was the then opposition leader, now Premier, Mark McGowan.
Nine’s WA Today website has also reported on WA Labor’s unusual closeness to China.
One piece from December 2019 revealed that shortly after taking office the McGowan Government announced it was giving around $200 million of WA taxpayers’ money to Huawei for a contract to build and maintain a mobile data network for Perth’s metropolitan railway system, the much-vaunted Metronet, which has not seen a single metre of track laid in four years.
This contract was awarded despite Huawei being banned from participating in the NBN rollout and the 5G network on national security grounds. The United States, Japan and Britain have also banned Huawei.
“Despite being banned from mobile networks around the world; despite Australian intelligence chiefs raising security concerns about it; despite the arrest of its CFO in Canada where she awaits extradition to the US over allegations the telco contravened trade sanctions against Iran; despite British Telecom ripping its hardware out of mobile networks across the UK, the WA government reckons Huawei is tops,” the article bluntly stated.
In fact, following an FOI request, it emerged that the McGowan Government was warned of the serious security implications before awarding the contract.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet rang alarm bells over the project and said in the briefing note the security implications could extend to the government’s Metronet project. The government was warned the Huawei mobile data system could be used for other applications in addition to communications; to support an automatic train control system, for example.
In other words, McGowan and his Transport Minister, Rita Saffioti, were warned of the potential dangers of a foreign government with access to the digital backbone of an automatic train control system in Perth.
The FOI documents also reveal Huawei’s system would provide access to CCTV from the public transport system, including video from inside trains.
Then, to top it all off, a video emerged from a meeting held in February 2020 by Premier Mark McGowan and officials from the Chinese Consul General. Also present are Tourism Minister Paul Papalia and Labor backbencher Pierre Yang MLC, who was the ACLPA’s convener.
As Nine reported, Yang found himself in strife in 2018 because he hadn’t declared his membership of two Chinese organisations with United Front links on his parliamentary register of interests.
WA Today floated the possibility of Dastyari-style scandal way back then.
In the video McGowan and all present, in Chinese, exhort: “Go Wuhan! Go China!” adding at the end “First!” This was just as the Wuhan virus was beginning to wreak its havoc around the world.
All of this begs the question: just who is running WA, and more to the point, whose interests are McGowan really putting first?
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