Chinese-born Australian lawmaker under fire over past links

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The first Chinese-born lawmaker to be elected to Australia’s Parliament has come under attack over her links to the Chinese foreign influence network.

Gladys Liu, who was born in Hong Kong in 1964, was elected to the conservative government in May elections to represent a Melbourne electoral division with a large population of ethnic Chinese voters.

She has come under media scrutiny recently over her membership of organisations overseen by the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, which exert influence on important individuals, organisations and governments outside China. Concern is growing about China’s influence in Australia, which last year banned covert foreign interference in domestic politics.

Australian Broadcasting Corp reported on Tuesday that Chinese government records indicate that Liu, who migrated to Australia in 1985, was a member of two provincial councils of the China Overseas Exchange Association between 2003 and 2015.

That association reported to the State Council, China’s chief administrative authority, when Liu was a member, but has since merged with the United Front Work Department.

She told Sky News television on Tuesday that she “cannot recall” being a member of those provincial councils.

“If I can’t recall, I cannot be an active member of that council, can I?” she told Sky News. “I can tell you that I have never been a member of this council.”

But in a statement yesterday, Liu said she held an “honorary role” in the council she had referred to — Guangdong Overseas Exchange Association — in 2011. But she said she no longer had any association with that organisation.

“Unfortunately some Chinese associations appoint people to honorary positions without their knowledge or permission. I do not wish my name to be used in any of these associations and I ask them to stop using my name,” she said.

“I have resigned from many organisations and I am in the process of auditing any organisations who may have added me as a member without my knowledge or consent,” she added.

Opposition lawmakers yesterday accused Liu of making misleading statements about her past links.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday stood by Liu and rejected comparisons with Sam Dastyari, who resigned as an opposition senator in 2017 over his links to wealthy Chinese political donor Huang Xiangmo, whom Morrison accused in 2017 of “betraying his country”.

“Money changed hands and his position was bought by that,” Morrison told Parliament of Dastyari. “He was caught in his own web of corruption. He should have resigned and he did.”