The phrase ‘foreign interference‘ often brings to mind the covert meddling into Australian affairs by the Chinese and Russian governments, both the foes of democracy.
It’s fascinating to observe Australian politicians and the public’s attitude towards Russia and China. We are quick to reprimand Russia for its involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, yet our knees wobble when it comes to criticizing the Chinese Communist Party’s mass killing. And the wincing first-hand accounts of Uyghur concentration camp torture is altogether unsettling.
The human rights abuses continue even now on an industrial scale.
Chinese money is powerful. I hear you. What about human rights? Aren’t they important too?
Liberty Itch has now revealed a pattern of influence-peddling and unrestrained foreign interference by the Chinese Communist Party across Australia, from a violent CCP sycophant assaulting a pro-democracy former legislator in Sydney, to Labor and Coalition politicians sidling-up to Chinese Communist influence in an obsequious display in WA Liberal Leader scurries out the back exit.
Now, the spotlight is on Melbourne and a pivotal foreign interference test case.
Di Sanh “Sunny” Duong, a leader of the Chinese community, is the first individual charged under Australia’s foreign interference laws.
The prosecution and the Australian Federal Police claim that Mr. Duong, aged 67, contributed $37,000 in 2020 for the Royal Melbourne Hospital in an attempt to secure influence with former federal minister, Alan Tudge, which might later be used in support of Chinese interests.
Mr. Duong has, on record, written to a politician in the Liberal Party in the past and suggested that Australia should support China’s expansionist Belt and Road Initiative, a project that was subsequently terminated by the Federal Government in 2020 due to national security concerns.
Sarah Kendall, a legal researcher of foreign interference legislation at the University of Queensland, commented that this case illustrates the breadth of the laws. She pointed out how an activity which may seem harmless could be regarded as a criminal offence if the authorities can prove that the conduct had the intent of preparing for foreign interference.
The law is unusual for a liberal democracy in that it requires from the prosecution only that a defendant intends to use current influence in the future for the purposes of foreign interference.
This is a balancing act for a classical liberal.
Liberals want to protect our hard-won freedoms and an expansionary foreign power like the Chinese regime is a threat to those freedoms especially when operating inside Australia. On the other hand, liberals believe in individual freedom of movement, habeas corpus and the rule of law.
Mr. Duong was charged in November 2020 by the Australian Federal Police. He pleaded not guilty in 2022. He denied engagement in any foreign interference activity, despite that he was a leader of Chinese community associations overseen by the CCP’s United Front Work Department, about which Political Itch has written in China’s Covert Australian Ops.
Magistrate Susan Wakeling determined that there was enough evidence to proceed to trial.
This is the first time a citizen has been charged with facilitating an act of foreign interference, an offence that carries a maximum 10 year imprisonment.
Whatever the result, it will be a critical precedent.
Whether there is a conviction or not, Mr. Duong’s case will be just the first of many. Similar acts of foreign interference have happened and are still happening every day in each Australian state.
How effective are we in defending our democracy? Political Itch will be there when the judgment is handed-down.
Watch this space.
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Fiona is a higher education professional based in South Australia. Following the collapse of Hong Kong freedom, Fiona became deeply concerned about the threats imposed by China within Australia. Her research covers a range of topics, including China’s soft power, influence, infiltration, interference and human rights abuses.