September 21st 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Federal Government should abolish Renewable Energy Certificates

ENERGY BP annual Review shows consumption, production up

CANBERRA OBSERVED NSW Labor caught in Panda's paws doing 'whatever it takes'

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM Religious discrimination bill: A litany of questions

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Boris' brinkmanship shakes up Britain, EU

WATER POLICY Angry farmers protest over Murray-Darling Basin Plan ... again

TECHNOLOGY Are we the dumbest devices in the room?

HISTORY AND POLITICS Lord Acton, nationalism and multiculturalism, Part 2

LITERATURE D.H. Lawrence: The Modernist in exile

MUSIC Dialectical transcendence

CINEMA The Farewell: Elegant and bittersweet

BOOK REVIEW Owning up to market imperfections

BOOK REVIEW Heroism and faith under tyranny

BOOK REVIEW The love that comes after love is gone


EDITORIAL Gladys Liu controversy ignores reality of China's interference

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NSW Labor caught in Panda's paws doing 'whatever it takes'

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, September 21, 2019

The New South Wales right faction of the Labor Party was once considered the ultimate political machine in Australian politics – both feared and admired by allies and enemies alike.

The word “Sussex Street” itself was synonymous with political ruthlessness, and the numbers’ men that ran it (for men they mostly were) possessed a unique form of political pragmatism with a track record of success in producing and deposing prime ministers and cabinet ministers.

The NSW right party machine bred a special kind of political talent – or so the legend went.

Not so today.

The once mighty political machine looks like it is being run by political greenhorns, so amateurish that bundles of cash from Chinese property developers are received in plastic Aldi bags seemingly without question.

As revealed by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, this was the method of transportation used for $100,000 in cash donated to the NSW Labor Party in 2015 by a Chinese businessman, Huang Xiangmo.

Huang – who, as a developer, is banned as a donor, as well being banned from re-entering Australia – carried the cash into the party’s Sussex Street headquarters.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald in November 2017, not only did Labor Party officials take the cash bag but, in the case of former NSW general-secretary-turned-senator Sam Dastyari, tipped off their wealthy benefactors that the intelligence agencies were spying on them.

While this has been a major news event, in fact, the NSW right has been growing rotten for decades.

Following the former secretary Grahame Richardson’s mantra of doing “whatever it takes”, successive NSW party secretaries have been appointed seemingly with little experience, good judgement or, it seems, any sense of propriety.

Even federal Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says Labor in New South Wales is in a “diabolical situation” as he braces for further revelations from the state’s corruption hearings and pledges a “comprehensive” review of the party’s structures.

Insiders expect that ICAC over the coming weeks will reveal a trail of impropriety reaching back into the party’s administration well beyond the current crew.

According to Brad Norington in The Australian, Chinese property developer Huang Xiangmo allegedly took a “big bag of cash” from a NSW Labor fundraiser so he could personally deliver it to the party’s head office boss, Jamie Clements.

Former Labor MP Ernest Wong told the corruption hearing he allowed Mr Huang to take away the cash-filled bag when it was placed on the head table of a Chinese Friends of Labor fundraising dinner shortly after most guests had left in March 2015.

“Special guests who had been sitting at the head table where the handover allegedly occurred at a 600-seat restaurant dinner in Sydney’s Chinatown included then federal Labor leader Bill Shorten and NSW leader Luke Foley,” Norington reported.

It was later revealed that “donors” were fabricated by getting Chinese waiters and kitchen staff to sign $5,000 donations to get around NSW electoral laws.

Labor’s lawyer has categorically denied allegations he privately urged a senior party figure to “cover up” the donations scandal.

Ian Robertson, long-time Labor lawyer at Holding Redlich, was given the chance to respond to extraordinary accusations that he advised New South Wales Labor boss Kaila Murnain to keep quiet about unlawful donations in September 2016.

The real fear is that a culture of corruption has infested the NSW party and that successive party officials have learned that dealings with developers and other donors are the normal way of doing things.

It means that the “way of doing things” has been taught by one general secretary to the next with no one questioning the methodology.

The ICAC hearings have a way to go, but the long-term consequences for the party are serious.

At a minimum the party will have to undertake internal reforms, but it is likely that future officials will have to be vetted and trained in ethical behaviour.

It is possible that some officials will face criminal penalties, and even jail.

The reputational damage will also be long lasting and the Labor Party will have to work hard to restore the public’s faith in its ability to run government both at state and federal levels.

For a party that is struggling to find a connection with everyday Australians, the ICAC hearings are making that challenge even more difficult.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm