A controversial Australian lawmaker who was allegedly acting in the interests of the Chinese government quit parliament on Tuesday (Dec 12) in the best interest of his opposition Labor party.
The resignation of Sam Dastyari follows his removal from senior parliamentary roles by Labor last week over an allegation that he had warned Sydney-based Chinese property tycoon Huang Xiangmo that his phone is probably being tapped by US and Australian spy agencies.
Dastyari said he was not at all aware that Huang was under Canberra’s surveillance. Australian authorities believe Huang has close links to the Chinese Communist Party.
Dastyari’s pro-Beijing stand on South China Sea too has embarrassed Labor. Australian parties want China to respect The Hague tribunal’s ruling that its claim over the sea citing history are baseless. But
Dastyari allegedly told Chinese journalists at a Sydney news conference attended by Huang that Australia should respect China’s claims over most of the sea.
It was also revealed that Dastyari’s travel and legal bills had been paid by Huang’s company.
On Monday, local reports said Dastyari had pressured Labor’s deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, not to meet a pro-democracy activist during his Hong Kong visit.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, known for his anti-China rhetoric, said keeping Dastyari as senator will be an embarrassment for Labor as he seems to be acting for another government or another power.
Liberal minister Peter Dutton accused Dastyari of being a “double agent” who should be dumped by Labor.
Turbull’s latest comment and Dastyari’s resignation may give Labor an edge over Turnbull’s Liberal Party in the closely contested by-election in Bennelong on Saturday (Dec 16).
Chinese-Australian population of Bennelong can swing votes. Twenty-one per cent of Bennelong residents have Chinese ancestry, while 13.3% were born in China, according to 2016 census.
Liberal needs a win in Bennelong for its government to maintain wafer-thin majority in the Lower House of the parliament.
Meanwhile, China said Turnbull’s remarks will have adverse impact China-Australia ties.