Grattan on Friday: Asking questions about Gladys Liu is not racist

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Grattan on Friday: Asking questions about Gladys Liu is not racist The Conversation12 Sep 2019, 22:17 GMT+10 What’s the betting that when Scott Morrison and Donald Trump are exchanging views on China in Washington in a week or so, the President might be curious about Gladys Liu?If he is, the Prime Minister will no doubt have some flattering words about the first Chinese-born federal parliamentarian, who is now Liberal MP for the marginal Melbourne seat of Chisholm.He might be more reluctant to admit that Liu’s past has thrown up complex questions of identifying if and when, in relation to specific individuals, China‘s interference in Australian politics is potentially present and a risk.On a benign view, Liu’s story may be as simple as Morrison wants to paint it: a woman from Hong Kong who has overcome obstacles to get where she is. The ultimate have-a-go-to-get-a-go narrative.In the political furore now surrounding her, Liu might be a victim of the growing worry about China‘s influence and interference in this country. Read more: Liu defends herself after concerns about her Chinese associations But legitimate and important questions have been raised about Liu. These revolve around two issues: firstly, her past connections to associations with direct or indirect links with the Chinese Communist Party (the company one keeps is always relevant), and secondly, the large amounts of money she has been able to raise for the Liberal party. While it has not been officially confirmed, it is known security authorities expressed concern about some of the people she assembled.As a staffer (dealing with the Chinese media) of then Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, Liu was much valued as a fund raiser. Indeed, when she wasn’t included in the travelling party accompanying his successor, Denis Napthine, to China, Baillieu made representations on her behalf, and she was added. It was said she needed to keep face with the local Chinese in Australia.Liu has obviously been a highly effective networker. Those with concerns ask: did she, wittingly or unwittingly, get assistance from the Chinese authorities to facilitate that networking?John Garnaut, a China expert who advised Malcolm Turnbull in the run up to the 2018 foreign interference legislation, has outlined China’s approach to exerting influence, in evidence he gave to a US congressional committee last year. “The modus operandi is to offer privileged access, build personal rapport and reward those who deliver”.Outgoing head of ASIO Duncan Lewis warned of the broad danger in a speech at the Sydney Institute last week. “The current scale and scope of foreign intelligence activity against Australian interests is unprecedented,” he said. (Liu, incidentally, is due to address the Sydney Institute later this month.)It was Liu’s disastrous interview with Sky’s Andrew Bolt on Tuesday, following an ABC story earlier that day about her previous associations, that turbo charged this week’s debate about her. Liu claimed memory lapses when pressed on her past links, and was all over the place when probed on her attitude to China’s policy and the regime.By the next day, the Prime Minister’s office had ensured her previous associations and current views had been gathered into a neat statement, which she issued rather than delivered in parliament (the PM tabled it on Thursday). But the interview had opened the floodgates for Labor and other critics.Forced into a full scale defence of her, the…

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