CANBERRA – Federal Attorney-General George Brandis is refusing to consider changes to Australia's political donations rules, despite leading the charge against the latest politician who's come a cropper of the current system, Labor frontbencher Sam Dastyari.
The Coalition campaign against Senator Dastyari over Chinese government linked donations is intensifying with Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi describing him as a "puppet" and Senator Brandis accusing him of being "in effect, in the pay of a foreign entity."
Dastyari, the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, has been hard to find since admitting to accepting a $1670 personal donation from the Chinese government linked Top Education Institute, and then being reported making pro-China comments. The frontbencher pulled out of a Monday night function in Sydney and is refusing requests for interviews.
Labor, the Greens and -– on the government side -- Senator Bernardi and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo are using the controversy to push for changes to the rules for political donations.
Even banning foreign donations.
Just uneasily considering the long-term ramifications of Cory Bernardi agreeing with the Greens on something. #thingsgotweird
— Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb) September 5, 2016
Senator Brandis insists it is not the system, it's Sam.
"That is a different conversation," the Attorney-General told AM host Michael Brissenden on Tuesday when asked about moves to change donation rules. "I am not making a link between the two."
"I think it confuses the issue to speak of this payment as a donation to Senator Dastyari. It was not a donation. It was a gift."
"It was the payment of money into his bank account to settle a personal debt by a company with very close links to the Chinese state."
While Senator Dastyari has admitted has was wrong "on reflection" to have accepted the money, he had followed procedure and declared the money, as obliged, on parliament's pecuniary interests register.
George Brandis wants Senator Dastyari to explain himself, indicating he may have acted improperly, "We don't know that yet. Of course he may have."
"We have not heard a word from him and more importantly we have not heard a word from Mr Shorten."
"This is a test for Mr Shorten. The test for Mr Shorten is this. Is Mr Shorten prepared to accept on his frontbench, in the alternative government of Australia, a standard of conduct radically lower than the Turnbull Government is prepared to accept?"
The Opposition Leader's response Monday to the intensifying Coalition campaign was "that's hardly news, is it?"
"I have certainly explained my unhappiness with what (Senator Dastyari) has done. He has made clear to me that he has learned his lesson."
Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi is now calling for a complete ban of all foreign political donations in Australia.
"I'm amazed that Labor are defending Senator Dastyari," he told Sky News.
"They are saying, yes, he has done the wrong thing, he has made a mistake, but he disclosed it and it's all OK."
"That sets a new level of sleaze, I think, in the Federal Parliament. "
The Greens have long called for an end to foreign political donations and are using the Dastyari controversy in a bid to "rid our polity of external influences."
Greens Leader Richard Di Natale has written to the Prime Minister urging an end to donations from foreign entities and corporations as well as strict caps on donations from not-for-profit organisations and individuals.
"We have an opportunity now to get political donations right in this country," Di Natale told RN Breakfast.