Bennelong byelection: The influential network targeting the Turnbull government in Bennelong

SMH Alex Joske.  15/12/2017

A network of influential community leaders targeting the Turnbull government ahead of the Bennelong byelection are linked to a Chinese Communist Party strategy to "destroy enemies".
Members of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, a group believed to have ties to the Chinese agency tasked with political influence – the United Front Work Department – have stepped up their attacks on the government during the final week of the crucial poll, accusing the Liberal Party of being anti-Chinese.
John Alexander and Kristina Keneally are on the ground in Bennelong, rounding up last minute votes with the byelection result tipped to be close.
The reunification council was until recently headed by controversial political donor Huang Xiangmo, whose connections to the Chinese Communist Party have reportedly attracted the attention of Australia's spy agency ASIO.
Fairfax Media can now reveal the reunification council recently brought dozens of small Chinese community associations into its fold. A report on the group's November annual general meeting confirms this, listing a total of 81 subordinate groups across Australia.
Associate Professor Feng Chongyi, a leading China expert at the University of Technology Sydney, believes the Chinese government is using these groups to influence the crucial Bennelong byelection. The Chinese community makes up about 20 per cent of the Sydney electorate and is viewed as key to winning the poll.
Fairfax Media has uncovered a number of examples of community leaders who appear to have ties to the Chinese government and toe the party line, a phenomenon also observed by Professor Feng.
Australia's first Chinese parliamentarian, Helen Sham-Ho, was once a member of the Liberal Party but has served as an advisor to the reunification council since its founding in 2000 and just last month was pictured in multiple meetings with United Front Work Department officials, according to Chinese media reports.
Ms Sham-Ho this week accused the Liberal Party of using Sam Dastyari's donations scandal as an excuse to label Chinese-Australians as spies and damage China's image, in an interview with the newspaper Sing Tao Daily. Ms Sham-Ho made similar comments in interviews with SBS Mandarin and ABC's Radio National, in which she described former president of the reunification council Huang Xiangmo as a "nice friend".
Mr Huang was in 2012 a standing committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Jieyang, a Chinese government advisory body whose website openly states its involvement in United Front work.
Mr Huang has denied that the reunification council is an affiliate of the Chinese Communist Party. However, Professor Feng said that it "absolutely" is subordinate to the United Front Work Department, with its parent organisation in China run by senior officials from the department.
Liberal candidate for Bennelong John Alexander hands out how to vote cards.
Liberal candidate for Bennelong John Alexander hands out how to vote cards. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Mr Huang's successor as president of the Australian reunification council , Shao Qun, also sits on the Guizhou Reunification Council, which states on its website that it was established by the United Front Work Department and seeks to "expand Guizhou's overseas united front work platform and space".
Ryde councillor Simon Zhou, an independent who has been a vice-president of the Australian reunification council and ALP Senate candidate, on Thursday told the New Express Daily that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been making "extreme and irrational comments" on China to stay in power.
A list of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China subordinate groups.
Yan Zehua, another reunification council vice-president, recently shared a mysterious letter urging Chinese-Australians in Bennelong to "take down" the Liberal Party and vote for Labor candidate Kristina Keneally.
Comments by Mr Yan, who allegedly met with the CCP's United Front Work Department on multiple occasions, have since been widely reported on in local Chinese media without mention of his apparent links to the Chinese government.
Protestors ran over to interrupt a press conference with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Bennelong Park in Putney on ...
Protestors ran over to interrupt a press conference with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Bennelong Park in Putney on Friday. Photo: Nick Moir
"You can see now that the Chinese embassy, Chinese consulate and Chinese media back in China ... they spin the new laws as racial discrimination against Chinese," Professor Feng said.
"[Chinese authorities] deliberately obscure the distinction between the Chinese authorities and the Chinese people, especially migrants here in Australia."
However, concerns have been raised by many Chinese-Australians over the damage a few CCP-linked individuals have done to the reputation of the Chinese community.
The Australian Values Alliance, a Chinese community group opposed to the CCP's influence in Australia, on Friday slammed the Chinese government for attempting to divide the community by "accusing Australia's efforts to protect its way of life as 'harmful to Chinese people' ".
Rory Medcalf, director of the National Security College at ANU, warned that both sides of politics should be worried about foreign influence.
"All parts of the Australian community must feel free to organise and express views on political issues – that's a cherished democratic right. The concern here is if there are traces of a concerted and covert effort to influence an election outcome on a national security matter in a way that suits a foreign power," he said.
"If there turns out to have been foreign interference, it will be troubling for Labor as well as the Liberals. Foreign influence that is mobilised against one Australian political party could just as easily be turned against the other next time."
The CCP's strategy of political influence is described by Professor Feng as having a two-pronged approach: "One is to identify and recruit friends to support the cause of the Chinese Community Party, and the other is to identify and destroy enemies," he said.
The Australian reunification council also has ties to local Chinese media, which recently shifted its tone in clear opposition to Liberal candidate John Alexander.
Online Chinese media outlet Sydney Today described Mr Turnbull as "standing at the front-line of anti-Chinese sentiment" on Monday, hours after major state-run newspaper the People's Daily published an opinion piece calling the government biased and prejudiced.
Sydney Today takes a broadly pro-Communist Party line and once asked that prospective employees be loyal to the party. The outlet also publishes a column by Mr Huang.

This article is reprinted from other source. Its contents, analysis and conclusions may not reflect those as supported or advocated by AVA

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