A Chinese billionaire seeking citizenship paid tens of thousands of dollars to a lobbyist to secure a private lunch with Peter Dutton when he was immigration minister, it has been revealed.
Labor has described the incident as a “cash for access” scandal and demanded Mr Dutton immediately explain “all the murky details”.
Huang Xiangmo paid the money to former Liberal minister Santo Santoro in 2016 while mounting a campaign to secure Australian citizenship.
He then met with Mr Dutton at a Chinese restaurant in Sydney, according to an investigation by the ABC’s Four Corners.
The minister has denied his citizenship bid was discussed at the meeting. Mr Huang’s citizenship request was ultimately denied, after the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) objected to his links to the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr Morrison said the government had taken strong action on foreign interference, including legislation and putting extra funding into security agencies.
“The individual you’re referring to has actually been prevented from ever returning back to Australia,” Mr Morrison told reporters today.
“When it comes to our government’s acting on foreign interference, we’ve got a pretty strong track record.”
He said former Labor senator Sam Dastyari had resigned in disgrace over the issue.
“I think when it comes to these issues, our government’s record is squeaky clean.”
Cabinet minister David Littleproud stood by Mr Dutton’s version of events.
“I’m not privy to the details of this and if Minister Dutton has made it clear those matters weren’t discussed, then I believe him,” he told ABC Radio National this morning.
Mr Littleproud also denied the meeting raised questions around buying access to politicians or political donations more broadly.
“Unfortunately in the Coalition we don’t have the Australian union movement and what we have to do is try and gain donations,” he said.
“Obviously we have certain conditions around making sure we get them in a proper and transparent way.
“Peter Dutton has quite clearly enunciated what happened at that lunch was all above board.”
Labor argues the incident strikes at the integrity of Australia’s immigration system and Mr Dutton’s performance as minister.
“This is a cash-for-access scandal and Mr Dutton needs to come clean on all of his dealings with Santo Santoro,” shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.
“Mr Dutton and his office should immediately release all documents, emails and correspondence between himself and Santo Santoro, including any material concerning the Huang family’s citizenship applications.”
In January 2015, Mr Huang’s family was allowed to have a private citizenship ceremony inside Mr Dastyari’s former senatorial office, after Mr Dutton approved the request.