China's influence on Australian politics is again in focus after a media investigation revealed a secret meeting in 2016 between the then-immigration minister and a controversial Chinese billionaire seeking an Australian passport.
The report from Australia's ABC Four Corners said Peter Dutton, now the home affairs minister, met one-on-one with Huang Xiangmo in a private area of a Chinese restaurant in Sydney. The meeting was set up after the Chinese businessman paid tens of thousands of dollars to a lobbyist, according to the investigation. That's led to calls for Australia's current government to look into the matter further.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, for one, told reporters on Tuesday that the allegation is "very troubling," adding that "Peter Dutton has got a lot to explain about this."
Turnbull also said Australia's current prime minister will need to get involved in the situation: "The buck stops with him. I know what it is like to be prime minister and, ultimately, you are responsible and so Scott Morrison has to deal with this."
Dutton has confirmed the meeting, but denied helping Huang with any immigration issues, according to SBS News.
Still, the Four Corners report is just the latest allegation of large political donors with apparent ties to China's Communist Party wielding influence within Australian politics.
Back in February, Huang — who is currently in China following a decision to ban him from re-entering Australia — called on both the ruling Coalition and the opposition Labor Party to return over 2.7 million Australian dollars (about $1.9 million) in donations that he had made over the past five years.
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Huang called out his treatment as being hypocritical — and questioned the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's inference that his membership of groups that were promoting the "peaceful reunification" of China was tantamount to him being an operative of the Chinese state.
"If I am being penalized for promoting the peaceful reunification of China, this is against Australia's own position as well as its fundamental principles of cultural diversity and freedom of speech," Huang told the Australian Financial Review.
While Huang's donations were a contributing factor in the Australian government's decision to ban foreign political donations in November last year, Chinese-associated donations continue to raise concerns. In December, the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raided the offices of the state's Labor Party over A$100,000 in donations by Chinese-Australian nationals.
According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ICAC is currently investigating a trio of individuals — including Huang — in relation to documents seized in the raid.