Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has been grilled over his history of donations from mining magnate Gina Rinehart, asked what he is expected to provide in return and to explain how it is different to the Sam Dastyari’s expenses saga.
At the end of a second day of intense pressure on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, the Nationals leader was questioned repeatedly about the $50,000 donated by Mrs Rinehart to his 2013 election campaign, but he insisted it was different to the donations to Senator Dastyari because it was “arm’s length” and “auditable”.
‘What do you think that you have to give her in response? Is it access? Why does she give that money? What does she expect?’ Leigh Sales asked on the ABC’s 7.30 program.
“The donations made to a political party – and in this instance you’re talking about Hancock’s donation to a political party – did not go to me. The money goes to a political campaign, goes to a political party. It’s auditable,” Mr Joyce responded.
“Now what we have here is a direct cash payment to an individual by an entity closely associated with the Chinese government and at the same time, so there’s definitely correlation – we need the discussion for causation – there’s a substantive change to a policy that’s not even the policy of the Labor Party. It’s just the policy of Senator Sam Dastyari.”
After breaking his silence on Tuesday with a press conference, questions remains for the Labor powerbroker after Fairfax Media revealed last week he had a Chinese government-linked donor pay a $1600 debt and that he had adopted a pro-China stance on the South China Sea dispute in conflict with both Labor and Australian defence policy.
As well as donations to the Nationals, Mrs Rinehart famously paid for Mr Joyce and Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop to fly to a lavish family wedding in India in 2011
Mr Joyce, the Agriculture and Water Minister, questioned why a donor would give money directly to an individual and said donations to parties meant there was an “arm’s length” process.
“If you want to test it, I’ve been fighting against the unrestricted movement of mines onto farmland for as long as we’ve been talking to one another. That’s never changed, it’s never changed lately, it’s never changed in recent times,” he said.
“I haven’t given, to be honest, Ms Rinehart or Hancock coal anything. I think they are strongly of the conservative side of politics, there’s no doubt about that.
“They support the conservative side of politics. They’re Australian. It goes via a political party so it’s arm’s length to me.”
Mr Joyce’s seat of New England has been a flashpoint for tensions between those arguing for mining expansion and resistance to coal seam gas extraction.
When his government approved the $1 billion Shenhua mine last year, in his electorate, Mr Joyce said it was “ridiculous that you would have a major mine in the midst of Australia’s best agricultural land”.
As calls for donations reform strengthen, Mr Joyce signalled the Nationals would “absolutely” back that discussion and said banning foreign donations was “well worth” considering.