Senior government minister Christopher Pyne has lashed out at suggestions the company at the centre of the Sam Dastyari scandal received preferential treatment after donating to the Liberal Party.
News Corp reports that Chinese firm Top Education gave the Liberal Party $65,000 before Mr Pyne, then the education minister, extended the streamlined visa program from universities to the private sector.
Mr Pyne insists the visa decision was made by the public service, not by the government.
There was nothing wrong with the party receiving donations from Top Education, and linking the two matters was wrong and defamatory, he said.
“The only reason they would have been given streamlined visa processing is they, along with 20 or so other education businesses in Australia, met the requirements that the public service decided were required,” he told the Nine Network on Friday.
“Nothing to do with the Liberal Party, or the Labor Party for that matter, or the government of the day.”
But senior Labor figure Anthony Albanese said the previous Labor government had stopped the streamlined visa program for the private sector education system because of concerns about the potential for abuse.
Senator Dastyari was forced to resign from Labor’s frontbench this week, succumbing to mounting pressure over revelations he allowed Top Education to pay a $1670 personal debt he owed.
It sparked accusations he’d been compromised, as reports emerged he had taken a pro-China stance on the South China Sea dispute, at odds with his party’s position on the matter.
Labor is calling for a ban on foreign donations in the wake of the scandal.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott on Friday proposed going further, banning donations from unions, companies and overseas entities.
“We need to look long and hard at restricting donations to real people on the electoral roll,” he told Fairfax Media.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also flagged banning corporations and unions from donating.
Meanwhile, Mr Albanese has been forced to defend separate allegations he spent $3000 of taxpayer funds going to two AFL grand finals to cheer on his team, the Hawks.
He said the News Corp report was “ridiculous”, insisting he had travelled to Melbourne for his regular Today show appearance, as well as to attend meetings with editors at The Herald Sun and to hold a press conference.
“I didn’t charge one single dollar for transport to or from the grand final or in terms of accommodation on that night,” he said.
Even Mr Pyne jumped to his defence.
“Anthony is the shadow minister for tourism — the idea that he shouldn’t go to the AFL grand final is absolutely absurd.
“You have got to be sensible about this stuff. That’s just ridiculous stuff.”