Pressure is mounting within the ALP for Bill Shorten to take “decisive” action over Sam Dastyari as documents obtained by The New Daily show the beleaguered Senator owes his frontbench position solely to the intervention of the Opposition Leader.
A list created for the caucus vote to decide the shadow ministry shows Mr Dastyari and colleague Andrew Leigh were added to the bottom of the list at Mr Shorten’s urging, The New Daily understands.
The last two names had no support from the caucus, but were given portfolios because leader Bill Shorten wanted them on his frontbench. (See the full list at the bottom of this story.)
“This shows Sam Dastyari is a problem of Bill Shorten’s making,” one Labor MP told The New Daily.
“No one in caucus wants him on the frontbench and to be frank, we’re sick of him being talked about. It has distracted from our good week last week.”
Senator Dastyari has embarrassed Labor with the revelation he asked a Chinese-linked company to pay a $1670 travel bill because he had blown his own office expenses.
The situation is compounded by the fact the senator – who is also the Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs and the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate – has publicly defended China’s position on the controversial military build-up in the South China Sea.
Shorten advised to act
A senior Labor operative said Mr Shorten was aware the situation could spiral out of control and he has been advised to act before it becomes a crisis.
“The problem is Sam is very close to Bill, so Bill won’t want to move him,” the contact said.
“But if this keeps running, Bill is going to have to make a call. It doesn’t look good at the moment.”
And according to another Labor MP: “Sam will cause all sorts of trouble for Bill and the party if he gets demoted. Bill knows that. We all know that. But it might be a risk the leader will have to take if we want to claim any moral high ground.”
Cash for comment
Speaking from Hangzhou where he is attending the G20, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Mr Shorten was showing weak leadership.
“I’m here in China standing up for Australia,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Back home, Bill Shorten is standing up for Sam Dastyari’s right to take cash from a company, associated with a foreign government and then express a view on foreign policy that undermines the Australian government’s foreign policy, which has had been supported by Mr Shorten himself,” he added.
“Mr Shorten has got to decide whether he is going to continue standing up for Sam Dastyari’s cash for comment.”
So far the Opposition Leader is standing by his man.
“I’ve spoken to Mr Dastyari. He should have paid this (travel bill) himself and I’ve certainly explained to him my unhappiness with what he has done,” Mr Shorten said.
“He has made clear to me that he has learned his lesson,” he said. “I’ve just said to him that he shouldn’t have done it and he said he won’t do it again.”
Sydney-based Top Education – whose principal is Minshen Zhu, a friend of the most senior Chinese government officials – paid the $1670 travel debt for Senator Dastyari.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the issue was now about Mr Shorten, not Senator Dastyari.
If the senator could not justify any correlation between receiving the money and defending China’s position, Mr Joyce said, then he should be stood down.
That sentiment was echoed by fellow cabinet minister Christopher Pyne.
“What’s happened is the seduction of Sam Dastyari has obviously been going on for some time and it’s a very serious matter for Mr Shorten,” he said.
Treasurer Scott Morrison has taken to referring to Senator Dastyari as “Shanghai Sam” and said: “At the end of the day, this is really about Mr Shorten’s judgement.”
The voting list for the Shorten ministry
Leader: Bill Shorten
Deputy Leader: Tanya Plibersek
Leader in the Senate: Penny Wong
Deputy Leader in the Senate: Stephen Conroy
- Anthony Albanese
- Chris Bowen
- Carol Brown
- Tony Burke
- Linda Burney
- Mark Butler
- Doug Cameron
- Kim Carr
- Jim Chalmers
- Jason Clare
- Julie Collins
- Mark Dreyfus
- Kate Ellis
- Joel Fitzgibbon
- Katy Gallagher
- Ed Husic
- Stephen Jones
- Catherine King
- Jenny Macklin
- Richard Marles
- Claire Moore
- Shayne Neumann
- Brendan O’Connor
- Clare O’Neil
- Amanda Rishworth
- Michelle Rowland
- Sam Dastyari
- Andrew Leigh
* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the list was in order of voters. That was not correct.
Chris Johnson is a Walkley Award-winning journalist who has spent the past decade working in the Canberra Press Gallery, most recently as the bureau chief for Fairfax Media. He is now a Political Correspondent for The New Daily.