Bill Shorten has put Labor senator Sam Dastyari on notice after reports he told a well-known Chinese political donor that his phone might be tapped.
Senator Dastyari is under fire over reports he told Huang Xiangmo and some associates they leave their phones inside when they met at the businessman’s Sydney mansion in October last year.
The reported exchange took place during a face-to-face meeting, just weeks after Senator Dastyari resigned from the frontbench over his earlier dealings with Mr Huang.
Mr Shorten said on Wednesday he had spoken to Senator Dastyari who has made no secret of the fact the meeting took place.
“I have made it clear to Senator Dastyari that this is not the first time his judgment has been called into question, but I certainly expect it to be the last,” Mr Shorten said in a statement.
But Mr Shorten added that the controversial senator did not pass on any classified information, “because he didn’t have any”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the matter was a “very serious issue of national security” which made Senator Dastyari’s position untenable. Mr Turnbull called on him to resign from the Senate, asking “whose side is Sam Dastyari on? Not Australia’s it would seem”.
“Here he is an Australian senator who has gone to a meeting with a foreign national with close links to a foreign government and advises that foreign national, Mr Huang, to put their phones inside to avoid the possibility of surveillance,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Why is he giving counter-surveillance advice to Mr Huang? Why is he trying to alert Mr Huang that perhaps Australian Security agencies may have an interest in him.
“This goes well beyond, his previous appalling conduct where he had Huang Xiangmo pay some of his personal debts.
“We expect Australian senators to be the side of Australia, not assisting foreign governments and foreign allegiances.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop demanded that the senator reveal every discussion he’s had with the Chinese benefactor.
“If (the allegations) are accurate they will show that Senator Dastyari was acting against Australia’s national interest, against Australia’s national security concerns,” she told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
“That would make his position as a senator untenable.”
Attorney-General George Brandis questioned Senator Dastyari’s loyalty, saying the incident was a test for Labor leader Bill Shorten.
“Why would anyone acting in good faith warn a benefactor to have a conversation in circumstances that are only consistent with engaging in counter-surveillance activity,” he told reporters.
“Why would an innocent person do that? What was he trying to hide?”
Senator Dastyari believed his phone was being tapped by government agencies, including the US government, Fairfax Media said.
The high-profile senator’s earlier parliamentary fall from grace followed revelations he’d allowed Mr Huang to pay a personal debt and reportedly took a pro-China stance on the South China Sea – at odds with Labor’s position.
Senator Dastyari denies any wrongdoing.
“After the events of last year, I spoke to Mr Huang to tell him that I did not think it was appropriate that we have future contact,” he said in a statement.
“I thought it was a matter of common courtesy to say this face-to-face.”
Senator Dastyari insisted he has never been briefed by any security agency, or received any classified information.
“I reject any assertion that I did anything other than put to Mr Huang gossip being spread by journalists.”