“How good is Gladys Liu!” the Prime Minister enthused as he launched her campaign for the Victorian seat of Chisholm in April.
“How good is Gladys Liu? Gladys Liu is a force of nature.”
When Scott Morrison spoke of miracles on election night, there’s little doubt one was the retention of Chisholm, against the odds.
The election of Australia’s first Chinese-born female MP was a moment of celebration.
“Gladys’s story is the story of this community. Gladys is the embodiment, her and her family, of people who have come to Australia for the fair go and to have a go. She has stayed true to her heritage and ensured her heritage is adding to Australia,” Mr Morrison said.
“It is very much like when I’m cooking my curries – you are blending everything together.”
Questions about Gladys Liu
But the question being asked around Parliament is no longer just how good is Gladys Liu, but who is Gladys Liu?
Since the May federal election, stories have emerged about her links to organisations established by China to promote the rise of political candidates sympathetic to its objectives in overseas countries.
Ms Liu has said the suggestion she is loyal to any country other than Australia is “deeply offensive”.
Another important question: Have the attacks on her descended into racism?
Is a new McCarthyism gripping Australian politics that is being fuelled by the genuine threat of foreign influence operations, dramatic protests in Hong Kong and startling allegations of $100,000 stuffed in a plastic Aldi bag at anti-corruption hearings in Sydney?
Ms Liu was visibly distressed on the floor of Parliament on Wednesday and comforted by colleagues. There’s no doubt the swirl of allegations have upset the new MP.
Born in Hong Kong, Gladys Liu is one of six brothers and sisters, according to her official Liberal Party biography notes.
Her parents were born in China and were manual workers before going to Hong Kong in the 1960s.
Her first visit to Australia was in 1985, after winning a scholarship to study speech therapy at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
Ms Liu is completely deaf in her left ear.
She became an Australian citizen in 1992, one week before the birth of her first child, and joined the Liberal Party in 2002.
Ms Liu’s daughter, Sally Yu, 24, is an Australian under-18 girls’ chess champion, a frisbee player at the national league level and graduated from Princeton University.
Her son, Derek Yu, 26, is also a high achiever and studied at Harvard Business School.
Ms Liu has done the hard yards in her path to politics.
She stood in Victoria as an upper house candidate in 2006, 2010 and 2014.
She had a test run for the seat of Chisholm, working on the 2016 campaign for Julia Banks, who later quit to sit as an independent.
She also worked for two Liberal premiers: Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine, advising on multiculturalism.
Ms Liu has claimed both sides of politics – Labor and Liberal – tried to recruit her.
Her power within the Liberal Party is built on her ability to organise and engage a large ethnic Chinese community and, most importantly, to fund-raise.
Ms Liu has clearly been a highly successful fundraiser for the Liberal Party in Victoria.
On Wednesday night, fresh reports emerged on the ABC that ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis advised then PM Malcolm Turnbull’s office he should not attend a meet and greet to be attended by Ms Liu because of some of the people she was associated with.
The suggestion appears to be that those associates were linked to foreign influence operations.
Reports, which Ms Liu denies, have also emerged that the Liberal Party had to pay back $300,000 because of the questionable backgrounds of donors.
“Yes, I was in the room and I had quite a number of guests there. However, there was no such thing of $300,000 being returned because of a dinner that didn’t happen. That is completely false,” she said.
She claimed the reports were “fake news” and not representative of her views, although a tape recording of her remarks later surfaced.
The recording dated back to 2016, when she was working for Ms Banks’ campaign.
“A lot of parents don’t agree with letting boys go into a girls’ toilet,” she said.
“They strongly opposed the Safe Schools program. Cross-dressing and transgender – it is something they found difficult to accept. Chinese believe same-sex [marriage] is against normal practice.”
Chinese influence links emerge
After the election, reports in Nine newspapers and the ABC detailed Ms Liu’s involvement with Chinese foreign influence operations.
This week, Ms Liu has backflipped on her claim she “cannot recall” her membership of a group linked to China’s foreign influence operations in a new statement prepared by the PM’s office.
During a train-wreck interview on Sky News on Tuesday, Ms Liu said she could not recall her membership of China Overseas Guangdong Exchange Association, in Guangdong and Shandong.
“I can tell you that I cannot recall if, as is reported, that from 2003 to 2015 – 12 years long – that if I can’t recall, I can’t be an active member of that council, can I?” she said.
“I can tell you that I have never been a member of this council.”
But less than 24 hours later, Ms Liu contradicted herself, admitting she held an “honorary role of Guangdong Overseas Exchange Association in 2011. I no longer have an association with this organisation”.
Her statement goes on to suggest she might retain membership of further organisations that could yet come to public attention, noting “I am in the process of auditing any organisations who may have added me as a member without my knowledge or consent”.
“I am a proud Australian, passionately committed to serving the people of Chisholm, and any suggestion contrary to this is deeply offensive,” she said.
“As a proud Hong Kong-born Australian, I do not underestimate the enormity of being the first Chinese-born member of Parliament.
“I know some people will see everything I do through the lens of my birthplace, but I hope that they will see more than just the first Chinese woman elected to Parliament.
“I hope they will see me as a strong advocate for everyone in Chisholm”.
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong said Mr Morrison was facing his own “Sam Dastyari test’’, referring to the Labor senator who was forced to quit Parliament over his links to Chinese donors.
“I would make this point: I can recall the Liberal Party making Sam Dastyari a test for the Labor leadership. Well, this is Scott Morrison’s test,” Ms Wong said.
Mr Dastyari, fresh from anti-corruption hearings in Sydney about Chinese donations to Labor, said it was clear Ms Liu “needs to answer some serious questions”.
“Her statement is shocking. She should be held to the same standard that I was – a standard the PM set. I resigned. I took responsibility. That was the right decision in my circumstances,” he said.
But Mr Morrison insisted the cases were not alike, because “money changes hands” directly with Mr Dastyari, who sought help to pay personal debts and properly disclosed the matter to Parliament.
That’s where Labor would like Ms Liu to make her next statement because, unlike her statement outside Parliament, it carries serious penalties for misleading the House.