Liberal MP Gladys Liu has wept in Parliament as the Prime Minister accused Labor of a “grubby smear” on all Chinese-Australians in its pursuit of her links with Communist-backed foreign influence organisations.
A tearful Ms Liu was passed tissues by colleagues as the Prime Minister hailed her triumph over domestic violence, disability and racism and refused to answer Labor questions over whether intelligence agencies including ASIO had raised concerns over her background.
“Now the member for Isaacs should take a good hard look at himself. He should have a good hard look at the 1.2 million Australians who will see exactly what he is doing to Australians of Chinese descent.
“Just because someone was born in China doesn’t make them disloyal. What the Member for Isaacs is doing a casting a smear on Chinese Australians.”
Earlier, Mr Morrison said it was a “question for others” to decide if the attacks on Ms Liu were verging on racism. But he said he would not support her being investigated by the intelligence agencies.
The Prime Minister settled on his key defence of Ms Liu earlier on Thursday, describing her interview with broadcaster Andrew Bolt as “clumsy’.
During the interview Ms Liu said she was not a member of an organisation linked to Chinese foreign influence operations, before admitting she was less than 24 hours later in a new statement crafted by the Prime Minister’s office.
“Let’s be clear, Gladys gave a clumsy interview. She is a new member of Parliament. If that were the grounds for which people weren’t sitting in the Parliament, it would be a pretty empty place,” Mr Morrison said.
“None of you would have had a good story in your lives. There are clumsy interviews that are given from time to time. On this occasion, one was given by a new member of Parliament.”
Mr Morrison’s dismissal of her contradictory statements on links to Communist-backed foreign influence operations as simply “clumsy” then gave way to an endorsement of Ms Liu’s triumph over disability, domestic violence and race.
“Let me tell you about Gladys Liu. Gladys Liu, yes, was a Chinese-born Australian. Born in Hong Kong. Gladys has overcome incredible challenges to be a member of this place. She’s overcome disability. She’s overcome domestic violence. She’s overcome the challenges that people from many different backgrounds in our ethnic communities face in this country,” he said.
Mr Morrison suggested that membership of Chinese organisations that might come under the umbrella of Chinese influence operations were par for the course for many in the community.
“Now she is a part of her community and as anyone in this building knows, particularly in communities of Chinese-Australian, there are many, many different organisations and those organisations confer membership of lots of different people, oftentimes without their knowledge. But these organisations are part of the community,” he said.
“Indeed, her Labor candidate at that very same election was a member of at least two of the organisations.”
However, Mr Morrison insisted her case was in no way comparable to former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, who quit politics after a scandal involving Chinese donations.
“Let me tell you what Gladys Liu hasn’t done. She hasn’t had someone pay for her legal expenses which we understand was up to about $40,000 in the case that Labor wants to create an equivalency over. She didn’t take travel expenses personally. She didn’t stand at a lecturn like this in Sydney … and advocate for a change in her party’s policy on the sensitive issue of the South China Sea. She didn’t do any of these things.
“Gladys Liu is part of a community. She is a great Australian. There are 1.2 million Australians of Chinese heritage in this country. This has a very grubby undertone in terms of the smear that is being placed on Gladys Liu and I think people should reflect.”
Mr Morrison deflected questions on whether ASIO had offered any warnings about Ms Liu standing as an MP as an improper question he could not answer or disclose.
“Anyone who takes the management of our national security issues – and how we deal with security agencies – seriously and to ensure that that is never compromised, to ensure that it is always carefully attended to, always knows that you are never in a position to be able to offer commentary on inquiries of that nature,” he said.
“That would be to undermine absolutely the nature of the relationship between agencies and the government. Anyone who would suggest that responding to a question like that in that way provides any inference in any way, shape or form, would know that that could not be done.”
Mr Morrison said he was “not suggesting” the question by the ABC’s political correspondent Andrew Probyn was “a smear” but he he couldn’t answer it.