Gladys Liu’s Liberal Party branch pushed an unusual motion within the Liberal Party to relax foreign investment laws prior to her becoming a federal MP.
At the 2017 Victorian Liberal Party conference, the party’s Eastern Multicultural Branch, of which Ms Liu was the president, proposed a motion that would make foreign investment in agribusiness and agricultural land easier without approval by the Foreign Investment Review Board.
It also accused public attitudes toward foreign investment as being driven by xenophobia.
The motion, obtained by the ABC, called for the raising of the $15 million screening threshold for agricultural land and the $55 million threshold for agribusiness. Any investment above these levels must be approved by the board.
“The current screening thresholds are too low and create unnecessary bureaucracy and costs when dealing with foreign investment,” the motion read.
“The capital value of agricultural land and agribusiness investments particularly in Northern Australia are well above these thresholds and need to be set at levels that will allow normal transactions to proceed.”
The threshold for agricultural land remains at $15 million, while the threshold for agribusiness has subsequently been raised to $58 million.
The motion also called for the Federal Government to “address the xenophobia that is current in the Australian community regarding foreign investment”.
The ABC could not confirm whether the motion was carried or voted down. Ms Liu did not respond to questions about why the motion was put forward.
Motion was out of step with party attitudes
The subject of foreign investment in agricultural land and agribusiness has been the subject of fierce debate.
In 2015, the Federal Government, then led by Tony Abbott, toughened its approach to foreign investment, slashing the threshold for approval of foreign investment in agricultural land from $252 million to $15 million.
Six months before the motion was moved at the Victorian Liberal conference, then deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce gave a speech to the National Farmers Federation in which he warned foreign ownership of agricultural land was a threat to patriotism and national sovereignty.
Ms Liu’s membership in a number of organisations linked to the Chinese Government’s propaganda and foreign influence efforts have been the subject of furious debate this week.
Ms Liu has admitted being a member of some organisations, but suggested that she might have been appointed to positions without her knowledge.
The ABC revealed that Ms Liu was a council member of two chapters of the China Overseas Exchange Association, an arm of Beijing’s powerful State Council, the Chinese government’s central political and administrative body.
Ms Liu has also held honorary positions in a number of other organisations linked to the Chinese government’s United Front activities, which seek to expand its influence in foreign countries.
Ms Liu has previously said she was an honorary chairman of one of these organisations because of her desire to facilitate trade between Australia and Hong Kong.
The ABC also revealed that Ms Liu had failed to disclose her membership of any of these groups when she ran for preselection for the seat of Chisholm, which she won at the last federal election.
In her preselection application, she boasted of having raised more than $1 million for the Liberal Party at a series of dinners where VIP guests bought seats for $1,000 each.
However, in February 2018, ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis gave advice that then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull should not attend a function organised by Ms Liu in Chisholm because of concerns about the guests invited to the event.