There are a number of aspects to the connection between Beijing AustChina and senior ALP figures that continue to perplex.

To recap, between the 2004 election and mid-2007, AustChina paid for Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan, Tony Burke, Bernie Ripoll and Kim Wilkie to travel to China, in most cases several times. Stephen Smith also met with AustChina while on a visit to China paid for Zhou Zerong and the Guangzhou Chamber of Commerce, which also paid for other visits to China by Rudd, Burke and Swan.

No Liberal or National MPs – and no Senators of any party – benefited from similar largesse from AustChina. This is despite the company contributing $100,000 to the National Party in 2006-07, in what looks like an insurance policy in case the Howard Government – in which Nationals always held the trade portfolio – was returned. The ALP got $160,000 from AustChina last year.

Recall that for much of the period before Rudd became ALP leader in December 2006, another Howard victory was regarded as a fait accompli. Yet there was AustChina, duchessing the future Labor leadership in what seems to have been a remarkably prescient effort of targeted generosity.

The number of MPs – especially Labor MPs – travelling to China has significantly increased in recent years. Usually they do so as guests of the Chinese Government. But Kevin Rudd has of course been travelling there for years as a consultant – his Australia China Consultancies wasn’t wound up until 2002, and according to the Register of Pecuniary Interests it took him to China, Singapore and Taiwan during his first term in Parliament.

It appears that, following his lead, other Labor MPs have also been cultivating their Chinese connections in recent years. Chinese firms – and their links with local Chinese communities – are potentially lucrative sources of donations, as AustChina demonstrates.

Rudd has flagged a ban on political donations from foreign companies, but presumably local subsidiaries – such as the Sydney affiliate belonging to AustChina – would not be prohibited from contributing.

Other questions still remain. During one trip in June-July 2006, AustChina paid for Kevin Rudd to visit Sudan to see first-hand conditions in Darfur. Admirable stuff – if it weren’t for AustChina’s links with the Chinese military. There’s also the curious fact that the ABC obtained the impression that Rudd was there “as a guest of World Vision.”

Crikey has asked Rudd, Swan, Burke, Smith and Ripoll all to explain the nature of their contacts with Austchina – and whether they have had any recent contact with that firm. All have yet to respond. Both of AustChina’s Beijing phone numbers go unanswered.

Tony Burke’s attack on Vaile, which started the whole business, is looking dumber and dumber.

Peter Fray

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