Senator Sam Dastyari has admitted that he made a “mistake” in asking a Chinese company to pay a personal debt for him, but he has avoided answering why he asked the company in the first place.

In a long press conference in which Dastyari promised he would speak for as long as required, and with many questions from the ABC’s Leigh Sales, the Labor Senator said his position on the South China Sea was not influenced by the payment from the Top Education Institute. He continually side-stepped questions about why he had asked the company to pay the sum of $1670 for an overspend on his travel budget last year.

“Top Education is a firm that I knew in Sydney, from the Chinese Sydney community. It would have been inappropriate, regardless of who I had asked,” Dastyari said. “Be it a trade union, the Labor Party, the issue was not the company, the inappropriate action was I should have made that payment myself.”

This is the closest the Senator got to explaining why he asked the company to cover the expense: “I asked company to pay the bill because I did not stop to think. I should have. And I did not.”

After refusing to answer why he had asked Top Education to pay the bill, Dastyari called the presser closed after 25 minutes, saying “we are going around in circles”.

Dastyari also refused to assuage concerns that the payment influenced his statements on the South China Sea dispute.

“I support the Labor Party position on this issue. I support the Labor Party position on the issue of the South China Sea, and if there is an instance in which I have misspoken or been misquoted, then that is wrong.”

So how did we get here? Dastyari’s connections to Chinese companies with links to the Chinese government go back years, but that does not answer why he did not “stop to think”. Here’s a potted history of Dasher’s Chinese connections.

2014

Dastyari was sued by Diversified Communications, an advertising and marketing company, in a case that began in 2013 when he was still the general secretary of the NSW Labor Party. The advertising company sued Dastyari for $40,000 over a promised ethnic media advertising campaign for the 2013 election, which was scrapped after Kevin Rudd returned as PM. The case was lodged in July 2014 and settled about three months later, but the Yuhu Group settled the bill. Yuhu Group is a property developer the ABC describes as “a subsidiary of a state-linked operation based in China”.

The company’s chairman, Huang Xiangmo, was profiled in the AFR last week and labelled “arguably the reigning emperor of the Chinese community in Australia”.

Also in 2014, Dastyari hosted an afternoon tea at Parliament House paid for by the Australia China Relations Institute, of which Xiangmo Huang is a co-founder and former NSW Premier Bob Carr is a director.

2015

January 18 to February 1

Dastyari traveled to China courtesy of the Australian Fellowship of China Guangdong Associations Incorporated. His interests register says the two-week trip “was supported by Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and included site visits in Shenzen at the offices of Yuhu Group Pty Ltd and Huawei Pty Ltd coordinated by those organisations”.

October 12

The declaration that started it all. Dastyari declares “Support for settlement of electorate staff travel budget overspend paid by Top Education Institute”.

declaration

2016

January 20 to 28

Dastyari traveled to China, with flights and accommodation again paid for by the Australian Guangdong Chamber of Commerce. The declaration says “the trip was supported by the International Department of Communist Party of China”.

June 16

Dastyari held two press conferences during the election campaign with local Chinese-language media, during which he was quoted in Chinese language website Qld Today on June 16 saying: “The South China Sea is China’s own affair. On this issue Australia should remain neutral and respect China’s decision.” He was standing next to political donor Huang Xiangmo, who has reportedly complained about the results of donations to Australian MPs. Remember, Xiangmo is the founder of Yuhu Group, which paid Dastyari’s legal bill in 2014.

August 30

Senator Cory Bernardi called for Dastyari to explain why Top Education Institute made the payment.

August 31 

Dastyari told the Senate he made a mistake and would pay the money to charity. The education charity returned the money because it did not want to be “compromised”.

The quotes were reported in the Australian Financial Reviewleading to the mess Dastyari now finds himself in.

September 6

Yesterday’s press conference was “a train wreck right on time,” according to James Jeffrey.

Peter Fray

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