All of them, as well as my good self, spent every waking moment of those days trying to think of a way of saving Sam.

Thus speaketh Richo in the Oz, on the occasion of Dasher’s demise — a reminder, once again, that you don’t always want the Sage of the Inn of Celestial Happiness BYO coming to your public defence. Richo reels off a list of the New South Wales Labor Right great and good rushing to Sam’s side during these fraught days, reminding us afresh the degree to which Dastyari was a beneficiary of the very process he denounced years ago: the control of the ALP by tight cabals, often family-interconnected. In Dastyari’s corner, Richardson reminds us, was “Peter Barron” his father-in-law and a player in the Wran and Hawke governments.

Well, that truly is heartwarming. Sorry, heartworm. It’s a reminder afresh of the contempt in which such powerbrokers hold the wider party, and the people who trudge along to vote for it, year on year — that the operation of such groups can be cheerfully attested to. Supreme irony of ironies: for decades, the NSW Right has been plotting in Chinese restaurants, simply because their Sussex Street offices are in Sydney Chinatown. In those days, the faction was so aligned to America that its members were on a drawstring attached to the US embassy, to be yoinked in every time the Left got a critical motion through conference, or a big strike threatened US corporate interests. Now, the whole party, and large sections of our politics, appear to have become Richo’s Chinese Restaurant.

The full nature of Dastyari’s entanglements remain a mystery, and one is not really convinced by the explanation of that, good ol’ Dasher, he loves to plot, etc, etc. Doubtless true, but a lot of it feels like an extension of the charm offensive Dastyari embarked upon when he was first pinged for having his travel bills paid, and he became Shanghai Sam, the grinning, mugging, HSP-loving, fun-loving good son. Dastyari shamelessly channeled a certain type of “wog” stereotype then, all the way out of the ’70s — the same schtick that colourfully dressed Al Grassby played in that period while he ran interference for Italian-descended organised crime: “what’s-a-matter? Us? We’re just a fun-loving people, we’re harmless, donna you worry ’bout it!”

The meeja, including the ABC, was happy to lap this up. Meanwhile, Dastyari’s willingness to attend to quite minor matters of Chinese government policy, which has undone him, is remarkable. This is a measure of someone’s paranoia. Not necessarily Beijing’s — but stunts like trying to stop a fellow Labor figure talking to a dissident certainly reflect Beijing’s commitment to a return to more totalitarian politics, and the absolute evisceration of any dissident discourse at an international level.

With Dastyari, there was was so much petty finagling and influence-peddling that there was no chance to get an old Cold War theme in (despite the Manchurian candidate labels): that the son of Iranian-Marxist revolutionaries had been under deep cover in the NSW Right for years, ready to serve the bidding of Communist global command, by using parliament to discredit US-based corporations on tax, and Australian banks tied to Anglo-American capital. For the record, I am not making this accusation. It’s absurd. I’m just surprised that no one has made it in parliament, under privilege. A measure of the new political illiteracy, I guess.

With regards to political interference in Australia, it should be possible to walk and chow mein at the same time. Yes, organised Chinese influence should be a concern, as state and corporations are so integrated. But it can’t be allowed to obscure the boring and unremarkable continuing influence of US capital, through donations and the web of influence-peddling think tanks that surround them. And, of course, the distorting influence of Australian capital on Australian politics — something that is being deliberately obscured by the fear of foreign influence, relying on the idea that there is a single national interest (a fiction, outside of times of crisis, which we are not in).

Foreign capital is not the problem; the structure of our politics is, a semi-democratic system at best, cloaked by a parliamentary system whose progressive features allow us to turn a blind eye to its near-total separation from daily life, scrutiny, and responsiveness. The section 44 fiasco and Dastyari’s fall have together made that visible. But it seem even these portents from heaven will not get us out of Richo’s Chinese Restaurant.

Peter Fray

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