Inside the curious case of Shaoquett Moselmane, the NSW MP ‘under Chinese influence’

Yoni Bashan

22 July 2020

The national security investigation targeting the possible foreign interference of NSW Labor backbencher Shaoquett Moselmane is examining whether his parliamentary speeches and other representations were influenced by Chinese Communist Party agents.

Senior Australian Federal Police officers have spent two days in NSW parliament inspecting documents — including speeches, petitions, questions on notice, committee papers and other material used in the drafting of these items — originating in Mr Moselmane’s office.

Mr Moselmane has claimed parliamentary privilege over the documents, a special entitlement granted to all MPs, which has prevented the AFP from removing any material.

Under an agreement, officers are able to physically inspect the papers but cannot take notes or photographs, nor discuss the contents with those not in the room.

The AFP and officials from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in late June raided Mr Moselmane’s office and home, as well as properties connected to his part-time staffer, John Zhang, as the agency gathered evidence about whether agents directed by Beijing had attempted to influence the Labor upper house MP or others in his office.

Mr Moselmane, who has visited China nine times in a decade, has been a significant pro-Beijing voice within Labor and once called for China to “create a new world order”. To date, the investigation has been largely centred on Mr Zhang, who runs a sunglasses business from a Moorebank warehouse, while Mr Moselmane is a person of interest.

Mr Moselmane has called the investigation a “political lynching”, and says he has done nothing wrong, after being suspended by Labor following the June raid.

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay has said she will move to have him suspended from parliament altogether, a motion that will be backed by the Coalition if it is raised next month.

Details about the documents being accessed by the AFP shed new light on the investigation, which has been mired in mystery since the raids. Neither Mr Moselmane nor Mr Zhang, who began working as a staffer last year, has yet been charged with any offence.

The Australian on Tuesday revealed Mr Moselmane was seeking to overturn his suspension, and was expected to argue before the party’s administrative committee that he was not under formal investigation by any agency. His suspension means he cannot attend caucus or branch meetings.

Mr Moselmane is currently on leave from parliament pending the outcome of the investigation.

Parliament’s powerful privileges committee, chaired by Labor MP Peter Primrose, is assessing an application from the AFP to access Mr Moselmane’s documents. A decision on whether it can formally release them will be made in August.

The June raid was one of the first under tough national security and espionage laws passed by the Turnbull government in 2018, under an investigation pursued by a special taskforce into foreign influence established by Scott Morrison last year.

Mr Moselmane has a long history of being outspoken on Chinese issues. He resigned as the NSW Legislative Council’s assistant president in April after comments lauding Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic caused uproar. Mr Moselmane, who could not be reached on Tuesday, on his personal website this year praised the “unswerving leadership” of Mr Xi. In a 2018 speech, he said China could reach its potential if it created “a new world order”.

The Australian has previously revealed that Mr Moselmane received free accommodation, transport and gifts from the Chinese government during numerous trips to the country, and on one occasion received a free mobile phone from telecommunications company Huawei. On some occasions, according to parliamentary disclosures, the costs were borne by the Chinese consulate in Sydney and municipal governments in China. Huawei was blacklisted from Australia’s 5G network in 2018 in response to advice from security agencies.

Mr Moselmane has said his fascination with China began at high school. According to parliamentary disclosures, he’s a founding member of the Australian Chinese Association and Australian Shanghainese Association, of which both he and Mr Zhang have been honorary chairmen.

According to previous reports, Mr Zhang travelled to China for a training course organised by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, a branch within China’s State Council, in 2013.

Both organisations, according to China analysts, are linked to Beijing’s network of foreign influence operations known as the United Front Work Department.

In 2015 Mr Moselmane met with the chairwoman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Jie Ju, in Shanghai. The CPPCC is described as a “critical co-ordinating body” for United Front.

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