Labor Party leader Bill Shorten has sacked Sam Dastyari from his job as deputy Senate whip after controversy erupted over the senator’s comments about Chinese policy in the South China Sea.
This has not been a great week for Dastyari, to put it lightly. He had somehow managed to claw back credibility (and a frontbench position) after he quit the frontbench last year over his comments about Chinese border policy, which directly contradicted Labor’s stance. He had shaken off the worst of the press by going on a rehabilitation tour in which he claimed his remarks were garbled and that he spoke on a topic he wasn’t entirely across.
There was intense scrutiny of these comments, as there is generally a bipartisan opposition to aggressive actions by the Chinese government in the South China Sea. Speaking in favour of China’s position is seen as a repudiation of Australia’s stance as a whole.
But a full tape of his comments, obtained by Fairfax, found that he defended Chinese policy much more actively than he claimed. Not a good look, and the government pounced.
Dastyari delivered his original comments while standing next to businessman and political donor Huang Xiangmo, who is alleged to have paid legal costs for Dastyari in addition to large donations to the ALP. Fairfax reported yesterday that Dastyari had warned Mr Huang that his phone was being bugged, and that they should conduct their conversation away from their phones.
Though the Coalition is telling Dastyari to quit as a senator altogether, Shorten doesn’t seem to be pushing him in that direction. He’s just hurled him straight to the backbench:
Last night I spoke to Senator Sam Dastyari and told him to resign from his senior Labor positions in the Senate. It is not a decision I took lightly. I also told him that while I accept his word that he never had, nor disclosed, any classified information, his handling of these matters showed a lack of judgment.
Dastyari pulled a pretty masterful move in clawing his way back to the frontbench after the last time this debacle came up. It’s seriously unlikely he will be so lucky this time.