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BFCSA: OMG Turnbull and LNP back to ye olde "REDS UNDER THE BED" campaign a la Menzies!!!

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Controversial China book may get parliamentary protection

Sydney Morning Herald Feb 6 2018 - 1:21am

Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker

 

EXCLUSIVE  Key members of Federal Parliament’s national security committee are backing a move to use the committee’s powers to publish an explosive book on Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia.

Committee chair and Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and deputy chair Anthony Byrne, a Labor MP, are among those supporting the move despite the potential for diplomatic fall-out, according to multiple sources.

Fairfax Media has also confirmed that the office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been briefed on the deliberations of the committee and has no objection to it publishing  the manuscript.

Two major publishers ditched the manuscript, by a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University, Professor Clive Hamilton, citing fears Beijing or its proxies would launch legal action.

The publishing of the manuscript by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security would further jolt relations between Canberra and Beijing, as the book exhaustively details clandestine efforts by the Chinese government to co-opt and influence Australian politicians, universities, think tanks and the media.

It may also anger several influential ex-politicians, including former foreign minister Bob Carr and former trade minister Andrew Robb. The book is highly critical of the pair’s dealings with billionaire businessmen closely aligned to the Chinese Communist Party.

In discussions last week, the committee shelved plans to publish the book as an addendum to Dr Hamilton's far shorter submission to its inquiry into the Turnbull government’s proposed laws to counter foreign interference.

But by receiving the manuscript of Silent Invasion: How China Is Turning Australia into a Puppet State as an exhibit, the committee has retained a power to publish it.

One of the concerns raised last week inside the committee about publishing the book was the appropriateness of granting it the parliamentary power of qualified privileged - which prevents the authors of submissions from being sued, and protects others such as journalists who re-publish the contents of the book.

Three committee members were understood to have been concerned that tabling the manuscript would enable a commercial publisher who otherwise wouldn’t print the book to do so.

But that concern has been made redundant this week, with Fairfax Media on Monday confirming that publisher Hardie Grant has already sent the book to the presses and would release it in March.

The debate inside the committee about publishing the book will likely move this week to a weighing up of the desire to promote free speech and debate versus the potential blow-back from Beijing or those adversely named.

Earlier this year, Melbourne University Press become the second leading publisher after Allen and Unwin to ditch plans to publish the book over concerns the Chinese government or its proxies would launch legal action.

Allen and Unwin’s decision to ditch the book in November due to "potential threats to the book and the company from possible action by Beijing" caused international headlines.

It’s understood that at least one senior Melbourne University official raised concerns about Beijing’s ability to dissuade students from attending the university if MUP published the book.

However, MUP chief executive Louise Adler said this did not influence her board’s decision. Ms Adler said she welcomed Hardie Grant's decision to publish the book.

The manuscript has been sent to the committee’s secretariat along with its two most senior members, Mr Hastie and Mr Byrne. Both declined to comment on Monday.

Last night, a spokesman for Mr Hastie said: “The internal deliberations of the [committee] are confidential. The deputy chair and I are in strict agreement on this point.”

But last week, while Mr Hastie questioned Dr Hamilton in the committee about publishers ditching his book, the Liberal MP said: “What's really at stake here is not just sovereignty, national security and our long-term economic prosperity but our democratic tradition, including free speech, free press and free thought.”

Mr Byrne asked Dr Hamilton: “You have the manuscript of a book but you are saying to this committee 'you can't publish this book because of the influence of a foreign power'?”

Dr Hamilton’s manuscript is the most detailed examination conducted outside of government of clandestine foreign interference activities in Australia involving Chinese Communist Party operatives and proxies.

The Chinese government has dismissed as unfounded, biased or racist previous reports about such activity, including a landmark Fairfax Media-Four Corners investigation.

But the government in December introduced new laws aimed at countering foreign interference by China and other states.

The controversy around Dr Hamilton’s book and the decision by Hardie Grant to publish has a precedent. As a barrister in the 1980s, Mr Turnbull successfully opposed the British government’s attempts to ban the book Spy Catcher by one of its former intelligence operatives.

 

That book was published by Sandy Grant, the owner of Hardie Grant, who has also agreed to publisher Dr Hamilton’s book.

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