The High Court’s current deliberations about the legality of warrants issued last year to the AFP to search the home of John Zhang, part-time assistant to NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, are the tip of a massive iceberg of government abuses of power.
John Zhang is a Chinese Australian. Mr Moselmane has Chinese Australian constituents, had been to China to deliver wheelchairs to a Shanghai orphanage and had complimented the Chinese government on its reaction to the Covid outbreak in Wuhan, activities which in police eyes made Shaoquett a person of interest.
Media influence and collusion
In early 2020, branches of the media labelled Shaoquett Moselmane a Chinese sympathizer. Between March 31 and April 10, 2020, there were 32 articles and broadcasts attacking Shaoquett, 12 from the Daily Telegraph, 10 from the Sydney Morning Herald, 7 from Sky News and Sydney Radio 2GB, 2 from Jewish News/J Wire and 1 from the Daily Mail.
On April 2, in a Peta Credlin interview on Sky News, NSW One Nation MP Mark Latham referred to Moselmane’s “disgusting praise” of China’s coronavirus response. On the same day, Peter Dutton told 2GB’s Ray Hadley, “You can’t have an allegiance to another country and pretend to have an allegiance to this country at the same time.”
On April 3, in response to a Ray Hadley interview about her MP colleague, the ALP State leader Jodi McKay reassured the shock jock, “Ray his actions have been appalling.”
On April 6, Nick McKenzie from the Sydney Morning Herald joined the media derision of the Labor MP. Moselmane had written “The old white Australia fear of the yellow peril is resurfacing.” In a Mckenzie SMH headline, Moselmane’s words became “Obsolete scum of white Australia behind anti-Chinese sentiment says NSW Labor MP.”
Anti-Chinese sentiment by these media operatives appears to have fostered government paranoia over Chinese influence and influenced a need to show that foreign interference legislation would be taken seriously.
Overkill to humiliate and create fear became the name of the game. Raids on Moselmane’s home followed.
On June 26, 2020, forty police arrived at the MP’s home, stayed from 6:30 am until 1:30 am the next morning. They informed Shaoquett he was not suspected of any wrongdoing yet brought sniffer dogs, took hair and dust samples from his car, searched the car engine and door rubbers, had a helicopter hovering and raided his parliamentary office.
The officer in charge of the raid told the MP that he was not suspected of anything, but at a Senate Estimates meeting in early April 2021, Senator Kim Carr asked the AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw if Mr Moselmane was the focus of their inquiry. The Commissioner replied, “It’s not right for me to comment. I’ll take that question on notice.”
Asked if the AFP were involved in freezing the Moselmane family bank accounts, the Commissioner used the same ‘take on notice’ response, a technique for postponing answers in the hope that questioners will forget, and potential controversy be avoided.
Who tipped off the media?
Government, police, ASIO, plus the sympathetic media formed an alliance to showcase the government’s claims to keep Australians safe by raising suspicions about anything Chinese. The deceit required to implement foreign interference laws shows a refusal to admit who tipped off the media to witness the June 26 raid.
A magistrate signed a warrant at 10 pm on Thursday, June 25. Eight hours later, ready for the carefully staged police arrival, members of the media, some of whom had travelled from Melbourne, assembled outside the MP’s Sydney home.
In response to Senator Carr, the Police Commissioner said he did not know who informed the media, but their presence was ‘very disappointing to say the least.’ An AFP internal investigation found that the police were ‘not professionally compromised’, code for saying it must have been someone else. Who?
The AFP admits that they briefed Minister Dutton about the raids and ASIO briefed Jodi McKay the leader of the NSW Labor opposition.
The AFP’s inquiry to determine if they had responsibility for informing the media did not include an investigation of Minister Dutton’s Department. Senator Carr asked, “Is it not appropriate that the Minister’s office be part of the investigation?” Kershaw replied, “We would not normally have jurisdiction over the Minister’s office.” Raids on an innocent man’s home are ok but police questions to a Minister are out of bounds?
Freedom of Information documents show that on June 19, an AFP media unit warned government agencies and police colleagues of an impending raid; and Dutton appears to have been briefed. In answer to the question, “Was that when (June 19) the Minister knew of the raid?” Senator Carr was told, “I’ll have to take that question on notice.”
A policy to address alleged foreign interference by abusing civil liberties may not be explained even if Senator Carr’s questions ‘taken on notice’ are ever answered.
A Serious Conclusion
Men and a few women in high places have behaved as though they can do what they like and never be held accountable. In alliance with police, secret service and branches of the media, government by secrecy erodes any notion of a transparent, trustworthy democracy.
An Australian version of McCarthyism – ‘Chinese under the beds’ – had targeted Shaoquett and the anti-China Murdoch tainted media were enthusiastic partners. My efforts to ask the Sydney Morning Herald to publish even a brief appraisal of their role in the persecution of Shaoquett have been ignored, an experience which reminds me of the US investigative reporter Seymour Hersh’s judgement, “The powerful lie constantly about their predations…and the natural instinct of the media is to let the powerful get away with it.”
Soon, the High Court may find for the plaintiff John Zhang, but abuse of his former employer, the principled MP Shaoquett Moselmane, and the traumatization of his family remain a record of completely unjustified persecution. In this shabby exercise, invisible authorities admit nothing, and there’s no sign of any apology from the NSW ALP leader, from the Federal government, the media, or the police.