The witch-hunting of Moslemane and Zhang

Australia’s ‘foreign interference’ laws were criticised by many as a step towards domestic authoritarian politics with a pronounced anti-China flavour. NSW politician Shaoqett Moselmane and staffer John Zhang have since been attacked by the Attorney-General, the PM, and vilified by the media; all in the cause of witch-hunting China. Now both Moselmane and Zhang are fighting back, although against insuperable odds.

An article published in The Age (12 August), expressed surprise that the MP elected not to be interviewed by them but rather chose to put his case in Pearls and Irritations. The Australian media, both print and television, thrilled to the ASIO raid and from ‘shock-jocks’ up to and including Peter Hartcher pointed accusatory fingers at Moselmane and his supposed connections to the Chinese Communist Party. Every moment of the raid on his home was broadcast (with government sanction) live to the world. Sub-editors vied with each other to come up with ever more lurid headlines. The faux surprise of The Age reporter is reason enough not to accept the offer of interview.

It is now nearly two months since the raid on his home and office and no charges have been laid. The MP and his staffer’s lives remain in turmoil. Moselmane likened the ordeal to that of Kafka’s The Trial, where Joseph K is arrested and tried without ever having any idea as to the charge. Unlike the Kafka story, this does have a very real and understandable background. Moselmane’s crime is that he has advocated for better relations between China and Australia and on behalf of the Chinese-Australian community. This is a dangerous path to take when the political establishment of this country and its US mentors are pushing ever more resolutely ahead with anti-Chinese policies and with the creation of a Chinese threat. That, of course is what the foreign interference legislation was all about. The lack of support shown for the ALP member by his own party attests to the bipartisan nature of Australian politics when it comes to ‘confronting’ China. The legislation sailed through parliament with barely a whimper from the ALP.

All this leaves Mr Moselmane wondering “what the allegations are, other than that the Morrison government is searching for evidence of a foreign plot to advance the interests of China.” He also points out that no-one has questioned him or even suggested that he was in any way responsible for anything. And, after all, a back bench upper house opposition MP in a State parliament is an unlikely jewel for Beijing.

While the MP has been forced to take indefinite leave from parliament, the ALP has variously called for him to be barred from parliament, and to be expelled from the party. Peter Dutton had earlier demanded that Moselmane resign from parliament. The vigour with which these attacks from the political establishment and the media were conducted further led Moselmane to ask, “how did collecting dust and hair from my family car and the use of sniffer dogs in my home assist any investigation into foreign interference?” The answer is not all that difficult. The Australian government has determined that we must align ourselves to a new and more belligerent US foreign policy that deems China to be a threat. China, therefore, for good or ill, and it is very much for ill, has become our enemy. If we are to squander billions of dollars in the cause of militarisation, then a good fifth columnist or two is required. And it is here that the unfortunate Shaoquett Moselmane and John Zhang fit in.

The Labor MP remains bewildered as to why he has become the face of the enemy. His staffer, John Zhang, may too be at a loss as to what is happening, but he has chosen to vigorously defend his innocence. He has applied to challenge the constitutional validity of the foreign interference legislation. Within the deliberately vague language of the new law, he is ‘accused’ of failing to disclose to Moselmane that he was acting on behalf of the Chinese state. It is an extraordinary claim and yet to be substantiated. Zhang could conceivably face a gaol term of up to 15 years. He is said to have used a private social media chat group to urge Moselmane to advocate on behalf of Chinese ‘interests.’

The accusations appear to rely on a degree of covert behaviour. After all no decent spy ring can be expected to be anything but covert. However, Moselmane has been anything but covert. He has made numerous speeches, inside and outside parliament criticising Australia’s alignment with the Unites States and its confrontationist stance toward China, against the foreign interference laws and has had the cheek to give credit to China for its COVID 19 response.

Zhang’s legal challenge may well be Quixotic. He is up against an entire social, and political establishment that has set its sights on a foreign policy that has proclaimed China to be an enemy and anyone failing to toe the line can, at the blink of an eye, by implication and now by law, be cast as an enemy.

Zhang is showing great courage in issuing his challenge. Moselmane has shown courage in stating that it is now “time for the federal police to come up with the evidence for charges or drop the allegations.” Time alone can tell what will happen next in this Kafkaesque story. The anti-democratic laws enacted in 2018 look set to claim their first victims. Sadly, they will not be the last as the Australian people are, step by step, drawn into the anti-China intrigues of Washington and Canberra.

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Dr William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. He has been, variously, a teacher, journalist and political activist.

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