The somewhat influential Labor MP Sam Dastyari has quit the Australian senate announcing on Tuesday morning he would not return to federal duty in 2018.
This decision comes after intense scrutiny by both sides of government following revelations Mr Dastyari had taken on pro-China political views after receiving donations from a Chinese investor.
This news closely follows Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull’s introduction of new laws designed to expose foreign interference in Australian politics. This move by the PM has led to a rising in tensions between Australia and China.
Mr Dastyari’s resignation from parliamentary duty comes after he was referred to as a Chinese “double agent” by government minister Peter Dutton. He had also been scorned by several other political leaders as undermining Australia for Chinese profit.
In his resignation speech, Mr Dastyari pointed out that his “Labor values” had guided him to make this decision. He claimed that fears of jeopardising Labor chances to win the next federal election had primarily motivated him to step down.
After making his statement, Mr Dastyari declined to take any questions from the media.
Commonly referred to as ‘Shanghai Sam’ for his connections to China, the 34 year-old Labor senator had previously given up leadership roles in the ALP following the scandal. The donor, Huang Xiangmo had given money to Dastyari in exchange for influence in the Australian political system.
Security officials warned against taking donations from Mr Huang as he was suspected to have links to the Chinese Communist Party.
Labor and Greens representatives have since suggested that the Turnbull government has been playing into xenophobia to come down on Mr Dastyari. This criticism of xenophobia has also been applied more broadly to the introduction of new laws targeting foreign donations.
It has been suggested that the Turnbull government’s move to ban political donations from foreign interests was motivated by allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Turnbull has since remained headstrong in his stance on foreign interference, recently doubling down on his remarks warning of Chinese involvement in Australian politics.
Although Mr Dastyari had not technically broken any laws with his actions, the new laws banning foreign donations were aimed to prevent a repeat of his scandal.
Mr Dastyari was chiefly exposed when he, in a statement to Chinese press including Mr Huang, undermined Australia’s stance on China’s military expansionism in the South China Sea by stating that Australia should respect China’s history in the region.
It was also later revealed that Mr Dastyari attempted to dissuade the deputy opposition leader from meeting with a pro-democratic activist in Hong Kong for fears of aggravating the Chinese government.