Dastyari’s fall highlights donor influence in big money politics

Yuhu Group donating $1 million to the Children’s Medical Research Institute, today at Eastwood shopping centre. Saturday 14th December 2013. Photograph by James Brickwood. SHD NEWS 131214. Pictured is Yuhu executive Eric Roozendaal with Labor Senator Sam Dastyari_I9A8955.jpgThere is perhaps no greater illustration of the high stakes involved in ‘s big money federal political system than the careers of soon to be ex-Senator Sam Dastyari and his former Labor Party colleague Eric Roozendaal.
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Each climbed to the top of the pile to become general secretary of the NSW Labor Party – one of the most powerful political jobs in the country.

Yet while a humiliated Senator Dastyari fell on his sword on Tuesday over his associations with Chinese-n businessman Huang Xiangmo, Mr Roozendaal rejoices in the title of CEO of Yuhu Group, Mr Huang’s Sydney-based property development company.

When Fairfax Media first reported in 2014 that Mr Roozendaal – a former NSW Treasurer – had joined Yuhu, the hire was explained by the company as a way to navigate n politics.

The story disclosed that two months before he quit the NSW upper house in May 2013, Mr Roozendaal had travelled to China at the invitation of Mr Huang to tour some of Yuhu’s projects.

“After the inspection, Eric expressed that he would promote international communication and cooperation between Yuhu Group and government,” the company’s website stated at the time.

By that time the company had been donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the NSW ALP (and the Liberal party), while Senator Dastyari was NSW Labor general secretary – the top fundraising job at Sussex Street.

The root of Senator Dastyari’s undoing was arguably accepting Mr Huang’s offer to pay a $5000 personal debt incurred while general secretary.

It was exacerbated by his decision, while a Senator, to approach another Chinese businessman-donor to cover a $1600 over spend on his travel budget.

The “transactions” show Mr Dastyari was wont to treat donors like a personal ATM – likely a hangover from his days as general secretary soliciting much larger amounts from all manner of business people.

But more importantly they give credence to later claims that he acted the way he did – speaking against ALP policy on the South China sea and allegedly tipping off Mr Huang to possible n intelligence agency surveillance – because he owed them.

Not because of the relatively paltry sums settling personal debts, but due to the enormous donations to the NSW ALP that allowed him as general secretary to fight election campaigns.

For donors, forming relationships with those who hold the most powerful positions in n politics is just good business. As Mr Roozendaal’s experience shows, their apparent usefulness continues in post-political life.

On the Coalition side look at former NSW deputy Premier Andrew Stoner – a former state trade minister – who took on an advisory role with Yuhu.

It’s not just foreign players. Mark Arbib, another former Senator and NSW Labor General secretary, went to work for James Packer’s Crown.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced laws to curb foreign influence, including a ban on foreign donations. While it’s a start, it is missing – possibly deliberately – the bigger picture.

While the system continues to allow political parties to accept millions of dollars in donations from local businesspeople seeking influence, the concerns that brought down Senator Dastyari will remain.




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