Senior Labor Senator Penny Wong has lashed the Liberal party for insinuating its scrutiny of embattled Victorian MP Gladys Liu was racially motivated.
In a fiery speech in Parliament on Wednesday, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate hit back at Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann’s accusations that Labor’s targeting of Ms Liu was “disgraceful, unsubstantiated smear and dog-whistling”.
“I’m raising legitimate questions about Australia’s national security and I’m responding to your grubby political tactic of trying to make this about race,” she told the Senate.
“It is shameful. And as someone who has experienced racism first hand, I do object, most strenuously.”
Senator Wong, who was born in Malaysia and whose father is of Chinese origin, has led Labor’s condemnation of the Morrison government’s handling of the controversy surrounding the Ms Liu’s links to Chinese propaganda organisations.
Hong-Kong born Ms Liu is under fire for her previous links to community organisations associated with the Chinese Communist Party.
The Chisholm MP, who was elected in May, said she was conducting an audit of her past ties to community groups, but is yet to speak on the matter in Parliament.
There are fresh reports, Ms Liu also promised to write references to assist in visa applications for foreign students who worked on her federal election campaign.
The Herald Sun reports that in the lead-up to the May election, the Victorian MP promised to act as a “career referee” for Chinese students who did an outstanding job.
In messages posted on WeChat, she also promised to sign a letter of thanks, while volunteers who worked on the campaign for at least one week were promised a letter from the Liberal Party’s Victorian branch president.
In response to questions in Parliament on Wednesday about whether Ms Liu was a “fit and proper” person to be in Parliament, the government defended her.
“The member for Chisholm is a strong advocate for her constituents and a valued member of our team in this parliament,” Senator Cormann told the upper house.
“She has the government’s full support.”
Senator Wong labelled coalition senators “a shameful group of cowards” as they walked out of the chamber.
Senator Wong said Senator Cormann’s response to the Senate’s order for an explanation underscored the government’s arrogance.
“What we have seen is Senator Cormann and (Foreign Minister Marise) Payne having refused on seven separate occasions to assure this parliament and this senate that one of its members, the member for Chisholm, is a fit and proper person to be in the Australian parliament,” she said.
“And now we’ve had it for the eighth time.”
The fiery exchange followed Chinese state media blasting what they called a “fear and smear campaign against China” by Australian media, academics and politicians.
In an opinion piece published in The Global Times, pro-Beijing academic Chen Hong praised Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s backing of Ms Liu as a decent gesture.
“The target of this ferocious attack was not Gladys Liu herself, but China,” the opinion piece said.
“The actions have provoked a new wave of paranoid hysteria among China-threat conspiracy theories.”