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Labor tobacco donations referred to ICAC and electoral authorities

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the donations were news to him. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.

This material belongs to: The Sydney Morning Herald.

Corruption authorities have been asked to investigate $400,000 worth of donations a tobacco executive made to the Labor Party, potentially breaching NSW law and ALP rules.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has written to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption asking it and the NSW Electoral Commission to probe revelations that Sydney tobacco company director Peter Chen made a $200,000 donation to NSW Labor in 2011 and another to the party’s federal branch in 2013.

Mr Chen is the sole Australian director of ATA International but donated via another of his companies, Wei Wah, which retails the cheap Chinese brand cigarettes that ATA imports.

​The ALP banned donations from the tobacco industry in 2004. NSW law also bans funds from any “tobacco industry business entity”, which includes “a close associate” of a tobacco corporation.

Senator Di Natale wrote to ICAC’s acting commissioner Reginald Blanch on Monday.

“I wish to formally refer these allegations to both the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption and the NSW Electoral Commission for further investigation into whether Division 4A of the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 has been breached by this transaction,” he wrote.

Senator Di Natale said while the second donation may not have directly infringed any NSW law there is the possibility the money was used to support the NSW branch.

Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten insisted he had no knowledge of the money.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with Simon Zhou (centre), who is now campaigning to become mayor of Ryde in Sydney, and NSW Labor MP Ernest Wong at a 2016 election press conference. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.

“This came as news to me,” he said of Fairfax Media‘s report on Monday. “I don’t want obscure foreign donations coming into our system, full stop, tobacco-related or not.”

Mr Shorten has asked ALP national secretary Noah Carroll to look into the donations.

But Senator Di Natale said corporate political donations are “state-sanctioned bribery with a more palatable name”.

“This blatant disregard for the principles that underpin NSW’s donations law demonstrates yet again that Labor and Liberal have accepted the use of shadow companies and front groups to channel donations. Banning foreign donations will not end the corrosive influence of corporate donations over public interest decision-making,” he told Fairfax Media.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has asked ICAC to investigate tobacco executive donations to the ALP. Source: Alex Ellinghausen.

“Singling out particular industries or sources such as foreign donations is insufficient. We need an end to all corporate political donations.”

The tobacco revelations emerged as Labor senator Sam Dastyari, who oversaw one of Mr Chen’s donations, joined calls for a full ban on all political donations.

“I was one of the weapon suppliers in this [donations] arms race and responsible for fundraising … I’m telling you it needs to come to an end, and the time for that is now,” Mr Dastyari told the ABC’s Australian Story in an episode to be screened on Monday night.

Senator Dastyari was state secretary when Mr Chen made the November 2011 donation.

Mr Chen’s tobacco firm, ATA International, is also involved in a mysterious decade-long operation at Sydney’s Port Botany involving huge consignments of tobacco exported to Vietnam.

The operation bears the hallmarks of international tobacco smuggling, and Fairfax Media has confirmed ATA has attracted intense scrutiny from international law enforcement authorities.

Neither Mr Chen nor his company has been charged with any smuggling offences. Any such offences are more likely to have been committed in China rather than Australia.

Mr Chen is also a senior member of a Chinese Communist Party lobbying group in Sydney, and former business partner of major political donor Huang Xiangmo, the lobby group’s chairman.