US ambassador's 'surprise' at China's Australia influence

The departing US ambassador to Australia, has warned Australia over China's growing influence Image copyright US Embassy Canberra
Image caption John Berry said it was illegal for politicians in the US to accept money from foreign donors

The outgoing US ambassador to Australia has expressed concern about the influence of Chinese money on Australian politics.

John Berry told the Australian the US was "surprised" by the extent of China's involvement in politics.

He urged greater transparency around political donations.

Last week, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari resigned from the opposition frontbench after admitting taking money from companies linked to China.

The scandal has led to debate about reforming rules on foreign donations, with Labour calling for a ban.

Mr Dastyari did not break the law by accepting money from the Top Education company, but said he was wrong to have accepted the money to cover personal costs.

Top Education, which has links to the Chinese government, has also donated money to both the Labor party and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Liberal party.

'There is concern'

In an unprecedented critique, the outgoing ambassador said China was an undemocratic country exploiting Australia's democratic system.

"I can see no argument of how a foreign government's involvement through political contributions advances Australia's interests," Mr Berry said.

"In our country it's illegal. It would be against the law for any foreign donation to be accepted by any level of government or member of government."

He said the US had been "surprised, quite frankly, at the extent of the ­involvement of the Chinese government in Australian politics".

"There is concern. Our hope is that, in resolving this, Australia will consider doing what many other democracies have done: that is to protect their core responsibility against undue influence from governments that don't share our values."

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