Senator – Sino-tor? – Sam Dastyari today pulled the plug on his career and resigned to spend more time with his immediate family and his extended Chinese family. In some ways, the fall of the Dim Sam perfectly illustrates the political absurdity of the recent dual nationality parliamentary crisis. Many a member and senator have quit politics or been forced to recontest their seats, having to their unpleasant surprise discovered they hold citizenships of other countries, and thus falling foul of the “allegiance to a foreign power” disqualification in s 44 of the Constitution. The Senator for Beijing, on the other hand, while born in Iran, has only the Australian citizenship, but unlike, say, Barnaby Joyce or Larissa Waters, has indeed shown signs of what some uncharitable souls might interpret as an allegiance to a foreign power. Unlike Barnaby though, this is not a technicality, and Shanghai Sam won’t be back, even if he were to renounce his Chinese contacts and attachments.
On the weekend, the Chinese Communist Party’s spokesman accused the Australian government of anti-Chinese bias and damaging the relations between the two countries. I’m all for keeping good relations with China, including good trading relations (in goods and services, rather than secrets). But China is not our friend; it’s an illiberal one-party state whose values are significantly different to those of the developed Western democracies such as Australia.
For all that, I don’t blame China for spying on Australia or trying to otherwise exercise influence in its favour. Every other country in the world with sufficient resources and the reach does the same – such is the nature of international politics. But I do blame my countrymen and women who are blissfully sucking on the red tit and doing the Chinese Communist Party’s bidding Down Under or spreading its propaganda. This is not anti-Chinese bias, merely an anti-Iscariot one.
And so there is a casual vacancy for a Labor Party Senator from New South Wales. A vacancy, which might end up being filled by Kristina Keneally, if she does not win the Bennelong by-election this weekend.
Ironically, it would suit the Labor Party if she didn’t.
The ideal scenario would involve Keneally getting a swing of 9 to 10 per cent towards her but falling just short of wrestling the seat away from John Alexander (another dual citizenship – but not dual loyalties – victim). Labor can still celebrate a big swing against the government, demonstrating how unpopular Malcolm Turnbull is even in his own home state, and presaging the general election massacre down the track.
As a bonus, Keneally does not get into the House of Reps where she can be a powerful competition for her colleagues. Kristina is one of those rare people in politics who actually seems like a real human being; she is personable, photogenic, dare I say it, even sexy, which is even rarer, the politics being famously the Hollywood for the ugly people (this is a statement about Keneally’s presentation only, not her experience and her beliefs, such as they are). By contrast, the Labor frontbench is full of robots (artificial un-intelligence at its best), unattractive inside and outside, with their grim charmlessness and resting bitch and bastard faces. Make no doubt, the Shortens, the Pliberseks and all others of this Parliament might have plenty more experience than a short-lived state premier, not to mention much more political nous and ruthlessness, but if you apply the increasingly important “who would you rather take a selfie with?” test, they lose in a landslide to Keneally. And they know it, which is why Kristina in the House is an existential threat to their political ambitions and aspirations.
This is why just missing out in Bennelong and shunting Keneally off to the Senate is the best outcome for the Labor opposition: they make their political point about the government, still get another woman into the Parliament, but in the Senate she is largely out of sight and out of the main lower house game, in a place where she can’t shine against her lackluster competition and can’t be a threat to those holding, or aspiring to hold, the top half a dozen positions in the opposition and then the government, including the Treasurer and yes, even the Prime Minister.
A midget Chinese submarine (that’s not a comment on Dastyari’s height) will be picking up the Tehran Sam off the Circular Quay later this week, so he can join the 109-year old but still quite alert Harold Holt. Meanwhile, north of the harbour, an ex-Yank and an ex-Brit will battle it out for a seat named after the first assimilated First Australian. What’s there not to love about Australia?