A story of two Attorneys-General

On Wednesday evening I wrote about the despicable conduct of our Attorney-General, senior National Party Cabinet minister, and minister for various intelligence agencies, Chris Finlayson.

Asked why it was appropriate for a (past and –  experts say –  probably present) member of the Chinese Communist Party and former member of the Chinese intelligence services (both acknowledged facts, neither of which was disclosed to voters when he was elected) to be a member of Parliament in New Zealand, Finlayson simply refused to engage or answer, other than to suggest the journalists raising the issue –  journalists from serious outlets including the Financial Times – were simply attempting to destroy the man’s political career and in the process were engaged in singling out a whole class of people for “racial abuse”.

Asked about the claims in an important new paper by Professor Anne-Marie Brady (of Canterbury University and the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC) on the efforts of the People’s Republic of China (state and party) to influence politics in New Zealand and about the close ties of various past and present National Party members to interests of the People’s Republic of China, our Attorney-General’s only response was to simply make stuff up.  He asserted that Professor Brady didn’t like any foreigners, only to have an audience member –  a former student of the professor’s –  point out that not only was Brady fluent in Mandarin, but that her husband was Chinese.

That account has received a bit of coverage –  although not, of course, that there was any sign of the New Zealand media following the issue up with, say, Mr  Finlayson, or his boss the Prime Minister, let alone with the Leader of the Opposition.  It might have been awkward all round I guess.

My own readership numbers yesterday were more than twice the normal level.

Senior Wellington lawyer and former MP, Stephen Franks wrote about the story on his blog,   He’d predicted this sort of response only a week or so earlier on Radio New Zealand.

Rarely, if ever in politics, does one get explicit, irrefutable proof of a risky and unpopular hypothesis within a week of venturing it.

But Attorney General Hon Christopher Francis Finlayson provided such proof last night.

Last week, after discussing on Radio NZ the Newsroom suspicions that NZ MP Jian Yang may be a spy for mainland China I blogged my explanation that time did not permit with Jim Mora. I predicted that the Communist government could expect their spies who have penetrated New Zealand leading circles to be sheltered by our  elite’s PC terror of being accused of racism.

Last night at an election candidate’s meeting Finlayson showed just how the accusing is done. The other  candidates then showed how effective it is in cowing them.

Others tweeted the story.  There was Rodney Jones, for example: Beijing-based New Zealand economist, who had himself last week called for Jian Yang’s resignation.

Numerous commentators offshore focused on China have been drawing attention to, and stressing the importance of, Professor’s Brady’s paper –  the one New Zealand’s Attorney-General could deal with only be attempting to smear the author.

Professor Brady herself tweeted a link to Stephen Franks’ post.

And then flicking round the web over lunch, I stumbled on a new story on the Sydney Morning Herald website.  The authors begin thus

Attorney General George Brandis is planning a once-in-a-generation shake-up of the legal framework governing who can lawfully influence Australian politicians, amid fears of clandestine Chinese Communist Party influence over politics in this country.

Having seen Professor Brady’s tweet drawing attention to Finlayson’s despicable comments, Fairfax’s Asia-Pacific editor, John Garnaut,  a former lawyer who had previously spent many years in Beijing as the Fairfax China correspondent was moved to tweet thus:

What a disgrace. How have things in New Zealand been allowed to sink this low so quickly?

For those interested in reading in more depth about the sorts of issues Professor Brady has raised, I would recommend an article on the Brady paper by an independent researcher on China who blogs at a site called Jichang Lulu (and who has also tweeted a link to the Franks account).  It is a substantial post on the issues in the (quite long) Brady paper.  The author knows China, but comes fresh to New Zealand.   As the author notes

New Zealand provides an example of successful United Front domination of a diaspora community. As of this election, the top ethnic Chinese candidates are linked to CCP organisations and support PRC policies. In New Zealand, the Chinese community can only realistically aspire to political representation by its own members through individuals approved by Beijing. This situation, enabled by the leaders of the top parties, effectively allows the extraterritorial implementation of PRC policy.

(This incidentally makes a nonsense of Chris Finlayson’s absurd allegation that anyone raising these issues is “racist”.   The alleged PRC interference in New Zealand affairs directly affects the freedoms in New Zealand of the many Chinese-origin New Zealand citizens – whether recent migrants or descendants  of those who came generations ago – who abhor the Beijing regime and its repression. State-sponsored actors are the focus of the story, and the paper.)

As he notes of Jian Yang

In the same Chinese-language interview quoted above, Yang says he used to be a Communist Party member, but he isn’t one any more. That presumably means ‘not an active member’; as Brady notes, you don’t just ‘leave’ the CCP. You are considered a member unless expelled. Considering Yang’s excellent relations with Chinese state entities and the praise state media award him, it would be ridiculous to assume he was expelled. In all likelihood, Yang is in fact a CCP member. Chen Yonglin 陈用林, a former PRC diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, cast further doubt on Yang’s claims he was a PLA ‘civilian officer’. Based on his knowledge of military institutions before reforms in the late aughts, Chen estimates Yang was in fact a ‘soldier’ and probably reached the rank of  captain.

And

Perhaps even more remarkably, despite what an external observer would see as devastating evidence compromising a candidate before a tight election, his direct political adversaries in the Labour party produced absolutely no criticism of Yang. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about NZ politics, so perhaps I’m being naive, but is it normal to have such a major security revelation on a senior political figure days before an election and hear nothing from his rivals?

Noting that these are issues for the Labour Party as well.

In theory, Yang Jian’s direct adversary should be Raymond Huo (Huo Jianqiang 霍建强), a Labour Party MP. Yang and Huo compete for the Chinese-community electorate; Yang has been found to have a background in military intelligence, which he had declined to disclose in the past; Huo, whatever his sympathies, isn’t tainted by work for a foreign military. Recent polls have put Huo’s party a few points short of unseating the Nationals, or even able to lead a coalition. How can he not use this?

The only explanation that makes sense (and that is consistent with reactions from other senior politicians) is that he wouldn’t like to speak up against United Front interests.

Again it, as well as the original paper, is an analysis well worth reading.

We seem to have come to an extraordinary, and shameful, pass.  The very fact of the silence of most of the local media (the Herald’s recent article a welcome exception) and the refusal to engage seriously of any of our senior political figures (and responses by people like Jenny Shipley and Don Brash that could be seen to trivialise the issue) is surely worth a story in itself.

Fairfax’s local media have been very quiet on both the Yang story and on the arguments and evidence at the heart of the Brady paper – in the very week of a general election. Perhaps John Garnaut – recall, he is Fairfax’s Asia-Pacfic editor – would consider writing such an article? Perhaps the local papers might even publish it?   As he notes, the episode is  “a case study on how important it is to repel foreign interference before it gets to the political centre”.

But the primary responsibility for dealing with these issues can’t rest with foreign journalists, but with our own leaders.    I’m not sure that leaves me with much (any) reason for optimism.

(Due to New Zealand’s somewhat absurd electoral laws, I will remove any comments put up between midnight tonight and 7pm tomorrow that have any sort of party political tinge, so please refrain from making them.)

38 thoughts on “A story of two Attorneys-General

  1. I’m not sure it is PC fear of racism, just dissembling when unable or unwilling to engage on the issues. In 2008 Finlayson described himself as “the liberal wing of the liberal party”. I asked him why anyone so self-described would support a drinking age of 20, specifically how he could justify sending a 19-year old to war while denying the soldier a beer. His answer was that he wasn’t going to be sending anyone to war.

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    • Yes, I doubt he really believes it is “racism”, but nonetheless for a senior minister – first law officer nonetheless – to just fall back on the r-word as his response to senior international journalists and scholars is pretty shameful

      At the meeting on Wednesday he described National as a “liberal conservative” party, which seemed to cover all bases (or none), so long as he wasn’t associated with those “extremist economic policies” of 1984-93.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael, thanks so much for exposing this very important issue. I am reminded of William Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”!

    The silence from those who SHOULD be speaking out is damning!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m really not sure what all the angst is about here. Is it that Mr Yang is supposed to have committed ‘crimes against humanity’ or some such in a previous life? Or is that he’s supposed to be some kind of mole for the CCP?

    If the former, then fair enough — but where’s the evidence? If the latter, then, as George Smiley would have said, we’re not worth the candle.

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    • Anne-Marie Brady, your colleague, argues otherwise, assembling quite a bit of concerning material. If her argument is as easy to dispel as you suggest, it would presumably have been easily done by now.

      Personally, as I’ve noted in previous posts, I regard it as highly undesirable to have as an MP in our Parliament someone who he now acknowledged (altho he didn’t to voters in 2011 or 2014) being both a member of the Chinese Communist Party, a member of the Chinese intelligence services, and who has never denounced the manifest evils of that regime.

      Re “worth the candle” I suspect Brady would say something along the lines of “the NZ political system appears to be a pretty easy target – a cheap date if you like”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Glenn, it is no minor matter that someone who has been a party member of what is likely the most evil regime in human history is a NZ MP with aspirations to be involved in our foreign affairs. You might like to study up on what Michael refers to as its “manifest evils”. Suggested starting topics: the so called “Great Leap Forward” and the mass murder and starvation of 55 million Chinese, the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, enforced abortion and infanticide (i.e. murder) of the one child policy, the subjugation and genocide of the Tibetan people (1.2 million Tibetans killed) and the continuing neo colonialism, imprisonment, torture and murder of the present day. .
      None of these atrocities have been denounced by the CCP or Yang.
      Would you find a Nazi acceptable as one of our MPs? – this outfit are far worse. Please try and acquaint yourself with reality.

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  4. It is the middle of an election campaign. There are many other and more urgent things for politicians to talk about right now.
    Campaign discipline means you don’t raise a new issue unless it is clearly negative for opposing parties.
    Nats remain silent because he’s their MP.
    Labour is silent because of ‘Chinese sounding surnames’ has given them the taint of racism against Asians. Greens and NZF need Labour to do well, so fear reminding voters of Labour’s racism.

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    • There is no doubt something in that from the perspective of the political parties. When I asked the question at the meeting the other night I expected a polite fob-off along the lines of eg “well, the PM has noted that Yang has been asked to review his citizenship papers, and as for Brady’s paper I haven’t yet had a chance to read it”, with the other candidates saying who knows what. I’m enough of a bureaucrat by background – well-trained in those sorts of answers – that I’d have smiled, perhaps noted the avoidance….and not been furious at the blatant smears and made-up stuff, from the Attorney-General, from whom we should generally expect more.

      Also, even if totally true for the politicians, your story doesn’t explain the near-complete silence from most of the media (Herald and to an extent Newsroom – who helped break the story – as exceptions).

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    • “Greens and NZF need Labour to do well, so fear reminding voters of Labour’s racism.”

      Nonsense — NZ First need National to do well, so that the two parties most naturally fitted to form a coalition can do so and provide New Zealand with a stable, effective government for the next three years at least.

      Party vote NZ First!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you again Michael for your tenacity. There is a huge story here that must be pursued. Congratulations also to Professor Brady on her paper and for drawing the wider issue of penetration of New Zealand’s elite by a foreign and aggressive power.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Another story potentially at that “political centre” which is likely to have Chinese business and NZ Government connections is the one that didn’t make it into the media today;

    According to the acting ed of the DomPost the story was, “Not spiked but on hold til we learn more”.

    And here’s the excellent background to this industry and its connections to one of the key National Party funders, Stone Shi (mentioned in the Brady article) and his business partner, Judith Collins’ husband;

    https://publicaddress.net/envirologue/swamp-monsters-the-looting-of-northlands/

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  7. Fairfax now has a story about the citizenship application… they obviously had put their own OIA request in alongside the Herald i.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/97133056/national-mp-jiang-yangs-citizenship-application-reveals-little-about-his-past-in-china

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  8. Mr. Reddell–

    It is important we don’t let the ‘racist’ line obscure what is actually happening here. Most United Front work–and all the bribing, coercion, and censorship that comes along with it–is aimed at the overseas Chinese communities themselves. This is how I described it earlier this week:

    Ground zero in this fight for global influence is the Chinese diaspora. This is not a new development. For Chinese communists it really is old hat…… starting immediately after the revolution and extending right up until Mao’s death, Chinese agents founded parties, messed with elections, instigated insurgencies, and kick-started Maoist movements across the world. Their biggest successes—though in most cases, only temporary—were in Southeast Asia. These attempts to export revolution in wider Asia began with attempts to radicalize the Chinese diaspora. This is how Chinese communists operate. It is still how Chinese communist operate. All that has changed are the goals of the operations.

    If your take-away from all of this is that we can’t trust the Chinese among us, you are thinking about it wrong. Chinese Americans, Chinese Australians, Chinese Kiwis, et. al, are not the enemy. They are the victims. The Party has made clear that it believes any man or woman of Chinese blood, no matter their citizenship or locale, is their ward. The Party devotes an incredible amount of resources trying to shape the beliefs and behaviors of this diaspora. This includes extending its system of surveillance, censorship, and coercion into the heart of foreign countries. We ignore this because most of the threats and propaganda the Party spreads about are all spread about in the Chinese language. In the mind of most Westerners, what happens in Chinatown only matters in Chinatown.

    This is foolishness. We rightly fret over Russian influence operations in the United States, worried by Russian funded twitter bots and Russian curated Facebook pages. These Russian operations are superficial, surface affairs when placed next to the Party’s ops. The difference is that the Party conducts most of its business in Chinese. Yet a Chinese speaking citizen is still a citizen. Think about what these reports mean: a foreign power surveils, strong-arms, and censors citizens of Western countries inside their own borders. The failure to take the violation of our citizens’ liberties and manipulation of our own citizens’ livelihood seriously is inexcusable. It is a moral failure.

    Far from targeting a Chinese minority, fighting back against United Front work protects them. Things have gotten this far precisely because Westerners have cared so little about what is happening in the communities of their ethnic Chinese countrymen.

    Source: http://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2017/09/chinese-influence-and-intelligence.html

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  9. So where does this leave us in terms of good policy to avoid potential conflicts of interest?

    1) NZ politicians must be NZ citizens by birth

    2) NZ politicians must hold only NZ passports

    2) NZ politicians must have lived in NZ for at least the last 10 years

    …..

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    • All three can be left to the voters. It may even be counterproductive to create two classes of NZ citizen: those with and without 10 years of residency although something like that applies to superannuation.

      What does worry me are the political donations. When substantial sums are given and the only motivation appears to be that it is to the party in power then it is a concern. We need some form of taxpayer funding.

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      • Totally agree.
        Personally I would like to see foreign and company donations banned.
        Democracy is about people in a specific jurisdiction, not companies and not foreigners.
        One only has to look at the USA to see the significant influence big business has on politics.

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    • I’m not sure statutory provisions of that sort take one far. As it is, NZ MPs can have dual citizenship but cannot after election swear allegiance to any other country (eg take up dual citizenship rights they’ve never previously asserted).

      At one extreme, one can only be US President if a natural-born US citizen (which creates the weird situation that my 2 US citizen children, who left before they were 2 can be President, but someone who arrived at age 2 in the US and lived there ever after can’t. And Australia is currently caught in the constraints on the old wording of the consitution ruling out dual citizenship (eg Barnaby JOyce) even if the MP wasn’t aware of that second citizenship and had never asserted it. Both Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard came to Australia from the UK as children, and like or loathe either of them, I doubt that background affected their commitment to Australia.

      Personally, I think a minimum residence requirement of 10 years might be reasonable, and as I’ve noted before we allow voting rights to immigrants much more quickly than most countries do.

      My focus would be on (a) much greater media scrutiny of parliamentary candidates, (b) stronger vetting by parties, but none of this will happen or matter if the public don’t show much sign of caring. I’m an old fogey and prefer FPP, and would argue that intense scrutiny of indiv candidates is more likely in an FPP context.

      There is probably plenty of room for other legislative change, of the sort the Australians are looking at. I’d certainly welcome an effective ban on foreign donations to political parties or candidates, but I doubt that is the crux of the issue.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed, and it is a little shocking that New Zealand doesn’t already ban foreign donations to political parties?

        It is interesting that you bring FPP into it, because I think MMP allows subsections of the community other than electorates to have more power and that may be relevant, though I’ll avoid spelling out anything explicitly due to the ban on political advertising today. MMP gives parties the opportunity to pick candidates who would represent other cross-sections of the community – for instance, specific ethnic groups. Their support then depends on their support within those particular groups. If a candidate is well-liked among the group they were picked to represent, then it might be challenging for the party who picked them to get rid of them without potentially losing some votes, even if they wanted to.

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      • As an even older fogey MMP is fantastic and I would fight tooth and nail against FPP. Too long living in the UK where my vote was invariably wasted; so many constituencies where the decision was set in stone however poor the candidate. Then consider the result with Conservative and Liberal or Conservative and DUP in coalition.
        However you have a point about the list candidates; we need far more information about people who are likely to be our MPs – I’ll admit to never having heard of [some list MPs/candidates – specific name deleted to comply with electoral law]

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      • So who on earth would get out there promoting a move to restrict voting rights to a narrower class of people? I’d favour a 5 year wait time for new residents rather than 10, but regardless, it would get branded xenophobic right from the start, so it seems very difficult. It might have to be paired with other moves to extend voting accessibility [as bad of an idea as I think this is] like online voting. “We’re way outside the international norm” gets you some of the way, but I’m not sure that’s sufficient.

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      • To be clear, my suggestion of a 10 year residence wait time related to becoming an MP. On voting, I’m not overly bothered, but think a credible case could be mounted for allowing only citizens to vote (not exactly an uncommon stance abroad).

        But you pose an interesting question. It is interesting how much more traction some of these concerns around PRC influence are getting in Australia – including the political and media mainstream – than in NZ. The conversation here could change, but it probably needs a trigger. One might have thought the Jian Yang situation would do it – and perhaps it might have if the issue had come up a year out from an election.

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    • Remember that PRC citizens are not permitted to take up another citizenship, and (at least in a strictly legal sense) any PRC citizen who takes up New Zealand citizenship would at that moment cease to be a PRC citizen. That doesn’t stop some PRC citizens from taking up foreign citizenships and just not telling PRC authorities about it, but they have been known to instantly cancel passports upon hearing an individual has taken up a foreign citizenship.

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      • Yes, there are many countries that don’t allow dual citizenship at all, including some democratic countries. In principle, I find it appealing, but to be frank there are some dual citizenships that worry me (eg a Soviet one in those years) and some that don’t (eg UK or Australia). We won’t always see eye to eye with the latter countries, but there are unlikely to be existential conflicts.

        I suspect we have to make judgements, as citizens and voters, based on behaviours etc, rather than try to find the ideal formula.

        And I repeat my support for FPP: I’d never vote for anyone – from whichever country, no matter how good their policies – who had lived here for only 5 years (and it isn’t that I doubt their loyalty, but more there understanding of and identification with NZ). But under MMP I don’t really get the choice: party hierarchies do.

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  10. “he who has the gold, makes the rules”??; or perhaps gains influence over the rules as part of the deal; could be time to review the flow of money into the country…

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  11. Whenever people want to avoid a rational debate based on facts and evidence they quickly resort to name calling “communist”, “racist” etc. In a country like NZ that is quite politically correct, people are so afraid of being labelled a racist that the technique becomes quite effective. Regarding Yang, I believe he still maintains close links to the communist party and subscribes to their ideology.

    These days the Chinese diaspora in NZ has grown quite large and the vast majority of them have grown up in China and been indoctrinated by the communist party and continue to be influenced by local Chinese media (that also follows the party line). In addition we are dependent on China for trade and local political parties don’t wish to alienate Chinese voters or lucrative funding streams from the Chinese community. This all adds up to a perfect storm where few people want to stick their head above the parapets and risk getting it blown off. Politicians are motivated mostly by their own self interest and certainly across the political spectrum the risk/reward suggests it is better to just keep quiet. Even after they leave politics there exists the opportunity of lucrative directorships that they don’t want to jeopardize.

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  12. Is a larger issue here the general domination of China over the conduct of our socio-politico-economic life? Recently I heard a description of political life in NZ which went something like this (conveyed by someone who had held cabinet office): all we do in Parliament is tweak things, the actual policy operating in our country is determined elsewhere. I imagine such revelation also has an American connection.

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    • Indeed

      Just to put my mind at rest I need to know if Professor Brady received any funding from USA sources
      When was her paper written. Could not find any date on it

      May 2009
      Professor Anne-Marie Brady BA, MA Auckland, PhD ANU of Canterbury University and Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC
      NZ expert tells US of Chinese propaganda

      A Canterbury expert on Chinese propaganda has made a rare appearance before a United States security commission. Brady was told she was the first person from outside North America to appear before the commission.

      Canterbury University associate professor Anne-Marie Brady travelled to Washington last month to appear before the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s hearing on China’s propaganda operations.

      http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/asia/2402740/NZ-expert-tells-US-of-Chinese-propaganda

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      • Her paper was delivered at conference in Washington in the last week or so, and includes references suggesting it was only finalise a few days earlier.

        For your other questions, I guess you could contact her directly. Her details are on the University of Canterbury website.

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    • Peter

      I guess the “larger issue” you point to in your first sentence is the risk Anne-Marie Brady points to in her paper.

      On the somewhat jaundiced description of NZ by the former Cabinet minister, I don’t really think it is true. Of course, what happens in other countries influence us – including because we learn from their experiences and, eg, we want our firms to be able to trade with them – but surely one only has to look around to see the many quite radical (at the time) policies NZ has adopted on its own (for good or ill). As an example, our immigration policy – way larger than most other advanced countries. But i could cite the way we do monetary policy (not very important in itself, but i was involved), or the nuclear-free stance, or even something like ACC, which is v different from the way many countries do things.

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  13. Now here is an interesting twist – in Australia the previous crown lawyer is taking on the current crown lawyer in a proxy fight against the current attorney general over the parliamentary rights to sit in the parliament of – guess who – Barnaby Joyce

    The fight is being mounted by Tony Windsor the ex-MP who came second in the voting to Barnaby Joyce in the NSW seat of New England

    The interesting point is the fact that the National List MP who came 37th after Jian Yang remains mute – but of course why would one colleague oust someone on the same team

    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/clash-of-the-titans-george-brandis-nemesis-justin-gleeson-joins-citizenship-case-against-barnaby-joyce-20170922-gymvqr.html

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