A couple of weeks ago I wrote the National Party, Jami-Lee Ross, and the party’s funding from PRC-linked sources. Of Jami-Lee Ross – and the desire of some in the media (and, of course, the National Party) to pile on to him, or to gloat – I wrote
Whistleblowers have a wide variety of motives, and not all of them are noble – and even those with elements of nobility are not infrequently tinged with more than a little of the less savoury side of things. And yet we rely on whistleblowers to uncover lots of wrongdoing: in specific circumstances, we even have statutory protections for them (but whistleblowing often comes with costs to the whistleblower, perhaps especially if they themselves have been directly involved in the alleged wrongdoing).
Perhaps he just generally was not a very nice or admirable person – there are, for example, those reports of his flagrant, repeated, violations of his marriage vows etc. But the fact remains that this wrongdoing (as alleged by the prosecutors for the SFO) would not be known had Ross simply stayed silent, whether that had involved continuing his efforts to climb National’s greasy pole, or just moving on quietly. Either might have suited the National Party. But it isn’t clear why such silence – about these specific donations, or about his involvement with others (Todd McClay and the PRC billionaire) that aren’t illegal but aren’t universally regarded as proper either – would have been in the wider public interest.
And to Ross’s credit, since the story first broke (and all the drama of that time) Ross does seem to made some effort to contribute constructively to the public debate on some of the policy issues around donations to political parties. He participated in the Justice committee’s (rather lame) inquiry into foreign interference, and spoke very forcefully in the House when the government was pushing through its travesty of a foreign donations law in December (the one that accomplished almost nothing useful,but perhaps looked/sounded to some like action). Who knows quite what mix of motivations he has. Perhaps some desire to bring down the existing National Party leadership (in Parliament and outside) with whom he previously worked so closely. Perhaps some element of genuine remorse, or recognition of how far he himself had been part of the system degrading. In a way, his motives don’t matter – it is the facts and the merits (or otherwise) of his arguments.
We heard from Ross again this week. Or, strictly speaking, Parliament did. Few of the general public will have heard of his speech or, more particularly, its contents. From what I could see there was very little media coverage – I should have been able to say “astonishing little” but, sadly, there wasn’t much astonishing about the relative silence of our media and the complete and utter silence of the rest of our politicians and political class. All of them appear to prefer to look the other way, and wish the issue would simply go away, whether for fear of upsetting Madame Wu and the PRC, upsetting the CCP’s local associates, or of revealing to the public just how tawdry and sold-out to Beijing’s interests so much of our politics seems to have become.
I could just link to the speech, but not many people click through to links. So here, as permitted by Parliament, is the whole thing. It isn’t long. I encourage you to read and reflect on it
JAMI-LEE ROSS (Botany): Facebook memories reminded me this morning that today marks nine years since I was first elected to Parliament. I certainly never expected nine years ago that I would be the centre of a debate over foreign political donations, and I’m using that term deliberately. Foreign political donations and foreign interference is what I want to focus my time on here.
In the Prime Minister’s statement, that we are debating, the Prime Minister lists as one of her Government’s achievements the banning of foreign political donations. It’s true that the new $50 threshold for overseas donations is an improvement. But, as I’ve said previously in the House, I doubt it will do very little to deter those determined to find other ways around the ban, including—
SPEAKER: Order! Mr Jackson leave the House.
JAMI-LEE ROSS: —using the wide open gap we still have where foreign State actors can funnel funds through New Zealand registered companies.
The foreign donation ban is one of the few recommendations that has spun out of the Justice Committee’s inquiry into foreign interference activities in New Zealand elections. That has been picked up. Probably the most important submissions that we received through that inquiry were those from Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University and what we heard from the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) director, Rebecca Kitteridge. It was all eye-watering and eye-opening stuff and sobering for us to hear and read their evidence. We have not, and I think we still do not, take seriously enough the risk of foreign interference activities that we’ve been subjected to as a country. Ms Kitteridge rightly pointed out in her evidence that the challenge of foreign interference to our democracy is not just about what occurs around the election itself. Motivated State actors will work assiduously over many years, including in New Zealand, to covertly garner influence, access, and leverage.
She also specifically pointed out the risks we face from foreign State actors through the exertion of pressure or control of diaspora communities and the building of covert influence and leverage, including through electoral financing. After Pansy Wong resigned from Parliament, I was selected as the National Party candidate for the 5 March by-election nine years ago. It was made very clear to me at the time that I had to put a big emphasis on getting to know the Chinese community. It was also pointed out to me very early on that I must make good connections with the Chinese consul-general. Madam Liao at the time was very influential with Chinese New Zealanders, and important to my own success as well. In hindsight, it was naive of me to not think carefully about the pull that a foreign diplomat had on a large section of the population in my electorate.
The consul-general in Auckland is treated like a God, more so than any New Zealand politician, except probably the Prime Minister of the day. Each successive consul-general seemed to be better and more effective at holding New Zealand residents and citizens of Chinese descent in their grasp. Consul-generals Niu Qingbao and Xu Erwen were also treating us, as MPs—not just myself, others—as long-lost friends. All this effort, if you read Professor Brady’s paper called Magic Weapons, is a core plank of the Chinese Communist Party’s deliberate and targeted efforts to expand political influence activities worldwide. It’s also the very risk that Rebecca Kitteridge warned the Justice Committee about. Professor Brady’s paper is a 50-page academic work. I can’t do it justice here, but I recommend all MPs read it.
The activities of the Chinese Communist Party here domestically, where Chinese New Zealanders have been targeted, should be concerning enough for all of us. But the efforts that Chinese Communist Party – connected individuals have been making over the years to target us as politicians, and New Zealand political parties, also needs to be taken seriously. Every time we as MPs are showered with praise or dinners or hospitality by Chinese diplomats, we’re being subjected to what Professor Brady calls “united front work”. Every time we see our constituents bow and scrape to foreign diplomats, it’s a result of their long-running efforts to exert influence and control over our fellow Kiwis.
Both Professor Brady and director Kitteridge have warned about the risk of foreign interference activity where funding of political parties is used as a tool. This isn’t necessarily unlawful provided the donations meet the requirements of the Electoral Act. In 2018, I very publicly made some allegations relating to donations. I have said publicly already that the donations I called out were offered directly to the leader of the National Party at an event I was not in attendance at. I did not know at the time that those donations were made that they were in any way unlawful. I never had any control over those donations and I have never been a signatory of any National Party bank account in the time that I’ve been an MP. I never benefited personally from those donations. I was never a part of any conspiracy to defeat the Electoral Act. And the point at which I blew the whistle on these donations—first internally, then very publicly—that point came after I learned new information that led me to question the legality of the donations.
After raising these issues publicly, they were duly investigated first by the police and then the Serious Fraud Office. The result of those allegations is already public and I can’t traverse much detail here, but I will say that I refuse to be silenced and I will keep speaking out about what I know, and have seen, goes on inside political parties. I refuse to be quiet about the corroding influence of money in New Zealand politics.
Last year, I learnt, off the back of concerns I myself took to the proper authorities, that the National Party had been the beneficiary of large amounts of foreign donations. These donations are linked back to China and linked to the Chinese Communist Party, and with ease entered New Zealand. I didn’t go searching for this information. I was asked if I knew anything of the origins of the donations. I didn’t know. It was all new information to me, and I was surprised by what I learnt.
What I learnt was that large sums of money adding up to around $150,000 coming directly out of China in Chinese yuan over successive years ended up as political party donations. Two individuals, _________, were used as conduits for the donations.
These funds eventually made their way to the New Zealand National Party. The New Zealand National Party still holds those funds. The National Party is still holding at least $150,000 of foreign donations received in two successive years. I call on the National Party to return those foreign donations that it holds or transfer the money to the Electoral Commission. I doubt the National Party knew at the time that the money was foreign—I certainly didn’t either—but now that they will have that information to hand, they need to show leadership and do the right thing.
To avoid doubt, this $150,000 dollars’ worth of foreign donations is not the same as the $150,000 from the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry company that they raised last year.
The warnings sounded from academics and spy agencies are not without reason. These two examples I give are very real examples of foreign money that has entered New Zealand politics. Professor Brady, with reference to the list of overseas members of the overseas Chinese federation, which is part of the Communist Party’s infrastructure, listed three top united front representatives in New Zealand:
_____, _____, and Zhang Yikun. All three are well known to political parties.
In a recent press statement from a PR agency, representatives of Zhang Yikun highlighted the philanthropic approach that he takes in New Zealand. The press statement on 19 February specifically said that he has been “donating to many political parties and campaigns.”, except his name has never appeared in any political party return. When asked by the media if political parties had any record of donations from this individual, all said no. But a quick search online will find dozens and dozens of photos of Zhang Yikun dining with mayors and MPs over the time, inviting them to his home, and his recent 20th convention of Teochew International Federation had a who’s who list of politicians turning up, including a former Prime Minister.
The foreign donations I mentioned earlier all have connections to the Chao Shan General Association. The founder and chairman of Chao Shan General Association is Zhang Yikun. To summarise these two bits of information, the largest party in this Parliament has been the beneficiary of large sums of foreign money. That money is linked to an individual who was listed as one of the top three Chinese Communist Party united front representatives in New Zealand. That individual’s PR agents say he has donated to many political parties and campaigns, yet he’s never showing up in any donation returns in the past.
One of Professor Brady’s concluding remarks in her submission to the Justice Committee was that foreign interference activities can only thrive if public opinion in the affected nation tolerates or condones it. We must not tolerate or condone any foreign interference activities. We must also not stay silent when we see problems right under our nose. It’s time for the political parties in this Parliament to address seriously the political party donation regime that we have.
I realise that both the two main parties in this Parliament often have to agree, but perhaps it’s time to put that out to an independent body. It’s too important for us to ignore, and it’s not right that we should allow these things to go on under our nose.
I seek leave to table two charts that show a flow of money from China into New Zealand and to the New Zealand National Party.
SPEAKER: I seek an assurance from the member that these charts are not integral to any matter currently before the courts.
JAMI-LEE ROSS: These charts have been prepared by the Serious Fraud Office and I cannot give you that assurance.
SPEAKER: You cannot give me that assurance. Well, I’m not going to put the question.
Source: Office of the Clerk/Parliamentary Service. Licensed by the Clerk of the House of Representatives and/or the Parliamentary Corporation on behalf of Parliamentary Service for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. Full licence available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Anne-Marie Brady fills in the gaps – names – Hansard chose to omit from Ross’s speech.
I thought three things were particular interesting in what Ross said:
- the explicit guidance given to him as a new candidate/MP about currying favour with the PRC Consul-General et al,
- the allegation about the new large, apparently disclosed, donation from people with very strong PRC/CCP ties
- and the suggestion, not verified in what we have there (tho perhaps in that SFO schematic he tried to table) of the funds for these donations having come initially from the PRC (whether or not National initially knew that).
Quite possibly, none of that activity was illegal. But even if so, none of it is proper – at least in a political party that cares anything about the values and interests of the vast mass of New Zealanders. Then again, this is the same party that just re-selected the former PLA intelligence trainer, (former?) CCP member, clearly still in the very good graces of Beijing, Jian Yang for their list – the same MP who refuses to face questions from the English langauge media in New Zealand, the same MP in business with the party president who himself has been free with his praise of tyrants of Beijing.
But just as bad is the apparent determination of ever other political party – but most especially Labour, the alternative main party – to simply ignore all this. In some cases, perhaps, to envy National’s ‘success’ (until now). Where is the leader of the Labour Party on these issues (you know her, she happens to be the Prime Minister). Where are the Greens, who once could have been counted on to deplore this sort of thing? Where, even, are the tiddler parties trying to convince us they offer something different and better than National and Labour? ACT? TOP? New Conservative? Maori? Not a word.
I’m sure there is some sensitivity about not jeopardising the prospects of a fair trial in the specific cases the SFO has taken against three donors and Ross himself. But there is no way that is anything like the whole story. After all, all those other parties have been very very quiet on the Jian Yang story, ever since the first of it broke 2.5 years ago. Prominent National and Labour figures, including Jian Yang, got together to have the Crown honour Yikun Zhang for, in effect, services to Beijing only 18 months ago. There has been no action on closing the legal window for donations through companies owned by foreigners, let alone the (im)moral window that has had NZ citizens who are CCP affiliates donating heavily. I’m quite prepared to believe that National is deeper in all this stuff than the other parties, but those other parties lose any excuse, any sympathy, when – most especially the Prime Minister – simply sit quiet and walk on past. In doing so, they demonstrate their own standards – or lack of them.
It certainly is important to ensure a fair trial. But voters are also entitled to a fair election, where the sorts of material Jami-Lee Ross has highlighted, allegations made, are properly scrutinised and the actions of parties and key individuals contesting the election are put under the spotlight before the election. The trial isn’t going happen before then, Simon Bridges refuses to answer even basic factual questions, and the media and his political opponents seem happy to just let it pass. That is little more than a betrayal of the public interest.