There's five rules in the business of buying influence

All this stuff about Sam Dastyari – but what about poor Huang Xiangmo?

Bloke turns up here, observes how business has been traditionally done, pulls out the cheque book and finds himself painted as a cross between Karla and Blofeld with a touch of KAOS and Yellow Peril thrown in.

Parliament gets heated over 'Sichuan Sam'

The Turnbull government has ramped up their attack on Labor senator Dastyari in question time calling for ‘Sichuan Sam’ to resign.

That’s the problem of working in a foreign language – certain subtleties can be lost in translation.

It is standard procedure for business types the world over to, er, “influence” politicians but it has to be done within accepted ways and means. And you must be considered the “right” sort of person to be doing the influencing.

Cue American citizen Rupert Murdoch with his extraordinary access to politicians and blatant involvement in attempting to determine the outcome of elections here and abroad.

There is some irony in Huang being particularly generous with his Liberal Party donations – $210,000 according to the ABC –  but politics hitting the fan over a relatively small amount invested in one young Labor senator.

Huang isn’t talking about it, though a spokesman for the businessman reportedly said he stopped making political donations last year.

It is standard procedure for business types the world over to, er, “influence” politicians but it has to be done within accepted ways and means.

And sponsor events that no politician can avoid and many will get taxpayers to fund attending – State of Origin, Melbourne Cup, Grand Prix, Grand Finals..

And sponsor events that no politician can avoid and many will get taxpayers to fund attending – Overseas speaking invitation

Close relationships

S

o we’re left to speculate on what precedents Huang might have had in mind as he set out to cultivate a close relationship with a politician.

Gina Rinehart’s patronage of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce immediately comes to mind, whether helping in his election campaigns, involving him in family disputes or awarding him a $40,000 prize – which he thought better about accepting a day later.

If Huang had been seeking to follow Ms Rinehart, he perhaps should have taken more notice of how to play a longer game.

Give generously to a body such as, well, the Institute of Public Affairs which will keep such donations secret while enjoying amazing political influence, right down to producing senators.

The public is left to guess who is paying the IPA’s wages, but the attendance at its birthday dinner provides hints. The IPA is notoriously free-market – except when it comes to spending government money in Northern Australia, in keeping with Gina Rinehart’s desires.

Perhaps Huang has looked further back for businessman/politician relationships for inspiration.

Sir Peter Abeles was particularly good at it, being knighted by his regular poker partner, the highly dubious NSW Liberal Premier Bob Askin. Abeles was careful to cultivate both sides of politics – Labor PM Bob Hawke held him dear and appointed him to the Reserve Bank board.

Hawke’s successor as Prime Minister, Paul Keating, had a good “mate” in former millionaire Warren Anderson – reportedly handy at helping sell a piggery to Indonesian interests. Anderson entities were involved in the infamous Firepower “fuel pill” fiasco, the perpetrators of which escaped with barely a feather whipping.

In terms of foreign influence, Keating’s successor, John Howard arguably takes the cake through his “special relationship” with George W Bush and the role that played in involving Australia in the Iraq invasion and subsequent debacle, all on the basis of fake intelligence that Australia’s own intelligence specialists disbelieved.

That reading might do Bush some injustice though – an intriguing Tweet by Phillip Adams this week suggested Howard was urging Bush to invade.

So in the interests of facilitating better business relations with Australian government and avoiding further Huang/Dastyari/Liberal Party embarrassment, here’s how to acceptably make friends and influence people:

1.   Hire lobbyists to do it at arm’s length. There’s a conga line of them waiting for your direct deposit, many of them recently ex-politicians and staffers, all with excellent access to power to push your case. For example, who do you think really formulates our tax policy?

2.   Use industry bodies.  They provide tax-deductable funding for absolutely political ends just when the government is threatening charities with the loss of tax-deductible status if they indulge in “political” (i.e. anti-government) activities.

The Minerals Council comes to mind, or the National Automotive Leasing & Salary Packaging Association – McMillan Shakespeare certainly didn’t like Labor’s policy of abolishing the novated lease lurk, but it was the NALSPA that donated the $250,000 to the Liberal Party. And Labor subsequently fell into line.

3.   China links. Try and not be a successful mainland Chinese with the somewhat inevitable relationships with the Chinese government. It’s perfectly fine to organise and push Israeli or American policy of dubious value to Australia, but not Chinese.

4.  The art of disguise. Adopt an anglicised name and have your PR people start referring to you as “Aussie” e.g. “Aussie Moe” Huang will work better than “Huang Xiangmo” – and you’ll be spared Australian newsreaders being unable to pronounce it.

Become a prominent supporter of such bodies as the American Australian Association and the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce that ASIO is less likely to be bugging. And sponsor events that no politician can avoid and many will get taxpayers to fund attending – State of Origin, Melbourne Cup, Grand Prix, Grand Finals.

5. Be Rupert Murdoch, or at least own some prominent shock jocks.

This article originally appeared in the SMH 16 Dec 2017