The entire Senate crossbench united on Tuesday to call for a parliamentary inquiry into Australia's relationship with China, amid growing concern about China's influence and interference in Australian politics, universities and infrastructure.
Liberal and Labor have resisted a formal inquiry and voted against it last night. Labor was to jointly sponsor an inquiry with the Centre Alliance's Rex Patrick in August, but changed its mind at the last minute and has resisted since.
But the crossbenchers, One Nation, Jacqui Lambie and Independent Cory Bernardi, plus the Greens, united behind Senator Patrick.
There were some incendiary comments.
One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts accused Liberal MP Gladys Liu of "sloppy answers" and "repeated memory failures" on questions about her links to Chinese influence organisations, and asked, "Is Chinese Gladys Liu their person?"
China was picking the eyes out of Australia's best assets, he said.
"China does not have the rule of law. It has the rule of despots," Senator Roberts said. "Chinese government behaviour is not compatible with Australian values, yet it has influence over some, many possibly, Chinese in this country and influence over political parties, companies and who knows what else."
The Greens' Nick McKim said Liberal and Labor were "riddled with CCP [Chinese communist party] influence".
"Democracies are an incredible robust, vibrant system of government but they are are they like sponges. As water infiltrates into a sponge so can foreign influence infiltrate a democracy."
It was laughable to discover this week that former senator Nick Xenophon - now the "mouthpiece of Huawei", which was itself a mouthpiece of the Chinese communist party - did not need to register under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, he said.
Senator Jacqui Lambie said Australia was a sitting duck. More than 25 per cent of Tasmania's agricultural land was foreign owned, she said.
"They're not just trying to influence politicians with money. They're trying to get elected to sit in this chamber. Wherever they can buy or get seats in the Australian parliament they're coming...
"This is just an absolute shocker. To think that someone who has links to the Chinese Communist Party could just waltz in here on a major party ticket is unbelievable. "
For the Coalition, Liberal Senator Matt Canavan rejected the call for an inquiry. He said the relationship with China was important and complex, and the government remained focused on areas of cooperation.
Labor did not speak.
It is a worrying thing when debate in this parliament is politically constipated for fear of reaction from Beijing.Senator Rex Patrick
Senator Patrick said Australia's relationship should not be too sensitive for parliament to tackle it.
"Australia may eventually pay a very considerable price in ... very real harm to our national interest and our sovereignty," he said.
He said ASIO chief Mike Burgess couldn't bring himself to name China when he announced an ASIO investigation into claims of Chinese attempts to fund a Liberal candidate to parliament.
And he referred to a warning from retired ASIO head Duncan Lewis that China was using insidious foreign interference operations to take over Australia's politics, and trying to win influence also in social, business and media circles.
Senator Patrick said China offered great economic and other opportunities to Australia, but the issues of influence must be examined.
"There is a marked reluctance by ministers and opposition frontbenchers to speak forthrightly, even when the issue includes the Chinese Ministry of State Security hacking the computer systems of this parliament," he said.
"... It is a worrying thing when debate in this parliament is politically constipated for fear of reaction from Beijing."
Senator Patrick said security services in the Czech republic had highlighted China's technique of inviting citizens to all-expenses-paid events to establish a network of contacts who feel they "owe China something".
"One wonders how many Australian MPs have been approached," he said.