‘What is this?’: Ex-Senator hits back
FORMER Labor senator Sam Dastyari was candid Monday night about the "arrogant" and "foolish" decision he made to deal closely with Chinese agents that saw his career ruined and his swift exit from parliament.
"I thought I was smarter than everyone else. That's on me," he told the ABC's Q&A panel.
"My out of control ego, arrogance - you can put a whole list of reasons on it - led me to these decisions."
But when he weighed in on Liberal MP Gladys Liu's situation, members of the panel accused him of trying to shirk responsibility.
Ms Liu, the Member for Chisolm, is facing the same scrutiny Dastyari was subject to after she failed to declare a $39,675 donation to the Liberal Party three years ago.
"I can only imagine what Gladys Liu is going through," Dastyari said.
"Let's not forget there are real people at the end of this, real people. I can tell you what I think has happened with her. But the pressure she will be under. The darkness. The phones.
"The people, people doing this. All of us talking behind her back or about her, no-one talking to her."
He said the "best thing (Gladys Liu) can do for herself, for her cause, is to leave parliament".
"That's my personal view. And I say that as someone who has been through that kind of thing."
But John Lee, a China expert from the United States Studies Centre, took exception to Dastyari's attempts to find commonalities between the two cases.
"I have to say, Sam, I think you are trying to absolve yourself," Lee said.
"You have suffered a heavy personal price. But I think you're trying to absolve yourself by equating yourself with Gladys Liu. Look at the differences. What's received personally and to the party. What was given in return."
Dastyari let him finish before firing back: "I'm getting a lecture from someone who works for the US Study Centre, which is registered as a foreign agent in this country," he said.
Lee told host Tony Jones the pair were "not going to resolve this today but I say elephants are grey and Sam says they're pink … I'll allow the audience to decide".
Dastyari responded: "That doesn't even make sense. What is this? Primary school?
Victorian Liberal Senator James Paterson also took aim at Dastyari for comparing his situation with Ms Liu's.
"The very clear difference is that Gladys Liu was a fundraiser on behalf of the Liberal Party and in doing so all the money she raised for the Liberal Party was declared in accordance with state and federal fundraising laws," he said.
But the Shadow Minister for Trade Madeleine King was quick to correct the record.
"I think what happened with Ms Liu, at least once anyway, she didn't declare one (donation)," she said.
"That's led to a few other questions of perhaps she does have questions to answer and it's a pretty simple thing to clear up if she wants to."
The issue of foreign donations is something the former Labor Senator recently opened up on.
On Monday night's program, he said he let himself "get used" to raise money for the party and it ruined his life.
"Was I used? Yes. But I got to this stage of my life two years after a momentous scandal. Huge, right? Journalists parked in front of my house for weeks. Your marriage falls apart. Your entire life collapses in front of you. By being able to accept I am responsible of my own downfall.
"I didn't want to be doing this. I didn't want this to be my life. I didn't want it to be, but sometimes in life the only course of action you have, the best course of action you have, is to take responsibility and in the case of politics for me it meant leaving. That crushed me."
Author Eva Cox took a broader view of the issue, telling the panel that an overhaul of the way political parties receive donations was needed to buy back voter trust.
"If we are serious about winning back some trust from voters - and it is important because democracy won't survive unless the voters trust the people they vote for - we need to sort of clear things up," she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week accused Ms Liu's critics of discrimination - an assertion Labor's Penny Wong said was "a deliberate" use of the race card to avoid answering serious questions.
Ms King said the PM was trying to muddy the waters instead of insisting Ms Liu answer legitimate questions.
"That should not have come up," she said. "These are just, they're questions to be answered by this parliamentarian and she should answer them and it doesn't really matter what her race is.
"Fact is these are donations from a certain influential nation and we have to, she has to be held to account for that and I think that's reasonable."
Dastyari told the Sydney Morning Herald this week that he is "worried" by the language the Prime Minister used.
"It worries me when you use race as a shield from legitimate questions," he said.
Senator Paterson said the PM "didn't use the word racist" and was referring to "grubby tactics" used by the Labor Party surrounding Ms Liu.