Culture

Leigh Sales Ripped Into Barnaby Joyce Last Night Over A Donation He Received From Gina Rinehart

It was a brutal 10 minutes.

The Coalition has been having a pretty good few days. After their embarrassing experience in Parliament last week, the focus of the media has shifted to Labor Senator Sam Dastyari and his donations scandal. Dastyari finally apologised yesterday for asking a company with links to the Chinese government to pay a private debt he incurred. The saga has dragged on all week and there’s mounting pressure on Bill Shorten to sack Dastyari from his frontbench position.

So when Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce agreed to appear on ABC’s 7:30 program last night for an interview with Leigh Sales he was probably expecting to have the time of his life. Finally, the spotlight was off the government and Labor was being forced to defend dodgy donations linked to one of their most high profile senators. Barnaby probably wasn’t expecting to be grilled for nearly 10 minutes on his own history of receiving political donations, including a $50,000 donation from mining billionaire Gina Rinehart. But that’s exactly what happened.

Sales opened up the interview by asking how “Sam Dastyari accepting $1600 from Top Education [is] any different to you accepting $50,000 for your 2013 election campaign from Gina Rinehart?” Joyce wasn’t too phased by this one and explained that the difference was Dastyari had received the donation for a private purpose, while Rinehart had donated to his election campaign.

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But Sales wasn’t impressed with the response. Over the next eight minutes she repeatedly asked Joyce to explain why it was politically acceptable to received massive donations from Gina Rinehart while criticising Dastyari. “Isn’t what it all comes back to though that somebody, foreign or otherwise, gives a gift or a donation, whatever you want to call it, to a politician and then they presumably expect something in return? Isn’t that the heart of the issue here?” Sales asked.

She followed up by asking a question that summarised by so many Australians are cynical about the whole system of big political donations: “What do you think, when somebody like Gina Rinehart gives $50,000 to your campaign as she did in 2013, what do you think that you have to give her in response? Is it just access? Why does she give that money? What does she expect?”

Again, Joyce just failed to answer the question, eventually saying “I haven’t given, to be honest, Ms Rinehart or Hancock Coal anything. I think they are strongly of the conservative side of politics.” Joyce valiantly tried to deflect the conversation back to Sam Dastyari, but Sales wasn’t having any of it. She repeatedly pointed out the hypocrisy in the Coalition demanding Dastyari’s resignation while they themselves accept foreign donations.

The interview highlighted the broader issue with political donations in Australia. While Sam Dastyari’s incident has attracted the most attention, the fact that a mining billionaire helped fund the election of Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister is also surely a cause for concern. Do most members of the general public really think that people like Rinehart donate out of the goodness of their own hearts and don’t expect anything in return?

As long as politicians keep accepting big, corporate donations these kinds of questions will continue to be asked.

You can watch the full interview with Barnaby Joyce here.