The federal opposition of Australia is standing by a political attack ad targeting centre-right Coalition MP Gladys Liu amid campaigning for the marginal electorate of Chisholm in Melbourne.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg have criticised the campaign claiming it is “racist”—it comes as Australia-China relations and defence continue to feature heavily in the country’s political discourse in the lead-up to the election.
The ad, which is running on social media, includes an image of the Hong Kong-born Gladys Liu and has been designed to throw the MP’s national security credentials into the spotlight.
“What do we know about Liberal Gladys Liu?” one line reads.
“She spread fake news on Chinese messaging apps, she and the Liberal Party had to give back $300,000 because the donors were deemed a national security risk and her campaign tried to trick voters with election day signage in the colours of the Australian Electoral Commission.
“We need someone who represents Chisholm with hard work and integrity, not tricks. You deserve better than Scott Morrison and Gladys Liu.”
Centre-left Labor Party Senator Penny Wong, the shadow foreign affairs minister, defended the advert.
“A number of these issues were raised a few years ago in the Parliament, and I can remember my then counterpart, Senator (Mathias) Cormann, accusing me and others of attacking Ms. Liu because of her ethnic heritage, which is not the case,” she told reporters on April 24.
“There were questions that she should have answered then, and it’s legitimate for those to be answered.”
The ads are referring to a 2019 news story that found the Liberal Party had to return $300,000 of donations from guests attending a 2015 Liu fundraiser after the prime minister’s office was briefed that they were security risks.
Coalition Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was scathing in his response to the ad calling it a “desperate, dishonest, racist attack” on Liu.
“She is a proud Australian citizen, and this racist attack ad by the Labor Party has no place in our community,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was equally strong in his criticism.
“They go after Gladys Liu because she’s Chinese,” he told reporters in Alice Springs. “They’re engaged in what I think is a sewer tactic here.”
The ramp-up in the targeted attack ads comes as both the Labor Party and Coalition work to secure the marginal seat of Chisholm, which includes one of the largest Mandarin-speaking populations in Victoria.
The Coalition holds the seat by a razor-thin margin of 1.14 percent after preference flows and is one of the few electorates in Melbourne that the incumbent government has a good chance of winning.
The ad campaign also comes after the Coalition has spent months targeting the Labor Party’s credentials on defence and China relations.
Just one week earlier, revelations again emerged regarding deputy Labor leader Richard Marles and his stance on Beijing.
The Australian newspaper unearthed a mini-book authored by Marles, where he advocated for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) involvement in the South Pacific region.
“Australia has no right to expect a set of exclusive relationships with Pacific nations,” he wrote in “Tides that Bind: Australia in the Pacific.”
“They (Pacific island nations) are perfectly free to engage on whatever terms they choose with China or, for that matter, any other country,” he wrote.
Beijing has recently concluded a security deal with the Solomon Islands government that will allow the Chinese regime—with the consent of the Solomons—to dispatch police, troops, weapons, and even naval ships to “protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in the Solomon Islands,” based on leaked pages from the document.
Experts have warned the deal could open the door for the rapid militarization of the region and extend the reach of the People’s Liberation Army from the South China Sea to the South Pacific—a strategically critical position just 1,700 kilometres (1,050 miles) from the northern Australian city of Cairns.