Tying the issue to the question of foreign donations to politicians and political parties, she said: “The best way we can protect ourselves, protect our political parties and much more importantly our whole democracy is to have a healthy and well-functioning democracy and that means all of us have to do our part.

“Politicians have to do our part. We have to do better than following the law. We have to be strong and show an example of independence and integrity. It means our media have a really strong role to play in scrutinising our democratic institutions and any effort of foreign interference.”

Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian, declared it “a pivotal week in Australian history”.

“This week announced the end of the 1972 to 2014 era in Australia-China relations where relations always got better. There were ups and downs but everything got better. Xi Jinping has changed the arc of Chinese political, cultural and military development in a way that’s going to be extremely challenging for Australia. … it is challenging us in a way we haven’t been challenged by anyone else, not even the Soviet Union, in the post-war period.”

Panellist Samantha Power, American ambassador to the United Nations under Barack Obama, painted a concerning picture of the new reality – a reality in which China is just as capable as Russia of influencing an election result.

“If you take it to its logical extension and where China is going to go, it’s bullied the various airlines (over Taiwan), it’s looking into the Facebook accounts of employees and shareholders and others with various companies, and then behind the scenes going to those companies and saying that these people can’t be saying this,” Power said.

“Where does it end? Interference of the kind of planting somebody to run an election is one form of interference. We lived [through] Russian interference, taking advantage of the social media platforms and their accessibility. Our election in 2016 between Trump and Hillary Clinton was settled by 78,000 votes spread across three US states – 78,000 votes.

“We’re seeing Russian interference and I think the Chinese are fully capable of employing these tactics as well, especially seeing they’re working.”

Then there was the related question of the future role of the US as a global power under Trump. A questioner wondered whether Australia could or should still rely on its ANZUS treaty partner.


Power: “I think you do, you continue to fortify this relationship, even though Australia has managed to maintain some kind of constructive partnership even with the Trump administration, more than some countries have.

“And that’s important to do, given who is in charge in the US. But ultimately that’s going to be a shaky foundation if the Australian public is not convinced America can keep its word. That’s a new thought. That’s a really new thought that Australians haven’t had before.”

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