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Over a month ago I wrote about Defence Minister Fitzgibbons’s relationship with Chinese/Australian business woman Helen Liu:

Fitzgibbon may genuinely have forgotten how well he knows Ms Liu, his visits to China with her, the functions he attended with her, and the gifts he has received from her. In that case he is an idiot and cannot be trusted with the Australia’s defences.

Or he lied about them. In that case, he thought he had something to hide. If he thought he had something to hide, he probably did.

Andrew Bolt referred today to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald about a covert enquiry by Defence Department officials into that relationship.

When Ms Liu re-appeared in Sydney in the early 1990s, she suddenly had access to large sums of money, began amassing a multimillion-dollar property portfolio and started courting Australian political figures.

In 1993 she paid for Mr Fitzgibbon and his father, the federal Labor MP Eric Fitzgibbon, to travel first class to China to attend the opening of a hotel development. Mr Fitzgibbon was not an MP at the time but was expected to succeed his father as the federal member for Hunter in NSW.

Ms Liu has strong ties with senior Chinese Communist Party figures and has enjoyed considerable support from the Chinese Government-controlled Bank of China. Between 1995 and 2007, her companies donated $40,000 to Mr Fitzgibbon’s election campaign funds and another $50,000 to the NSW ALP.

All of that is of interest. Mr Fitzgibbon has either lied about or has genuinely forgotten about the nature of his relationship with Ms Liu. Regardless of the findings of the enquiry, in other words, regardless of whether Ms Liu really is a spy or not, Joel Fitzgibbon is not a  suitable person to be responsible for Australia’s defences.

“There were limits to what we could do and we didn’t get all of the story, but what has come out later about Fitzgibbon’s failure to declare trips to China only strengthened the concerns,” the official said. “There are big questions about just why the minister has been so obligated to Helen Liu and what the full extent of their relationship has been.”

Indeed.

But what is really of interest in the SMH story is that the enquiry, which is obviously necessary, is not in any sense official. Even though concerns were raised about Fitzgibbon’s relationship with Liu, departmental hierachy did nothing. The enquiry is being conducted ‘underneath the radar’ by concerned Defence Department staff.

But now those staff are being ferretted out and subjected to an inquiry:

The Defence Department has confirmed that the inquiry by the Defence Security Authority into the covert probe into Mr Fitzgibbon is “still under way” and that a report will be finalised soon for submission to Mr Fitzgibbon. A month ago, the Defence Secretary, Nick Warner, confirmed that more than 200 defence officials had been interviewed and that 850 had signed statutory declarations denying any involvement in investigations into Mr Fitzgibbon’s personal affairs.

Senior Defence Department staff did nothing when faced with serious allegations about the relationship between the Defence Minister and Ms Liu, and the strong possibility this could be a national security issue of grave concern. And now they are conducting a witch hunt into the people who were responsible enough to take that matter seriously.

The media should be all over this. It’s the kind of story that might make people think about buying a newspaper.

And doesn’t the Government have some sort of policy about protecting whistle-blowers?

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