Sam Dastyari’s parliamentary career ended today as the Labor senator announced his resignation from the national parliament.
Over the past few months, Mr Dastyari has come under increasing pressure about his dealings with Chinese donors. He was reported as having provided counter-surveillance advice to a donor while also having supported China’s position in the South China Sea.
Then this week it was revealed that Mr Dastyari sought to stop a meeting between Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek and a Chinese pro-democracy activist in January 2015, when she was the party's foreign affairs spokeswoman. His actions precipitated debates about foreign donations in Australian politics.
The problem for Mr Dastyari was that such statements and behaviour, especially concerning foreign affairs, demonstrated poor judgement.
But it also caused great political pain for the Labor Party, as it weakened its capacity to keep attacking the government.
A pain for Labor
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had enjoyed a successful year and his party comfortably led the government in the opinion polls. The deep divisions in the Coalition concerning same-sex marriage, as well as the disqualification of a number of MPs due to their citizenship status, allowed Labor to critique the Turnbull government to great effect.
Now, the political momentum that was enjoyed by Labor throughout the year seems to be on the cusp of swinging back to the government. Mr Dastyari’s resignation, and the citizenship imbroglio, would no doubt be frustrating for Labor strategists, because it provides the government with opportunities to reclaim the ascendency in 2018.
Notwithstanding that, Mr Dastyari has done the right thing by the Labor Party. Its hope now is that his resignation will provide it with some clear air and allow it to plan a 2018 strategy without having to be constantly sidetracked by his previous actions.
The party, however, may start the new year distracted by claims that some of its MPs do not meet the Constitution’s citizenship requirements. This is despite Mr Shorten having declared that his party had carefully vetted candidates.
Mr Dastyari was selected to represent New South Wales in the Senate by the Labor Party in 2013. Having served as the Australian Labor Party’s general secretary of the New South Wales branch from 2010 to 2013, his career appeared on an upward trajectory.
As a senator, Mr Dastyari quickly built a high-public profile as the opposition’s spokesperson on education and, later, consumer affairs.
In 2016, however, his political career appeared on shaky ground as media reports revealed Chinese donors made payments on his behalf for travel and legal bills. After serving time in the political sin-bin, Mr Dastyari returned to prominence when he was appointed to the position of deputy opposition whip.
While in Parliament, Mr Dastyari continued to attract much media attention. He famously challenged Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party’s policies on Islamic migration on national television in 2016. More recently, he released his autobiography and, last month, was subject to taunts in a confrontation posted online by a group in Melbourne.
His replacement will be selected by the Labor Party and will enter the Senate in the new year.
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