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They also recall Beazley sending another member of staff after Pezzullo to ensure any ad hoc security intervention played out without incident. He was a big personality — combative, ambitious and relentless — controversially something of an enforcer and cat herder with members of the caucus, diligently pursuing the interests of his genial political boss. John Blaxland, professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, sees Pezzullo as a genuine throwback: an old-school, sharp-elbowed, empire-building Canberra mandarin with a Manichean view of the world who would have been at home roaming the corridors of Old Parliament House in the post-war period; a breed of bureaucrat generally thought to be extinct.

His at-times combative approach to Senate estimates also separates him from contemporary custom and practice. People who know Pezzullo well describe a tough-minded workaholic, a pushy patriot long obsessed with defence and security issues. Some say he can be impulsive, and quick to wade in to scraps.

Piercing, not soft

He is also, according to colleagues, very attentive to his reputation, which would be a taxing preoccupation at this historical juncture. Intra-day politics is powered with conflict, and public discourse is replete with ad hominem attacks. Abuse has few limits in the roiling social media age.

Being attentive to slights on your reputation is a hobby that could easily lead a bureaucrat into trouble. The home affairs chief invited a fresh round of public controversy this week by getting on the phone to a cross bench senator, Rex Patrick. Pezzullo took issue with media comments Patrick made about him in connection to the raids on News Corp and ABC journalists. Patrick had been one of the fiercest critics of the raids, including suggesting there had been a double standard , with leaks embarrassing to the government pursued more vigorously than others.

Patrick has been a voluble critic not only of the police raids but also of the home affairs apparatus. Pezzullo told the ABC shortly after the story broke that the idea his true intent was intimidatory was bunkum. My sole request made to him by telephone was to ask that he reflect on his adverse references to my purported view of media scrutiny.

His comments were unfounded and not able to be responded to by me in the media as quite properly I lack the public platform that he has, and uses. This thinking is arrayed through his wide-ranging public speeches and essays. In a recent speech to the Institute of Public Administration Australia, Pezzullo outlined his vision of the role of public servants. The public service was a creature of traditional Westminster principles, Pezzullo said, an apolitical body, there to support and respect democratically elected ministers, while offering up its extensive policy and strategic experience.

Paul Everingham, WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy

But he worries how that thinking fits with the recent controversy involving Patrick. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, was clearly not amused with the overreach. Morrison directed Dutton to counsel his departmental head. But while preserving the dignity of his secretary, and adopting his usual posture of attack being the best form of defence, Dutton used two specific words of rebuke that would be easily understood by any bureaucrat from the lowly graduate recruits to the occupants of the senior executive floor.

It was a little harbinger of professional mortality, a reminder that no one, however useful, is invincible.


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It also keeps an eye on students and sometimes reports to the authorities back home on people who take part in activities seen as hostile to the party an Australian academic says that for this reason, many Chinese students ask to be put in tutorial groups without other Chinese. It is now growing in America, where Chinese influence to date has been mostly under the radar. Some political leaders, academics and think-tanks are starting to push back. The hearing discussed elaborate efforts to control Chinese students in America. Mr Rubio noted government attempts to curb enrolment by Chinese students at the University of California in San Diego, after a speech by the Dalai Lama there.

Meanwhile, Chinese attempts to co-opt public officials and academics, even at state and local level, continue apace. The immediate aim of Chinese sharp power is often self-censorship. Sometimes that takes pressure.

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Get ready for a return of political gamesmanship

In August the Chinese government asked a number of academic publishers to censor their databases of academic articles to exclude sensitive subjects such as the Tiananmen Square protests and unrest among ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang. A French film festival this summer decided not to screen a Chinese feature that painted a dreary and bleak image of contemporary China.

Chinese ownership of firms abroad may also be a threat. Other Chinese state-backed organisations have been trying to strengthen their partnerships with Western think-tanks and universities, partly in order to limit criticism of China and its policies. He has since resigned from its board. Even without direct pressure from Chinese officials, bosses on Western campuses sometimes worry about future funding if scholars offend the Communist Party.

Favours for donated money may be called in at a later stage. Academics report being asked not to invite particular speakers to conferences, for example. Influence is obvious elsewhere, too. Chinese state media have expanded abroad, presenting a rosy, party-sanctioned view of China.

In an investigation by Reuters, a news agency, revealed that a subsidiary of the Chinese government, China Radio International, was also covertly backing at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries, including Australia and America.

A very Australian coup: Murdoch, Turnbull and the power of News Corp | Media | The Guardian

These formed a global network broadcasting positive news about China—mostly in English and Chinese, but also in Italian, Thai and Turkish. Their government ties were hidden by front companies. Usually, such investigations fail to pin down who is responsible—another feature of sharp power. On four occasions since May, students mostly Chinese rounded on Australian professors for hurting the feelings of the Chinese people a popular Communist Party complaint. A lecturer was said to be picking on the Chinese when he wrote a notice in Chinese as well as English telling students not to cheat.

Another referred to Taiwan as an independent country. Surprisingly, each incident was followed by a storm of social-media commentary and newspaper articles criticising the academics. In one case the Chinese consulate complained. Two of the universities kowtowed: one professor apologised on national television and another was suspended; a third lecturer wrote a lengthy apology. Perhaps, not untypically for Chinese students abroad, they were acting out of a genuine feeling of affronted patriotism. Whether prompted or not, such responses act to dissuade others from voicing criticism in the future.

Even the case of Mr Dastyari is hard to prove. It certainly looks bad. Yet no crime has been alleged. That is fishy, but not proof of party ties or that he has received direction from the party. One of its aims is to prevent foreign-based Chinese from undermining the party at home. He has crushed rivals and sown fear among officials high and low with a ruthless campaign against corruption.

Human rights are trampled upon. China wants to be sure that the programme of control at home is not vulnerable to the lack of control abroad. Its other aim is harder to accomplish. As a rising power, China naturally wants to make the world more congenial to its interests. Here, too, Mr Xi stands out from his predecessors. As a counterpart to this hard power, China seems to want to market itself as a responsible global citizen.

But sharp power is a difficult weapon to yield.

Get ready for a return of political gamesmanship

It mutes criticism and may make opinions more favourable see chart 3. But, in Australia at least, the growing approval of China may now have turned the other way as a backlash starts to take hold. One danger is that policies designed to smooth over relations whip up anti-Chinese hysteria instead.


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  5. Suspicions of China could run wild. Barriers to academic, economic and cultural co-operation with China could go up.

    Rather than learning to live with each other, China and the West might drift into sullen miscomprehension. The other concern is that policymakers play down the risks. How do you strike the balance between self-protection and engagement? Just now, nobody is quite sure.