Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Tudge hoped accused’s hospital donation would combat ‘ugly racism’

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Former federal multicultural affairs minister Alan Tudge was concerned about the “ugly racism” the Australian Chinese community faced as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020.

So when Di Sanh Duong approached him with an offer to donate more than $37,000 raised by the community, Tudge saw it as an opening to counter the negative sentiment by offering to set up a media opportunity.

Duong appeared in a press conference held by federal minister Alan Tudge, and presented a $37,450 cheque to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Tudge on Monday gave evidence at a County Court trial for Duong who is accused of using a $37,450 donation, fundraised from members of the Chinese community, to gain influence with the former minister.

The 68-year-old has pleaded not guilty to the Commonwealth charge of preparing for or planning an act of foreign interference.

Tudge said his office had organised a media opportunity with the Home Affairs Department where Duong would present a novelty cheque to the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s chief executive.

The plan was hatched after the accused contacted him asking how to donate the money raised to support Australia’s efforts to combat the virus.

“There was a lot of, in my view, community anxiety about Chinese people in Australia under the belief that the virus emanated from China and people with Chinese heritage in Australia were complicit in the virus escaping,” Tudge told the jury.

“When (the request) came through, I thought this was a good cause to highlight … (That the Chinese community) wanted to make a contribution to Australia in tackling the virus.”

The former minister denied politics was discussed during the meeting and said he had suggested Duong’s organisation the Oceania Federation of Chinese Associations to give money to “perhaps the best known hospital in Australia”.

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