November 2020

Secret recordings of Japanese diplomat ‘highly insulting and offensive’

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph on 23 November 2020

A NSW corruption investigation into disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire risked Australia’s relationship with a critical ally by secretly taping and publishing diplomats’ phone calls, a federal government MP has warned.

Wentworth MP and former ambassador Dave Sharma says the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has become a “law unto itself” after it seemingly ignored international rules protecting diplomats by recording a conversation between Mr Maguire and Japanese Consul-General in Sydney, Keizo Takewaka in November 2017.

Mr Sharma has raised his concerns with Attorney-General Christian Porter in a letter describing the actions of the ICAC as “highly insulting” to Japan, and suggested the NSW Government apologise on the body’s behalf.

“(It) amounts to a violation of Australia’s obligations under international law, and … has the potential to jeopardise Australia’s diplomatic relations with a close trading and security partner,” he said.

During the 2017 phone call, Mr Maguire attempted to convince Mr Takewaka to help find a Japanese investor who would be willing to buy land around the Western Sydney Airport.

The ICAC heard Mr Maguire claim he had approached Mr Takewaka because he was concerned China had “too much influence” and the sale of the land to a Beijing-backed company might attract unwanted attention to his business dealings.

Mr Takewaka has not been accused of wrongdoing.

The conversation was made public in a hearing last month, for which Japanese officials were given no warning.

Mr Sharma said Australia had a “series of important obligations” toward diplomats posted in the country, including that diplomats and embassies are “immune from search and requisition” activities, including surveillance conducted by ICAC, under the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

“The interception by ICAC of telephone calls involving the Japanese Consul-General appears to be in violation of Australia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention,” Mr Sharma said.

“The public disclosure of the content of this conversation, without any advance warning given, is a highly insulting and offensive diplomatic act.”

Mr Sharma said Japan would be “well within its rights” to register an official protest following the actions of ICAC, which had the potential to “lessen trust and undermine” the close relationship between the two nations, “to the detriment of Australia’s national interests”.

The Daily Telegraph contacted the Japanese Embassy in Australia and ICAC but both declined to comment.