SYDNEY (AFP) - A Chinese billionaire barred from Australia on suspicion of mounting a years-long influence campaign was thrust to the centre of the country's increasingly bitter election campaign on Wednesday (April 10), with major parties trading accusations of improper contacts.
The conservative government - facing revelations the Home Affairs Minister had lunch with prolific political donor Huang Xiangmo to discuss his residency at a lobbyist's request - fired back with accusations of its own.
In an unusual press conference, Attorney-General Christian Porter released photographs of opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten attending Mr Huang's daughter's wedding.
Mr Shorten's attendance at the event has been publicly known since 2017, but the photos are believed to be new.
"To know you are attending the bloke's daughter's wedding at the same time you are criticising a business lunch seems to be extraordinary," Mr Porter said.
Mr Porter brushed aside the fact government's then trade minister was also at the wedding and defended embattled Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
"There is nothing wrong with ministers meeting with dominant members of the community at the request of a lobbyist," he told reporters.
It was just the latest volley in an increasingly scorched earth campaign by the government ahead of elections expected in May.
Behind in the polls, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has accused Labor of peddling in "lies and taxes" and even suggested Mr Shorten's drive for more electric cars would "end the weekend" and rob Australians of their 4x4s.
Mr Huang donated millions to both parties before becoming embroiled in a series of scandals, eventually having his residency request rejected earlier this year.
He has been photographed with various politicians, attending events with former prime ministers and opposition leaders.
Mr Huang has denied any wrongdoing and invited politicians to return his donations to charity.
Beijing has previously dismissed claims of meddling as hysteria and paranoia.