The former SRC Principal Lawyer refused to run a seminar on legal rights for the prominent China Development Society (CDS) in Welcome Week last year because of concerns of foreign interference, emails have revealed.
“With the ongoing legal issues that international students are facing in Sydney every single year, we really hope to engage with the SRC legal department,” wrote Reijo Wang who was vice president of CDS in 2018.
Then SRC lawyer Thomas McLoughlin declined, raising concerns over the independence of CDS from the Chinese Government and the need to maintain the legal service’s political independence and compliance with professional conduct rules. He offered a set of employment law guidelines instead.
According to the preamble in McLoughlin’s contract with the SRC, the SRC Legal Service is to “participate in activities which improve the situation of students with regard to their legal rights and standard of living.” The service is also to maintain “political independence.”
“I have not been asked previously to speak to a specific club or society and the SRC Legal Service may need to develop a working policy about that in relation to perceptions of any bias of present and future clients,” McLoughlin replied.
Under the direction of President He — who held an executive role as Sponsorship Director of CDS in 2017 —- the SRC sidelined McLoughlin in March and co-hosted a seminar with private firm Longton Legal. Three months later, McLoughlin was dismissed. He denied that McLoughlin’s refusal to assist CDS played a role in the dismissal.
In the correspondence, CDS Executive member Reijo Wang told McLoughlin he does not believe the CDS has any links to a foreign government, including the Chinese state.
“To my knowledge as co-founder and vice president of the society, CDS has no contact with any foreign government.”
In the past, Honi has asked students involved with CDS whether the club has consular connections or relationships with the Chinese government.
In a 2018 interview with Honi, then presidential aspirant Jacky He confirmed no link existed.
“[CDS] are not associated with the Communist Party in any kind of way.”
The SRC dropped McArdle Legal and hired national law firm Moray and Agnew to defend against McLoughlin’s unfair dismissal claim.
This comes after the SRC was forced to pay out close to $16,000 in accrued leave after that sum was unlawfully withheld as part of an attempt at settlement back in June.
“The student body are the big losers in my dismissal,” McLoughlin told Honi.