Dutton is alleged to have met with Huang when the businessman was seeking Australian citizenship in 2016, and Dutton was immigration minister.
“I had one meeting with him over lunch. I have never seen him since.”
CNN has reached out to the office of Santoro for further comment.
Yet in a country which has had five leaders in a decade, analysts say the latest revelation will only fuel public wariness of politicians — even though it will likely not be a vote-changer.
“I think it just adds to the distrust in the big parties,” Macquarie University China researcher Adam Ni told CNN. “It’s not just one of the parties, the activities are across the board.”
Ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also criticized his former colleague, saying the allegations were very “concerning and troubling.”
“The idea that the minister responsible for enforcing those laws (about foreign influence) has had a meeting of this kind does raise a lot of questions.”
He also said current Prime Minister Scott Morrison urgently needed to address the allegations. “The buck stops with him,” Turnbull added.
In the wake of the earlier revelations about Huang, Australia last year passed legislation banning foreigners from donating to political campaigns, and stopping foreign powers from interfering in policy-making. The law drew bipartisan support.
Even so, neither party is eager to make the latest allegations a hot election topic.
“The issue of Chinese influence and interference is not a vote issue for Australians in the way that tax, health and education is,” Richard McGregor, a senior fellow with the Lowy Institute and an expert on China’s foreign relations, told CNN. “It’s not a vote-changer.”
He said the political agenda during an election tended to be set by the two major parties, and neither would gain from discussing Chinese political influence.
“I just don’t see them putting China at the dead center of it because there’s not much mileage in it for them,” McGregor said. “Their larger polices (on China) are not that different.”