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State Development, Construction and Housing – State-Nominated Visas

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Tags: China

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I'm very interested in some articles that were written in The Examiner newspaper in April this year by Nick Clark that relate to the business talent visas that can be recommended by state or federal governments. I'm not sure if you're across the details, but effectively what happened is the Department of State Growth nominated for business talent visas two Chinese nationals who have been effectively chased by the Chinese government and had allegedly moved about $23 million of fraudulently obtained funds from China. Given that this story is now a matter of public record, and actually reflects very badly on our visa nomination process, did you follow up these stories that were in The Examiner newspaper to investigate how it could be that your department would nominate for visas, money-launderers and frauds?

Mr BARNETT - Most of the question is an operational matter and I will defer to the deputy secretary Mark Bowles very shortly. To make it very clear, in terms of those immigration-related matters, those checks and balances and reviews have to be undertaken at a federal level. It's very important to understand the process. We as a state government are subject to that. Having said that, I will pass to Mark Bowles.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well it just says that the nomination was by your department. That the state nominated two money launderers for business talent visas.

Mr BOWLES - Through the minister, by way of background, the 132 Business Talent Visa referred to in that article has been ceased by Home Affairs on 1 July 2021. That visa class has subsequently been replaced by the 188 Business Innovation and Investment visa category. In terms of business visas for the past financial year and going forward, they will come under that new visa category that have different criteria as set by the federal government.

In relation to the case referred to in The Examiner, the information that I have is that in 2014 State Growth nominated three people for business visas in association with the Icena Estate development. State Growth does not release personal information in relation to nominees.

The granting of visas or otherwise and compliance of visa conditions is a matter for the Department of Home Affairs or, formerly, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. As part of this process, State Growth is, however, invited to provide comments during the post visa grant monitoring process on continuing compliance with state nomination conditions.

State Growth passed on information in relation to the progress of investment plans for specific visa recipients but this does not relate to any matters related to financial impropriety.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can we have some clarity on how it could happen that money launderers could purchase a very substantial and totally beautiful part of Tasmania and be nominated by the state? What checks and balances has the state put in place since this came to light because it is the subject now of an Australian Federal Police investigation? Are there no checks and balances at all? How do you know you are not giving visa recommendations to money launderers wherever they come from to this day?

Mr BARNETT - I am advised, through you, Chair, that a number of the matters that you referred to are before the courts. I would be very concerned to speak in respect to matters before the courts.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am not asking you to, I am asking you to detail to the committee what checks and balances are in place within the Department of State Growth that enable it to make sure that the people it is nominating for business visas - now they're 188 visas - are not criminals? Has there been any change in the nomination assessment process in under to protect the department's interests, to protect Tasmania's interest to make sure we are not giving golden ticket visas to criminals?

CHAIR - I will remind members that matters that sub judiciary cannot be taken on board and will not be required for an answer from the minister. In terms of the matter of policy -

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks, Chair, I wasn't asking for any details, I was asking for what happens in the department.

CHAIR - Thanks for that, Ms O'Connor. In terms of any policy matters, I am sure the minister will be able to provide that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Checks and balances. That is a matter of public interest.

CHAIR - In terms of the policy side of the question, the Department of Home Affairs, formerly the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, are responsible for processing visas. It is a federal government responsibility, the Department of Home Affairs, and the checks and balances are very important. We agree with the importance of those checks and balances -

Ms O'CONNOR - They obviously failed in this instance.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, if you are not interested in the question, I will give the call to Mr Wood.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am totally interested and so are a lot of people.

Mr BARNETT - I am trying very hard to respond to the question. As a policy related response, the responsibility for the granting of visas, as I think the member knows, is a responsibility of the federal government and the Department of Home Affairs. It is a very important responsibility and the checks and balances that need to be undertaken in terms of the terms and conditions and the reviews that are required to secure those licences is very important.

The deputy secretary outlined the changes to the visa arrangements at the federal level. That is now on the public record and I am sure more detail can be provided there. At a state level, I have been briefed on this matter and I appreciate the brief from the department and from my office. I know it is an important matter. We take it very seriously and I will see if the deputy secretary can add to that answer.

Ms O'CONNOR - Any change in processes.

Mr BOWLES - Through the minister, there has been a change in process in relation to the 188 visa, the new business innovation and investment visa. The assessment criteria in relation to that visa relates more specifically on the types of investments and the skills that the applicant brings to Tasmania. With regard to the due diligence concerning the location of funds, the AFP has the capacity to investigate that. It is a dual assessment process, first stage by the states and second stage by the Commonwealth.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do the recommendations come up from the Office of the Coordinator General?

Mr BARNETT - If there is another question, I will pass that operational question to the deputy secretary.

Mr BOWLES - The nominations are by the Department of State Growth. Migration Tasmania Business Unit operates that function. In relation to the business visas, we do seek input from the Office of the Coordinator-General.