State Development, Construction and Housing – State Appointed Visas

Mrs. O’CONNOR – Minister, I’m very interested in some of the articles that were written in The Examiner newspaper in April of this year by Nick Clark that relate to commercial talent visas that may be recommended by state governments or the federal government . I don’t know if you know the specifics, but in fact what happened was that the State Growth Department nominated for commercial talent visas two Chinese nationals who were actually prosecuted by the Chinese government and allegedly moved approximately $23 million fraudulently obtained funds from China. Since this story is now common knowledge and actually reflects very badly on our visa nomination process, did you follow these stories that were in The Examiner newspaper to investigate how your department might be appointing for visas, money – launderers and scammers?

Mr BARNET – Most of the question is operational, and I will turn to Deputy Secretary Mark Bowles very shortly. To be very clear, with respect to immigration issues, these checks and balances and these reviews need to be undertaken at the federal level. It is very important to understand the process. As a state government, we are subject to this. That said, I’ll move on to Mark Bowles.

Mrs. O’CONNOR – Well, it just says the appointment was made by your department. That the state has appointed two money launderers for commercial talent visas.

Mr BOWLES – Through the Minister, for your information, the 132 Business Talent Visa mentioned in this article was phased out by Home Affairs on July 1, 2021. This visa class was later replaced by the 188 Business Innovation visa category and Investment. Regarding business visas for the past and future fiscal year, they will fall under this new category of visas which have different criteria as established by the federal government.

Regarding the case mentioned in The Examiner, the information I have is that in 2014 State Growth appointed three people for business visas in association with the development of Icena Estate. State Growth does not disclose personal information about applicants.

The granting of visas or otherwise and the enforcement of visa requirements is the responsibility of the Department of the Interior or, formerly, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. As part of this process, however, State Growth is asked to provide feedback during the post-visa follow-up process on whether the state’s continued compliance with the appointment requirements.

State Growth has provided information related to the progress of investment plans for specific visa recipients, but this does not address any issues related to financial irregularities.

Mrs. O’CONNOR – Can we get some clarification on how money launderers may be buying up a very important and utterly beautiful part of Tasmania and being appointed by the state? What checks and balances has the state put in place since this came to light because it is now under investigation by the Australian Federal Police? Are there no checks and balances? How do you know that you don’t give visa recommendations to money launderers wherever they come from to this day?

Mr BARNET – I’m advised, through you, Mr. Chairman, that a number of the cases you mentioned are before the courts. I would be very concerned about talking about issues in court.

Mrs. O’CONNOR – I’m not asking you to do that, I’m asking you to detail for the committee the checks and balances in place within the State Department of Growth that enable it to ensure that the people it appoints for visas business – now they are 188 visas – are not criminals? Have there been any changes to the nomination assessment process to protect the interests of the department, to protect the interests of Tasmania to ensure that we don’t give golden visas to criminals?

CHAIR – I remind members that questions that fall within the purview of the sub-judicial cannot be considered and will not be required for a response from the Minister. In terms of politics –

Mrs. O’CONNOR – Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I wasn’t asking for specifics, I was asking what’s going on in the department.

CHAIR – Thank you for that, Ms. O’Connor. In terms of policy issues, I’m sure the minister will be able to provide that information.

Mrs. O’CONNOR – Checks and balances. It is a matter of public interest.

CHAIR – On the political side of the issue, the Department of the Interior, formerly the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, is responsible for visa processing. It’s a responsibility of the federal government, the Department of the Interior, and the checks and balances are very important. We agree with the importance of these checks and balances –

Mrs. O’CONNOR – They obviously failed in this case.

CHAIR – Ms. O’Connor, if you’re not interested in the question, I’ll call Mr. Wood.

Mrs. O’CONNOR – I’m totally interested and a lot of people are too.

Mr BARNET – I’m trying very hard to answer the question. As a policy response, the responsibility for issuing visas, as I think the hon. member knows, rests with the federal government and the Department of the Interior. This is a very important responsibility and the checks and balances that need to be undertaken in terms of terms and conditions and the examinations that are required to obtain these licenses are very important.

The Assistant Secretary described changes to visa provisions at the federal level. It’s now on the public record and I’m sure more details can be provided there. At the state level, I have been briefed on this and appreciate the brief from the department and my office. I know this is an important question. We take this very seriously and I will see if the Undersecretary can add anything to this answer.

Mrs. O’CONNOR – Any changes in processes.

Mr BOWLES – Through the minister, there has been a process change with respect to the 188 visa, the new business innovation and investment visa. The assessment criteria against this visa focus more specifically on the types of investments and skills that the applicant brings to Tasmania. In terms of due diligence on the whereabouts of the funds, AFP has the ability to investigate that. This is a dual assessment process, first stage by the States and second stage by the Commonwealth.

Mrs. O’CONNOR – Do the recommendations come from the Office of the Coordinator General?

Mr BARNET – If there’s another question, I’ll pass that operational question on to the undersecretary.

Mr BOWLES – Nominations are made by the Department of State Growth. The Migration Tasmania business unit manages this function. Regarding business visas, we seek advice from the Office of the Coordinator General.

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