CROWN GATE …
Home Affairs had an agreement to fast-track visa applications for Crown
By Rob Harris and David Crowe
July 29, 2019
The Australian government has been fast-tracking visa applications on behalf of wealthy and influential clients of major companies – including Crown Resorts – for nearly 15 years under an agreement that abruptly ended three years ago.
Crown executives and Department of Home Affairs officials now face being hauled before a public inquiry following damaging revelations about the gaming giant’s flagship Melbourne casino and claims federal MPs attempted to influence visa approvals for international high-rollers.
Jenny Jiang says Australian consulate offices in China helped Crown get fast-tracked visas, and rubber-stamped some applications.
Former Crown Resorts employee Jenny Jiang blew the whistle on the powerful organisation on Saturday, alleging Crown’s desire to penetrate the lucrative Chinese market was facilitated by Australian consulate staff in China.
The department confirmed on Monday it had struck deals with “a number of large international organisations”, including Crown, to quickly process short-stay visas through Australian consulates and embassies around the world.
But it maintained there was no special treatment or reduced vetting in any locations for any applicants.
*”Our offices in China are well aware of the risks that may be present in their case loads and they scrutinise and manage applications accordingly,” a department spokesman said.
“These arrangements always make it clear that applicants are subject to the full range of applicable checks.”
The deal with Crown Casinos was put in place by the Howard government in 2003 and last renewed by the Gillard government in June 2011 before it ended in 2016. It is unclear why the long-standing arrangement ceased.
In a statement, a department spokesman said visa applications had to meet all requirements, including relevant national security and character criteria, before they could be granted.
“There is no discretion to waive legislative checks or requirements and the department has no evidence that this has occurred.”
Key Senate crossbencher Jacqui Lambie joined Tasmanian counterpart Andrew Wilkie on Monday to demand an inquiry after The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes revealed a string of allegations about government officials and the casino’s domestic and international operations.
Labor has not ruled out supporting an inquiry but the Morrison government would have to support the push to ensure a joint committee gained support in both houses of Parliament.
A hearing would have the power to call Crown employees and senior government officials to give evidence.
Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the government “needed to explain” the reports and “address the failures” of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
Former head of Border Force, Roman Quaedvlieg, claims that he was lobbied by two ministers and another MP to help “smooth out” the border security process for Crown’s big gamblers arriving from China.
“All roads lead to Peter Dutton’s mismanagement and incompetence – if he does not explain himself, Labor will consider our options to hold the Home Affairs Minister accountable.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter said he had not seen the 60 Minutes report but expected briefings if required from regulators including the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, which monitors money-laundering.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament the allegations raised were “a very serious topic” and dealt with the integrity of the gaming industry and law enforcement issues.
“Everyone is required to abide by the Australian law including casino operators, public officials and all visitors to our country,” he said.
“Our law enforcement agencies are working hard to disrupt and deter criminal groups by collecting evidence and intelligence about financially motivated crime.”
Crown Resorts has longstanding connections with people on both sides of politics and has hired a number of former politicians.
Former Liberal cabinet minister Helen Coonan is on the Crown board and former Labor minister Mark Arbib has worked closely with the company in the past as an adviser to James Packer and his company Consolidated Press Holdings, the largest single shareholder in Crown.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.