Former Victoria Police chief commissioner Christine Nixon will investigate the endemic rorting of Australia’s migration system by syndicates involved in human and drug trafficking and migrant worker exploitation.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has commissioned Nixon to investigate serious failings, including resourcing and legislative “gaps and areas of weakness”, within the Home Affairs department, Australian Border Force and migration agents regulator that “have allowed threat actors to enter Australia and exploit our system”.
Brothels across Australia have been linked to trafficking.
While political attention and debate in Australia has for years focused on asylum seekers arriving by boat, the former police chief’s inquiry will cast a light on abuse and exploitation within a part of the migration system the Albanese government has accused the former coalition of neglecting: the hundreds of thousands of overseas temporary visa applicants who arrive via plane.
It follows The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald’s Trafficked series, which revealed in conjunction with 60 Minutes rampant visa rorting by organised criminals to establish crime networks in Australia, aided by government-licensed migration agents and fixers.
Nixon’s terms of reference require her to “identify proposals for both systemic reform and discrete measures to prevent, deter and sanction individuals who seek to abuse Australia’s visa system to exploit vulnerable migrants”.
“Minister Clare O’Neil has commissioned me to undertake a rapid review of Australia’s visa system to identify the weakness in the system, following the very serious allegation aired in the recent … story,” Nixon said in a statement.
“She is as tough as nails, nothing gets past her. She is the ideal person to work with me to tackle the conditions that allowed these problems to fester.”
“I know from a career in policing and law enforcement that criminal organisations and unscrupulous people are always looking for ways to exploit and make money, our migration system is no different.”
Nixon will be able to review intelligence holdings from multiple departments, interview key officials and report her findings to O’Neil and other ministers.
O’Neil said that following the series, border security officials had already “cancelled visas, turned around people at the border, withdrawn licences from migration agents, and more”. But the minister said Nixon’s appointment was about “looking at the root cause”.
“Christine Nixon will help us understand how this occurred. She is as tough as nails, nothing gets past her. She is the ideal person to work with me to tackle the conditions that allowed these problems to fester for so long,” O’Neil said.
Liberal MP Jason Wood, Immigration agent Jack Ta and then-home affairs minister Peter Dutton.
The Australian Border Force-led Operation Inglenook, which was launched after Trafficked, has also cancelled the government migration agent licence of political donor Jack Ta, a visa specialist with migration offices around the nation and which Trafficked revealed had helped more than a dozen drug offenders to remain in Australia over several years.
Ta had also boasted of “cosy” meals with Coalition ministers and donated more than $25,000 to the campaign fund of former Liberal assistant home affairs minister Jason Wood.
Wood was the chair of parliament’s migration committee when the donations took place and he hosted Ta on at least two occasions to dine with now Opposition Leader Peter Dutton when he was home affairs minister. There is no suggestion that Wood or Dutton were aware that Ta’s firm had been used by drug offenders to remain in Australia or was systemically rorting the migration system.
This masthead has also confirmed that Ta attended the launch for O’Neil’s election campaign when she was a shadow minister and bought items at an auction worth $5200. The funds were donated to a charity after Ta’s conduct was exposed.
Earlier this month, the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority found Ta had “acted with a blatant disregard for … the migration law and the visa programs in general” and “made misleading, deceptive or inaccurate statements and otherwise acted dishonestly”.
OMARA also declared that Ta was “not a person of integrity and not a fit and proper person to give immigration assistance”.
The failure of the Department of Home Affairs to act on years of allegations about Ta’s misconduct is almost certain to be scrutinised by Nixon. Trafficked revealed how state and federal agencies have spent years issuing confidential warnings of migration rorting involving syndicates gaming the visa system to bring criminals or exploited workers into Australia.
Operation Inglenook is also continuing to hunt for human trafficking boss Binjun Xie, who entered Australia despite being jailed for serious criminal activity in the United Kingdom and set up a nationwide underground sex racket. Police intelligence has linked Xie’s syndicate to the exploitation of vulnerable female workers, money laundering and visa fraud.
After Trafficked revealed his operations and criminal past in October, O’Neil moved urgently to cancel his visa and issued a deportation order. But Border Force officials have been unable to locate Xie in Sydney.
“While Peter Dutton was busy talking tough on our borders, a convicted criminal walked straight into our country and set up a human trafficking ring right under his nose,” O’Neil said.
In a statement, the ABF said Operation Inglenook had profiled more than 175 persons of interest “to determine complicity in exploiting the temporary visa program and some 92 foreign nationals are currently of interest to the operation”.
“Action has occurred against known facilitators, including six associates refused immigration clearance, three offshore visa cancellations preventing return travel to Australia as well as other activities that cannot be disclosed for ongoing operational purposes,” the ABF said in a statement.
“It is evident that there is continued exploitation of foreign workers in the sex industry and that exploitation of visa holders is being supported by migration agents, some of whom directly receive a financial benefit including through overcharging.”
O’Neil blamed the rorting of the migration system on the failures of the previous government.
“The abuses highlighted by [the Trafficked series] … were grotesque, some of the worst crimes imaginable. These cases of worker exploitation, human trafficking and organised crime have all resulted from Peter Dutton’s failure to protect our borders.”
Dutton has dismissed suggestions he failed to safeguard the migration system when he was the responsible minister, but said he would “support any further measures to combat visa fraud”.
Ms Nixon’s inquiry will complement a second review aimed at overhauling visa rules and which is led by former Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson. Parkinson has said it was “indisputable” the migration system was not working.
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