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Integrity investigation ordered into Government and Crown Casino handing of foreign visitors

ABC News logo ABC News 30/07/2019 Jade Macmillan

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Commonwealth authorities and Crown Casino will face an integrity investigation amid allegations about efforts to lure Chinese gamblers to Australia.

Crown has been the subject of a Nine News investigation that made a series of allegations about the company's conduct and its relationship with government agencies.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said there were "sufficient concerns" to warrant further examination and he had referred the matter to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

Earlier in the day, the Federal Government confirmed it previously had an agreement with Crown Casinos to fast-track short-stay visa applications for Chinese visitors.

Mr Porter announced the referral as crossbench MPs pushed for Parliament to investigate the matter.

"I have considered the allegations that have been raised in the media reporting, and particularly as they touch upon allegations which are either directly relatable to or tangentially relatable to Commonwealth officers," Mr Porter told Parliament.

a hand holding a remote control: The Federal Government fast-tracked short stay visa applications for Chinese visitors. (ABC News) © Provided by Australian Broadcasting Corporation The Federal Government fast-tracked short stay visa applications for Chinese visitors. (ABC News) "It's my view that there are sufficient concerns raised at least to warrant further investigations."

Mr Porter said his decision to refer the matter to the commission did not suggest he had any evidence that supported allegations against Commonwealth authorities.

"Rather it's the case that Section 18 of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act might be called a precautionary referral provision," he said.

Mr Porter said the commission was the most appropriate body to consider the allegations and had the ability to "hold hearings, exercise coercive powers and seize evidence".

"They have very significant investigatory powers, very significantly stronger than those of a parliamentary committee, obviously including the ability to apply for search warrants, issue notices that attract a criminal penalty, if not complied with."

Mr Porter made the announcement after independent MP Andrew Wilkie moved a motion calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue.

Mr Wilkie, speaking in the House of Representatives, said his office had spoken to "another whistleblower" who was a former driver for Crown in Melbourne.

"He recounts there were no Border Force checks, foreign nationals getting off with up to 15 bags for a short stay, stopping only on the way to the casino to pick up a sex worker," Mr Wilkie said.

"On breaking the law, this new whistleblower said and I quote, "Crown is Crown. No one touches Crown, you know there is no law at Crown".

"You literally get what you want and you do what you want. Money talks."

Mr Wilkie told the Parliament of the perception Crown had with some within the police force.

"I now know of three police officers, two currently serving, who have openly said to my staff that in Victoria, Crown is regarded as The Vatican - an independent sovereign state all to its own where the laws of Victoria and the laws of the Commonwealth do not apply," he said.

In a statement, a Crown spokesperson said the company would assist with any investigation.

However, the spokesperson said Crown "absolutely rejects allegations of illegality made in Parliament today and in recent media reporting".

"We believe these allegations are ill-informed and an attempt to smear the company," the statement reads.

"If there is any evidence of unlawful conduct, we encourage individuals or organisations to contact the relevant authorities."

Department admits to stakeholder deal

The Department of Home Affairs confirmed it has "stakeholder arrangements" with a number of large international organisations for the quick processing of short stay visas, but insisted there was no special treatment given to applicants.

"The arrangement with Crown Casinos was put in place in 2003. The arrangement was last affirmed by the Minister in June 2011 and ceased in 2016," a spokesperson for the department said.

"There is no reduced vetting in certain locations or for certain applicants. Our offices in China are well aware of the risks that may be present in their caseloads and they scrutinise and manage applications accordingly.

"There is no discretion to waive legislative checks or requirements and the department has no evidence that this has occurred."

Former Australian Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg told Channel Nine that two federal ministers and a backbencher lobbied his agency to make it easier for Chinese gamblers to enter Australia on private jets.

Mr Quaedvlieg was sacked last year after an investigation found he helped his girlfriend try to secure a job within his department at Sydney Airport.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews defended the performance of the state's gambling regulator saying that anyone with complaints about the Melbourne casino should speak to authorities.

"If you've got an issue, if you've got a concern… then you can with confidence, go to the VCGLR [Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation] the independent regulator, give them that detail, put that forward. And it'll be treated seriously," he said.

Crown Casino in Melbourne is the biggest single-site employer in the state, but the Premier said that did not make it above the law.

"No-one gets a free pass on their legislative requirements, no-one gets a free pass on integrity and probity. When it comes to this industry or any industry," Mr Andrews said.

Calls for parliamentary inquiry into Crown

Mr Wilkie's call for a parliamentary inquiry into the allegations raised by Channel Nine was supported by crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie and the Greens.

But the House of Representatives rejected that push, with Labor and the Coalition voting against it.

Labor was in power in 2011 when the visa arrangement with Crown was last affirmed but deputy leader Richard Marles said Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton needed to explain the details.

"There are a number of serious allegations in what's been broadcast over the last couple of days and whether there's an inquiry or not, what we need to hear from is the Minister for Home Affairs and he needs to be explaining exactly what's happened here," he said.

Mr Dutton is in London at a meeting of the Five Eyes intelligence partners.

On Monday, Attorney-General Christian Porter said he had not seen Channel Nine's story but expected to be briefed on the matter "shortly".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament it was a "serious topic" that dealt with "the integrity not only of our gaming industry, but of issues that go to law enforcement and border protection in this country".

"Everyone is required to abide by Australian law, and that includes casino operators, public officials, and all visitors to our country," he said in Question Time.

Crown issued a statement on Monday saying it took its legal and regulatory responsibilities "very seriously".

"Crown has a comprehensive anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing program which is subject to regulatory supervision by AUSTRAC," it said in a statement.

"As referred to above, Crown takes its regulatory obligations very seriously and works closely with all of its regulatory agencies, including law enforcement, both state and federal.

"Crown has a robust process for vetting junket operators with whom it deals and undertakes regular ongoing reviews of these operators in the light of new or additional information that comes to its attention."

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