Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has denied explosive claims that he conferred special treatment on the family of a Chinese Communist Party-aligned billionaire as part of a back-room campaign to win Australian citizenship.
An ABC Four Corners investigation, aired Monday night, claimed Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo paid tens of thousands of dollars to former Liberal minister Santo Santoro in 2016 to secure a one-on-one meeting with then-immigration minister Peter Dutton.
Despite a rare meeting inside the private suite of a Chinese restaurant in Sydney in 2016, Mr Huang ultimately failed in his citizenship bid after ASIO objected to his Communist Party links.
The investigation also revealed that in 2015, Mr Dutton gave approval for then-Labor MP Sam Dastyari to conduct a private citizenship ceremony for Mr Huang’s wife and two children.
Citizenship ceremonies are generally held in public, with private conferrals usually only granted for applicants who “are ill or have urgent needs and are unable to attend a typical town hall ceremony”.
The citizenship conferral allowed Mr Huang’s family to expedite their citizenship by weeks or even months and was granted by Mr Dutton after he was told by Mr Dastyari that the family urgently wanted to travel overseas, the report alleged.
Mr Dutton told The New Daily he was introduced to Mr Huang as a leader in the Sydney Chinese community “and had lunch with him on that basis”.
“I have never met or spoken with him since that time. I have certainly never made representations on his behalf to the department or anyone else,” he said in a statement.
“Mr Huang has not been granted citizenship and I won’t comment on ASIO matters, suffice to say I fully support the action they have taken [in recommending his citizenship be denied].”
Mr Huang’s family now runs his business interests in Australia after he was expelled from the country.
The Four Corners report also detailed recordings in which Mr Santoro, who is now a political lobbyist, claiming Mr Dutton was one of his “best friends” and claiming he could provide clients access to staff within Mr Dutton’s office for a payment of at least $20,000.
“There is nobody else anywhere who is better placed than me to help you through this particular part of the project. Nobody. … I can go to somebody in the minister’s office and say ‘can you have a close look at this?” Mr Santoro is recorded stating.
Mr Dastyari, who resigned in 2017 over his dealings with Mr Huang, said he wrote to Mr Dutton asking him to grant the Huang family expedited citizenship.
“I thought there was a snowflake’s chance in hell that this was going to get approved and the pace and speed of which it got approved at the time surprised me, and in hindsight concerns me,” he said.
Mr Dutton said Mr Dastyari would need to answer questions around his request for a citizenship ceremony, which was held inside Mr Dastyari’s office in early 2015.
The Home Affairs Minister said it was not uncommon for MP’s to request to conduct a citizenship ceremony, “usually where they know a constituent or there is an illness involved for example”.
Mr Dastyari said he had resigned from the Parliament over his dealings with Mr Huang and it was “ludicrous” to suggest Mr Dutton had expedited the ceremony as a favour for a Labor senator.
Mr Dastyari quit Parliament in January 2018 following intense pressure over his dealings with Mr Huang, who was a donor to both the Labor and Liberal parties.
After Mr Dastyari announced his intention to quit, Labor leader Bill Shorten described the then-NSW senator as “a good, decent and loyal Australian, and an effective parliamentarian, but his judgment has let him down and now he has paid the heaviest price”.