The article titled “’Golden visas’ are known to attract dirty money around the world. Why does Australia still offer them?” by Linton Besser was published on ABC News (31/10/2023). Taken at face value, it appears as another piece of usual media reporting. However, read with an awareness of the scourge of recent mainstream media proclivity for racial profiling of the Chinese, it can be disquieting.
The narrative presented essentially laments the poorly conceived and implemented “Golden visa” program launched in 2012 by Chris Bowen to attract what the author describes as the “super-wealthy” who were required to “invest either $5 million or $15 million or the promise of great entrepreneurship and business activity”. The program was labeled 888 after Chinese numerology which signifies triple fortune. Right from the start Australian culpability in a avaricious scheme is sanitised by euphemising it as merely a “bazarre and counter-productive” visa program while the Chinese (through 888) are made culpable by word association and innuendo.
In this short article, the Chinese are mentioned six times in six different paragraphs alluding to their abuse of the system. As a reader, I have no gripe with mentioning people by race or nationality, although I would rather avoid it, if they have indeed proven to have committed malfeasance. However, the article implicated and exaggerated Chinese abuse of the system without proper evidence. Negativity is suggested by the size of the Chinese applications in the Australian 888 scheme and reports of Chinese misconduct in other countries (i.e. Britain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland). In Britain and Portugal the charge is that similar schemes attracted people from countries (China is not specifically mentioned) with bad reputation for “money laundering”, “illicit finance and fraud”. Ironically, all these European nations are portrayed as victims rather than creators of an avaricious scheme gone wrong. In the Irish case, he says “the Irish police have launched an investigation into intelligence that multiple Chinese investors had used the same pot of money to game the visa scheme”. As expected Russians are also mentioned as abusers of these visa schemes.
Besser says “… from its inception in 2012 until May of this year, more than 20,000 Chinese nationals, including those from Hong Kong and Macau, have been granted golden visas to live in Australia”. One wonders how many of them are from Hong Kong and Macau who would have repatriated their wealth to Australia like any other migrants. In any case, isn’t the Australian government sympathetic to Hong Kong Chinese who are said to have lost their “democratic freedom” since the Chinese government imposed new rules after the riots?
I am not attempting at all to act as an apologist for the Chinese if they have indeed abused the scheme or used it to launder money. However, the crime must be proven in court, not trial by media. The one accusation, or smear, by the author is his statement “Section 501 provides for the denial or cancellation of a visa for those convicted of a serious crime. But what about the very many applicants who hail from the very many countries — including China — where bribery and corruption are significant features of the criminal justice system?” With regard to China, this might have been true about ten years ago before Xi Jinping came to power. The following paragraph from David Shambaugh (China’s Leaders: from Mao to Now, 2021, Polity) gives a good insight into the current situation:
Xi soon unleashed the most thoroughgoing and harsh crackdown on corruption in the Party’s history. By 2018 Chinese authorities had investigated more than 2.7 million officials and punished more than 1.5 million. Xi’s purge incarcerated a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, two Politburo members, 42 members of the Central Committee, 72 PLA generals (including two members of the Central Military Commission), and over 4,000 military officers.
The Attorney General’s Office indicates that Australia’s national anti-corruption agency, the NACC has only commenced operations on 1 July 2023.
False accusations have often been effective because they have been decontextualised. There are of course Chinese people who will exploit and abuse loopholes in the law to their advantage. This is no more than any other people. For instance, there are people and organisations that exploit the Australian government’s unemployment benefits schemes. This does not mean that they should be picked up by race as indicators of dishonesty.
Other contextual elements that merit mentioning is that the Chinese figure is affected significantly by the sheer size of its population of 1.4 billion people and an estimate of 6.2 million dollar millionaires; and 562 billionaires (Amy Hawkins, 31/10/23). They have socio-political and economic reasons for wanting to take money out of China because the Chinese government has very strict rules on repatriation of money. Amy Hawkins of The Guardian says:
China’s elites have long looked for ways to take their money overseas. Officially, individuals are only allowed to transfer $50,000 (£41,000) out of the country each year. But in practice wealthy people have a range of official and unofficial ways of shifting their funds, whether that is through money exchanges in Hong Kong, where capital controls do not apply, or funnelling cash into overseas businesses.
Australia’s “Golden Visa” scheme provides just such a channel to funnel their overseas investment. Did Australia not get what it wished for? By Besser’s account the Productivity Commission exposed it as “providing Australia a pitiful return”. As for complaints about the buying up of real estate (as in the Greece example), one can only say that they have to be put up for sale before anyone can buy them. At best, one could describe it as a case of selling oneself short and, in an afterthought, blaming the “other”. At the worst, it reeks of racism. Singapore is known to be a huge recipient of Chinese investments They have done it prudently and to this point in time, there has been no shifting of blame in a two handed clap.
The article is disquieting not only because it gives the Chinese people living in Australia the negative attention that they do not deserve; but more so because it has overlooked the journalistic considerations of independence, accuracy, fairness, and objectivity. A commission should be set up to look into the abuse of journalistic licence.