A two-part Crikey investigation into an illegitimate overseas student group accused of scams and rorts has led to an unprecedented government crackdown.
The O’Farrell government, all 11 New South Wales universities, the NSW Police and four leading NSW museums have issued an unprecedented all-points alert warning international students about a phoney representative organisation controlled by a mysterious Chinese millionaire.
After a double-prongedCrikey investigation shone a spotlight on the campus activities of the so-called “National Liaison Committee for International Students”, run by Chinatown venture capitalist Jan “Master” Shang, NSW authorities have sprung into action, issuing a grave joint statement this morning denouncing the group and its activities.
The NSW Office of Fair Trading has launched a high-level investigation into Shang’s bogus “Safety Card”, issued by NLC subsidiary the “Overseas Students Association”, which claims to offer students non-existent discounts at a range of Sydney museums and cultural institutions and, even more seriously, extra protection from police. It will probe alleged breaches of Australian consumer laws.
NSW Deputy Premier and Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Stoner said the government was acting now to ensure the safety and welfare of international students, worth billions each year to the state’s economy:
“The OSA is purporting to represent international students in NSW, however, it is not supported or recognised by the NSW government, education providers, industry peak bodies or international student organisations.”
“We have acted swiftly to protect our international students with a co-ordinated response across government and the education sector to the activities of the OSA which have raised some serious concerns. NSW values international students, and we are honoured that they opt to study in our state at our fine educational institutions. We are determined to ensure they can study, work and play in a safe and friendly environment.”
Crikey revealed two weeks ago that Shang’s acolytes had been told to disperse from the University of NSW after students complained that they had been told to provide their passport numbers and visa expiry dates in the lead-up to student elections, a “strongly discouraged” practice that “is in most cases prohibited”.
The joint statement says the use of official NSW government logos and watermarks on the OSA website were not approved and infringed trademark rights. It slams suggestions that the Safety Card provides an extra police protection:
“Holding an OSA Safety Card does not deliver any immediate additional benefits for international students when dealing with NSW Police. International students should ring Police directly to report crimes and if it is urgent, call 000.”
The convener of the powerful NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, Professor Caroline McMillen, says the 11 universities came together to tackle the activities of the OSA on their campuses as reports of threats and bullying piled up. “We do not recognise the OSA as an organisation operating in the best interests of international students,” she said.
“The OSA has disrupted student elections, there have been many reports of threatening and bullying behaviour, and some OSA representatives have been banned from campuses. We welcome co-ordinated action across government and the education sector to protect the interests of our international students.”
The warning confirms the status of the Council of International Students Australia as the legitimate peak representative body for international students around the country. CISA national president Thomson Ch’ng says international students have been intimidated and that he had personally received intimidating calls.
Last week, Crikey revealed that a former Shang entity, Student Administration Pty Ltd, had collapsed in 2009 owing the Australian Communications and Media Authority over $170,000 for the lease of telephone numbers. A month before liquidators were appointed, Shang resigned his directorship, replacing himself with a younger underling, Mark Choo. ASIC searches revealed a web of companies controlled by the self-proclaimed svengali, who has admitted he helped organise protests against Tibetan activists during the 2008 Olympic Torch relay.
Shang, who has refused to condemn the Tiananmen Square massacre, did not respond to email queries this morning. However, Choo issued a bizarre statement detailing unsuccessful contact with public figures including federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, federal education secretary Lisa Paul and Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.
He said the NLC had “decided” to submit a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission and would “go to Chinese media in China to expose this despicable act if we can not [sic] get fair reporting in Australia”. In the statement, NLC national convener Sun ShuYang took aim at the NSW Deputy Premier and claimed the NLC had the power to decide where international students spend their money:
“I can not understand why Andrew Stoner wants to be the public enemy of the Chinese, the Indian, the Muslim and all other Multicultural Communities in Australia by defaming NLC and our SAFETYCard program to protect the safety of our International Students. Our NLCommunity contributes $5.5 billion to NSW’s economy, we will decide whether International Students come to study in NSW or spend the money elsewhere.”
“I am the Public Officer of Council of International Students Australia. CISA has been receiving funding from NLC since May 2012. Andrew Stoner needs to check the facts right [sic], NLC is currently taking legal action against Thomson Ch’ng for his illegal use of CISA name in NSW.”