safety card

A self-proclaimed Chinese millionaire who purports to represent Australia’s 400,000 international students resigned from his own company just one month before court appointed liquidators swooped on behalf of major unsecured creditor the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Jan “Master” Shang — whose unofficial organisation the National Liaison Council for International Students has attempted to spread its tentacles across the nation’s university campuses — was the founding director of Student Administration Pty Ltd before liquidators moved in April 2009 to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.

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Australian Securities and Investments Commission records show that, four weeks before, Shang resigned as a director of the firm and was replaced by a younger underling, Mark Choo. Crikey understands over $170,000 was owed to Supreme Court petitioner ACMA — and by extension the Australian taxpayer — for the lease of 1300, 1800 and 13 “smart numbers”. The money was written off by ACMA and never recovered.

A letter sent by liquidators Woodgate to ASIC confirming Student Administration’s winding up on April 4, 2011 states the company “does not have sufficient realisable assets to cover the cost of obtaining a court order for the company’s deregistration”. Documents state two unsecured creditors were owed a total of $626,796 at the time the firm collapsed and that no dividend was paid.

ASIC searches reveal a web of other entities controlled by Shang: the Chinese Students Association, Foursea Travel Pty Ltd, the Indian Students Association and the Muslim Students Association, in addition to the failed Student Administration, the NLC and adjunct the Overseas Students Association. Choo told a federal parliamentary committee in 2009 that the CSA effectively bankrolled the NLC and helped organise counter protests against Tibetan activists during the 2008 Olympic torch relay in Canberra.

The NLC, taken over by Shang in 2008, was swiftly disendorsed by the National Union of Students in 2009 and made persona non grata inside university offices amid media reports of bullying and harassment. But the 47-year-old tycoon has managed to maintain an active presence on Australian campuses, contesting union elections and urging international students to sign up to a so-called “safety card” that promises them extra protection from criminals.

Students are required to hand the OSA a photo, their passport number and visa expiry date to sign up for the card. Callers to the card’s 1300 number are met with a recorded message telling them to quote their safety card registration when calling 000, despite its unofficial standing.

Government authorities and police are now beginning to crack down on the operation.

New South Wales Police told Crikey two weeks ago the Safety Card is not a recognised form of identification. Two weeks ago, officers from Eastern Beaches Local Area Command swung into action after students at the University of NSW complained over an OSA edifice erected outside the library. Campus security told the group to take down the stand and disperse from the area, citing breaches of university rules.

The “safety card” and OSA websites continue to feature logos and text ripped from official state government websites in breach of usage guidelines. The NSW government has requested the OSA remove its Waratah insignia. In a statement provided to Crikey this morning, a spokesperson for NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said its investigation into the NLC/OSA was ongoing:

“The NSW Government is continuing to investigate the actions of the National Liaison Committee/Overseas Students Association (OSA) to ensure the welfare of international students. NSW Trade & Investment, through its StudyNSW unit, is responding to issues around the NLC and OSA websites and the provision of information to students. This type of situation is just one reason the NSW Government is working with the international education sector to establish Study NSW.”

Crikey revealed last week that Master Shang’s disciples were on the verge of seizing an officer bearer position at UNSW, that would have entitled them to a share of the Student Services and Administration Fee and office space. Apparatchiks had hatched a preference deal with Labor Right-backed group StandUp! in a botched bid to corral the international vote. While the results at UNSW are yet to be declared, Crikey understands Labor Left-backed Voice received around 70% of the vote, comfortably returning it to power.

The OSA was also campaigning at University of Technology, Sydney although that tilt is also believed to have been unsuccessful. The recognised peak body for international students remains the Council of International Students Australia.

Master Shang and Mark Choo did not respond to a series of questions posed by Crikey before deadline. However, Choo did issue a veiled legal threat: “If you decide to run another article today on NLC and Mr Shang withour [sic] facts [sic] checking, your article and Crikey twitter feeds will be referred by our National Executive Mr Pan Wayne to our NLCommunity legal counsel for investigation.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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