Senior government sources have confirmed that the Home Affairs Department denied Mr Huang a passport for a range of reasons, including character grounds. They were also concerned about the reliability of his answers in interviews and correspondence with authorities including ASIO.
Official sources say Mr Huang is now fighting to return to Australia from an overseas trip, but may never be able to return to Sydney, where he has lived with his wife and children since 2011, most recently on a hilltop mansion in Mosman.
Mr Huang rose to prominence through his prolific political fundraising and networking, his funding of former foreign minister Bob Carr’s Sydney think tank, the Australia-China Relations Institute, and his role as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party’s top influence group in Australia.
The citizenship decision, confirmed by government sources, came after ASIO and immigration officials spent more than two years analysing Mr Huang’s background as a businessman, his ties to the Chinese Communist Party in Australia and China, and answers he gave in interviews with Australian security officials.
It is understood the decision has shocked Mr Huang, who has in recent years pressed several politicians to back his efforts to become an Australian citizen.
While Mr Huang is understood to be scrambling lawyers to fight to allow him to return to and remain in Australia, the Home Affairs ruling may also prompt pushback from the Chinese government. Beijing is likely to view it as an extension of Canberra’s decision to resist Beijing’s efforts to exert influence via proxies.
Mr Huang may be able to challenge the Home Affairs decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or request an internal review, but an official said any legal challenge would take «a very long time».
A government official also said there was no chance Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton would intervene on Mr Huang’s behalf, although any ministerial intervention request may be a matter for Labor if they win this year’s election. The official also confirmed that if Mr Huang was able to return to Australia, he could face subsequent deportation.
Both major parties will now face questions about whether they should return Mr Huang’s donations. There are precedents for doing so. In 2018, Liberal MP and chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Andrew Hastie refunded $10,000 that former prime minister Tony Abbott had arranged for Mr Huang to send to Mr Hastie’s campaign fund. And this week, NSW Labor leader Michael Daley said he would “quarantine” $100,000 in campaign funding raised in 2015 because it may have have come from a tainted source aligned with Mr Huang’s fundraising efforts.
Mr Huang has previously dared political parties to refund his donations, which, along with the status he once held as President of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, provided him access to top politicians across the political spectrum.
The Age and SMH, which have been investigating Mr Huang’s activities for two years, have previously revealed how he used former senator Sam Dastyari to repeatedly call immigration officials to check on his case.
Mr Huang invited Mr Dastyari to a Chinese-language media press conference in which Mr Dastyari contradicted his party’s policy on the South China Sea. That, along with the revelation Mr Dastyari had tipped off Mr Huang that his phone was being tapped by spy agencies, led to his political downfall.
But Mr Huang’s connections crossed the political divide.
As former trade minister Andrew Robb was negotiating the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, Mr Huang donated $100,000 to his electorate fund, met with him several times and later told associates he had provided Mr Robb with informal advice about the trade deal.
At various times, Mr Huang had a direct line to advisers or fundraisers for Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Liberal MP David Coleman, who is now the immigration minister.
Among his closest political allies was former foreign minister and NSW premier Bob Carr, who Mr Huang recruited to head the ACRI think tank that the billionaire helped fund at UTS. But he has had no greater friend in politics than NSW upper house member Ernest Wong.
Mr Wong replaced former Labor state secretary Eric Roozendaal in parliament in 2014, after MrWong raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the ALP from Mr Huang and several associates at the Chinese Communist Party-aligned organisation Mr Huang headed in Sydney. Mr Roozendaal then got a job at Mr Huang’s property development company and donation vehicle, Yuhu Group.
In 2015 and 2016, ASIO privately warned both major parties that Mr Huang’s donations may be entwined with his ties to the Chinese Communist Party, although figures like Mr Dastyari and Mr Robb said those warnings had never been shared with them. Labor and the Coalition accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations after the ASIO warnings.
But after a report about Mr Huang and the ACPPRC’s Communist Party ties by The Age and SMH and Four Corners in June 2017- and a subsequent report that cost Mr Dastyari his job — no politician could argue they had not been warned that security agencies were keenly aware of Mr Huang’s involvement in Chinese Communist Party influence operations.
The reporting revealed Mr Huang had withdrawn a promised $400,000 donation after senior Labor MP Stephen Conroy had criticised Chinese policy.
Some politicians kept associating with Mr Huang, led by Mr Wong, who will depart parliament in March after Labor marked him as a political liability.
As recently as last October, Mr Carr’s ACRI was also defending Mr Huang. It released a report that downplayed the fact that Mr Huang’s citizenship application had been stalled due to ASIO concerns.
“[Bob] Carr also observes that whatever the concerns that Australia’s security agencies might have about Huang Xiangmo, the Australian government recently extended his permanent residency status and has allowed his Australian-registered family company to purchase more than $1 billion in prime Australian real estate assets,” the ACRI report by Mr Carr’s deputy, James Laurenceson, said.
In 2016-17, Home Affairs or Mr Dutton refused around 2000 citizenship applications because of identity concerns, police check failures or on character or national security grounds.
Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter for The Age. He’s won seven Walkley awards and covers politics, business, foreign affairs and defence, human rights issues, the criminal justice system and social affairs.
Chris Uhlmann is political editor for Nine News.