The Chinese company that bought the $280 million Vans Diemen's Land Company in 2016 has fallen well short of the commitments it made to the federal government, secret information released by the Senate Economics Committee shows.
Moon Lake Investments, now known as Van Dairy Limited, promised then Treasurer Scott Morrison in 2018 that it would invest $100 million over five years and increase employee numbers from 140 to 235.
But an update in May shows employee numbers are virtually stagnant at 145 full-time employees and 34 casuals while capital investment disclosed since 2016 totals $20.1 million. In July, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg would not release the Van Dairy update.
"This is due to protected information [privacy] provisions contained in the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act and which recognises that information provided to Treasury can be commercially sensitive," he said.
Tasmanian Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who initiated a Senate committee inquiry into foreign investment, said the VDL investment had been very disappointing
"We were told that a foreign investor buying this iconic asset was in the national interest because they were going to invest $100 million and employ locals and look after the Tasmanian devils," he said.
"The community has turned on this purchase because there has been little investment, but they have also seen that there are no laws to enforce it."
"There is no evidence that has occurred and four years into the acquisition it has been very disappointing," Senator Whish-Wilson said.
Former chief executive Evan Rolley and four directors including former Tasmanian Treasurer David Crean resigned in 2018 after differences over investment strategy.
After the upheaval Mr Morrison asked for annual updates about employment of existing and additional staff, investment, milk supply arrangements, environmental cultural and heritage undertakings and the Devil Proof Fence project.
New FIRB rules were introduced in March by Mr Frydenberg so that any foreign investment from $0 up is checked out. But Senator Whish-Wilson said that the laws needed to be beefed up further.
"If foreign investors make undertakings they need to be mandatory and they need to be enforced," he said.
In July, Liberal senator Eric Abetz said: "Greater scrutiny is needed and I would encourage thorough assessment of the undertakings given by the current ownership of the VDL Company.
The Van Dairy update reveals that of its 145 full time and 34 casual staff, 39 hold working visas and 16 are working holiday makers. In 2019, when its capital investment was $4.3 million, the company began growing poppies for a return of $186,077.
The latest Van Dairy "confidential and commercially sensitive" update says that Tasmanian resident Ms Linling (Bunny) Ye had been appointed as joint company secretary. An ASIC extract obtained by The Examiner does not list Ms Ye.
"The company continues to explore its plans for a processing facility ... and the company understands that any purchase or long term lease will require a "no objection" notification from the Treasurer as a result of recent foreign investment changes," the report says.
It has completed work in partnership with the Circular Head council on the Devil Proof Fence project.