SUBJECTS: Temporary visa holders; Australia Day ceremonies; overseas students.
JOHN STANLEY: The Federal Member for Mitchell is the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. He’s got a long title. Alex Hawke joins us on the line now. Minister, Good Morning.
ALEX HAWKE: Good Morning, John.
JOHN STANLEY: Now just on the question, well I didn’t get your name wrong, on the question of those people. If it is established that they’re backpackers here on student visas, can they have their visas revoked?
ALEX HAWKE: Yeah, well thanks John, and like you I was shocked at the scenes on Bronte Beach and I’ve heard from a lot of people across Sydney who are doing the right thing, that are very upset about it. And, absolutely under the Migration Act if somebody is threatening public safety or health, their visa can be cancelled. So certainly, the Federal Government is looking at that issue. I have instructed the Department of Home Affairs to work closely with NSW authorities in the lead up to New Year’s Day as well, to make sure that everyone is doing the right thing, and if anyone is caught doing the wrong thing, that their visa status be brought before the Federal Government.
JOHN STANLEY: Okay, so that situation on Bronte Beach where people have been issued fines or ‘move-on’ orders where they’ve been identified - we had another one where there was a very large gathering at North Bondi - who knows whether those people were backpackers? If they were, and they’ve been identified and they’ve been fined, that information, then, would be passed onto the Federal Government and the Immigration Department?
ALEX HAWKE: I’ve instructed the Department of Home Affairs to work closely with those NSW authorities. You’re right, there has been a couple of incidents and I think Sydneysiders would agree that ten months into a pandemic we all know the drill now. We all understand how difficult this has been around the world. We understand why we have to be doing what we’re doing. People who are guests in our country also have to do the right thing.
I want to point out, John, most temporary visa holders and guests in our country are doing the right thing. But of course, it’s unacceptable for people who are on temporary visas to be breaching public health orders. You must obey public health orders and if you are a temporary visa holder in Australia and you do not, we will be examining your visa status with a view to cancellation if you are found to be doing the wrong thing.
JOHN STANLEY: Okay, just in practical terms if someone’s visa is cancelled, I presume they get deported. Is it possible to do that at the moment?
ALEX HAWKE: Well, look one possible consequence is deportation, obviously. We can deport people - we have some charter flights to continue the normal process of immigration overseas, where we return people to their home countries. I want to make it clear I think most temporary visa holders are absolutely doing the right thing and they understand how important it is, but you know - when we see these people, I understand the emotional reaction people have - people on the Northern Beaches are doing the right thing and we praise them for it. We don’t want to have public health and safety jeopardised by a small group of people who are not respecting the country they come to and have been in. They know the situation in their home countries is worse in many respects and we’re warning them very clearly John, that if they are caught and they are found doing, it we will certainly carefully examine their visa status.
JOHN STANLEY: Okay, just to clarify though, if you can’t, it’s not possible to deport them, and they’ve had their visas revoked, they then become, well, they’re in a queue to get out of the country if they can?
ALEX HAWKE: Well, look there are many options available to the department. You can put them in immigration detention but obviously there are consequences to all these things. However, what will happen is we’re very happy to deport people, we’ve very happy if people are flagrantly disobeying public health orders and risking the health and safety of Australians and our other temporary visa holders, we will look at those options.
JOHN STANLEY: Okay, so if they are temporary visa holders who come to the attention of police in any of our states in relation to these issues you’ve made sure that the Home Affairs department will find out and it will then get to the immigration department and you’ll make a decision as to whether they continue to keep their visas?
ALEX HAWKE: And certainly, in the lead up to New Year, absolutely. It’s not okay to treat this New Year’s Day as normal. We know the public health orders are saying there are restrictions in place. Temporary visa holders must obey those restrictions and public health orders, as must everyone else.
JOHN STANLEY: Two other quick ones. Australia Day is coming up of course next month and I’ve been an Australia Day ambassador for a long time - I’ll be doing it at Bankstown this year - so I’m wondering, will they still be happening? What are the arrangements?
ALEX HAWKE: Yes, thanks John - and thanks for all your work for Australia Day. It is intended that around the country Australia Day ceremonies will go ahead - the citizenship ceremonies - we’ve got about 350 programs. Less people of course in a Covid safe way, so that halves the normal number, but about 12,000 people across the country if we can get that done. Obviously, that will be subject to the NSW Government’s public health orders and restrictions and we’ll be having more to say about that as we get closer to Australia Day. But the NSW Government has done such a fabulous job of so far managing this outbreak on the Northern Beaches. We could well be on track to continue in Sydney. Of course at the moment the advice is we have to behave in a Covid safe way. So, we’ll have more to say about Sydney, but of course across Australia, citizenship ceremonies will continue and some of them are online. Most are in person, but about 12,000 people and 350 ceremonies can continue and that’s a dividend of all the hard work and sacrifice that people have made this year.
JOHN STANLEY: And just a final one. International students, we know how important they are, they are a big part of our economy. Will they be coming back? Because you have a lot of Australians that want to come back home, you’ve got international students how we going to manage that and what are the prospects of being allowed back in to start the new school year - university year?
ALEX HAWKE: Well, it’s an important question John. At the moment, the Government takes the view that the priority is returning Australians and we’ve got so many Australians continuing to want to return here. It’s very understandable given the situation worldwide. With the caps that are in place from the states, and they are very restrictive caps, and the quarantine systems that are still being worked out, and which have challenges as we have seen in WA, we have to continue to prioritise returning Australians. And there are large numbers that want to continue returning home. Cabinet is carefully considering, with the National Cabinet, how we will bring in safely international students, to continue that great export market that we have. It’s one of our biggest export sectors, international education. And as you say, it’s vital to the Australian economy.
JOHN STANLEY: But you can’t say at this stage whether it’s going to happen or not?
ALEX HAWKE: Well, we’re planning to, it’s just that with the numbers and volumes of returning Australians continuing to increase - and people making the decision as the pandemic stretches out around the World, as you have second and third waves and they want to come home and when you have very restricted inflow with the caps - we have to prioritise Australians.
JOHN STANLEY: Alright, Minister, I thank you for your time.
ALEX HAWKE: Thanks so much, John.