Sunday, 12 July 2020

ABC, Insiders

Topics: Hong Kong, Migration program, medevac transferees in immigration detention


DAVID SPEERS: Alan Tudge, welcome to the program.

ALAN TUDGE: G’day David.

DAVID SPEERS: Let’s start with the Government’s concerns about this new national security law that China has imposed in Hong Kong. Do you believe pro-democracy supporters there are facing political persecution?

ALAN TUDGE: There’s certainly a greater risk, and we’ve outlined in our travel advice exactly what we’re concerned about for Australians who are there. But what we do know from these national security laws is that it does change the situation in Hong Kong. And that means that many Hong Kong passport holders may be looking for other destinations to go to, and hence why we have put forward our additional visa options for them.

DAVID SPEERS: We are just having a problem with your audio, I’m told, right now. So we’re just going to fix that up. While we do, I want to just play the Chinese reaction to this, before we continue. This was a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry on what Australia’s done.


CHINESE SPOKESMAN: The comments and measures from the Australian side constitute a grave violation of international law and basic norms of international relations, as well as gross interference in China’s domestic affairs. It will not work on China. We condemn it and reserve the right to take further action. All consequences will be borne by the Australian side.

[End of excerpt]

DAVID SPEERS: All right, I think we’ve fixed the audio issue now. So you can see there China’s anger at what Australia’s done. But just to pick up on what you’re saying there so people can hear it this time. Are the people of Hong Kong facing political persecution?

ALAN TUDGE: I think there are greater risks of indiscriminate arrest. And that’s what we’ve said in relation...

DAVID SPEERS: For political reasons?

ALAN TUDGE: For those sorts of reasons, and that’s what we’ve said additionally in our travel advice to Australians who are there in Hong Kong.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. So if they are at greater risk, as you say, of being arrested for political reasons, why then, isn’t Australia offering them a safe haven visa?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, what we’ve done is that we’ve offered particular visas for people to come here, and particularly the global talent who is residing there. And we’ve also signalled that we want to get some of those businesses who want to move locations to come to Australia as a great destination for them to set up shop here.

DAVID SPEERS: Sure, and there are economic reasons obviously for doing that. But just sticking with the point here. The Prime Minister did say a week ago: Cabinet would consider offering a safe haven. Why hasn’t that been offered?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, I mean, if people are genuinely persecuted and they can prove that case, then they can apply for one of our humanitarian visas in any case...

DAVID SPEERS: But does that mean they are facing...

ALAN TUDGE: That option is open to everybody, regardless of which country they are in, if they are facing persecution they are able to apply for a humanitarian visa.

DAVID SPEERS: But do you acknowledge the people of Hong Kong - well, you have acknowledged they are facing a greater risk of persecution.

ALAN TUDGE: Well, the national security laws which came into effect on the first of July, they certainly change the equation for Hong Kong residents.

DAVID SPEERS: So if they are facing a greater risk of political persecution, are they entitled to asylum in Australia?

ALAN TUDGE: They’re entitled to apply for a humanitarian visa. Just as anybody who is facing persecution is able to apply for a humanitarian visa. Those options are available to them.

DAVID SPEERS: But why didn’t the Government decide to offer a safe haven, special category visa given the situation in Hong Kong?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, two reasons. One being that we already have our humanitarian visa in place, and we have the second most generous scheme in the world in that regard...

DAVID SPEERS: But the PM had indicated this would be considered by Cabinet. So I’m just wondering what the thinking was in not going down that path?

ALAN TUDGE: Just let me finish. The first reason is we already have a humanitarian visa in place. And if people, no matter where they are, are genuinely facing persecution, they can apply for one of those humanitarian visas. But the second reason is that we decided on deliberately targeting serious talent which is in Hong Kong, and businesses which have their regional headquarters in Hong Kong. And the reason being is that we know that many people will be looking for opportunities to relocate elsewhere in the world. And we want to grab some of that talent for Australia, because they come here, they generate businesses, they create jobs, they create wealth for Australians. So that’s the objective of what we outlined this week.

DAVID SPEERS: Let’s look at what it does mean for them. So if you’re here as a foreign student or a temporary skilled worker from Hong Kong right now, you can’t, for example, access unemployment benefits, certainly not JobKeeper or JobSeeker, Medicare entitlements and so on. So that’s not changing? They won’t have access to any of that?

ALAN TUDGE: That’s not changing, no.

DAVID SPEERS: Will they have access to any family reunion? Will they be able to bring their partners or children?

ALAN TUDGE: For people who are in Australia already?


ALAN TUDGE: If you’re in Australia already, on a student visa for example, you would already have been able to bring your partner with you, and your children if you indeed are a family.

DAVID SPEERS: And a temporary skilled worker?

ALAN TUDGE: That’s the same with the temporary skilled visa. That’s the ordinary arrangement, that the primary applicant gets the visa but that enables them to bring their family as well, for the duration of their visa.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, and then you did indicate there would be a pathway to permanency.

ALAN TUDGE: That’s right.

DAVID SPEERS: What is that?

ALAN TUDGE: So, in essence, that means that a person will have the opportunity to be a permanent resident at the end of their time here in Australia. Some visas have that opportunity and others don’t. And we are indicating here for those about 10,000 Hong Kong passport holders who are in Australia presently, mainly students and skilled visa holders, that they will get additional time in Australia and a pathway to permanent residency if they want to get it...

DAVID SPEERS: But they would still have to meet the requirements? They’d have to work in the specified industry of need or meet the points system to qualify?

ALAN TUDGE: This would be a clearer pathway for permanent residency at the end of the five-year period that we’re talking about. Now, you would still have to apply for it. You still have to pass the character test, the national security test and the like. So it’s not automatic. But it’s certainly an easier pathway to permanent residency. And of course, once you’re a permanent resident, there’s then a pathway to citizenship as well.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. So you’ve got a few hoops to jump through there. I’m just wondering, can you give a guarantee that anyone who is fearful of returning to Hong Kong, can you guarantee that they’ll be allowed to stay?

ALAN TUDGE: I can’t give that guarantee. What we are saying is that people will have the opportunity to apply for permanent residency, but if there’s a serious security issue in relation to that person, they’ll be sent back. If there’s a character concern, they’ll be sent back. So, they will get that opportunity to apply for permanent residency and, assuming that there aren’t those concerns in place, then they’ll be eligible for that permanent residency.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. But that sounds, then, like someone from Hong Kong who’s here, who’s worried about going back and thinking they could be locked up by the Chinese government, they may still be sent back?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, again, let me be clear here. They get an additional five years from now on whatever visa that they are on. This is for students and for skilled visa holders and for graduate visa holders...

DAVID SPEERS: Right, but I’m talking about at that point, there’s no guarantee...

ALAN TUDGE: At the end of that five-year period, we’re indicating at the moment that they will get the option to apply for permanent residency...

DAVID SPEERS: Yeah, and you’re not guaranteeing they’ll stay, so...

ALAN TUDGE: And but for character assessment, security assessments and other types of assessments like that, they would get that permanent residency visa.

DAVID SPEERS:  Okay, well that’s new. So...

ALAN TUDGE: Of course, they’re always eligible at any stage to apply for a humanitarian visa if they can prove that they would suffer persecution when they returned. Indeed we’ve had about 137 people who have applied for that over the last 12 months.

DAVID SPEERS: So you’re saying that they’ll only be sent back if they fail the character or security test? A moment ago, you were suggesting they would only stay if they met the requirements for permanent residency.

ALAN TUDGE: They’ll still, it’s a pathway to permanent residency.

DAVID SPEERS:  For everyone except for the...

ALAN TUDGE: For those, but of course you have the character and security requirements, as you always do.

DAVID SPEERS: Would anyone else be sent back to Hong Kong?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, not if they applied for the permanent residency at that particular time.

DAVID SPEERS: So they’ll all get it, as long as they don’t breach the character or security concerns, everyone will get permanent residency?

ALAN TUDGE: If they apply and they don’t breach those conditions, then it’s likely that they’ll be able to stay.

DAVID SPEERS: Sorry, likely? Are you guaranteeing they’ll be able to stay as long as they don’t breach character or security?

ALAN TUDGE: We’ll develop the particular permanent residency visa for this particular group.

DAVID SPEERS: So that’s still being worked on?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, we’ve announced it and that will be worked on. But unless they don’t meet those things that I mentioned, then they’ll almost certainly be able to get that permanent residency.

DAVID SPEERS: Almost certainly, likely. There’s no decision here?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, it’s like the case with all pathways to permanent residency, though. People come out to Australia all the time, David, on the basis that they know that they take a four-year skilled visa, for example, and it comes with a pathway to permanent residency. This is a very well-known thing within our immigration system.

DAVID SPEERS: More broadly, when it comes to migration, the borders, of course, are shut at the moment. But we do have roughly two million temporary visa holders with work rights in Australia, according to Government figures at the end of March. About 2.5 million Australians looking for work right now, we’re in a recession. When the borders do reopen, will the migration numbers change at all? Will you reduce them at all?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, they’re effectively zero at the moment.

DAVID SPEERS: I’m saying when the borders reopen, will you change the migration numbers?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, it’s very difficult to know when we’ll have the borders fully reopened. So...

DAVID SPEERS: Yeah, when they do, I’m just asking...

ALAN TUDGE: When they do, and you’re making a number of assumptions though here as well, David. Now, for example...

DAVID SPEERS: Well, they’ll open one day.

ALAN TUDGE: Well, they’ll open at some stage. And of course, initially, the numbers are going to be quite small because the speed limit is going to be the quarantining arrangements. But let’s assume that there is a global vaccine which is available, then that might change the equation altogether.

DAVID SPEERS: So what will you do then?

ALAN TUDGE: We haven’t decided upon that yet. Now, we’ve indicated that next year, or the Treasury has forecast that next year migration will be down 85 per cent against what we had forecast previously.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, the borders are closed, so...

ALAN TUDGE: Well, exactly. We’ll update those figures in the October budget, and in the October budget we’ll outline what we expect the migration program to look like for the next financial year.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. So you might lower the migration intake?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, in the October budget we set the cap. Right? We never set a target, we set a cap. So the cap for last financial year, which has just passed, was 160,000. We actually came in...

DAVID SPEERS: But the net overseas migration was 270,000.

ALAN TUDGE: We actually came in at 140,000.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, net overseas was 270,000, because your number doesn’t include temporary visas.

ALAN TUDGE: That’s right. But also you’ve got to remember, and the immigration system is a complex system, but a lot of it is what we call demand-driven. That is that you can only come into the country if, for example, you can’t find an Australian to do the job. Now, if you have high unemployment, then inevitably that demand is going to be lower because there will be Australians available to do the work.

DAVID SPEERS: Yeah, not according to some businesses though. Farmers want fruit pickers, tech industry want IT specialists and so on.


DAVID SPEERS: And they can’t bring them in right now?

ALAN TUDGE: No, they can’t. For the fruit pickers, we’ve already made some arrangements in relation to backpackers and some of the seasonal workers programs already, so that they can stay a bit longer to be able to do the work.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, final issue, refugees. There are nearly 200 refugees in hotels in Melbourne and Brisbane. They’d spent six or seven years at Manus Island and Nauru. They were brought on Medevac to Australia last year, but they’re still in these hotels. What’s the future hold for them? What are you going to do with them?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, they have options today to either return to Nauru or to Papua New Guinea. For some, they’ll have an option to go to the United States. And for some...

DAVID SPEERS: Not all of them, though.

ALAN TUDGE: Not all of them. But for those who have been found not to be refugees, of course, they’ve got the option to return to their home country.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay, but there’s nearly 1,000 that were brought on medical transfer by the Government, who are living in the community. Why these 200 who came on Medevac, why are they still being kept in hotels?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, because there was a very different situation for the people who came in through the Medevac legislation. This was legislation which we did not support because the Government didn’t choose the people who came in. They were chosen on the basis of...

DAVID SPEERS: So are they being punished for that? Is that what’s going on here?

ALAN TUDGE: No, no. In fact, the legislation which Labor and the Greens put up said that the people who come in through the Medevac legislation, in order to get health in Australia, would be in detention. And that when their health situation has improved, that they would return. That’s what the legislation itself says. On top of that, the individuals who came out signed a consent form that precisely that would occur. Now, we know today, 50 per cent of those people have actually had their health cared for. It’s been done and dusted. So it’s now time for them to return, according to...

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. So if they don’t return, if they don’t go back to Nauru and Manus Island, and I’m not sure any of them have suggested they will, they’re going to stay in hotels?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, they’ve got, as I said, you asked me the question: what are their options? And those are their options today.

DAVID SPEERS: But from the Government’s perspective, you’ll keep them in the hotels?

ALAN TUDGE: We’ll keep them in the hotels in detention until they exercise one of those options. And that’s what we want them to do. We’ve always been very clear that people don’t get the right to come permanently into Australia. We were always concerned about this Medevac legislation, that it was a back door way of getting into the country. So the legislation was put forward by Labor and the Greens. Just under 200 people have come in. They’ve had their medical treatment and now it is, under the legislation, right for them to return home.

DAVID SPEERS: All right, Alan Tudge, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks for joining us.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, David.