Friday, 10 July 2020

Interview with Tom Connell – AM Agenda, Sky News

​Subjects: Visa arrangements for Hong Kong, China


TOM CONNELL: I'm joined live by acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge. Thanks very much for your time. What's your response first of all from what we heard there from the Chinese government?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, we're acting in our sovereign national interest Tom. We've always chased talent from around the world, including from Hong Kong. And so the announcements we made yesterday really are an extension of what we've been doing for decades, chasing talent from around the world, chasing businesses and enticing them to come here to Australia. It just so happens that there's greater opportunities now because of the Chinese Communist Party's actions into Hong Kong, people will be looking for other destinations to reside, destinations which are freer, destinations which have democratic principles. And we want the super talent, we want those great businesses to come to Australia.

TOM CONNELL: This is different though, to our normal chasing talent. This has that humanitarian aspect, does it not?

ALAN TUDGE: It's very much focused on high skilled people, on students and on businesses who have regional headquarters in Hong Kong. And, so really utilising the existing pathways, but just with some additional incentives. For example, we've put some additional incentives already which we've announced in relation to try to entice some of these regionally based businesses who are presently domiciled in Hong Kong. We're doing that through saying that we'll actually organise visas for all the critical staff with pathways to permanent residency for them. And we'll be announcing in the next few weeks some economic incentives to do that as well.

TOM CONNELL: There's already talk of a trade backlash. If that happens, ist that just the price for being on the right side of history?

ALAN TUDGE: Well our measures Tom, the things which we have announced, they're measured, they're proportionate, they are consistent with like-minded countries, and they're very much in our national interests. I mean, you know, it was the right thing to do to call for an international inquiry into the genesis of the coronavirus; it was the right thing to do yesterday, to say that we'll no longer have the extradition treaty, which puts at risk Australians to be extradited back to Hong Kong. And it's the right thing to do, as we’ve always done to try to get super talent to come to this country, I mean, that's part of what Australia's always been about.

TOM CONNELL: But has the Australian Government weighed up and factored in that prospect of a trade backlash before going ahead with this?

ALAN TUDGE: Well we have a good trading relationship with China Tom as you know. And that relationship is in both countries interests – it's not just in Australia's interests, it's also in China's interests and that trade relationship will continue. Of course there's going to be some arguments from time to time, as there has been over last 18 months in relation to barley and other things, which we just sensibly work through. But, what we've announced to date, they are measured, they are proportionate, and other like-minded countries are similarly taking such actions.

TOM CONNELL: But I mean, if there is some sort of trade implication, that's not going to take you by surprise, is it?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, I mean, we’ve - as people know, there's been some disputes in relation to barley for 18 months now, which we've sensibly been working through. Those things come up from time to time. But, what we're doing already and announcing are sensible things, which we've announced, and are proportionate and we have to act in our sovereign interests. What China does will be up to them.

TOM CONNELL: Addressing the changes themselves, so the five-year extension to all Hong Kongers on certain visas in Australia at the moment, does that just happen automatically? No action needed?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, that's right. So they'll have to make an application, but it's a guaranteed application for those students.

TOM CONNELL: Right. And we're talking about students, graduates and skilled workers. Was there any discussion about some sort of humanitarian or safe haven visa?

ALAN TUDGE: Well people can already access the humanitarian visa. I mean that's available to any person from any country in the world who face persecution. And indeed, there have been applications from Hong Kong passport holders for those visas…

TOM CONNELL: [Talks over] But in terms of special application, if you like, like you know, we looked at what happened in Syria. Was there any discussion about a set allocation for Hong Kongers in that regard?

ALAN TUDGE: What we've announced is special measures for talented people, for businesses, for students. And if people are facing persecution or they believe they do so, they will qualify for those humanitarian visas. And obviously, we have a cap of 18,750 in that category, and at the moment we're not taking any in so there is capacity within that category.

TOM CONNELL: Right. But it's a zero sum game obviously considering that this situation could get worse. Is that prospect on the table that there could be a humanitarian or a safe haven visa, a special one for Hong Kongers down the track?

ALAN TUDGE: We've announced what we've announced Tom, which is an extension of what we always do – chase talent from around the world, chase great businesses from around the world and try to get them to come to our shores, because that's in our interests fundamentally because the great talent are job creators for Australians. You know, you bring a business which is an international business presently which is headquartered, has their regional headquarters in Hong Kong, you bring them to Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or wherever, that creates jobs and wealth for Australians too. That's what these measures are about and they're an extension of what we have been doing for decades.

TOM CONNELL: The humanitarian intake you mentioned, the annual one of 18,000 a year, we could have the prospect that for an entire year, none are taken because our borders are up. What would happen then? Would we take double the intake the next year so the overall number we're taking is unaffected?

ALAN TUDGE: Yeah, it's a hypothetical question there. We'll outline what our immigration program looks like for, effectively for this financial year, in the Budget, which as you know has been deferred until October. So, that will have a refugee component just as it will have other components. But, we're not in the position yet to be able to detail that.​ And listen, it's obviously evolving as well in terms of what what's occurring in terms of can the borders be more open, even for things like international students where we want to get some, at least some, pilots up and running.

TOM CONNELL: Yeah. Are you conscious of that though? That, I mean, the humanitarian situation doesn't go away while coronavirus is around. That Australia would want to be able to continue its take- intake of people on those visas and that could mean that you need to have more in one given year to make up for a previous one?

ALAN TUDGE: We'll just- we'll get to that stage if and when we have to get to that time. But, we have people who make applications both from offshore, but we also have people who make applications onshore as well. In fact we have a lot of applications onshore as well for those humanitarian visas. Now, they've been important and it's been a great contribution to the international efforts in relation to refugees. But right now, we're not taking anybody into the country as you know.

TOM CONNELL: And just finally, the businesses you spoke about that might relocate. What types of businesses do you think could be interested in doing that?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, our particular target will be those export oriented businesses, and particularly those who have their regional headquarters presently in Hong Kong. And there's about a thousand internationally owned businesses who do have their regional headquarters in Hong Kong. And there's already been media companies, financial services companies, consulting firms who have indicated in the media that they are looking elsewhere to locate their regional headquarters. So, we would like them to come to Australia, and so we want to make it attractive for them to consider Australia and- but obviously, other countries and other cities will be fighting for those regional headquarters as well.

​TOM CONNELL: Alan Tudge, appreciate your time this morning thank you.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much Tom.