Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the suspension of Australia’s extradition agreement with Hong Kong, after China imposed new national security laws in the former colony.
Australia will also make it easier for Hong Kong residents who want to move here.
Mr Morrison’s announcement came just an hour after the government issued a travel warning urging Australians to avoid Hong Kong because of the “vaguely defined national security” reforms.
Mr Morrison said the decision to suspend the extradition deal was made because of the far-reaching national security laws introduced by China, which impose harsh penalties on pro-democracy protesters. He said the laws represented “a fundamental change of circumstances” that “undermines” Hong Kong’s basic law.
“We have formally notified Hong Kong and advised the Chinese authorities,” Mr Morrison said.
The Hong Kong laws allow for criminal cases in the former British colony to be transferred to mainland China, and possible life in prison for crimes such as subversion or secession.
It had been speculated the federal government might offer a special refugee deal to Hong Kongers expected to flee the new laws. Instead, the PM announced an extension for student and work visas for Hong Kong residents already in Australia.
The government will also offer a “pathway” to permanent residency and incentives for Hong Kong businesses to relocate.
“We will be extending visas by five years from today, with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of those five years,” Mr Morrison said.
— PM&C (@pmc_gov_au) July 9, 2020
Current and future students will be able to stay in Australia for up to five years, while the same will apply for temporary visa holders.
There will also be a five-year visa and the option of permanent residency for skilled workers, who meet labour market testing requirements and qualify under skills lists. Hong Kongers will be encouraged to live, work and study in regional Australia.
Mr Morrison said the government was “not expecting large numbers of applicants”, saying there were about 10,000 Hong Kongers in Australia, and another 2500 outside Australia, who would be eligible to apply.
The PM said people could also apply to be resettled in Australia through regular refugee channels.
“We will also look at new incentives and arrangements to attract export-orientated Hong Kong-based businesses to relocate to Australia, particularly where they have a strong potential for future growth and employment of Australians,” the PM said.
Acting immigration minister Alan Tudge said the hope was that some international businesses with headquarters in Hong Kong might consider relocating.
“We want them to look to Australia, to come to, and set up shop. And so we’ll be developing incentives for them to do so,” he said, calling it “a great opportunity for Australia”.
“There is so much talent in Hong Kong. There are great businesses in Hong Kong. And we know that many individuals now might be looking elsewhere, because they do want to be in a freer country, they want to be in a democratic country.”
We’ve reissued our travel advice for #HongKong with information about the new security laws and the risks to Australians. If you’re concerned about the new law, consider carefully the risks of staying in Hong Kong. Advice level has not changed. More info: https://t.co/VmjhEXM2zR
— Smartraveller (@Smartraveller) July 9, 2020
The announcement came an hour after DFAT warned Australians about the new Hong Kong laws, and just a day after authorities said Australians might face arbitrary detention in mainland China.
During the pandemic, Australians are largely banned from travelling overseas without government permission, but DFAT said people already in Hong Kong to “reconsider your need to remain” there.
“The new national security legislation for Hong Kong could be interpreted broadly. Under the law, you could be deported or face possible transfer to mainland China for prosecution under mainland law,” the Hong Kong travel warning read.
“The full extent of the law and how it will be applied is not yet clear.”
The advisory warns that people in Hong Kong might be at risk of arrest.
“You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds. You could break the law without intending to,” the warning continued.
“If you’re concerned about the new law, reconsider your need to remain in Hong Kong.”