The Australian government is facing new calls to offer greater assistance to the people of Hong Kong, and only 3,000 have benefited from visa concessions granted six months ago.
The push for Australia to do more comes after Hong Kong police arrested more than 50 people, including politicians and pro-democracy activists, in morning raids on Wednesday.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in July that the government would allow several Hong Kong visa holders to stay in the country for an additional five years and then offer them a path to permanent residence. But the Coalition failed to create a special humanitarian gate for Hong Kong residents who feared persecution under Beijing’s comprehensive new national security law.
The Australian government had also promised to attract Hong Kong’s “best and brightest” through its global talent and business innovation and investment programs.
New figures released to Guardian Australia show that 2,584 Hong Kong passport holders have had their Australian visa extended. According to the department of home affairs, in the last six months of 2020, there were 586 visa applications for business innovation and investment programs from Hong Kong citizens.
“The department is currently prioritizing processing for business innovation and investment visa applications, with the highest priority being given to those in the flow of major investors,” the department said. “Priority processing is not assigned based on citizenship.”
At the time of the July announcement, the government said nearly 10,000 Hong Kong temporary student, graduate and qualified visa holders in Australia would be eligible for the special arrangements, along with another 2,500 people outside Australia and 1,250 applications available.
Fears about a crackdown on civil rights in Hong Kong intensified this week with the arrest of the 53 people. Accused of “subverting state power” by holding primaries for pro-democracy candidates in the Hong Kong elections.
Liberal New South Wales Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, a longtime China hawk, responded to the mass arrests in Hong Kong this week by saying “I’m not surprised Beijing is taking advantage” of global political turmoil. .
Fierravanti-Wells called on the Australian government and its security agencies to protect people living in Australia who may be vulnerable to pressure due to family members in Hong Kong.
“What worries me the most is that the communist regime will put pressure on Australians of Chinese descent, more particularly those with extended families in Hong Kong,” he told Guardian Australia.
“Our government must ensure that their democratic rights are protected; our security agencies have a lot of work to do ”.
The Australian Greens called on the Morrison government to “, as an absolute minimum and as a first step, grant permanent protection to all Hong Kong people currently residing in Australia.”
“Morrison’s half-measure leaves Hong Kong residents with a five-year reprieve, offering no assurance that they can make Australia their home permanently,” said Greens foreign affairs spokeswoman Janet Rice.
“Hong Kong’s political refugees need a Hawke, but in Scott Morrison they have a Howard.”
Rice was referring to then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s decision after the Tiananmen Square massacre to extend all temporary entry permits for Chinese citizens legally in Australia for 12 months, with labor rights and financial assistance. Finally, 42,000 received permanent visas.
The Victorian Greens senator said Australia needed to offer “a path to permanent residence, with access to all the social security Australia has to offer, including access to Medicare, the right to work and income support.”
“This must be done in conjunction with full compliance with our obligations under the Refugee Convention for anyone arriving in Australia seeking asylum,” Rice said.
“Anything less stops people from accessing protection and kicks the road for people who challenge the journey here. Hong Kong’s political activists deserve better. “
The comments follow calls by South Australian independent senator Rex Patrick for the Morrison government to broaden its immigration criteria to increase the eligibility of Hong Kong residents to migrate to Australia “as soon as the limits are lowered. Covid input “.
Patrick said the time had come for Australia to extend the visa changes to apply to all passport holders of British overseas citizens in Hong Kong and their dependents, subject to normal security checks and other checks.
“China’s demolition of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong is accelerating,” Patrick said.
“Under these circumstances, Australia must open our doors wider to give our friends in Hong Kong refuge, security and full opportunity to enjoy democratic freedoms.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a cautious statement on Wednesday in which she said Australia was “concerned by reports” of the arrests, renewing “concerns that national security law is eroding autonomy, principles Hong Kong Democrats and the Rule of Law “.
With Sino-Australian relations already tense, any additional offer to Hong Kong is likely to draw further anger from Beijing. In July, China accused Australia of “serious interference” over its visa offer and for suspending an extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism