Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

09 Jul 2020
Australian Parliament House, ACT
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Good afternoon. I’m pleased to be joined by the Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge today. But before we go to today’s announcement regarding matters in Hong Kong, let me make a couple of comments about the continuing situation in Victoria. 

Again, I want to thank all Melburnians, all Victorians, for your patience and those who live in the border towns along the New South Wales-Victoria border, I want to thank you for your patience in managing what has, I'm sure, been a very disruptive last few days. What we're calling for across Victoria, particularly in Melbourne but along those border town areas as well, is continuing patience as issues settle in terms of the arrangements that are in place for movement of people necessarily across those borders, dealing with freight movements, things of that nature. I've spoken to the Victorian Premier again today. Around about 25,000, on average, tests are being done every day in Victoria, and particularly obviously in those key areas in Melbourne. That is an industrial scale of testing, which is an essential part of dealing with the outbreak in Victoria, and the Premier obviously will make further comments today about the situation as it sits presently. 

But I do want to thank Victorians for how they're responding, and thank them for their continued patience. They know the drill. We all know the drill when it comes to social distancing, making sure we wash our hands, and download the COVIDSafe app, and all of the necessary parts of staying safe, COVID-safe, in the community. And I'd say more broadly across the country that we must guard against complacency, that we must continue to follow those social distancing protocols all around Australia, even in states or territories where the number of cases is effectively zero. Please don't think that any of the states or territories are immune. And if there were to be issues that presented in any of those states and territories, the best defence that we have, especially in the first instance, is that all citizens, all residents right across the country, are continuing to practise the appropriate social distancing and other measures. We've seen the images in many parts of the country where I think we are seeing some of that lapse. And it's important, because we do not want to see the situation in Victoria repeated in any other part of the country. 

The National Cabinet will meet tomorrow and obviously go over these issues once again. And so I'd thank all of those, particularly around border towns, as the New South Wales Premier has been stressing today to stay away from those border towns, if that is something you can do and exercise that discretion, exercise that judgement. That would include for family gatherings or things of that nature. I think it will assist everybody else who's involved in managing the border there, if they don't have additional pressure or additional demand on them, that will certainly help them do their job and it will make the circumstances for those in those border towns less stressing. Although, no doubt, it will continue to be stressing for some days yet. So, a thank you again to everyone in Victoria and a reminder to everyone else around the country against complacency, to stay on our guard, to be patient and to be conscientious.

The purpose of being here today, though, is to make a number of announcements that have been considered and agreed by the National Security Committee of Cabinet and, indeed, by the Cabinet earlier this week. Firstly, let me say that our Government, together with other governments around the world, have been very consistent in expressing our concerns about the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong. Today we have agreed to announce that that national security law constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances in respect to our extradition agreement with Hong Kong and so Australia today has taken steps to suspend our extradition agreement. We have formally notified Hong Kong and advised the Chinese authorities. I also note that our travel advice for Hong Kong has been updated, and we'd encourage Australians to refer to that travel advice. 

The other issue that we are addressing is one that, as a result of changes that have occurred in Hong Kong, that there will be citizens of Hong Kong who may be looking to move elsewhere, to start a new life somewhere else, to take their skills, their businesses and things that they have been running under the previous set of rules and arrangements in Hong Kong, and seek that opportunity elsewhere. Australia has always been a very welcoming country to such people from all around the world, and our immigration system is the best in the world. It has the best controls, it has the best targeting, it has the best focus, and immigration as a result has been a pillar of the strength of our nation, not just our economy but our society as well. We are a great immigration nation. I would argue we are the best. And many countries have learned from our success in managing immigration in the national interest, and we will continue to do that. But our immigration program provides some particular opportunities for those who have been living as citizens in Hong Kong, and around 10,000, or thereabouts, of Hong Kong citizens and residents are currently in Australia on student visas or on temporary work visas. 

What we've agreed to do is we've agreed to adjust the policy settings to ensure that for skilled and graduate visa holders, we will be extending visas by five years from today, with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of those five years. Now, that means if you're a current or future student, you'll be able to stay for a total of five years once you've graduated with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period. Now, if you're a temporary graduate or skilled visa holder, your visa will be extended to provide an additional five years from today, in addition to the time you've already been in Australia with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period. And we will also provide a five year visa with a pathway to permanent residency for future Hong Kong applicants for temporary skilled visas, subject to meeting an updated skills list and appropriate labour market testing. We will also put arrangements in place to ensure we focus on Hong Kong applicants to study and work in regional areas, to help address skills shortages in those areas, with express pathways to permanent residency, as already applies after three years. And 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. 

So, for existing temporary work visa holders, student visa holders, and graduate student visa holders, they can be here for five years. Five years. And that is an extension from their existing arrangements that they would have now. Some of them would be some way into their current visa, they're already here - another five years. Those who are looking to the end of their study and they would normally get two years, that will be extended to five years. And the other part is, of course, through our global talent program, to be working with states and territories, and I'll be discussing this with states and territories tomorrow at National Cabinet, at ways where if there are businesses that wish to relocate to Australia, creating jobs, bringing investment, creating opportunities for Australia, then we will be very proactive in seeking to encourage that and to see that business activity, those jobs, created here in Australia. 

Now, I want to stress that we are not expecting large numbers of applicants in any time soon. What we have in place is the normal application mechanisms for these visas. The same rules apply to getting a student visa, the same rules apply to getting a temporary work visa. The same market testing restrictions are in place in terms of labour market testing for the awarding of temporary skilled visas. All of that remains the same. What we are doing is extending the opportunity for those visas out to five years in total and looking to recruit, if you like, other businesses that may become footloose as a result of the changes that have occurred in Hong Kong. And I imagine that there will be many other countries in the region and around the world that would indeed be seeking to attract those businesses to Australia and talented applicants as well, as they make their own decisions about where they wish to live in the future. Australia will be part of that group of countries which will be both encouraging, welcoming, and taking steps to ensure we're actively engaged. And so with that I'll hand it over to the Acting Minister for Immigration and many other things, Alan Tudge, and ask you to go through the details. Thank you.

The Hon. Alan Tudge MP, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs: Well, thanks very much, Prime Minister. As you'd be aware, Hong Kong has immense global talent and great businesses there, and we want to attract more of them to Australia. Because that will generate more wealth and more jobs for Australians. Now, we already do very well in terms of attracting people from Hong Kong, but today we're outlining some further opportunities for skilled people, for entrepreneurs, for significant investors, and for businesses to come to our country. Let me go through some of the specific measures which the PM has touched on. First up, in relation to students, so the current and future students from Hong Kong will be eligible for a five year temporary graduate visa on the successful conclusion of their studies and that will come with a pathway for permanent residency. So, former students who are already on a graduate visa will have up to five years from now as well. Now, students who decide to study at a regional campus will be able to continue with the current regime, where they can get permanent residency after three years. 

In relation to temporary skilled visas, current temporary skilled visa holders from Hong Kong who are in Australia at the moment will be eligible for an additional five years in Australia, with a pathway to permanent residency at the end of that period. And that is about 600 people in Australia at the moment, not a huge number. Future Hong Kong applicants for temporary skilled visas will also be eligible for a five year visa, provided they meet existing criteria. Now, that is that you must fit with one of the skills shortage criteria, and that list will be updated shortly and it's going to be a significantly reduced list compared to what it is today. Of course, there will need to be labour market testing as well from the sponsoring employer to prove that they are unable to find an Australian to do the job. Of course, a person can also qualify through the global talent temporary visa scheme, which is where we really target the exceptionally talented people, particularly in the IT fields, to come here on a temporary basis, if the employer particularly is willing to pay above the high-income threshold. These future temporary skilled visa holders will also have a pathway to permanent residency after five years. Now, in relation to, you know, what I call the super talent, of which there are many in Hong Kong, we started the Global Talent Scheme Visa not that long ago, with the idea of providing a permanent residency visa for the absolute super global talent. And we certainly know that there is some of that talent in Hong Kong, and we will be continuing with our program there, but we'll be prioritising applicants from Hong Kong for that scheme and providing some additional resources there as well to target those particular individuals who are real job-multiplying people, who create businesses, who are entrepreneurs, who have that tech talent that the world is looking for, frankly. And they will then have a permanent residency visa to enable them to come into the country. That will be the same as well for our Business Investment Programs as well, where again we'll be prioritising some of the applicants from Hong Kong to come into Australia. Same criteria still applies for those applicants. But they'll get priority if they're applying from Hong Kong. We'll also be supporting future applications, we'll be reopening the visa application centre in Hong Kong, which was shut down during the COVID-19, at the beginning of the COVID-19 period. 

Finally, just in relation to attracting businesses from Hong Kong. As the PM mentioned, we believe developing new incentives for export-oriented Hong Kong-based businesses to relocate to Australia. And with these economic incentives will also be visa pathways for all critical staff to come to Australia and have a pathway to permanent residency. Now, we know that there are over 1,000 international businesses who have their regional headquarters presently in Hong Kong and we also know that many have already signalled that they're looking to relocate elsewhere in the world. And this includes media businesses, financial services businesses, large consulting businesses, which have already signalled that they're looking elsewhere. And 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, but with that a package of visas as well, so that all the critical staff can come and potentially relocate in one of our cities or a region, and be able to get pathways to permanent residency. So, that, I think, is a great opportunity for Australia. These companies will be looking elsewhere, so we'll need to be competitive, but that's what we're going to be looking at and developing those incentives over the next period, the next few weeks. 

Just let me repeat again - 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, and we want to make it attractive for that super talent to consider Australia and that's what these measures do.

Prime Minister: Thank you, Alan. I should also stress that the refugee and humanitarian stream remains available for those who are seeking to apply through that channel and that is available to people all around the world. What we're announcing here today relates to the existing components of our immigration program and this will all be accommodated very comfortably within the existing caps that we have on the overall level of visas for permanent residency into Australia. And that is particularly the case because of the significant decline in intake that has occurred because of COVID, and we don't expect that to change quickly and so there is ample room. But I want to stress again that this is being done with continued strong labour market testing, and this is about creating jobs in Australia.

Journalist: Prime Minister, [Inaudible] visa arrangements, critically also the suspension of the extradition agreement. What statement is the Australian Government making about China's adherence to One Country, Two Systems principles? And if it is a system fundamentally defunct now, where does that leave other agreements with an autonomous Hong Kong, even the free trade agreement?

Prime Minister: Well, our decision to suspend the extradition agreement with Hong Kong represents an acknowledgement of the fundamental change of circumstances in relation to Hong Kong because of the new security law. Which, in our view - and this is not just our view, this is, I'd say, a shared view of many countries - of that it undermines the One Country, Two Systems framework, and Hong Kong's own basic law and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was set out there. And that is a matter of public record from Australia's point of view. What we are announcing here today, both with the extradition agreement, there's an update to our travel advice, but in particular what we're doing here in the visa arrangements is recognising that that has taken place. And so Australia is adjusting its laws, our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration program, things that we have responsibility for and jurisdiction over, to reflect the changes that we're seeing take place there.

Journalist: Prime Minister, do you expect this is going to put any extra pressure on international arrivals? I know yesterday you were saying there's not a good case for any redistribution of arrivals from WA to other states. Will WA see more arrivals, not less? Or are you considering, you know, the prioritisation of those who are overseas, maybe people who couldn’t come back three, four months ago are going to have to wait a lot longer to do so in the future to start taking that pressure off states, regarding those international arrivals?

Prime Minister: Well, I'll be doing exactly what I said I was going to do yesterday. Tomorrow I will be taking to National Cabinet a proposal that would ease the pressure on our points of entry, whether that's in Sydney or Perth or Brisbane or Adelaide, in particular. Those four ports are the ones that are taking the majority - or all, I should say - of those returning Australians. New South Wales, by far and away the most. And all of this will be accommodated within those restrictions. And we are not anticipating a surge of arrivals as a result of this. I mean, the decision to relocate your life, your business, where you're going to study as a new applicant is a significant decision. It's not something that I'm sure people would do overnight. The most significant impact of the decisions we've made today are for those around 10,000 people who are already in Australia, they're already here, they're studying, they're working, they're part of our community. They won't add one additional person to the population of Australia because they're already here. There's about, I think, 3,000, or thereabouts, Alan, about 3,500, who are existing visa holders in the areas I've noted, and the Minister has noted, who are currently outside of Australia. And they would be able to return to Australia under those visas, under the normal arrangements, and that is within the restrictions that we've put in place.

Journalist: The situation in Melbourne, how concerned are you that people are avoiding having virus tests because they can't afford not to work while they wait for the results? And what consideration is your Government giving to paid pandemic leave?

Prime Minister: Well, we've put in place JobKeeper, we've provided JobSeeker. These are the supports that the Government has provided, which are at record levels. This country has never seen a level of income support provided by a federal government like they're seeing now. And we will continue to provide that. I mean, during the course particularly of these next six weeks, that is entirely within the current set of arrangements for JobSeeker and for JobKeeper. And so that support will continue. And the support for placement, the Victorian Government has also put some arrangements in place to support other members of the community, as other states have. And this is a shared responsibility and the Commonwealth is certainly doing overwhelmingly its share of the heavy lifting in providing income support to people all around the country.

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister: No, I’ve answered the question.

Journalist: Prime Minister, just back on Hong Kong, I know you're obviously saying you expect low numbers to begin with. Have there been any projections on how many people you are expecting, based on recent visa applications, inquiries into the consulate in Hong Kong? Are we talking about hundreds rather than thousands?

Prime Minister: Well, I'll let the Minister respond. You shouldn't draw any, I suspect, parallels between what Australia is announcing here than with what you would have seen announced in the UK, for example. The UK has a very special relationship with Hong Kong and a very special set of responsibilities. And they're talking about numbers which are not in contemplation in Australia. We're not seeing anything along those lines. As I say, most of the changes will impact on those who are already here in Australia. And at this stage, having just announced it, there's no indication, obviously, as of yet, about the level of interest. But I would be very confident that it will be able to be accommodated within a reasonable, whether it's in the hundreds, or we’re certainly not talking about tens of thousands, or anything of that nature. We're talking at a modest level I would have thought. And if it were to ramp up over time then we would make whatever adjustments we had to ensure that that could be accommodated and absorbed. Alan?

The Hon. Alan Tudge MP, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs: I’d just add further to that, I mean in a typical financial year, we would have about 4,000 people from Hong Kong who would arrive, and about 3,000 of those would be students, and about a thousand who would be in the temporary skilled or graduate visa - or temporary skilled categories. Is this going to change markedly? It's difficult to say. But obviously the limit is still going to be on the quarantining arrangements here. I mean, the students aren't coming into the country until we've got those situations opened up. We've had the pilots, et cetera. But it also points out that these aren't things which will happen overnight, because you have to put in your application, that needs to be processed, you need to get your affairs in order. For a permanent residency visa, that often takes 6-9 months. For a temporary visa, that's sometimes shortened. But I think you're talking in the hundreds or low thousands rather than the figures which the PM mentioned.

Journalist: Prime Minister, has Australia basically made a judgement that it no longer believes the citizens of its largest trading partner are safe? Are you prepared for further trade strikes and retaliation from Beijing in response to this?

Prime Minister: Well, I don't agree with your assessment of the nature of the travel advices that have been provided. I'll let the travel advice speak for itself, rather than it be editorialised on. And those are matters entirely for the Chinese Communist Party Government. They're not matters for Australia. We will make decisions about what's in our interests, and we will make decisions about our laws and our advisories, and we will do that rationally and soberly and consistently. And that's exactly what we've done, and we will continue to do that on that basis.

Journalist: In regards to Victoria, there are growing claims that the Victorian Government chose to use security guards to guard hotels in order to cosy up to unions. Can I ask you what your thoughts are in regards to that? And also the idea that some of the democratic principles in Victoria seem to be under threat, with the Labor Party taking control of the state wing down there and not necessarily telling voters which minister is responsible for what's happened? Does that concern you?

Prime Minister: Well, my practice in relation to what's been happening in Victoria is the same that I've applied in other states when they've had troubles. I haven't seen myself as a commentator on those state governments. I've seen myself simply seeking to help them deal with the problems that they've had. And there have been challenges in other states before Victoria, admittedly not as significant as this. But I'd never found it terribly helpful to get into a commentary on those state governments. It was much better, I think, for me and my Government just to provide them every support we can. Now, I can understand that many, many people in Victoria will be feeling very frustrated at the moment, and many are very angry and I'm aware of where they're directing that frustration and anger. But it won't help the situation if I were to engage in any of that. I have a good working relationship with the Victorian Government and it's our job just to work together to solve this and to get on top of it and we'll continue to apply our resources to that end. Now, as is a matter of public record, the Commonwealth has made available the offer, consistently, about ADF support in Victoria to assist with any of the tasks, which included quarantine, if that was what they wished. But ultimately state governments have got to make decisions about how they want to use those resources and deploy those resources and, of course, they're accountable for the decisions that they make, and who they contract to do the job is a matter for them. And they've got to explain those decisions in their jurisdiction, like I have to explain the decisions I make in ours. Sorry, one at a time.

Journalist: Prime Minister, the announcement mostly focuses on people already here in Australia. But for those future applicants, do you expect any countermeasures from China that might make it difficult for those people to come to Australia to take up that offer? In effect, preventing or making it harder for people to leave Hong Kong to take up this offer?

Prime Minister: Well, I don't. But if that were to occur, that would be very disappointing.

Journalist: Home lending figures came out today. Huge plunge, double-digit plunge. This is a time with record low interest rates as well. We've also seen a couple of months of sliding house prices. Do you have any concerns about the housing market? And what can the Government do to avoid a house price collapse?

Prime Minister: Well, the thing about the Australian housing market is that demand has always outstripped supply, particularly in those markets which have been most heated and we're talking largely about the eastern seaboard markets there. I mean, the situation in Perth and Adelaide has been a bit different. But even down in Hobart more recently, we've seen an undersupply of housing and oversupply of demand. And that has always been what's driven the housing market. It hasn't been driven by speculative investor bubbles or speculative credit, things like that, which we've seen occur in other countries. And I think one of the problems about the commentary about the housing market is too often the analysis has appropriated the conditions of other places and applied them to Australia and that application has been completely misguided. Of course you're going to see a resistance, a concern amongst consumers during the times we're experiencing right now. It would be surprising if we did not see that. But I think, fundamentally, the structural position of the housing markets in Australia would tell a far more stronger tale in terms of their resilience. That's why I welcomed particularly yesterday the decisions by the banks to be able to continue to roll over and defer payments in relation to debts. That's important. That's one of the many changes that have been important to date and will be important later in the year and we're working through very similar issues. So, I think it would be presumptive, or a little premature is probably the better word, to be making medium or even short-term forecasts about the Australian property market at the moment. I think we'll see issues work their way through, and this is why it's important that we continue to deal with these crises as a dual, two, that is, economic and health. Getting on top of the health supports, the economic performance and vice versa. And that's why around the rest of the country, which isn't in isolation, it's important that we continue to open up our economies between states and the trade and commerce that takes place between states and territories, because that's how the jobs come back. The jobs come back, then the strength of markets, particularly housing markets, are supported by that. I'm encouraged that in the housing markets, in particular, that those who have taken advantage of the opportunity to draw down on their super balances, I'm advised by the banks that many have actually put it into their mortgages to improve their resilience with their mortgage and in the housing market. And that strikes me as a fairly common-sense thing to do.

Journalist: Prime Minister, Greg Hunt has said that seven out of the eight states and territories have done hotel quarantine well. So, why is there the need to ease that pressure on the system? How low do you think the cap on arrivals should go? And how will it be allocated?

Prime Minister: Well, I'll be discussing those matters with the National Cabinet tomorrow.

Journalist: Prime Minister, have you had discussions with the ACT about getting Victorian MPs and staffers and ministers into the ACT? Are we going see ministers moving here to get around the border closures?

Prime Minister: Look, it's still early days today, but I'm pleased that the ACT Government enabled my colleague to join me here today, under quite strict conditions. And I appreciate Andrew Barr’s and the Chief Health Officer here in the ACT's practical management of those issues. But there are still many more to manage. Parliament doesn't return until August, so there's a bit to sort out between now and then. So, we'll deal with those issues carefully and there is an engagement between the Parliament and the ACT Government about how those issues will be managed for the return of Parliament. And, indeed, for ministers, some ministers were already here when the decision was taken in relation to Victoria. But their families are in Victoria, so there will need to be, I think, some practical arrangements put in place. I can tell you they'll all be well-behaved and will follow the rules, as you would expect, just as Minister Tudge has today. Thank you all very much.