09 July 2020
SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: First, I want to go to the situation in Hong Kong and the announcement by Mr Morrison today.
I want to start by just reiterating that we on the Labor Party side have been raising concerns about the situation in Hong Kong for some time. We have consistently said that the One Country, Two Systems arrangement needed to be observed.
This, of course, is the arrangement to which China and the UK, but Beijing committed to under the UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration.
That declaration guaranteed a high degree of autonomy and fundamental rights to assembly, association and free press.
Now, we know over a period of time, the principles and the rights in that declaration have been eroded. This has culminated in the passage of recent national security legislation by China.
As a consequence, Labor has been calling for some time for the Government to look to extending existing visa arrangements, to assist the people of Hong Kong.
We have said that the many thousands of Hongkongers in Australia should not be deported. We have said that helping the people of Hong Kong is the right to do.
All Australians have been deeply disturbed by the developments in Hong Kong, and we want to ensure, that we have appropriate arrangements in place.
I want to make clear Labor’s position is that the Government should ensure that no Hongkonger in Australia is involuntarily deported.
I have seen Mr Morrison's announcement and I’d make a few comments about it.
As usual, what Mr Morrison has delivered falls far short of what he has promised.
I have seen some commentary comparing Mr Morrison to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Well, we know Mr Morrison is no Bob Hawke and he confirmed that again today.
What he has delivered falls far short of what he has promised, when he said he would offer safe haven to the people of Hong Kong.
It is not clear from the Government 's announcement the extent to which these arrangements will be more broadly available to the people of Hong Kong.
Family reunion is not clear, there are still many people who are ineligible for the pathways proposed and I would urge the Government to clarify this urgently.
Nevertheless, Labor does support what the Government has announced today. It is consistent with what Kristina Keneally and I have been calling for, for over a month.
I also want to refer to the extradition treaty with Hong Kong. People may recall there was a long discussion in Australia about the China extradition treaty some years ago, with the Coalition Government wanting to enter an extradition treaty with China. That was opposed by the Labor Party and some Coalition backbenchers.
We are also of the view, as was flagged yesterday by our Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, that the situation in Hong Kong, given the passage of the national security legislation, did require the Government to reconsider, the existing Hong Kong extradition treaty.
So, therefore, given today's announcement is consistent with what Labor was calling for the Government to do yesterday, we also welcome the Government 's decision in relation to the extradition treaty.
I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: The cohort which you say is ineligible, is that people currently residing in Australia?
WONG: I'm not clear from the Government 's announcement precisely who is eligible. Obviously, it was a very broad, sweeping statement by the Prime Minister, by Mr Morrison.
I would urge the Government to provide more details, both for the people who are here but also for those family members of people who are in Australia.
Obviously, there are also logistical issues, given the borders are closed, about how these arrangements would, in fact, be made available.
JOURNALIST: So are you saying you’d like to see this offer extended to relatives of people who are living in Australia but who are not necessarily still in Hong Kong?
WONG: Those are matters for the Government. I am making two points: one is, there is a lack of clarity in the announcement, but I think the more important point is it falls well short of what Mr Morrison himself flagged some days ago.
JOURNALIST: Do you think this is going to anger China?
WONG: I understand this is a sensitive issue. I understand that China has a view about this national security legislation which differs from Australia. We shouldn’t shy away from that difference.
We have a different view about the importance of, the One Country, Two Systems, we have a different view about the commitments made under that Sino-British Joint Declaration and we have consistently, across both parties made that view clear.
JOURNALIST: Can you describe what you mean by ensuring no Hongkonger is involuntarily deported?
WONG: There are quite a number of Hongkongers in Australia. I think some 17,000 was the number Kristina Keneally and I referenced in our release a few years ago.
We want to make sure that those Hongkongers are not required to return to Hong Kong at this point.
JOURNALIST: We have obviously different views to China. What do you think are the likely ramifications of this decision on Australia?
WONG: I’m not going to speculate about that because I don’t think that’s helpful.
I’ve made very clear for some time now, we are in a new phase in our relationship with China. China is a very important trading partner. China is a very important nation, in terms of our region and the world.
There are issues on which we have different views, and it is important that Australia is very clear about the differences we have. When it comes to One Country, Two Systems, I think we have had a very clear and different view for some time.
JOURNALIST: What would satisfy you in terms of Australia being a safe haven?
WONG: I thank the Government should give greater clarity to what arrangements are in place.
I’d again make a point; the view that the Labor Party put some weeks ago was we should extend existing visa classes.
It is the Prime Minister 's own words, that he has failed to deliver on.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned that our relationship with China is different now, and I think it’d be fair to say slightly more tense. Do you think this is going to inflame tensions even further?
WONG: Again, I think that is the same question you asked me and I don't intend to speculate on that.
But you are right. China’s view on these issues in relation to Hong Kong differs from Australia’s.
But we ought not take a backward step in putting our view about the importance of international law and the importance of the commitment which was made to the people of Hong Kong, and the international community, under the One Country, Two Systems arrangement by China.
JOURNALIST: The numbers in the ABC online story, I think it’s about 12,000 Hongkongers with visas in Australia that are eligible to get the 5-year extension. That would leave a margin of 5,000 on your numbers wouldn’t it?
WONG: We are not the Government. The Government should explain the difference in those figures and the Government should explain what plans it has in place for those people from Hong Kong who are already in Australia. Is its intention to require a number of them to return? I think that would be problematic.
JOURNALIST: Given that changing relationship, is Scott Morrison doing the right thing by making this decision?
WONG: I have said we support this decision. It is consistent with what Labor has been calling for.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t it time for Australia to step up and respond to how China is becoming much more strident?
WONG: I have said for some time, China has become more assertive in our region and globally and we need to be very clear about our interests.
We need to continue to engage but we also need to be clear about where our interests differ.
I think on Hong Kong, Labor has been consistent on that.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, you’re saying there is a cohort of Visa holders from Hong Kong…
WONG: I am raising the question. I am not in Government.
JOURNALIST: You were saying there is a group that he says will have to go back? Or implied?
WONG: You, yourself raised the issue, that there are a number of people from Hong Kong in Australia.
It is unclear from the Government’s announcement whether all of those will be eligible for the pathways which the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison outlined. The Government should clarify that.
I think it would be problematic from the Australian perspective, if we were requiring people to return at this point.
JOURNALIST: And a five year extension?
WONG: This is consistent with what Labor has been calling for and we support it.
Any other matters? Can I just say something about Victoria, briefly?
I know all of us have friends and many of us have family in Victoria, it's a very difficult time for the people of Victoria.
I want to add my voice to the voices of so many community and political leaders expressing our solidarity with the people of Victoria at this very difficult time.
We will get through this. And we are with you.
Thank you, everyone.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.