Hong Kong residents could be offered safe haven in Australia amid security law crackdown, PM says
Hong Kong residents could be offered safe haven in Australia amid security law crackdown, PM Scott Morrison says
Australia is "actively considering" offering safe haven to Hong Kong residents to come to the country after controversial national security laws imposed by China came into effect, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.
Yesterday, hundreds of people were arrested after demonstrators took to the streets to protest the new laws, which were introduced by China to suppress dissenters.
Overnight, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would offer eligible people in Hong Kong a path to citizenship, allowing them to settle in the United Kingdom.
Asked whether he was disturbed by the crackdowns on protesters in Hong Kong and whether Australia would offer safe haven for residents of the region, Mr Morrison said: "the answer to both questions is yes and yes".
"We are considering [it] very actively and there are proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago," he said.
"The final touches will be put on those and they'll soon be considered by Cabinet to provide similar opportunities [to what the UK has offered]."
"We think that's important and very consistent with who we are as a people and very consistent practically with the views that we have expressed."
He would not elaborate on whether that would include permanent settlement for Hong Kong residents.
"When we have made a final decision on those arrangements I'll make an announcement, but if you're asking are we prepared to step up and provide support, the answer is yes," he said.
What is the UK offering to Hong Kong residents?
The UK handed control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, and the latest round of protests surrounded the anniversary of that event.
Before the handover took place, citizens in Hong Kong were able to apply for British National Overseas (BNO) passports.
Hong Kong is home to hundreds of thousands of BNO passport holders, with millions of other residents believed to be eligible.
Mr Johnson said yesterday that the UK would ensure a path to citizenship was open for those passport holders.
Last month, the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab pushed his counterparts in the Five Eyes intelligence network — which consists of the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada — to help resettle Hong Kong residents if there was a "mass exodus" from the city.
The Morrison Government has stressed that Hong Kong residents fearing political persecution can already apply for protection under Australia's existing humanitarian program.
But it has also been exploring alternative pathways to residency for people in Hong Kong.
This might include a special humanitarian intake like the one provided to 12,000 Syrian refugees in 2015.
Several government backbenchers have been fiercely critical of Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong and have been strong advocates for a resettlement program.
But creating a special protection program for Hong Kong residents would further inflame tensions between Australia and China.
Beijing responded angrily when the United Kingdom first raised the prospect of taking refugees from Hong Kong, accusing Britain of harbouring a "colonial mindset" and demanding they stop "interfering in China's internal affairs".
One Australian Government source has previously told the ABC that several Five Eyes nations may move in concert to provide humanitarian visas to Hong Kong residents in order to blunt any response from Beijing.