ABC Illawarra - 13 July 2020


Subjects:  Hong Kong Australia Extradition Treaty; Hong Kong national security law; migration and humanitarian program; Sino-UK Declaration; foreign investment; decoupling from China, compensation.


E&OE …


Kelly Fuller: [preamble]

Well China has accused Australia of violating international law after Scott Morrison announced plans to woo businesses from Hong Kong and create a fast track to resettlement for more than ten thousand residents out of the territory.  The Federal Government has also suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong following Beijing’s imposition of this controversial new national security law which criminalises acts of succession and subversion with sentences of life prison for some, I guess for things like protesting where we are seeing a lot of concern.

On offer from the Federal Government is this 5-year temporary Graduate Visa.  So the big question though off the back of that is what do the visa looks like or how quickly that pathway to permanency will be resolved.

Announcing the decision here’s what Scott Morrison said about China’s new law and how it constitutes a fundamental change for what’s happening in Hong Kong.

Audio: Scott Morrison: “So Australia today has taken steps to suspend our extradition agreement and we have formally notified Hong Kong and advised the Chinese Authorities.”

Kelly Fuller:  Now the word suspend there in that sentence is the word that Wollongong-based Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells believes possibly doesn’t go far enough.  Good morning to you Senator.

[line drops out]

Kelly Fuller:  Good morning Senator.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:  Good morning Kelly, how are you?

Kelly Fuller:  I’m well thank you, apologies for that.  I’m not too sure why we lost the line on you there.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:  Technical things first things on a Monday morning!

Kelly Fuller:  Absolutely.  We did play a little snippet.  Don’t know if you heard it of Scott Morrison making the announcement where he said the suspension was in place.  I think you are suggesting the suspension should go further.  And I guess my question to you is wouldn’t that inflame tensions with Beijing which is clearly furious with us at the moment and that relationship, why do you think it needs to go further?

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:  Look, I think that the language that has clearly been used by the media to report this is certainly way beyond what it really is.  What the Government is doing is taking steps to suspend the treaty.  It is not terminating the treaty and I think this is a very important distinction because when we do talk about suspension of a treaty we are talking about the temporary cessation of the operation of that treaty.  The treaty still remains on foot. 

Now, my view is that given the circumstances that are happening in Hong Kong and given the language that has been used, it is clear that things are not going to get any better.  So, my view is the treaty should be terminated and I think that it can be done in two ways: either by using the extradition treaty itself and invoking the relevant termination clause or utilising the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which is clearly given the language that the Government has used the mechanism by which it is perusing this.  So, those are really my concerns.

Suspension is less infringement and therefore a less radical measure but suspension is really only a temporary measure, it doesn’t, as I said, affect the existence of the treaty and it does imply that at some point when the notice period finishes that the operation and the performance of this treaty are resumed once the reasons for that suspension no longer exists.  But given here that is would seem that the fundamental change that we are concerned about, which is the imposition of this national security law, then I think it is clear that the fundamental change is such that it is a permanent one and therefore I think that we should be going further and terminating our agreement with Hong Kong.  Let’s not forget ...

Kelly Fuller:  Is there support within Government for you, anywhere within Government to go as far as that?

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:  Well, I'm just saying that this is the natural step now.  It’s very clear what the circumstances are.  We’ve known for quite some time what’s happening.  This is a bad law and as I’ve been advocating for some time it’s very very clear that the actions of the Chinese Communist Regime in relation to Hong Kong demonstrates that once again Beijing is not willing to have regard to its international obligation. 

I mean it was very very clear what the agreement in relation to Hong Kong was and this was to be a two systems framework that was a clear provision of the Sino-UK Declaration.  Now this national security law clearly, clearly is in breach of that, and therefore I think that certainly there are concerns.  There are concerns about the application of this law, not only in Hong Kong but also here.  Because of course when you look at the insidious practices of the communist regime’s operations around the world, the operation of its United Front Work Department and its operatives and those people loyal to it here, you know there are many people of Chinese heritage who are naturally concerned about what this can mean for them.  There are real fears in the community here about the application of its law not only in Hong Kong but extra-territorially and that’s really the concerns that I and others who have spoken in this space have advocated.

I mean fear exists for many Chinese-Australians who value democratic freedoms and do speak out about the Communist regime and what this law can mean for them but more especially what this law can mean for them if they do travel overseas or more importantly, what it could mean for their families overseas.

Kelly Fuller:  Just given again the, I guess the seriousness, or the extreme concerns I guess you have here then, just back to Hong Kong, do you think that visa pathway should be opened up to stipulate access purely for humanitarian reasons not the economic reasons that the Government is sort of putting at the forefront now?

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:  Look, I think we have a very generous humanitarian program.  As a former Minister in this space I’ve seen its operation.  For example, in 2018-2019 our annual humanitarian program sat at almost 19,000 places, so the majority of those are for off-shore.  So, when you do look at the groups that are resettled and the groups that do attract the humanitarian program we know that people who are from Hong Kong would have access and indeed, the Minister was very clear on that comment yesterday on the ABC, they can apply for a humanitarian visa just as anybody else who faces persecution is able to apply for humanitarian visas and those options are available to them.  What the Immigration Minister has clearly outlined is a pathway for those who are here or those who may wish to come here, and whilst there are no guarantees,  I think he has made it very very clear, there is a pathway there.  Clearly anybody who applies for visas there are security concerns and clearly, we’d have to have, we should be conscious of that because as we know this is a regime …

Kelly Fuller:  While you talk about that, couldn’t suspending the deal, going further than that and actually terminating, it couldn’t that as your suggesting now run the risk of fugitives or criminals escaping justice.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:  Well, the reality is that there’s always, with any visa issue, and these are two separate issues - this is an extradition treaty as opposed to people coming in, so I think we need to keep these two issues separate.  In relation to people who may apply for humanitarian visas or any sort of visa-pathway, there will always be checks that will have to be undertaken and of course as the Minister made very very clear yesterday, there are tests like the character test, the national security test and the like that will have to be met, so it’s not an automatic pathway.  It could be an easier pathway but it’s not an automatic pathway and of course we do have to consider that there may be people who may slip through the net and it’s always the case but the reality is we will have to undertake the necessary security checks to ensure that anybody who does comes here or anybody who does remains here is a person who is of fit character and passes the national security test and is the person of good character.

Kelly Fuller:  I guess given though the reaction we’ve heard from China the concerns they have raised that this a serious violation, just a suspension of the extradition order, would your approach cause additional dangers for trade.  Beef and barley have been targeted.  Local dairy farmers are very worried the IRB review board is sitting on a deal that would see Dairy Farmers sold to a Chinese company.  Could a harder line stance as you’re advocating create more trade targets in Australia?

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:  Look I think what is very very clear is that post Coronavirus it cannot be business as usual with the Communist regime in China.  I have been advocating for many months now that it’s important for the Government to act on those things which are within its direct control and that’s namely plan for compensation for the millions of tax payers’ dollars and I’ve talked about this in the Senate.  But it’s also, I have also advocated for a plan to decouple from China, for us to reduce a dependency on the Communist regime.  I mean, let’s not forget Kelly that at the moment a third of our exports go to China.  Now some of these exports are vitally important for China’s economic growth particularly the iron ore and the coal and those things.  They are vitally important to China’s growth, so we haven’t seen a diminution of that trade.  But also, some of the other things that do go over to China are vitally important for its feeding of its population of 1.3 billion [people].  The issue here is as far as Australia …

***line drops out***

Kelly Fuller:  Oh, apologies I've just managed to cut Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells off there as I take the line.  So my apologies, we will try and get her back on briefly but as she was making a fairly strong point as she was throughout the interview about economic decoupling and termination there.  My apologies, there’s been operator error at my end.