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2 July 2020
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Today Prime Minister Scott Morrison signalled Australia might join the US and the UK in offering safe haven to people fleeing the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by China. Alex Hawke is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and the Assistant Defence Minister and he joins us tonight. Alex Hawke, welcome.
ALEX HAWKE: Hi Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The PM says the finishing touches are being put on this proposal before it goes to Cabinet. What is the idea behind the proposal? Are we looking to offer asylum to people from Hong Kong?
ALEX HAWKE: Well look I think Australia's been at the forefront of speaking about the situation in relation to Hong Kong for some time now with many other countries in the world and you know we've had a collective concern about the deterioration of relations, the passing of the National Security Law by the PRC there without consultation with the Hong Kong people. And given the rich history that you have with Australia, the tapestry, you've got tens of thousands of people from Hong Kong on temporary protection visas - temporary visas I should say not temporary protection visas - here in Australia. Doing business here with relatives here, family members, obviously there's great economic and people links between Australians and people from Hong Kong and plenty of people have moved and migrated here from there. So the government's carefully considering as the Prime Minister said today what we can do in a situation where things do deteriorate in Hong Kong.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Has the government given any thought to how many people it would take and how they'd be prioritised?
ALEX HAWKE: All these proposals are going before cabinet and that's what has to be carefully considered. You have to think about in any immigration program, volume. You have to think about the respective security checks. You have to think about all the different issues that go with any migration program. And I know the government will do that very carefully. But when you think about the great shared history that we've had with Hong Kong – trading, familial links, people to people link – it's a very strong and rich history. And you know together with the UK and the US and Canada and Japan – so many countries we've joined with – we have great sympathy for the plight of people in Hong Kong.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How much does the potential diplomatic fallout in terms of our relationship with China figure into the Government's thinking on this? Do you expect there will be fallout?
ALEX HAWKE: Well obviously this is something that we've expressed deep concern about internationally and I think we're right to do that. There's so many countries that have, and you've got to remember here we're really holding China accountable to their own standard when they signed an agreement with Britain to return Hong Kong to China, that this would be a stable place for 50 years, with one country and two systems, and we've had no change in our position on supporting that. We are very concerned that China is changing the position that they announced to the world and to us and that is at the expense of people within Hong Kong.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Defence Minister today talked about behaviour like cyber-attacks and economic coercion that China is engaged in as existing in a grey area between war and peace. Are the gloves finally off here?
ALEX HAWKE: Now look, Australia has a right to absolutely protect itself, defend itself from all manner of threats and we know in this era that there is a heightened threat environment. We have seen the Government's investment in cyber security. We know there are state funded actors whoever those states are and there's multiples of them, hacking, taking out commercial data, taking out governmental data, taking people's private health data out of the country and stealing it from all countries in the world. So there is a greater threat environment with greater technology and the strategic update the Government announced this week is really bringing up to date a white paper which was very good in 2016. But even since 2016 you've seen massive change in our region and greater threats emerge, and we do have to be committed to regular updates and not relying on a document that can start to drift when the world is moving so rapidly. So this strategic update you'll see focuses very much on our long range strike capability. Bringing up to date our strategic position with the reality of what our agencies and what our forces are doing on the ground and in defence and foreign affairs in my own portfolio, we've been focusing, through the Pacific step up on the region now, for a number of years since the white paper with an intensity that we haven't seen for a very long period of time in foreign affairs and defence policy. And that's only appropriate given the greater geostrategic competition.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Does the government see China's growing investment in the Pacific as a form of entrapment dependency?
ALEX HAWKE: Well we've spoken out to all of our Pacific neighbours about the dangers of getting into too much debt to anybody. And you can have many Pacific countries get approached by consortiums, by rich figures throughout Asia. They can be from other regions as well offering what seems like lines of credit or easy money and often with substandard projects and certainly we've spoken out very strongly to warn countries to stay out of the massive amounts of debt that get you entrapped into someone's coercive power. And we've certainly spoken out against bad projects where people have paid for projects in different Pacific countries and received substandard projects. So everything you can rest assured Australia does is at a very high standard. Our infrastructure anything, we partner with people – we try and partner with anyone – will partner with China if they want to build a hospital and help sick people in PNG – we will partner with them on it. We've made that offer before, but we do speak out about countries and financial institutions and shady figures who try and put vulnerable countries into debt traps.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Minister.
ALEX HAWKE: Thanks Patricia, cheers.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alex Hawke is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and the Assistant Defence Minister.