Hong Kong residents fearing China’s security crackdown must be helped, Labor deputy leader says

The shadow defence minister Richard Marles says the Morrison government must seriously consider giving Hong Kong residents who fear China’s planned security laws safe haven in this country.

Marles told the ABC on Sunday if the United Kingdom put out a call for assistance, “I actually think that that is a call that we need to take very seriously.”

The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has asked Australia and other partners to consider “burden-sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong” in response to sweeping anti-sedition laws that allow “national security agencies” – potentially Chinese security forces – to operate in the city.

The United Kingdom is holding open the prospect of offering residency and work rights to as many as 3 million people, while the US is considering letting people who no longer “feel comfortable” in Hong Kong to move there. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, indicated recently he was also talking to allies, including Australia, about further responses.

Marles on Sunday criticised the security laws. “Certainly, the national security laws which have been proposed by China are of concern.”

“They stand really against the proposition of one country, two systems, and the obligations that China held out to the people of Hong Kong at the time of the handover, and indeed, the obligations that they held out to the world.”

He said he hadn’t settled on a particular mechanism to allow people to resettle, that was a matter for “down the track” but “I think what we ultimately need to do is offer help”.

“We have an affinity with the people and that part of the world and a long history and we are a country which has and which should continue to play its part when there are matters of humanitarian distress.”

“Ultimately [if] we are called upon to provide assistance in this moment, then I think that’s a call that we need to take very seriously.”

The view expressed by Marles has been echoed by a number of Australian parliamentarians, including members of the government and the Greens leader Adam Bandt.

Last week Bandt said Scott Morrison should “follow the lead of Bob Hawke, who after the bloody Tiananmen Square massacre showed tremendous compassion by opening Australia’s arms to Chinese people fleeing tyranny”.

“If Boris Johnson is opening the door to potentially millions of people fleeing Hong Kong, it’s unacceptable that we’re not offering anyone refuge,” he said.

Diplomatic relations between Canberra and Beijing have been strained in recent months because of the Australian government’s early calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. That stand-off then escalated through trade tensions after China’s decision to hit Australian barley imports with tariffs of more than 80%.

Late last week, China warned its citizens not to travel to Australia due to a “significant” increase in racist attacks since the coronavirus outbreak.

The trade minister Simon Birmingham has rejected that advisory. Marles said on Sunday Australia was “clearly not free from the issue of racism, and I’m sure that there are Chinese Australians who have been on the receiving end of that”.

“But I think the way in which that statement is framed [by the foreign ministry] does not accurately describe where Australia is at”.


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