With borders closed, unemployment on the rise, Hon Alan Tudge, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure speaks out about what the government has planned for those living in Australia
This is unacceptable; It has no place in Australia, said Hon Alan Tudge, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure at a briefing to multicultural media on COVID19 in Melbourne on the reported rise in racist attacks against people of Asian origins. “I encourage people that if you are facing racism, then report it to the Human Rights Commission. If you have faced violence or assaults report it to the police.”
Tudge held a press briefing recently and faced several questions from the multicultural media.
Last week, there were three reports of racial attack, and the victims are not happy with the way the police are dealing with them. Their garage and door and house had racial words like “Chinese go home” on them but the police refused to show up.
I’m aware of that particular case you’re referring to. It happens to be my electorate as well. I’ve spoken to the family there too, reassuring them that the individuals who did that are cowards. I know the police have looked into the matter, and I’ve encouraged them also to contact the Human Rights Commission as well. But to date, the police have not been able to identify the individual who did that damage and made those disgraceful attacks on their home, not only in terms of the racist language but also in terms of throwing rocks through their windows and causing general harassment.
The Australian Government’s push for an independent review on COVID-19 has led to China threatening to boycott Australian goods and services. Your views on this one?
Our desire is for there to be a full investigation into where the coronavirus crisis came from, and what were the conditions which set it about. We reject any suggestion that economic coercion is an appropriate response to our reasonable suggestion that there be a proper independent investigation into what happened so that we can learn the lessons.
“Immigrants have literally built our country and they’re so important to our society and our economy. But it’s too early to say just yet when we might be able to open those borders”
Temporary visa holders are contacting the department but the responses have been very slow or there has been no response at all. So is there any timeframe you can set, especially for those overseas and ones who want to get the visa extended?
If you are overseas at the moment and you’re not an Australian citizen or a permanent resident, then you can’t come into the country because our borders are closed. There are exceptional circumstances for compassionate reasons, in terms of diplomats and others who may be able to get an exemption granted by the Australian Border Force commissioner, who we have delegated to have that power. However, the borders are closed. Now, we also have difficulty in terms of processing visas offshore at the moment too because many of the core services which you need to go to fulfill your visa application are closed down. For example, the health services to check your medicals, the English language testing regimes, for example, are often closed down. So that is an impediment obviously to us being able to finalise visas as well.
Immigrants have literally built our country and they’re so important to our society and our economy. But it’s too early to say just yet when we might be able to open those borders.
Is there a chance that something might be set up for these people who are in dire straits without a job at the moment?
We have put some additional funds into the emergency relief fund, which anybody who’s a resident in Australia is able to access through the normal emergency relief providers. We have made it easier for people to be able to look after themselves by giving them access to their own superannuation while they’re in Australia.
Now, as you probably know typically when a temporary resident who has been working in Australia leaves the country, they are able to apply for that superannuation as soon as they leave the country. Now we have made it such that they can apply for that superannuation while they’re in the country if they’re facing hardship.
Now, if you’ve been working for a year or two you, may well have $10,000-$20,000 in that superannuation account which you can access to help with the living costs. We’ve also provided flexibility in relation to visas as well and particularly for those who have been on skilled visas who may have had their hours reduced or may have been stood down.
Ordinarily, that would lead to them being in breach of their visa condition. We’ve allowed greater flexibility there such that their visa will still be valid. There won’t be any issue there while they may have reduced hours.
Of course, we’ve increased the ability for some visa holders to work more hours, particularly international students in certain industries, particularly the working holidaymakers in certain industries as well. Those industries where we know that we do need those skills and in fact, there’s greater demand for those skills.
That was even in supermarkets by the way up until quite recently where we allowed international students working in supermarkets to work 40 hours per week rather than 40 hours per fortnight, just to help deal with the enormous demand, as everybody knows, which were placed on those supermarkets when there was the rush going on over the last couple months.
“If they’re an international student, for example, they may want to contact the university or their tertiary institution because many of those institutions are providing hardship payments for their students. In fact, there’s been about $110 million set aside for international students”
Is there any way you can refine the subclasses, those who are overseas, they may get a chance to extend the visa while they are overseas? Is there any specific point of contact that you can establish for temporary visa holders?
It depends what they want to contact the Government in relation to it. So if it’s in relation to their visa, then they should be contacting the Immigration Department, my department, in relation to that. And if they’re concerned about their visa conditions, they should do so as a matter of urgency.
If it’s in relation to other matters—if they’re an international student, for example, they may want to contact the university or their tertiary institution because many of those institutions are providing hardship payments for their students. In fact, there’s been about $110 million set aside for international students to be able to access from those tertiary institutions.
They can also contact some of our emergency relief providers as well but also note some of the consulates are providing assistance to those individuals as well.
Some visa classes don’t allow lawfully an extension while others do. So depending on what their visa class is, if they’re concerned that it’s going to expire, then if their visa class does allow an extension, they should be looking to do that again as soon as possible or when their visa is due to expire.
There are some parents who are here from India and also some Buddhist visitors from India. So because of the no flights, now India is in a lockdown and we never know when their visa is going to expire. So what is the arrangement this Government is having so the oil reserve will stay low?
Certainly, in relation to the oil, as you point out, we’ve increased our oil reserves because the oil price is so low at the moment. In fact, it went into a negative price at one stage in terms of crude oil. We’ve made a very significant investment to increase our water reserves and that’s important for economic and national security reasons. The oil price generally, I would I would imagine, would continue to be maintained by the global markets in terms of what the price is.
Immigration and extending visas and the like and—the Indian nationals who are here in Australia, I have particular sympathy for because the international airports have been shut down by the Indian Government which means that even if the person wanted to exit Australia at the moment and go back to their home country, then it is impossible to do so.
Now, Prime Minister Modi is going to re-evaluate that decision on 3 May and may decide at that particular point in time to reopen those international airports which would then enable flights to go back to India. In the meantime, if somebody is concerned about the validity of their visa, I would encourage them to immediately contact the Immigration Department. If you’re on a tourist visa, for example, get in contact with the Immigration Department, and get that extended or apply for a new tourist visa, and we’ll ensure that that person remains valid in the country until the flights reopen.
How do we consider affordability for the hardworking Australians and small business?
Getting energy costs down generally has been one of our Government’s priorities since the get go. We initially ran on a campaign six or so years ago on getting rid of the carbon tax because in essence we saw that as being an energy tax. And as soon as we got rid of that, we had the biggest drop in the prices for some time and those prices continue to go down.
We want to see gas prices down, we want to see electricity prices down and that remains absolutely a firm focus, because ultimately, businesses create wealth and we want businesses to thrive. That’s why we put in place this JobSeeker payment and put in place these other mechanisms to help businesses through this difficult time, and then we want to see them roar back when we’re on the other side because that’s going to be the way that we get out of this crisis and back to normal as well, is through businesses.
“If a person is stood down and they return back to their home country for a particular amount of time, or if they’re laid off and return to their home country for a particular amount of time, if they come back to Australia with a sponsor, they won’t be starting from scratch again”
Do you think it will be easy for the Department to collect all the relevant concerns from the temporary visa holders, those who are overseas, to establish a separate email ID or separate form that will facilitate them and that will also facilitate the Department to filter the temporary visa holders here?
There’s about 2.1 million people in Australia on a temporary visa class of one description or another. I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at in terms of that separate form or separate line because at the moment, it’ll be the majority of their work, dealing with the changes in visas, visa extensions, changing conditions meaning that people are concerned about their visa validity.
For people who have been stood down, but have had their visas extended nonetheless, will these months where they’re not working count towards their permanent residency visa applications?
It will. And on top of that, if a person is stood down and they return back to their home country for a particular amount of time, or if they’re laid off and return to their home country for a particular amount of time, if they come back to Australia with a sponsor, they won’t be starting from scratch again. We’ll ensure that that time that they’ve spent in Australia can count towards their permanent residency pathway.
And what’s the maximum time abroad that you can have in order to?
So we haven’t worked out all the details in relation to this. I’ve indicated our statement of intent to do that because there are going to be some people who are—listen, they might be three years in and they’re on a PR pathway, permanent residency pathway, and all of a sudden, for no fault of their own, the business who is sponsoring them has been unable to keep them on and they’ve had to return to their home country. We want to say to those individuals that we recognise that you’ve been on this pathway and that if you apply in the future to come back to Australia and you have a sponsor who can support you, then that time that you have spent in Australia already can count towards that four years minimum that you need to have to apply for that permanent residency.
When do you think that might be ready?
I don’t want to put a timeframe. But at some stage of course, we will be wanting to open up our borders again and then those new rules will be in place then.
For parents and who want to extend their visa?
It depends again on the visa classes which people are on as to whether or not it’s able to be extended readily or they need to apply for a new visa. Some visas can’t be extended legally and they would have to apply for a new visa in which case there would be a small fee applying, but we haven’t considered waiving it at this stage.
What the lockdown means for small businesses
We know that many small businesses are doing it really tough at the moment right across Australia. I just wanted to emphasise to multicultural community who are running small businesses that there is a lot of support which is available to those small businesses.
Obviously, the JobKeeper payment is the most important one and that is, if you have had revenues decline by 30 per cent or more, a month versus the previous year’s similar month, then you’ll be eligible for $1,500 per fortnight for each of your employers. So it’s a very significant contribution to help your business along. There’s also up to $100,000 in payments which businesses can apply for to boost their cash flow and that is worthwhile examining as well. That’s available to businesses up to $50 million dollars in turnover.
There’s a further $20 billion guarantee that we’ve put in place which provides more ready access to loans. And so again, that is something that small businesses should look into should they need that financial assistance. As well as we have increased the instant asset write off. So if you’re in the position to invest at the moment, then you can write off an asset immediately in this financial year of value up to $150,000. Now that just will help obviously with your cash flow come tax time as well.
Of course we’ve introduced just as well to mandatory code of conduct on commercial tenancies. So for those businesses, often your rents may be one of the significant costs which you have, we now have a mandatory code of conduct to assist with you at your negotiations with the landlord, which may help facilitate that reduction in those rental costs.
So there’s a number of items there which I encourage those small business owners to look in to. Go to the Australia.gov.au website and that will have the full details in relation to that.
We’re encouraging the schools to reopen, so the kids can go back and there’ll be further developments in the weeks and months ahead.
With borders closed, unemployment on the rise, Hon @AlanTudgeMP, Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure speaks out about what the government has planned for those living in Australia. #TheIndianSunhttps://t.co/2fdaC7FSHI
— The Indian Sun (@The_Indian_Sun) April 30, 2020