Friday, July 03, 2020

Australia set to offer safe haven visas to Hong Kong

Australia is set to offer safe haven visas to Hong Kong residents as the Chinese territory is consumed by another wave of protests and arrests over new national security laws imposed by Beijing.

The move will make Australia the second of the Five Eyes partners to offer Hong Kong residents refuge after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would open the country's borders to more than 3 million Hong Kongers if they wanted to leave the former British colony.

Hong Kong police arrested more than 300 people on Wednesday for various breaches after the new laws came into force, criminalising acts that undermine the Chinese state with life imprisonment in the historically liberal city.

Up to 10 protesters were detained for specifically violating the new laws, which prohibit acts of subversion, including holding up independence signs with British and American flags on them.

The Chinese government maintains the new laws are necessary to restore law and order after more than 15 months of protests over Beijing's influence in the territory.

British Foreign Secretary Dominique Raab on Wednesday called on Britain's allies to follow its lead and offer support to residents who wanted to leave the global financial hub.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday the developments were very concerning and Australia's position was consistent with other like-minded countries, including Britain, the US and Canada.

He said he was "very actively" considering proposals to provide support to Hong Kong residents worried about their future.

"There are proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago and the final touches will be put on those and they'll soon be considered by cabinet to provide similar opportunities," he said.

"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."

Hong Kong is also home to the second largest group of Australian expatriates in the world, with more than 100,000 living in the semi-autonomous region.

The Departments of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister and Cabinet have been working on measures to respond to China's increasing control of Hong Kong since the new laws were proposed at the National People's Congress in May.

"When we have made a final decision on those arrangements then I'll make the announcements," Mr Morrison said. "Are we prepared to step up and provide support? The answer is yes."

Mr Morrison's strong language indicates he is now inclined to back measures that would offer safe haven to some of Hong Kong's 7.4 million citizens. Pro-democracy leaders resigned en masse on Wednesday and disbanded their political parties, worried they would be persecuted by new national security agencies and judicial systems established in the territory.

The Australian government has been wary of sticking its neck out on the issue up until now after repeated diplomatic stoushes with Beijing over the coronavirus crisis led to a series of trade spats over beef, barley, tourism and international students this year. Any move to offer refuge to Hong Kong residents is likely to once again inflame bilateral tensions, despite Britain leading the global push.

In London on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said the enactment and imposition of the national security law constituted a "clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration" signed after Britain's handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

"It violates Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflict with Hong Kong basic law," Mr Johnson said.

"We made it clear that if China continued down this path, we would introduce a new route for those with British national overseas status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK, and thereafter to apply for citizenship; and that is precisely what we will do now."


'We don't want a second wave': Victorian spike weighs on Queensland border call

The Queensland government is considering opening up the state faster, but community transmission of the coronavirus in Victoria is a concern, says Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Her comments came after the state recorded no new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a day after reported its first infection in more than a week.

Ms Palaszczuk confirmed an announcement about the opening of the Queensland border would be made on Tuesday after consideration of advice from the state's Chief Health Officer, Jeannette Young.

While consideration was being given to opening up faster, the spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria was the "number one area of concern", she told reporters on Saturday. "We don't want a second wave and we don't want that community transmission here," Ms Palaszczuk said.

The government has come under fire for keeping the borders closed, including through two High Court cases unlikely to be heard before travel to Queensland is allowed again.

Ms Palaszczuk said the Dr Young would also consider the two-square-metre rule for smaller premises, down from four square metres, a change Prime Minister Scott Morrison said had been agreed in Friday's national cabinet.

A total of 1067 cases have now been recorded in Queensland and six people have died from the virus. There are currently two active cases of COVID-19 in Queensland, according to health department statistics.

The state's eight-day streak without new cases was broken on Friday when a Queensland ADF member tested positive in Papua New Guinea and was flown back to Brisbane.

Police Minister Mark Ryan on Friday announced extra quarantine compliance checks as travellers hit the road for the school holidays.

Backpackers and travellers in the Wide Bay region will be targeted - after a fruit picker tested positive on June 6 - as well as pubs and clubs across the state.

Mr Ryan said police had recently found a number of people not complying with quarantine orders. "Don't think we're not watching you," he warned.

"You're not just risking a fine. "You are also risking the healthcare of your fellow Queenslanders and you're risking all the hard work that Queenslanders have done to date in containing the coronavirus."


Landlords tipped to claim billions more in tax losses as homes sit vacant

Australia's 2 million landlords will miss out on billions of dollars in rental income over the next two years as tenants struggle to pay.

Australian Taxation Office assistant commissioner Karen Foat predicts tax time will reveal a significant rise in negatively geared investors who typically claim a tax deduction when rental income does not cover the expense of owning the property.

In a typical financial year, landlords collectively declare to the Australian Taxation Office about $43 billion in total rent and $47 billion in deductions, Ms Foat said. About 60 per cent of rental properties are negatively geared.

"But we also know that this year, there's a lot of landlords who are receiving a reduced amount of rent, whether that's because their tenants are paying less, or unable to pay at all, or if their property is sitting vacant," she said.

"We would anticipate that there is going to be a greater number of people whose properties end up negatively geared because they still claim the expenses but they are likely to have some level of reduced rent."

This could lead to an extra $2 billion worth of losses claimed at tax time on estimates from SQM Research managing director Louis Christopher. He suspects a national 2.5 per cent decline in aggregate rents for the 2020 financial year, and a 2.5 per cent decline for the following year, bringing total rental income down to $40.9 billion.

Mr Christopher, whose company collects vacancy data and tracks market rents, said Sydney and Melbourne had been the "hardest hit" due to international border closures draining the market of short-term visitors, leading to more homes available on the standard rental market. In some inner CBD areas, more than one in 10 homes now sits vacant.

"The result of that is a rapid increase of supply in the inner-city areas for Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Brisbane to a lesser extent, which has created a major rise in rental vacancy rates and downward pressure on rent," he said.

However, Real Estate Institute of Australia president Adrian Kelly said the scenario was a "watch and wait" situation for the property industry, with eviction restrictions in many states and territories coming to an end in September.

"We've been making the federal government very much aware of the problem we've got coming in terms of what do we do with these tenants, because evicting them out on the street isn't going to be a great outcome for anybody," Mr Kelly said. "We need a form of rental assistance for these people and the government is very aware of that."

He estimates about 5 per cent of tenants are in the precarious position of being unable to pay their full rent and facing accruing rental arrears.

However, some experts are predicting the rental market will bounce back relatively quickly. PRD chief economist Diaswati Mardiasmo said previous crises, like the Asian Bird Flu and the Global Financial Crisis, also had a quick doubling in vacancy rates as tenants struggled financially but these recovered relatively quickly.

"We are at an all-time high [vacancy rate compared to] the past 15 years," Dr Mardiasmo said. "However, if we look at it from a health pandemic [and] financial crisis shock perspective we as a nation have been through this before and we have recovered," she said.

"With this we may see an increase in landlords negative gearing due to less rental prices and lost occupancy of their rental property, which is not uncommon nor surprising."

While some landlords have been able to freeze their mortgage for six months or delay council rate payments, she said "they will need to pay" eventually and in some cases this could be a bigger bill due to compounding interest.

Property research firm CoreLogic head of research Eliza Owen said rental incomes dropped about 0.5 per cent in Sydney and Melbourne between March and May.

"More severe deterioration in rental markets has been quite localised, and we expect that to continue in the second half of 2020," Ms Owen said.

"Rental price growth should stabilise once domestic restrictions on gatherings have eased, the labour market has improved, and interstate travel sees excess Airbnb stock withdrawn from the long term rental market."


Australia has enough coronavirus drug remdesivir thanks to early supply donation

The Federal Health Minister says Australia has enough of the coronavirus drug remdesivir in the national stockpile thanks to donations made months ago by the drug's makers.

The United States has been accused of hoarding supplies of the drug

Greg Hunt said he recognised there were shortages around the world but said that was not the case in Australia. "Australia's in a fortunate position, it's available for doctors to use from the national medical stockpile for patients who are in hospital with illness," he said.

His comments come after the United States was criticised by health experts for hoarding almost all of the world's current supply of the drug. The US Government announced on Tuesday President Donald Trump struck a deal to buy 500,000 treatments of remdesivir from its makers at Gilead Sciences.

That represents 100 per cent of the company's July production capacity and 90 per cent of its capacity in August and September.

Remdesivir is a broad-spectrum antiviral drug designed to disable the mechanism by which some viruses make copies of themselves.

Mr Hunt said Australian health authorities acted early to secure a donation of the drug for use in coronavirus patients.

"Remdesivir is one of the therapies where there is some evidence — I don't want to overstate it — but some evidence that it can help to reduce the impacts on the critically ill," he said.

"We foresaw this, we acted early, we worked with the supplier Gilead to ensure that Australians were given a reserve supply."

Earlier, a spokesperson for the Minister said Australia had a "sufficient supply" of the drug "to meet current patient needs".

"The National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce currently states that the use of remdesivir for adults with moderate, severe or critical COVID-19 may be considered. "This recommendation will be updated as further evidence from clinical trials becomes available."

Mr Hunt said as at Thursday afternoon, there were 24 people in hospital, five in intensive care and one on ventilation.

Early trials testing the drug in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 found those who received it recovered quicker than those who did not. It is the only drug licensed by both the US and the European Union as a treatment for those with severe illness from coronavirus.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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