Australia is considering offering safe haven visas to Hong Kong residents endangered by draconian national security laws imposed on the city by China.
“When we have made a final decision on those arrangements then I’ll make the announcements,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Thursday.
“But are you asking, ‘are we prepared to step up and provide support?’ The answer is, ‘yes’.”
The new laws criminalise secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
A teenage girl waving an independence flag was among hundreds of people arrested during protests against the laws in Hong Kong this week.
Mr Morrison said cabinet ministers were considering safe haven arrangements “very actively” after the United Kingdom opened a path to citizenship for millions of Hong Kong residents.
“There are proposals that I asked to be brought forward several weeks ago and the final touches will be put on those,” he said.
“They’ll soon be considered by cabinet to provide similar opportunities.
“We think that’s important and very consistent with who we are as a people and very consistent practically with the views we have expressed.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the laws violated the city’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ pact with China.
These laws are a clear breach of the agreement for the handover from the former British colony to the People’s Republic of China,” he told ABC news.
“That had in it provisions for autonomy and democracy for Hong Kong, and democratic principles are important.”
China bypassed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to pass the sweeping legislation without public consultation.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne expressed deep concern about the “troubling” laws and warned the world would continue watching Hong Kong closely.
Senator Payne said the laws threatened Hong Kong’s judicial independence and the rights and freedoms of its people.
The Chinese embassy in Australia condemned her remarks and accused the minister of meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.
“We strongly deplore (the) Australian foreign minister’s statement,” the embassy said in a statement.
“We hope the Australian side takes an objective and rational view on the legislation, abide by international law and basic norms of international relations, and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
Australian lawyers fear the broadly defined national security offences will have a chilling effect on public life in Hong Kong.