SUBJECTS: Global database including Australians, Job-ready Graduates package, Federal Budget, COVID-19 in Victoria and schools and child care
Patricia Karvelas: I spoke to the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan a little earlier. How concerned are you that a company used by Chinese security agencies has details of 35,000 Australians in its database?
Dan Tehan: Look, obviously those reports are very concerning. We want to make sure that we’re protecting our national interest. We want to make sure that we’re protecting our values as a nation. And, that’s why we’ve invested over $100 million to make sure that we’re putting the protections in place, so that we can combat foreign interference in whatever form it takes.
Karvelas: Okay. But, in relation to this particular case, is there any support you can provide those people? What does it mean in terms of its implications?
Tehan: Well, obviously, they’re reports that were in the newspaper today. The Government is looking at those and assessing those. But, if any individual has concerns or is worried that they’re being targeted by a foreign government, then, obviously, they can approach the Government. We have an official whose job is to counter foreign interference in this nation, and, so, we can take up any request that individuals might have if they are concerned at all that they’re being targeted by foreign actors.
Karvelas: Some of those, in this database, are the children of prominent Australians. Do you find that sinister?
Tehan: I do. I find it deeply concerning. Deeply concerning and deeply worrying that people’s children would be targeted. But, it just goes to show that, if the reports are true and accurate, then, we’ve got to be doing everything we can to be countering foreign interference. And, that’s what the Government has been doing, and putting measures in place to deal with it. You know, and, seriously putting in place measures over the last two to three years.
Karvelas: The company has 20 information collection centres. If there is one in Australia, does it need to be found and shut down?
Tehan: Well, obviously, that’s something that our officials need to look at and examine. And, obviously, they’ll be doing that, and looking and examining the reports that come from today’s reporting. So, that, obviously, will just have to wait and see. But, we can rest assured that our intelligence agencies, and others, will be doing all they can to investigate to see whether these claims, and this reporting, is accurate, and, if we need to take action, to make sure that we do take action.
Karvelas: Let’s move onto your education portfolio. How confident are you that Centre Alliance, the Centre Alliance Party, will back your proposed changes to university fees?
Tehan: Well, I’ve been having very good discussions with all the crossbenchers on our higher education reforms. It’ll see another 100,000 places become available as a result of them, and, obviously, see more people from regional and rural backgrounds, and Indigenous backgrounds from rural and remote areas, be able to go to university. So, they’ve been very good discussions. I thank them for the way that they’ve engaged with the Government, and I’ll continue to have those discussions. And, my hope is that we will see these important reforms pass through the Parliament.
Karvelas: Are you prepared to consider Centre Alliance’s proposal to change the classification of South Australian universities to make them regional, so they get more funding?
Tehan: So, I’ve been happy to talk to all the crossbenchers and to listen to their thoughts and their ideas. Obviously, Centre Alliance have pointed out that the three South Australian universities are all metropolitan-based. So, therefore, the added rural loadings, which are there to benefit regional and rural students, don’t necessarily apply to broader South Australia. So, that’s one of the things that I’ve been in discussions with them on, and I’ll continue to have those discussions, like I’m having discussions with the other crossbenchers, as well.
Karvelas: You’ve agreed to legislate a floor in funding for universities. How will that be determined, and will it be automatically indexed?
Tehan: So, we’re working through all that detail with the universities at the moment, and we’re making sure that how we do it, that the sector is comfortable with the approach that we take. When it comes to these types of funding models, they can be very complex, so we’ve got to make sure that the way that we do it, that we work with the sector itself to make sure they’re comfortable with the arrangements that we’re putting in place. And, we’ve had very good discussions with the sector on this, and we’re working through the last of the detail now.
Karvelas: What additional support are you considering for the sector in the Federal Budget? Will there be a universities package, a rescue package? Universities have clearly been struggling very acutely under the coronavirus changes.
Tehan: So, one of the real impacts that we’ve seen is on the universities’ research capability. We’ve become very clear that international students – which have been worth $40 billion to the national income, create 250,000 jobs – the international student market has been cut off at the knees. And, some of that revenue goes in to support our research capability as a nation, and that research capability is going to be incredibly important for us going forward, and, in particular, as we come out of COVID-19. So, I continue to have discussions with the sector on that. We’ve set up a working group with Vice-Chancellors to look at what measures we could put in place to help support our research infrastructure and our research capability, so that we can drive the innovation, the technology, and the industries that we’ll need to help our economy grow out of COVID-19.
Karvelas: Just moving to some other issues. What do you make of the Victorian Government’s decision to reopen schools, only from Prep to Grade 3, and Years 11 and 12?
Tehan: Well, obviously, from a Federal Government point of view, we’d love to see all Victorian schools reopen for term four. Ultimately, in the end, it’s a decision for the Victorian State Government. But …
Karvelas: … Just to be clear, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I just want to get some clarity. So, you think all year levels should return at the start of term four, based on today’s numbers?
Tehan: Well, I think, if the Victorian State Government is to look at their modelling – and there were calls over the weekend by the University of Melbourne and some of their professors to say that they needed to relook at it – I think, one of the things, if they were to ease restrictions, then it would be of great benefit if we could get school kids back in school doing that face-to-face teaching. We all know that that’s the best environment for our students to be learning, and I think every parent in Victoria would welcome it if students were able to resume back in the classroom for term four. But, obviously, the Victorian State Government has to take into account other decisions, especially the movement of people, in their calculations. But, if they’re looking at their modelling again, and there’s been calls for them to do so, I’m sure if they could reopen the schools for term four, that would be welcomed by all parents and all teachers in Victoria.
Karvelas: I want to get your thinking on the broader, sort of, plan, they have for working out of lockdown. You’re a Victorian Federal MP. What other rules do you think they should change, in their coming out of lockdown Stage 4 phase?
Tehan: Well, obviously, the business community have been calling for an easing of some of the restrictions on them, and, particularly when it comes to small business. But, it’s all got to be done in a way, which, obviously, protects the health outcome. We’re seeing the coronavirus numbers are coming down in Victoria, which is incredibly welcome. So, taking the advice of the medical experts, taking the advice of the modellers – those people who’ve been putting in place the models that they’ve been making their assumptions on – taking all that into account, and making sure that they can keep the state free, or keep limiting the numbers of the coronavirus, but also looking to, I think, get the schools open sooner rather than later, and, in particular, seeing what they could do for businesses and small businesses, would be welcome by the Victorian community.
Karvelas: Should any Victorian student who wants to repeat a year be allowed to do that? What’s your thinking around the fact that, no doubt, some students will be, will have gone, either plateaued or gone backwards, potentially?
Tehan: Well, we’re very keen to see as many students as possible progress through this year and onto next year. That’s been our aim right through this pandemic. That’s why we’ve argued very strongly that we need to get schools reopened and that face-to-face teaching occurring in the classroom. We’ve seen that right around Australia, apart from Victoria because of the second Victorian wave. So, hopefully, we will see a majority of students be able to go onto the next year level. But, in some instances, where school dictates, then, obviously, they would have to look at what’s in the best interest of the student in that case. But, our hope is, and I know this is the hope of all state and territory education ministers, is that we get to the stage where a clear majority of all students can progress through this year onto next year.
Karvelas: Obviously, borders have been quite controversial, the definition of a hot spot, the Queensland border, there’s lots of different angles here. But, as a Victorian Federal MP, I’d like to hear from you what you make of the existing border that cuts off Victorians. When do you think New South Wales, for instance, should allow people from Melbourne in, given the numbers have been, well, radically reduced from that very high peak? Is it coming to that point where that decision should be made by the New South Wales Government?
Tehan: Well, my hope is both the New South Wales State Government and the South Australian State Government can look very closely at this issue, especially with the numbers we’re now seeing in regional Victoria, which have substantially reduced, and, in many instances, there are local government areas which have had zero cases for quite some time. So, my hope is that we can see those border restrictions ease, and ease very quickly, because it is having an incredibly disrupting influence on border communities, and the flow across borders, whether it be for business, whether it be for schooling, whether it be for medical purposes, and some of the cases we’ve seen have been, especially when it comes to medical, have been absolutely heartbreaking. So, my hope is we’ll see those restrictions ease sooner rather than later, especially given what’s happening with the numbers in regional Victoria.
Karvelas: Regional child care centres reopened today, and metro centres will reopen in two weeks. What measures are in place to ensure that they operate safely?
Tehan: So, we’ve got AHPPC, the medical expert panel, has put in place protocols that our child care sector needs to abide by. And, they’ve done an incredible job in doing that, with 99 per cent of the sector remaining open through the pandemic. Obviously, we’re still providing financial support, and strong financial support, to those centres in Victoria, in particular, that have had their ability to take children severely limited. So, we’ll continue to work with the sector to provide that advice, that health advice from the medical experts, but, also, to continue to provide the financial support that they need, because they’re going to be incredibly important as we grow the economy, as we come out of this pandemic.
Karvelas: Minister, thanks so much for joining us.
Tehan: Thanks Patricia.
Karvelas: That’s the Education Minister Dan Tehan who joined me a short time ago.