Release type: Transcript


Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Tom Connell, Sky News


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Universities and freedom of speech and academic inquiry, International student pilot programs

Tom Connell: Well, joining me live here in the studio, Education Minister Dan Tehan, on a day in which you’re introducing legislation on freedom of speech and academic inquiry, Australian universities. So, what’s going to change specifically here?

Dan Tehan: What we’re going to be doing is legislating key definitions, as recommended by Robert French in his inquiry into freedom of speech and academic freedom at universities. He established a Model Code that he wants all universities to adopt, and a part of that adoption of that Model Code is, he recommended that we needed to legislate these definitions into the Parliament, and that’s what I’ll be introducing this morning.

Connell: It’s been noted this wasn’t taken up initially. Pauline Hanson pushed for it. She’s been concerned about the case of Peter Ridd, sacked by James Cook University following public criticism of his colleagues’ research on the Great Barrier Reef. Would the university be able to sack him under these changes, if they were adopted?

Tehan: So, the legal advice that I have is that they wouldn’t have been able to prosecute Peter Ridd if these laws had of been in place. Now, that’s the advice that I’ve been given …

Connell: … And, what’s that specifically based on? What element …

Tehan: … Well, it’s based on both the freedom of speech and the freedom of academic inquiry parts of the Model Code, and this was something that we committed to do as a Government when Robert French handed down his report, and we’re following through on that commitment.

Connell: When you say academic inquiry, you mean, the Government’s own, Department of the Environment talks about, obviously, what’s happening with the Great Barrier Reef, that it believes is caused by climate change. Peter Ridd has a contrary view. And, essentially, this is saying, even though you might not agree with it, he’s allowed that contrary view. Does it need to be based on research, or can it just be a personal view he has, regardless?

Tehan: Well, obviously, when it comes to academic inquiry, it needs to be based on the research that the academic themselves has done. But, then, obviously, there’s a freedom of speech component, as well. As an individual, people have their right to speak their mind. So, we want to make sure that both those elements are a key part of our universities. It’s something which is incredibly important, especially in the current geostrategic climate, that we understand that all academics and all students at universities have the right to be able to speak their mind. Obviously, according to current Australian law.

Connell: So, how far does that, when you say current Australian law, I mean, individual views on race or sexuality, if they’re personal views – they might be put out there on Twitter, but as a personal view – is anything going to change from this legislation in that area?

Tehan: No, they, as long as they’re consistent with our current laws when it comes to freedom of speech – we don’t want to see racial vilification or any of those types of things – then, yes, they should be able, under those laws, to be able to speak …

Connell: … So, essentially, no other restriction on them other than any other citizen in Australia? Is that …

Tehan: … Absolutely.

Connell: International students, so, a pilot scheme has begun. Any update on how this is proceeding, and how it bodes for next year?

Tehan: So, we’ve seen both the Northern Territory and South Australia commit to run these pilots. Those pilots will see the first international students arrive, we hope, in November. Obviously, it is the South Australian State Government and the Northern Territory that are leading these pilots, doing so in collaboration with the Commonwealth Government. Our hope is that we will see those pilots commence next month.

Connell: So, people arriving in quarantine there as these international students, could they theoretically have been Australians that were returning, or trying to return home?

Tehan: So, one of the, one of the things that we’ve asked of both the Northern Territory and the South Australian Government is that they prioritise returning Australians, and that’s what they’ve committed to do.

Connell: But, if you’ve got a backlog of 30-odd thousand still waiting, and yet international students are arriving now or into November, how is that prioritising?

Tehan: Because, what we’re seeing is that the demand for people returning is mainly occurring in Sydney, for Sydney. There’s pent up demand for Melbourne, and, obviously …

Connell: … But, they could come to Adelaide, quarantine, and then go to …

Tehan: … Yeah, so, but, what we’re seeing is that most people aren’t opting to take up that option. What they want to do is either return to Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. So, both the NT and South Australia Governments have lifted their cap on the amount of returning Australians, and, obviously, the priority for the Australian Government remains – we want to focus on getting Australians home before Christmas. And, then, after Christmas we really want to prioritise international students ahead of the commencement of semester one.

Connell: So, and, just finally, I know you’re very short on time, but, what’s the latest on numbers you’d expect next year, in terms of international students? The difference between situation normal and what will likely actually happen?

Tehan: So, we were able to get over 80 per cent of our international students in this year. So, the universities, state and territory governments and the Commonwealth working together did remarkably well in that regard, remembering 250,000 jobs, $40 billion worth of national income that we get from this key services export. When it comes to next year, we’re being very cautious in the numbers that we’re expecting. But, given where we’re at with dealing with the coronavirus, our hope is we’ll be able to get that pipeline commencing, and we will start to see, you know, substantial numbers be able to come …

Connell: … But, what, but the figure next year?

Tehan: Look, it’s too hard Tom, to put a figure on that. You look at where we are in Melbourne, for instance, it’s one of the key ports where the international students would come into it. It’s very difficult to get a sense yet as to what those numbers would look like.

Connell: Ok. Alright, we might talk about that again down the track. I know we were very short on time. We didn’t get to your Richmond Tigers, but I think you’ve probably spoken to many people about that already.

Tehan: We have, and bad luck for your Lions, Tom.

Connell: Oh well. We beat Richmond, at least.

Tehan: You did. You did. But, not in the game that counted, that counted the most, the grand final …

Connell: … That’s true. Trust me, I’ve gone through it a few times. Dan Tehan, thank you.