Release type: Transcript


Sydney Today interview with Fred Zhang


The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: International students, university funding and Chinese travel warning


FRED ZHANG: Journalist question not broadcast

ALAN TUDGE: What I can still see is that down the track we will have a vaccine digital certificate and my hope is that that will enable many people to come into the country without needing to quarantine. But there’s a number of steps before we’re in that position and one of those steps is to ensure that the vaccines do actually work and are effective in not only preventing you from getting sick but also from preventing the transmission of the virus to other people, and there’s some uncertainties around that.

And then the second challenge is assuming the vaccines work to that impact, how do we guarantee that a person from another country actually has been vaccinated and the person who presents themselves at the border is the same person that has the vaccination certificate as such. So we've still got some issues to work through there, Fred.

Step one, actually, from a logistics perspective, is putting in place our incoming digital passenger card. And that's something that I kicked off when I was Immigration Minister. We're hoping that that will be available towards the middle of next year. Certainly the third quarter of this calendar year. That then enables potentially down the track an authenticated biometrically connected  vaccination certificate to be stapled to that digital incoming passenger card. It's not going to be- this is not going to be- well, it depends on how you think about it. I mean, the second half of the year is not that far away, but for many people, that's still a long time if they're waiting to get into the country and I can appreciate their anxiety in relation to that.

FRED ZHANG: Journalist question not broadcast

ALAN TUDGE: We would certainly like to see students back in Australia, as quickly as possible.

But there's a global pandemic still going on. We still have many Australians who are stuck overseas. And as you can probably appreciate, Fred, those Australians get priority over the flights and over the quarantine bed numbers.

I continue to work with the universities themselves and the state governments to see if they can increase those quarantine capacities or come up with new models to help facilitate people coming in. But to date, they haven't presented me any concrete plans to do so. But I know that they continue to work on it.

FRED ZHANG: Journalist question not broadcast

ALAN TUDGE: At this stage we have discussed having a travel bubble with countries like New Zealand, and New Zealand’s been incredibly safe from the virus, as you know, but that's still not even an open border there.

So it's really challenging, Fred. I mean, Australians had to work very hard last year and particularly Victorians where you and I are from, to get control of the virus and ensure that we can have relative freedom again. And we certainly don't want to jeopardise that, and that's got to be our focus. The risk, of course, is if you do jeopardise that, then the state government may well close down the economy again. And that has all sorts of implications for a lot of individuals, both from an economic perspective, but equally from a mental health perspective. So it's a really tough balance.

We want people to be able to come into the country as quickly as possible again. But at the same time, we've got to protect Australians, their health, their economy. And for those Australians stranded overseas, they're the ones that obviously get priority in terms of the flights and the quarantine beds.

FRED ZHANGJournalist question not broadcast

ALAN TUDGE: Yes. So a couple of points on that. Universities actually are holding up reasonably well, all things considered. And the best estimates that we have is that international student enrolments are down five per cent compared to the previous year. Now, given that international students make up about 25 per cent of the university's revenue, a five per cent decline in that is not the end of the world. Not great, but nor is it a catastrophe. Having said that, we have made some decisions to support the universities, and that includes an extra $1 billion in research, but also providing additional Commonwealth supported places for Australian students. And that provides additional revenue for the universities as well. So I'm confident that they will still be able to get through this year. But we're obviously keeping a very close eye on it.

FRED ZHANG: Journalist question not broadcast

ALAN TUDGE: There's certainly many places that people can go if they need mental health support. Those mental health supports don't distinguish typically as to whether or not you're an Australian citizen, a permanent resident, or a temporary visa holder. So I would certainly encourage any student who is feeling that they need support to reach out to Beyond Blue, to the university systems, to other support structures in place.

In relation to economic support, equally, I'd encourage them in the first instance to reach out to the university providers because often they actually do have significant funds available for emergency relief. And of course, they can also, you know, reach back to their families as well, back abroad to help them through. We've provided some small amounts of emergency relief, but as you can imagine, I mean, most of our welfare dollars and such are there for Australians and permanent residents rather than temporary visa holders.

Finally, Fred, just in relation to any racial issues, we're a very tolerant, welcoming, multicultural country, and I think the greatest multicultural country in the world. And Melbourne and Sydney, where most of the international students are, are two of the greatest multicultural cities in the world. Any incidents of racism is completely unacceptable, whether that be to an Australian or a visitor, or an international student or whoever they may be. And we work very hard to stamp that out. I've been pleased that the number of incidences appears to have dropped. I don't get the same representations to me anymore that I certainly did maybe six months ago when there were a couple of higher profile incidences.

Yeah, so my hope and the feedback that I get is that those incidences have declined and the people certainly should feel very safe because there's virtually no other- there's no other city in the world like Melbourne and Sydney in relation to our multicultural spirit.

FRED ZHANG: Journalist question not broadcast

ALAN TUDGE: I reject the Chinese Government’s assertions that Australia is an unsafe place to visit or study. Australia is one of the safest places in the world, one of the most tolerant, welcoming, multicultural places in the world. And so I reject very strongly those assertions from the Chinese Government which suggest that this is not a safe place to come.

FRED ZHANG: Journalist question not broadcast

ALAN TUDGE: I know that Chinese New Year kicks off very shortly. And I'll be down at Chinatown next Sunday, representing the Prime Minister to really kick off those celebrations here in Melbourne. And I’d just say, a very happy New Year to all of your listeners, Fred. I think 2021 is going to be a fantastic year. We had a very difficult year in 2020. And let's kick it off with a bang.