SUBJECTS: Return to the Child Care Subsidy, JobKeeper, Universities, International students and China
Chris Kenny: Thanks for joining us, Dan. I wonder if you could first just bring me up to speed with what’s happening in the child care sector. We’re getting rid of free child care next month. You’re taking child care workers off the JobKeeper Payments. This is obviously a first step for trying to withdraw JobKeeper Payments, more broadly, across the economy. How much money do you hope to save from that initial estimate, well, the estimate we’re left with now, at about $70 billion?
Dan Tehan: Well, Chris, what we’re trying to do is make sure that we can transition the child care sector, as increased demand comes into the sector. The last survey that we did, through the Education Department, of the sector, showed that demand across the board, across all types, had reached about 74 per cent. So, we were beginning to see that services, using a package that we’d put in place, which was there to help them when there was falling demand, were now having trouble being able to meet the increased demand that we’ve seen. So, we’ve put in place transitional arrangements, and, importantly, as part of those transitional arrangements, we’ll be supporting the services, and the approximate 200,000 workers that they employ, through an employment guarantee. And, as you’ve said, as part of that process, what we’ll be doing on 20 July is taking those workers, who were on JobKeeper, in the child care sector, off JobKeeper.
Kenny: Look, there’ll be all sorts of complaints, and there’ll be all sorts of things that need to be managed carefully. You expect that. This was a package put in because of an unforeseen crisis. But, you’re unwinding it fairly quickly, because we’ve done so very well. But, my question is more about, as a Cabinet Minister, more broadly across the economy, you must be very optimistic about doing more to withdraw JobKeeper Payments right across the economy, because of the good news that people will be able to go back to work. But, surely, that’s going to save the Government billions of dollars, too?
Tehan: Well, obviously, as you know, there’s a review which is taking place at the moment of JobKeeper, and we’ll wait and see what the final recommendations are of that review. And, then, obviously, the Government will consider that. But, one of the reasons that we’re seeing increased demand in the child care sector is because children are going back to school, people are going back to work, and the economy is being opened up, as restrictions are eased. So, we are seeing more economic activity. And, our hope is, that, like we’re seeing with the stock market, as you were just discussing before, we’re starting to see a degree of confidence come back into the economy. And, hopefully, that will improve employment outcomes even further, and that will enable us to be able to ensure that the economic recovery is quicker, as we come out of this pandemic, than any of us forecast earlier. I think, you know, two months ago, we were all thinking that we might be here for about six months, in trying to fight the pandemic. But, our success at flattening the curve, hopefully, will lead us to be able to open the economy quicker than we otherwise thought we would be able to.
Kenny: Jeepers, you’ve even got Daniel Andrews. You’ve got everyone back to school in Victoria, your home state, today. It’s taken them forever, but there you go. I want us, I want to go to education, though, and the university sector. We know how they’ve been smashed, of course, by the ending, or the temporary ban of international students, effectively. They’ve been calling out for Government assistance, to no avail. But, surely they should be starting to open up and let international students back in, to finish the university year, so, as long as they go through two weeks’ quarantine?
Tehan: So, as you know, we did put $18.5 billion into the sector, and we confirmed that funding for this year. So, we gave them that guarantee. What we are hoping for now, is, right across the nation, like we’ve seen with schools, is that universities will be able to reopen in a COVID-19 safe way, so that students get that rich campus experience, and that’s for our domestic students and for the 80 per cent of international students who came here to study this year. And, once we do that, once we also work with the sector to make sure the increased demand we’re likely to see from school leavers going to university, we deal with that. We also want to be able to look and see, ok, what measures can we put in place to enable those students who are already enrolled, already signed up, to study here – some of them have already done maybe a year or two years of their degree, and need to come back to finish – what procedures we can put in place to help and support them, to be able to return and finish their degrees. So, there’s a lot of work still to do with the higher education sector.
Kenny: Well, you’ll want to do that, and everybody can see the good sense in doing that. But, you’re getting a lot of pushback from China, caught up in all this, this spat with China, over a range of issues. I just have been handed to me a Ministry of Education statement dated from today, from China. They’re warning their students to very carefully reassess the risk of going to Australia. They’re saying the spread of the new global pneumonia outbreak has not been effectively controlled, and there are risks in international travel and open campuses. During the epidemic, there were multiple discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia. The Ministry of Education reminds all overseas students to do a risk assessment, and is currently cautious in choosing to study in Australia, or return to Australia. That’s pretty savage to have China trying to do that – discourage students from coming here, on the grounds of the virus and racism.
Tehan: Well, as you know, we will continue to deal with all countries when it comes to the international student market, on, with the same footing, with the same approach. We think that the way we have dealt with the pandemic means that Australia is one of the safest countries in the world for international students to return to, when we feel it’s safe to do so, and when the medical experts say that it’s safe to do so. I don’t think there’s many other countries in the world that international students would want to return to. And, obviously, we are an incredibly tolerant society. We’re a multicultural society. We treat everyone the same, and that will continue to be the approach that we take, as a Government, and as a people. So, for us, we want to have very good relations with all countries. We want to make sure that all international students are welcome here, and that’s the approach that we will continue to take.
Kenny: Well, that’s exactly the point, though. The reality you just outlined is directly in contradiction with what China is saying. China is saying that this is not a safe country to come to, because of the pandemic, and it’s also not safe because of racism. How do we deal with a major trading partner spreading those sorts of lies and misinformation about our country, directed at people who might want to come here and spend money?
Tehan: Oh, look, we just continue to express the facts, to demonstrate, through lived reality, about what a tolerant society we are, how it is a great place for people to visit, why we’ve seen international student numbers in this country grow over the last decade. Because, people understand that this is a safe country to come to, where we’ve got world-class educational offerings. So, we’ll just continue to present the case, present the facts, and that’s the best way that, that we can offer ourselves up as an international student market, as a tourism market.
Kenny: Thanks for joining us, Dan.
Tehan: Pleasure, Chris.