SUBJECTS: UNSW and social media posts, COVID-19 and Victoria
Chris Kenny: Let’s go to Victoria now and catch up with the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Thanks for joining us, Dan. I want to come to pandemic issues in a moment. But, first up, we looked earlier in the week at the story out of the University of New South Wales, where the university had published some very reasonable criticisms from one of its academics of Beijing and a defence of human rights in Hong Kong. And, yet the uni bowed to pressure, and pulled this story down. Are you worried that we’re still seeing this sort of intimidation and this sort of kowtowing to Chinese interests, at our universities?
Dan Tehan: Well, Chris, freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry have to be absolute pillars of our higher education providers, and this is something that the Government is going to keep insisting and keep working on. Obviously, we put in place the French Code. We got Robert French, the former Chief Justice of the High Court, to do a review of freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry at our universities. He put in place a voluntary code. All universities have said that they are going to adopt that, and said that they will be fully implemented by the end of the year. So, we will continue to keep working with the sector to make sure that freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry is embedded in their institutions. It’s so vital at this time in our history that that is the case, and I want to see Australian higher education providers being renowned across the globe for the provisions that they put in place to protect freedom of speech and protect freedom of academic inquiry.
Kenny: That’s all well and good, and all power to your arm in doing that with the universities, but in this specific case it is clear, even from the university’s own response and apology, that they actually took down this information because of pressure from Chinese interests. That’s kind of chilling, isn’t it?
Tehan: Look, it means that we’ve still got more work to do, and we want to make sure that all universities understand that freedom of speech is absolutely vital to our nation’s future. It’s vital to them as organisations. And, we’re going to continue to keep working, to insist that it is absolutely embedded in the culture of our higher education institutions. We want to make sure when these types of things happen, that the first thing that any university would think about is the absolute necessity for us to be able to protect freedom of speech in this nation. And, I will have more to say on this in coming days, but we have to make sure that it is an absolute pillar of our higher education providers.
Kenny: I want to come to the pandemic. Your home state of Victoria. Obviously, they need to slow the rate of infection in Victoria because it’s got away from them a bit. But, do you think that this extreme lockdown and a curfew in Melbourne is Daniel Andrews overplaying his hand, and rather than picking off those measures that might be most effective?
Tehan: Well, I think the issue we have here in Victoria is the level of community transmission, and we’ve got to make sure that we can put a stop to it. And, my hope is that by taking these measures which unfortunately, I think, have to be taken, regrettably have to be taken, we’ve got to make sure that while we’re doing this, we’re getting the contact tracing right. We’re getting the testing turnaround times absolutely shortened. And, we’re making sure that people are socially distancing. And, there’s [indistinct] socially distancing …
Kenny: … But, if I could just jump in there because we’re running out of time. Sorry Dan Tehan. If I could jump in because we are out of time. This is precisely my point. He hasn’t got his contact tracing right. Up until this week, he was letting infected people leave their home for exercise. He hasn’t got these basic things right. Yet, he’s gone into the lockdown and the curfew beforehand. Shouldn’t they have got those basic things right, because they’ve worked in other states? Instead he’s let them, sort of, dwindle, and he’s gone to an extreme lockdown.
Tehan: Well, getting the public health response right is absolutely crucial. And, you’re right. We’ve seen in seven of the eight states and territories that that public health response has led to us being able to flatten the curve. We’ve got to do that in Victoria. We’ve got to get the public health response right. But, given the level of community transmission going on, while we do that, we have to put these measures in place to enable us to get that public health response exactly where we need it. So, while it’s terrible and, especially, the economic consequences are awful, we’ve got to make sure that we can get the public health response in place, so that we’ll flatten the curve, and we know it will stay flattened.
Kenny: Thanks Dan for your time, appreciate it.
Tehan: Thanks Chris.
Kenny: Dan Tehan there, the Federal Education Minister from Hamilton in Western Victoria, as that whole state goes into extreme lockdown. Of course, those regional areas not facing the curfew, but other measures.