SUBJECTS: Border closures and impacts on education
Chris Kenny: Let’s catch up with the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan now. Thanks for joining us, Dan. You, your electorate, of course, covers that western border area of Victoria. A lot of your constituents caught up in this. I hope you heard Brad Trahar’s situation. He’s gone across to Mount Gambier for work and now he’s completely separated from his family. Surely this is a classic case where the authorities should make an exemption, allow his family to join him, perhaps needing to go into a couple of weeks isolation, if so desired.
Dan Tehan: I did hear that Chris, and it’s why the Prime Minister raised this issue at National Cabinet today and is seeking some clearer guidance when it comes to situations with regards to health, situations with regard to work, especially with the agriculture sector, with regards to schooling. We all need to have a good dose of common-sense when it comes to these issues and make sure that we can work through them, so we don’t have people finding themselves in the situation that Brad is.
Kenny: Can you do anything to help Brad? Can we get him to get in touch with your office? I mean, his family are wandering around now homeless in Western Victoria. He’s just across the border, of course, from you. Is there, surely there’s something that can be done to sort out these situations. In fact, that was part of the focus today from the Prime Minister, is that he’ll step in and try and sort out these individual issues if he can.
Tehan: Absolutely. If Brad gets in contact with my office, and I’d be more than happy to take up his case. I’ll also talk to Tony Pasin, who obviously represents Mount Gambier, where Brad is. So, between the two of us, I think we’ll definitely be able to try and work something else out for Brad, and see whether we can sort it out. Because, our offices are getting cases like this, quite a lot of these cases, where we do need to be able to work processes through, so people aren’t put in these positions.
Kenny: This seems such an extreme policy from South Australia, especially given the level of risk here. Even just closing the border for daily travel is one thing. But, where you’ve got people who’ve, this sort of family reunion reason, or to go back into study or work, Victorians actually prepared to do two weeks of isolation in South Australia. Surely, that’s a no-brainer. Anyone prepared to do that should be accepted back.
Tehan: Look, I think there is a need for us to continue to examine how things are working, how policies are working, especially when it comes to the border. I live in Hamilton in the Southern Grampians Shire. We haven’t had a case for about three or four months. There’s no community transmission. So, I think if we could start to look at what regions near the borders don’t have community transmission, whether they could then be included as part of the quarantined area, so that you get freer access into South Australia. They’re the types of things that I think it would be very good if we could start to look at. It works very well when it comes to animal health, when there is, when there’s issues there to do with quarantining. They tend to build the quarantine area as you eliminate the disease, and I think that’s something we should be looking to do around these border areas.
Kenny: Do you think these state premiers – and there are a number of them behaving like this, it’s not just Steven Marshall, it’s happening across in Queensland, WA and Tasmania, as well. Do you think they’ve actually thought through where they’re going to be in six months’, 12 months’ time? Because, the virus isn’t going away.
Tehan: Well, I think it’s pretty challenging at the moment, Chris, especially with what’s happening in Victoria. We have seen community transmission. We’re obviously hearing cases around, the tracing hasn’t had the resource that it’s needed. There’s been delays with testing. So, I think there has been a degree of nervousness with what’s happening in Victoria, which has sort of lead to some of these decisions. But, I think the main thing is, what we need to do is be listening and making sure we’re working through these issues. And, that’s why the Prime Minister has taken such a proactive stance on that, because he understands that all these issues should be able to be sorted. You know, we heard that example of that farmer who was, wanted to get to his property in New South Wales, and was told that he should take his truckload of hay on a plane, do two weeks of quarantine in Sydney, and then drive to Houston to be able to feed his stock. So, I think we just need a little bit of a dose of common-sense around these things.
Kenny: Well, specifically on education, your portfolio, you’d be aware that students in Mildura or Warrnambool are perhaps as likely to go to do tertiary study in Adelaide as they would be in Melbourne, and a lot of them must be caught out. Surely an arrangement needs to be put into place that they can go and complete their studies, especially when South Australia is looking at bringing in overseas students.
Tehan: Look, I’ve had some very good discussions with John Gardner, the SA Education Minister, working through some of these issues, and I’m continuing to do that. With regards to schools, we were able to get some good common-sense arrangements put in place, and we continue to work on that. I’ve also been doing a similar thing with New South Wales, helping people who’ve been impacted there, on the border region. So, we’ll continue to work through those issues, as well, because obviously kids going to school from the Victorian side into South Australia, we want to see them continue to be able to get that continuity of education. And, then, for uni students, absolutely, especially if you’ve got areas of study where you need to do some practical aspects of your degree. They need to be able to get that face-to-face learning. So, we’ll continue to work through those issues with the SA Government.
Kenny: We spoke last night to Tanya Turner, who’s the principal at the Apsley School in your electorate. She’s lost five of her seven teachers because they live on the South Australian side, and about a third of her students. Do you think there’s going to be a possibility of a fix in those sorts of situations?
Tehan: Yeah, I hope so, Chris. They’re the sorts of issues that we need to work through, and work through quickly. These are small country schools. Once again, you’ve got no community transmission, and I think we do need to see a greater level of common-sense in addressing these issues.
Kenny: You’d be bloody ropable, wouldn’t you? A greater level of common-sense? I mean, you’ve really been screwed over by this hard border from South Australia. It seems to have been overbearing and far too stringent.
Tehan: Look, they’re challenging times, Chris, and we’ve got to, what we need is a commitment to work through these issues. We all understand the community nervousness around COVID-19, but what we also have to understand is everything needs to be proportionate and everything needs to be sensible. And, that’s why we’re going to continue to work through these issues. It’s why there was a letter from all the MPs who have cross-border constituencies, who have written to both the SA Police Chief and the Victorian Police Chief. It’s why the Prime Minister has written to all the state and territory premiers and chief ministers, so we can continue to sort these issues out, because they’re impacting people’s lives, their livelihoods, putting great emotional toll on them. And, we do need to make sure we’ve got a very good system to work through them all.
Kenny: Dan Tehan, thanks for joining us.
Tehan: Pleasure, Chris.
Kenny: Dan Tehan there, the Federal Education Minister, the Member for Wannon there in Western Victoria.