SUBJECTS: US election, International students and pilot programs, COVID-19 and schools
Chris Kenny: Let’s catch up with the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan now. He joins us from Western Victoria. Good to talk to you again, Dan. I want to start on the President. Of course, your leader, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has rung to congratulate Joe Biden. You don’t want to interfere in American politics, but this makes it increasingly difficult to deal with a country when you can’t assume that Joe Biden is the President-elect.
Dan Tehan: Oh, look, we’ve got full confidence in the US system. The fact that the United States institutions will sort this out. The Prime Minister’s, obviously, moved to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden, and we’re confident in the strength of the US political system, the strength of its institutions, and we’re sure that there will be a proper transition in the United States.
Kenny: You must be worried, though, about the damage that’s being done to those institutions in the meantime?
Tehan: Well, look, we don’t want to comment on US processes. As you know, politics is incredibly hard-fought in the United States, but we have full confidence, as I’ve said, in the US institutions, and that’s why the Prime Minister rang President-elect Joe Biden to congratulate him. And, we’re sure that there will be a smooth transition to Joe Biden. The institutions of the US have been one of the, they’ve been a leader when it comes to ensuring democracy is upheld right across the world, and we’ve got confidence that they’ll be able to see this transition through, and that US democracy will be just as strong, as it’s always been, after the transition.
Kenny: Yes. Let’s hope so. Those people who get too cocky about, of Australia need to remember 2010 and a whole nation waiting days to see what reprobates like Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott would do to decide the outcome. So, at least they’ve got legal processes looking at this one. I want to bring you back to the pandemic management, Dan. And, I showed earlier in the program comments from Gladys Berejiklian, who, in the past couple of days, has been brave enough to suggest that in the new year, we need to open up more places in our international quarantine for international students. This is sensible, isn’t it? The, if we can, if we can find the quarantine places, we’ve got to try and bring more international workers, and students, into the country.
Tehan: Well, the international student market is worth $40 billion to the Australian economy. It creates 250,000 jobs. So, we do need to get international students back into the country. But, we’ve got to do it in a safe way, and that’s why we’re working with every state and territory to do that. Obviously, our priority has been to get as many Australians back before Christmas. That continues to be our priority. But, we’ve asked every state and territory government to provide us with a plan as to how they could safely bring international students back after Christmas. We’ve asked for those plans by the end of this month, and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to work cooperatively with all state and territory governments. But, once we’ve got those Australians who want to return, back by Christmas, we can then move to look how we can safely start to bring international students back into the country.
Kenny: Would you also look at different scales of quarantine or pandemic checks for people from different countries? I’ve just done two weeks’ quarantine. It is pretty onerous. But, what would I expect, because I was returning from North America. But, if you were coming in from Japan or Singapore or China, wouldn’t there be the potential to have people present a COVID negative test, and perhaps can consent to have one seven days after arrival, or some such? Not, in other words, something, something less than two weeks’ full quarantine?
Tehan: What we’ve asked every state and territory to do is to, to put together plans to present to the Commonwealth Government. And, as part of those plans, we want them signed off, especially around quarantine, by their chief medical officers. So, we’ve said that what we want to do is, as we have all along through this pandemic, is take the advice of the medical experts. And, so, every plan that’s submitted by a state and territory government we want signed off by the chief medical officers. Now, if they see that there are opportunities to safely quarantine people outside of hotel quarantine, then that’s something that we’re prepared to discuss and look at with them. But, they obviously need to be signed off by their chief medical officers, because the ultimate responsibility for quarantine lies with states and territories. And, so, we want to make sure that anything that they put forward has been signed off by their chief medical officers.
Kenny: Now, it’s been a hell of a year, for not just the universities, but for education, from R to 12, as well. Kids in South Australia just last week had a shutdown thrust on them, for no good reason. Just how disruptive do you believe this education year has been for, for school children, and, particularly, for those in Victoria and those doing Year 12?
Tehan: Well, one of the really great things, Chris, was that they’d finished Year 12 exams in South Australia. So, fortunate for those Year 12 students in South Australia, they’d got their exams out of the way, so it didn’t impact on them. And, also, fortunately, obviously, the shutdown there ended up being a very, for a very brief period of time. In Victoria, we obviously saw the pandemic hit and lead to that loss of face-to-face teaching for nearly four months for some students. So, one of the things that we’ve got to do is we’ve got to look at the evidence now, and get a real sense of what has been the impact. We know from what the experts have told us that lack of face-to-face teaching will really impact Indigenous students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, those with a disability, and those from regional and rural areas. So, I, really looking forward for us to being able to monitor and have a look at that. And, we’ll be able to do that, for instance, through NAPLAN next year, and get a sense of, alright, has it led to students missing out? Do we need to provide resources to help students catch up? And, you’ve already seen from the Victorian State Government, for instance, an initiative to put tutors into the classroom next year to help those students who might have fallen behind. So, we’ve just got to make sure we’re getting the evidence, that we can monitor it, and then, obviously, from a Commonwealth Government point of view, we want to work with states and territories to make sure that we can help and support those students who have fallen behind.
Kenny: Yeah, good stuff, and hopefully with all the experience of this year some of those states will be less trigger happy to shut schools down next year when there’s likely to be more outbreaks here and there. Thanks for joining us, Dan. I appreciate it.
Tehan: Well, the, no problems, Chris. And, as you know, the medical experts have always said it’s safe to keep the schools open. Good to be with you.
Kenny: Spot on. Thanks.