SUBJECTS: Border closures, International students
Leon Byner: Also, this morning, we’re going to talk about a very important issue, and that is the well-being of South Australians. The State Government has told you that they want to bring in 300 international students as a pilot boost for the SA economy. These students will embark from Singapore, where currently there are 93 COVID cases. The students, mainly from China and India, come from regions where common cases number in the thousands. Meanwhile, at our border between SA in Victoria, the last reading we got from SAPOL was that there were eight cluster cases. Our border is shut to farmers who want to transport feed to their stock, medical employees and patients who are disallowed to give or receive treatment, students and teachers who are disallowed to learn or work, consumers aren’t allowed across borders to shop. Meantime, the universities have expressed intentions of bringing 12,000 international students, hence the Marshall pilot plan for 300. Now, of course, under normal circumstances, this state welcomes these guests with open arms. But, whilst local citizens are denied returning to their homes and thousands aren’t allowed in, the idea that we can bring in international students in big numbers shows contempt for the local population. And, by the way, that includes economic wellbeing, does it not? But, it gets worse. A student with parents who’ve got a fat wallet gets the red carpet treatment by the Premier and SA Health, while young Australians working, in many cases, heroically for the NHS in the UK needing to return at the end of their contracts, are faced with massive airfares because their aircraft are limited to 30 arrivals, then their quarantine costs, which could be $3,000. Now, South Australians have, overwhelmingly, done the right thing. But, the same South Australians can see the profound injustice in what the Premier is proposing, by treating these students differently to our own young people. Public opinion on this matter, for the Premier, shown by polling, is politically toxic. But, now, there’s another issue that’s made people even more angry. The Premier has told Tasmania and WA, ‘Open up your borders. We’re worried about the mental health effects on South Australians.’ Meantime, we’ve gone and done the very opposite. Let’s talk to the Federal Member for Wannon, who has a very large electorate and all these border points. He’s also the Education Minister, Dan Tehan. Dan, thanks for coming on today. What do you say about this?
Dan Tehan: It’s a pleasure. Look, well, what we need is some common-sense around the borders, and this issue will be addressed at National Cabinet today. As the Prime Minister has said, we understand why states are putting border restrictions in place, given what’s occurring in Victoria. But, what we do need to be able to do is have a common-sense approach, so those people who, for medical reasons, or work reasons, or for education reasons, that we can work through issues, to make sure that these cross-border issues don’t cause further torment to people.
Byner: Now, there is an issue here. We are told that essential workers will be accepted, however the evidence I’m getting from your confederates is that that’s not happening. That, in fact, when an application is made, it is rejected within less than three minutes, which means they couldn’t have even read the darn thing, let alone approved it.
Tehan: So, one of the things that all the cross-border MPs have been doing is raising these issues, and a group of cross-border MPs have written to both the South Australian head of Police and the Victorian head of Police, asking them to look at these issues. Also, obviously, the Prime Minister has written to state and territory premiers also seeking their cooperation in making it more seamless for these issues to be addressed. And, that’s what they’ll be talking about at National Cabinet today, and, I think, it’s going to be incredibly important that we can get a more common-sense approach to these border issues. And, I know that the state and territory governments want to see this, as well. So, let’s hope that we get a very good, constructive outcome from this afternoon.
Byner: You have obviously spoken to the National Deputy Chief Medical Officer. Is it still their view, as it was some time ago, that the border shouldn’t be shut?
Tehan: Look, their advice has been that, unless there is strict health reasons as to why to close borders, then they think that borders should remain open. Now, obviously, with what happened in Victoria, they could see some reasons as to why there needed to be tighter border restrictions. But, obviously, and, ultimately, what we want to see is the pandemic dealt with in Victoria, so we can get the borders reopened. And, then, as we deal with the coronavirus going forward, we can deal with it in a localised manner, rather than having to deal with it by closing state, or restricting movement, on state borders.
Byner: Do you bless the movement by the Premier to bring in 300 selective students from overseas where the origins, even at point of embarkation, have more cases of COVID than what we’ve got here? And, yet, and yet, we are saying to citizens who live here, ‘Oh no, we’ll treat you differently.’
Tehan: Well, the Prime Minister has made clear that while state border restrictions are impacted on the movement of Australians, and the state agreed caps on international flights of returning Australians are there, and we work through those issues, that they’ll be sorted before international students return. We want, as you said earlier, we want international students to return. They create 250,000 jobs and $40 billion worth of export income for our nation. But, obviously, we’ve got to address these issues around the movement of Australians and returning flights as we seek to progress what we will do with international students.
Byner: Dan Tehan, thank you very much for joining us today.