Release type: Transcript


Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Afternoon Briefing


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: The Review of the Adoption of the Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom, International students and pilot programs, Returning Australians, Terrorism-related charges, Reshuffle

Patricia Karvelas: Education Minister Dan Tehan says the review is a wake-up call, and he joins me now. Dan Tehan, welcome.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Patricia.

Karvelas: Are you concerned that only nine out of Australia’s 42 universities have policies fully aligned with your Model Code of free speech?

Tehan: Look, I think this is a wake-up call. There were a number who had policies that were nearly aligned, but have got more work to do. So, my hope is that they will get to work before the end of the year, and make sure that their policies are fully aligned with the Code. And, then, obviously those universities who haven’t done anything at this stage, we really want them to, all hands-on deck to make sure that they’re compliant by the end of the year, because that’s the commitment that all universities made at the beginning of the year – that they would be fully compliant by the end of this year.

Karvelas: Is the fact that the other 33 universities haven’t fully implemented the Code mean freedom of speech is at risk at those campuses?

Tehan: Well, what Professor Walker has said is that if you don’t have policies in place which protect freedom of speech or freedom of academic inquiry, then there is a risk that you are undermining freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry. It’s all very well saying that you protect them. But, what she has found is that you actually need the policies in place, because if you’ve got the policies in place, that means that academics or other workers in the university sector know that they’re protected by the policies, not just by comments or words by Vice-Chancellors or others at the university.

Karvelas: Are you expecting the increasing tensions that we’re witnessing between Australia and China could present freedom of speech conflicts at Australian universities?

Tehan: Well, I think the current geostrategic climate, the current use of social media, lots of things are really making it more and more important that we are protecting freedom of speech and academic inquiry at our universities. So, I think it is really important, this day and age, that we protect those two key tenants of our universities, because they’re absolutely two key tenants, as well, to a functioning democracy. And, that’s why I think the work that Professor Walker has done, and before that the work by former Chief Justice of the High Court Robert French, is so important to our university sector, and why the Government wants to see our sector step up to the plate and make sure they implement the Code.

Karvelas: If they don’t meet your deadline, what are the repercussions?

Tehan: Well, one of the things that Professor Walker has recommended – and, I think it’s a very good, sensible recommendation – is that the governing councils of university should have to, as part of their annual reports, put in place what they’re doing to uphold and protect freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry. And, what she has suggested is that a group of chancellors get together and put a template forward that can be used in those annual reports. And, then, what we’re able to do, through the attestation that those chancellors would make or those governing councils would make in the annual report, is then hold universities to account through TEQSA, to make sure that they are adhering to the Model Code. So, that’s something that Professor Walker has recommended to the Government. My view is that we should accept that recommendation. But, obviously, I’ve got to talk to my colleagues, and we’ll come back with a formal response to Professor Walker’s review in the coming days.

Karvelas: Minister, has Victoria given you any indication of when they’ll have a plan for the return of international students?

Tehan: They have approached us and asked for more time to develop their plan. My understanding is they want to wait till the Coate inquiry is handed down, and then they will come to us with a plan. But, my hope is that that will be sooner rather than later, and, obviously, international students, especially for Melbourne itself, is a vital part of the fabric of the CBD, of the CBD economy. So, I’m sure that universities and the state government will be working very closely together to put a plan in place.

Karvelas: Okay. We’ve heard concerns that the UK, that Canada are really capitalising on our inaction here. Are you worried that they’re capturing the market?

Tehan: Look, so far, the signs are very good, from the online enrolments that we’re seeing and the way that students are sticking to those online enrolments. So, and I think, also, the way that we’ve dealt with the pandemic has put us in a very good place – obviously, both the way we’ve dealt with it on the health, on the health front, and on the economic front – so, I think we’re still in a very good place. But, obviously, we’ve got to continue to work to get those plans in place, so that when the time is right – and, especially when we’ve dealt with the issue of returning Australian citizens – that we can look to see what we can do to get the international student pipeline going again, remembering that it creates 250,000 jobs in this country and $40 billion worth of income.

Karvelas: Do you support the prioritisation of stranded Aussies coming home, over international students?

Tehan: I do. I think it’s the right thing for us to do, is to look after Australian citizens and make sure, especially for those vulnerable citizens, we have to look after their welfare and do what we can to get them back to Australia. And, I think that’s why it’s been the focus of the Government. I think it’s the right thing for us to do. But, my hope is that, after the New Year, having prioritised the return, returning of Australian citizens, that we’ll be able to look and see what we can do to get that international student pipeline going again.

Karvelas: I just want to ask you about a breaking story this afternoon. What’s your reaction to this arrest of an 18-year-old with links to right-wing extremist ideology, for trying to access bomb-making material? This is incredibly disturbing.

Tehan: Look, Patricia, I’ve been in Question Time and then I went straight into a meeting, so I haven’t seen any of the detail around it. So, until I’ve seen the detail, I’d prefer not to comment. But, obviously, any arrest for terrorism-related activity is deeply concerning. And, it’s why the Government has put in place not only legislation to deal with terrorism in this country, but also extra resources are being provided to our intelligence agencies to make sure we’re doing all we can to protect Australians from terrorism.

Karvelas: There has been a referral by Peter Dutton to look at the issues around Islamist terror and right-wing terror. Labor’s saying we know a lot about Islamist terror, we’ve been focusing on this for 20 years. Shouldn’t the inquiry and the focus be on right-wing extremism?

Tehan: Well, look, once again, I’m not across the detail. But, I would say, in general terms, dealing with terrorism means dealing with all types of terrorism ,and that’s what the Government has been focused on dealing with. And, we’ll continue to focus on what type of terrorism that is – whether it’s right-wing, whether it’s Islamic terrorism – we want to do everything we can to make sure that we’re keeping Australians safe, and that’s what we will do.

Karvelas: You are reportedly the frontrunner to replace Simon Birmingham as Trade Minister. I’m wondering, is that a, sort of, portfolio that you’re interested in?

Tehan: Look, Patricia, there’s a lot of speculation around this time of year. I’m very focused, at the moment, on the education portfolio. You saw that through what, the work that I undertook, and which was announced with Professor Sally Walker today, and I’ll continue to focus on the education portfolio from now until the end of the year. And, those decisions are left up to the Prime Minister, and I’ll leave it to him to make them, and just continue to do my job to the best of my ability.

Karvelas: Okay, that’s the very diplomatic, official answer. Do you think your experience engaging on issues like international students would be an asset to the trade portfolio?

Tehan: So, Patricia, that’s a nice try. I’m focused on doing my job and doing it to the best of my ability, and that’s what I’ll continue to do. We’re implementing additional university places, obviously, we had some great news around results when it comes to maths and science at the school level, which shows our focus on numeracy is starting to pay some dividends. Although, there’s still more work to go. And, you know, obviously, still working with the child care sector – which has bounced back remarkably well following the pandemic – that continues to be my focus, and that’s what’ll be, it’ll be from here until the end of the year.

Karvelas: Okay. I won’t ask in any other sort of sneaky ways. I think that people can interpret it as they want to. Dan Tehan, thanks for coming on.

Tehan: Thanks, Patricia.

Karvelas: Dan Tehan is the Federal Education Minister.