SUBJECTS: Universities and free speech, COVID-19 and Victoria
Sharri Markson: And, joining me now once again from his hotel lockdown is Education Minister Dan Tehan. He’s on the phone, not on Skype. Minister, if your broadband is as bad as it has been tonight for the next two weeks of quarantine, I think you are in trouble.
Dan Tehan: It will make for a lot of fun and games, but it might mean it’s a nice quiet time in isolation. But, anyway, hopefully we’ll get it fixed.
Markson: Difficult to work and difficult to watch Netflix at night, that’s for sure.
Tehan: Yes, I think we can rule out the Netflix, definitely. And, I’ve got enough on my plate anyway to keep me very busy for the next two weeks.
Markson: Fair enough. Look, I just wanted to ask you about that issue that I started asking you about of freedom of speech at our universities, after the Drew Pavlou’s and the UNSW issue in the past week. How concerned are you about this problem?
Tehan: Look, it’s concerning. We want to make sure that when it comes to our nation, that we’re renowned globally as a pillar of upholding freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry. And, I want all international students to know, I want all domestic students to know, that when you go to university in Australia, you know that you’re going to institutions that will absolutely uphold the fundamental principles of which our democracy are built on. And, one of those is freedom of speech, and the other one is academic inquiry. And, that’s why I want Sally Walker to have a look at how universities have implemented the French Code, and to make sure that there are no gaps or nothing else that we need to be doing to make sure that our universities understand the importance of freedom of speech and academic inquiry.
Markson: Do you think it’s got to the point where you might need to consider actually legislating freedom of speech in the university sector?
Tehan: Well, I’ve kept it very open-ended when it comes to what I’ve asked Sally to do, and I won’t want to prejudge what Sally will come back to when she has her review. But, we have not ruled anything out. We want to make sure that we’re renowned here in Australia, and across the globe, for freedom of speech and academic inquiry. And, we want to know, we want all students, whether they’re domestic or international, to know, when they come to our institutions, that’s what they’ll get – the ability to speak their mind and to inquire.
Markson: … So, you are open to looking at, you are open at looking at legislation, because this issue is so important?
Tehan: Well, I will not prejudge it. I’ve said to Sally Walker, ‘You come back to me and let me know what you think needs to be done. Were there are any gaps that need to be filled?’ And, if she comes back and says that she thinks that we need to legislate, then, of course, we will look very seriously at that.
Markson: How, look, this, this issue with Drew Pavlou and at UNSW has really exposed just how beholden some universities appear to be to China. You know, has that been eye opening for you?
Tehan: Look, ever since I’ve been Education Minister, there’s two things that I’ve wanted to achieve. One is, I want to get the focus on domestic students. I want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can with our higher education system to make sure that we are giving our young Australians the best chance of being able to get a job, and be part of the community, and to have all, get all the benefits that you get from a higher education. And, I also want to make sure that when it comes to international students, that people, a) understand the importance of them. They create 250,000 jobs here in the nation, provide us with $40 billion worth of income. But …
Markson: … But, to me, this isn’t, doesn’t even seem to be about the international students. I’m so sorry for interrupting …
Tehan: … No, you’re alright …
Markson: … but, it seems to be about the fear of offending the Chinese Government.
Tehan: Well, what we have to do, and this is the second point that I wanted to make. So, a) we have to understand how important that international student market is. The second point is, we also have to understand that, wherever those international students come, the reason they’re coming here is to get a quality education, and that quality education means that we will, without fear and favour, teach what we know is what you need to learn in a quality education. And, that means that we will teach all the subjects, it means that we will teach all the different philosophies, it means we will teach everything that students need to know about different forms of government, and we’ll do that without fear and favour. And, that is why I want Sally Walker to continue to have a look to make sure that our universities know and understand how important it is that – doesn’t matter what government, across the globe, is taking an interest in our higher education market – that we will teach and that we will inform and educate our students without fear and favour.
Markson: Look, just on another topic. A couple of months ago, in May, actually, you apologised, you were forced to withdraw comments, when you accused the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews of a failure of leadership during an interview on the ABC. It was the Prime Minister, reportedly, who forced you to withdraw that remark. Since then, you have clearly been proven to be right, haven’t you? He has failed in terms of his leadership of Victoria, when it comes to the handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Tehan: Sharri, I think, at the moment, what all Victorians and all Australians want is just to focus on the here and now, and what’s happening in Victoria at the moment. And, the Treasurer has said we’ve seen some serious failures with deadly consequences, and we’ve got to get to the bottom of that. We’ve got to understand what happened, how it happened, and make sure it won’t happen again. And, that’s my focus. That’s the focus of the federal parliamentary team. That’s why we’ve pushed to get the ADF in to help and assist and advise the Victorian State Government. We want to be doing everything we can now to get to the bottom of what’s happened, and, also, to make sure it won’t happen again. And, to help and assist Victorians get through this at the moment.
Markson: What do you think about the revelations that a social inclusion policy was behind the Andrews Government’s decision to hire cheaper private contractors for hotel quarantine?
Tehan: Well, what we need to do is let the inquiry take its place, and we need everyone to fully cooperate with that. And, we have to understand the counsel assisting the commission into the quarantine issue has said that it’s potentially the fact that every case in this second Victorian wave has come about as a result of this, of what happened with the quarantine arrangements that were put in place. Now, what we need is full and frank answers, so that we can get to the bottom of this.
Markson: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve just been speaking about freedom of speech at universities. You were forced to withdraw your criticism of Dan Andrews. Is there a similar issue when it comes to freedom of speech and being critical of the Victorian Government within the Morrison Government backbench and ministry?
Tehan: No, not at all. We have to make sure that what we do and what we say will be very constructive, but, also, will point to where we think failures have been. And, as you’ve seen, the Treasurer’s out, we’ve had the Assistant Minister Michael Sukkar out, saying that we need to look at this, and that we need to get to the bottom of it. And, you know, I’m quite open with you tonight saying that, you know, what the Treasurer said yesterday, when he said there were serious failures with deadly consequences, you know, I think that’s something that all of us as federal parliamentarians from Victoria support – that we want to get to the bottom of this, given what has happened.
Markson: Yeah. Dan Tehan, thank you very much for persisting with us tonight. Appreciate you taking the time from your hotel quarantine to have a chat.
Tehan: It’s a pleasure Shari, and I’ll look forward to chatting with you over the next couple of weeks. All the best.
Markson: Thank you very much.