Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview - 5AA with Leon Byner

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: Skilled workers and international students re-entering Australia

LEON BYNER:

In the meantime, I want to go back to something that we promised we would do, and that is that as of 1 December, which is not far away, we will see the return of international students to South Australia. I caught up with earlier this morning, the Federal Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Alan Tudge. 

[Excerpt]

Single, eligible visa holders are going to be allowed to travel to Australia without applying for an exemption. Now, we have locked them out for nearly two years, haven't we? 

ALAN TUDGE:

Yep. That is correct. Since March, we shut the borders to China. And then from - when was it? April, that we closed the borders more broadly.  It’s been a long time.

LEON BYNER:

So, how many people– there’s going to be a bit of a rush on people coming in, I would have thought? 

ALAN TUDGE:

There's about 200,000 people who have already got an eligible visa, be that a student visa or a skilled visa, basically. And they'll be eligible to come in. Now, they're going to have to get their affairs organised, get a flight, all that sort of stuff. 

LEON BYNER:

Well, we're going to need some of these skilled workers. Because I know a lot of businesses have been complaining - and you’d know this, Minister, even better than me - they've been saying, look, we, we can't get skilled labour. We’ve got to bring them in. 

ALAN TUDGE:

No, that's exactly right, that’s exactly right. So, that's- it’s why we've opened the borders, primarily because there's so many businesses that need those skilled workers. And the two categories that are the largest categories that will come in will be, (a) the skilled worker visa, and (b) it’s going to be the international student visa. But those international students don't just study, they tend to also do some work, often in the cafes and the restaurants and driving the taxis or the Ubers and the like. Really valuable work, which we need. 

LEON BYNER:

Yes. I think we need to explain to the community how important the international students are especially for these part-time jobs. Some will do full time, but most of them part-time …

ALAN TUDGE:

[Talks over] Yeah. That’s right.

LEON BYNER:

…which if we didn't have them, we'd be in all sorts of trouble, wouldn't we? 

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, well, that's exactly right. I mean, you just won't have the restaurants consistently open, the cafes consistently open, without some of those international students who make up a very significant proportion of the hospitality workforce - so that's always been the case. Now, international students, when they come here, Leon, they can work 20 hours per week, and then over their holidays they can work full-time. And that's been very valuable. But they're important as well for all the local businesses who international students spend money at. Of course, they’re spending money in terms of student fees, but they spend an equal amount of money actually in the restaurants and cafes and on doing their trips and on accommodation. And so, all up they actually support 250,000 Aussies in jobs. So it's really important market. 

LEON BYNER:

Yeah. Just refresh everyone's memory as to why we found it necessary to lock them out, so to speak, in the first place. 

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, this goes back all the way to March of 2019, where the pandemic was just starting to kick off, initially in China, as you might recall. And so, we made the pretty tough decision at the time to close the international borders to China, and then ultimately, we closed all international borders to keep COVID out of the country for as long as humanly possible. In hindsight, that was probably the most important thing we did in terms of managing the virus. It was a tough decision at the time, I recall it, being a member of the Cabinet - but it was the right one. 

And now is the right time to reopen again, now that we're at that 80 per cent vaccination rate. That's consistent with precisely what we said, in accordance with the national plan. And it obviously helps get the economy roaring back by having those skilled migrants and international students back. 

LEON BYNER:

I know this is a controversial point, but we always have been trying to find out where the origin of this has been. And that's caused a few ruffled feathers internationally, has it not? 

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, it has. I mean, we called very early on, Leon, as you might recall, for a proper international investigation into the origins of this, so that we could learn from it and not repeat the mistakes made. There's still some discussion going on. I know that Sharri Markson, for example, has done a- she works at Sky News…

LEON BYNER:

Sure.

ALAN TUDGE:

… she’s done a big investigative piece on this. But it would be good to know categorically where exactly it came from, so we don't repeat this. 

LEON BYNER:

Will we ever find out, or is it going to be too sensitive? 

ALAN TUDGE:

I don’t know. 

[Laughter]

ALAN TUDGE:

I don’t know. I don’t know. And you don't always get clear information coming out of the Communist Party of China, as you know. It's a Communist regime, and they typically don't always give us clear information. 

LEON BYNER:

Now, a very important point. Unis and TAFEs, they’re, they're surely going to be beneficiaries of this policy aren’t they?

ALAN TUDGE:

They will as well, because international students primarily go to the universities, but they also go to the TAFE, and indeed some schools, both government and independent, as well. So, by reopening the borders, I estimate there's probably about 5000 students who are offshore at the moment who would like to be studying, basically, in Adelaide. And in doing so, they'll be coming here, spending money supporting those local businesses and also doing a bit of work while they're here to ensure that some of those skills shortages are addressed. 

LEON BYNER:

So, what will they have to do to qualify to come in? 

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, those people have already got their visa, so they’re already, already qualified. They've had their security check; they've had their health check; they're ready to go. They just have to book the flight, make sure they've got accommodation at the other end and get here. Now, in the short term, to come into South Australia, they'll have to do a week's quarantine. Now, that's a decision of Premier Marshall. But he's informed me that once you get to 90 per cent double vaccination, which is likely to be at the end of the year given that your first dose is already 87 per cent …

LEON BYNER:

[Talks over] Yeah.

ALAN TUDGE:

… then, then there won't be that quarantining requirement for those international students or skilled migrants.

LEON BYNER:

Tell me, do you think once we've got to these special vaccination benchmarks things are going to be a lot more relaxed? Because at the moment, we've got a situation where it was almost unthinkable months ago that we would have borders that are virtually shut like a drawbridge at every state border. 

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah. It's been extraordinary, hasn't it? 

LEON BYNER:

Yes.

ALAN TUDGE:

I never would have predicted this, Leon, two years ago. And obviously, today is an important day for South Australia, because you're opening your borders, which is great news, and I think will be really welcome to many South Australians, as well as many other people from across Australia who want to go to South Australia to visit their loved ones. And let's hope those borders stay down. I think they will. 

The advice is- has always been that once you get to that 80 per cent double vaccination rate, you are so much safer. And that's why we laid that out in that national plan. We're sticking to it, Premier Marshall’s sticking to it. Because, in essence, the Australian public has done their side of the deal, we're now sticking to our side of the deal. 

[End of excerpt]

LEON BYNER:

That's Alan Tudge just explaining in very close detail - because I know you've wanted to know about this – the, the business of entering Australia, particularly on any kind of visa, or indeed, if you're a citizen returning.