Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview on Radio National with Fran Kelly

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: Return of students to classrooms & Vaccinating young Australians.

 

FRAN KELLY:

New South Wales is hoping to have schools reopen in some form by the start of Term 4, but the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant amongst children makes it harder to keep students and teachers safe. Alan Tudge is the Federal Education Minister. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

ALAN TUDGE:

Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

There is a growing push to get kids back to school. The Children's Commissioner said yesterday, we need a plan from the Government to stop kids falling through the cracks. How quickly do we need to get children back in the classroom? And what's the plan to do it?

ALAN TUDGE:

We want to get kids back in the classroom as quickly as possible, Fran, in some cases, particularly in Melbourne, they've lost about six months of face-to-face schooling.

FRAN KELLY:

Yeah, sure.

ALAN TUDGE:

Fortunately, it hasn't had the dramatic impact on their learning, which is good news, but it has had a massive impact on their mental health. We know the statistics there, it’s very serious. Because schools aren't just about learning, they are about that social interaction, they are about that engagement and staying emotionally healthy, as well as academically learning.

FRAN KELLY:

What's the plan? We heard the Prime Minister there talking about vaccinating 12 to 15 year olds starting within weeks, if not months. Is that the way?

ALAN TUDGE:

Yep.

FRAN KELLY:

Is that the plan to get kids, kids back to school? And when will it start?

ALAN TUDGE:

This is part of the National Plan. And the National Plan has those four phases. When we get to 70 and 80 per cent of adults vaccinated, then the whole economy opens up, the whole society can open up and that includes the schools. That's the great hope for us as a society, as a whole. That's been agreed by the Prime Minister, the Premiers’, and we've agreed that with the Australian public.

That's what we're looking for Fran, to get those vaccines rolled out, people are stepping up. We're now doing a million vaccinations every three days. As we continue that rollout, then we'll get to those targets very quickly, schools can open up and hopefully they can stay open.

FRAN KELLY:

You’re saying schools won't open up until the states get to, or the nation gets that target of 70 to 80 per cent vaccination. That's a way off yet. Certainly not the start of the next term, is it?

ALAN TUDGE:

About half the schools, of course, are open as we speak.

FRAN KELLY:

Of course, in those states that aren’t locked down.

ALAN TUDGE:

All of those schools outside of the ACT, Victoria and New South Wales. Then there are plans being developed by New South Wales, as mentioned earlier, to try to get those schools opened more quickly. The overarching National Plan is guiding this. That's guiding the opening up of the entire society, as your listeners know. That's the great hope and confidence that we can have with this plan. We're getting there very rapidly. We want to see those schools reopen as quickly as possible, Fran. I’ve got three kids in Melbourne, they've lost a lot of their face-to-face schooling and I know how families are hurting from not having the schools open.

FRAN KELLY:

At this stage, kids under the age of 16 are not counted in that 70 or 80 per cent target. But talking about the vaccines, as the Prime Minister was, The Daily Telegraph reports today that kids 12 and over might be able to book in for a vaccine as early as next week. Is that accurate? Will it be open for bookings for kids 12 and over from next week?

ALAN TUDGE:

We'll find out a little bit more tomorrow, because the plan to get the 12 to 16 year olds vaccinated is being developed as we speak, and should be finalised by National Cabinet tomorrow, and then we'll find out the details in relation to that. I should point out, that the vulnerable groups amongst 12 to 16 year olds have already had the opportunity to get vaccinated.

FRAN KELLY:

How many of those have been vaccinated? Because someone wrote in to ask you, could I please ask you this question, because they've been trying to get their child with compromised health, into a vaccination and haven't been able to book yet. How many of that age group have been vaccinated?

ALAN TUDGE:

So about 220,000 have been vaccinated there. That’s typically the kids who’ve got compromised immunity. That’s been going pretty well. I'm sorry to hear about that listener of yours that hasn't been able to get that booking. Hopefully they can get that booking very quickly.

FRAN KELLY:

The Government’s been waiting on their ATAGI advice on vaccinating 12 and over, we still don't have it, but the Minister’s been telling us for some weeks now it’s imminent. It’s been given the tick from the TGA. Is the reality that the Government's actually not waiting for the ATAGI advice? It's waiting to have enough vaccine in the country to roll out to the 1.2 million kids in this 12 to 15 cohort?

ALAN TUDGE:

No. It's always been part of the ATAGI advice as well, who have been looking at…

FRAN KELLY:

But we don't have enough vaccine right now, do we?

ALAN TUDGE:

No. We will have enough vaccines to be able to vaccinate all of those 12 to16 year old’s as well. The Prime Minister made that clear yesterday.

FRAN KELLY:

When?

ALAN TUDGE:

In the weeks and months ahead. We're doing a million jabs every three days. We will have enough vaccines; they’re coming in, in the millions. The Australian public should have absolute confidence in relation to this, because they've seen it accelerate, they've seen those numbers. That 75 per cent now with over 50s that had at least one jab, and about 55 per cent of the entire adult population and that figure is going up very rapidly. We’ve got vaccines coming…

FRAN KELLY:

The reality is, right now, we don't have enough vaccine in the country. Will it be October?

ALAN TUDGE:

We’ve got more vaccines are coming. The 12 to 16-year-old plan will be considered by National Cabinet tomorrow, hopefully approved by National Cabinet. That will then provide those opportunities or more opportunities for 12 to 16-year-olds to get vaccinated as well - that's in the weeks and months ahead.

So, Australians should have every confidence about our overarching national plan, getting to that 70 per cent figure, getting to that 80 per cent figure. Then getting back to what we used to normally do on a day-to-day basis, being able to travel, being able to see your loved ones, the schools being open, the businesses all being open, et cetera. That's what we're looking forward to.

FRAN KELLY:

Is there a plan for vaccinating children under the age of 12? Because we've seen obviously, in Victoria and New South Wales, kids under the age of 12 getting sick.

ALAN TUDGE:

It hasn't been approved anywhere in the world, to my knowledge, that kids under 12 to be vaccinated. The good news is that while some kids are getting the virus, it doesn't seem to cause significant illness compared to the adult population, amongst kids.

FRAN KELLY:

Alright. What about spread, though? And is the key to making schools safe, which is what the pressure is on for the state and territory governments to come up with, a way to make schools safe - is the key to that to vaccinate teachers? Will you make it mandatory for teachers, particularly these primary school aged kids, to be vaccinated?

ALAN TUDGE:

We certainly want to see all teachers vaccinated.

FRAN KELLY:

Is it mandatory? Will it be mandatory?

ALAN TUDGE:

Those decisions are ultimately made by the State and Territory Governments themselves rather than by the Federal Government. But our desire is to see all of those teachers vaccinated and they should be making those bookings. Many have. The best way to stop the spread of the virus more generally, including for schools, is for all of us to go and get vaccinated. That's what people are, are stepping up to do, and we're very rapidly getting towards those 70 and 80 per cent figures.

FRAN KELLY:

But vaccination alone won't do it. A team of researchers from MIT in the US found ventilation systems are essential to limiting the spread of the virus in a classroom and relying solely on open windows can actually make the problem worse.

Is ventilation in classrooms something schools should be looking at? And is the Federal Government leading that now, in this period when so many schools are closed? You working on that?

ALAN TUDGE:

That may well be something which the New South Wales Government and Victorian Government in particular, are looking at. They control the schools; they own the schools, or the Catholic School Authority, private schools…

FRAN KELLY:

You should be leading this project, obviously.

ALAN TUDGE:

We don't operate those schools. Those details would be worked out by them. And we provide the overarching guidance through the National Plan overall, and those specific details are looked after by the States and Territories.

FRAN KELLY:

What about masks? When kids do go back to school, kids and teachers, should they be wearing masks? Will they be wearing masks?

ALAN TUDGE:

You've got to follow the health advice on that one. They are in Victoria now, and there’s guidance that all kids, even as young as five, wear masks, including outside, which as you know, is a challenge. I’ve got a five-year-old boy. We've got to follow the health advice on that one.

FRAN KELLY:

Just finally, more broadly, you mentioned the National Plan. National Cabinet tomorrow will consider what freedoms could be on the horizon once vaccine targets are reached. These freedoms could include access to restaurants and bars, concert and sporting venues and travel. Would that only be for people who are fully vaccinated? And is the Government going to have what's, effectively, a vaccine passport?

ALAN TUDGE:

First up, those opportunities which are ordinary, everyday opportunities, will be available once we get to those 70 and 80 per cent targets. That's what we've all agreed on. Whether or not they'll be conditional upon being vaccinated, that will be up to each individual State and Territory, or the specific businesses themselves. Certainly, the Federal Government hasn't made any conclusions in relation to that, to say that there'll be such a passport as you said.

FRAN KELLY:

All right. Alan Tudge, thank you very much for joining us.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks very much, Fran.