Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview - Sky News Live with Laura Jayes

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

Subjects: Queensland COVID restrictions; reopening of schools and international students returning

 

LAURA JAYES:

Let's go live to Victoria now. Alan Tudge is the Education Minister. I'm not sure whether you caught some of that media conference. We know the Queensland Chief Medical Officer has locked down on far few cases. The question being asked is are they avoiding lockdown just to get the NRL grand final in on the weekend?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, that's a question for them, but I will say I know that it’ll be very disappointing for so many Queenslanders just having these new additional restrictions imposed upon them. And I think it'll be absolutely devastating for those 12,000 odd people who are so looking forward to going to the NRL grand final. And I really feel for them. I think if Premier Palaszczuk wanted to show some leadership, she’d perhaps give up her seat for one of those ordinary Australians who really want to see the grand final this weekend.

LAURA JAYES:

Well, she went to Tokyo because she said it would have been a disaster if she didn't. Is this the same kettle of fish, do you think?

ALAN TUDGE:

Listen, I think Premier Palaszczuk has got a little bit of form in simply having one rule for herself and another rule for others, but I'll leave the further commentary to others. I'm a Victorian. We've dealt with close to now the longest lockdown anywhere in the world. And I just feel for those Queenslanders who are now going to have further restrictions placed upon them. I hope that does get control of the virus, but the experience here in Victoria is even with very, very tough lockdowns, that virus can still get away from us.

LAURA JAYES:

Well, the good news in Victoria and New South Wales, the vaccination rates are vastly higher than in Queensland, so we're looking at freedoms at least here in New South Wales. One good thing overnight is that children can get back to school, much earlier. I mean, New South Wales has looked at the risk, they've looked at the vaccination rate and judged that that can happen earlier. Should other states follow?

ALAN TUDGE:

It's New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT that have their schools closed at the moment. It's near the big capital cities. I really welcome the fact that New South Wales has brought forward the school opening dates by a week, and I think parents will overwhelmingly welcome that. I would certainly like to see those other jurisdictions who do have their schools closed to be doing a similar thing to what New South Wales has done, and that is re-evaluating the health advice on a regular basis to see if it does make sense for the schools to be reopened earlier. Schools, we have to open them at some stage. The national plan says that when we get to those 70 per cent figures and 80 per cent figures, then schools should be open, except for in hotspot areas. And it's so important, not just for parents to have some relief and to be able to go back to work, but it's critically important for those kids’ learning and particularly for their mental health because we know the devastation which lockdowns have had on kids’ mental health. And so, we've got to get kids back to school as quickly as possible.

LAURA JAYES:

Looking at the case numbers, they're coming down in New South Wales as vaccination rates go up. Still low numbers in the ACT. It's a different story in Victoria. But surely, as you say, re-evaluating the health advice constantly, could this happen even earlier in New South Wales?

ALAN TUDGE:

It's only a matter of weeks away now. So, the only thing that I would say is that, A) that there is now hope on the horizon. It's simply a matter of weeks’ wait for most parents and most kids. But B) the only thing that could be considered, I think, Laura, is whether or not parents are given the opportunity to choose to send their kids back to school earlier, particularly if they are double vaccinated, their kids are double vaccinated and the teacher is double vaccinated. I think that would be worthy of consideration. Parents who are essential workers are already able to send their kids to school, and perhaps this could be an additional category. I don't underestimate the complexity of that and having to work through that carefully, but potentially that could be something which provides some additional relief for parents, gets some kids back to school earlier, and obviously helps workforce issues as well as the economy starts to open up.

LAURA JAYES:

Yeah, that's a really important point as well, because it's not just getting kids back to school; it means that, you know, parents can be more productive in their work as well, their income, you know, actually getting back to the office or something like that. So, are you saying if Gladys Berejiklian today gave consideration to double vaccinated families, children included, if they went back to school and their teacher was double vaccinated, that you would encourage that and facilitate that happening sooner rather than later?

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, ultimately these would be decisions for state and territories, but I just think it's worthy of consideration, and it might provide a further encouragement as well, for parents to go and get their kids vaccinated. As I said, I appreciate the complexities here and that it would be challenging for teachers and for parents. It may well be worthwhile doing that work. There's already complexities about having kids who are sons and daughters of essential workers being at school when the rest are remote learning. So, you've already got that parallel learning going on, and it's not easy for teachers. It's not easy for schools. But it might be worthwhile looking further at this question as it relates to double vaccinated parents, double vaccinated kids, and double vaccinated teachers.

LAURA JAYES:

Alright, we'll try and get some questions on that to Gladys Berejiklian in about 15 minutes’ time. Just quickly before I let you go, any update on university students getting back into universities and also international students?

ALAN TUDGE:

Obviously, where it is safe to do so, we want to see Aussie students back on campuses, but that's obviously dictated by the state government rules. Now, once we get to that 80 per cent vaccination rate, then universities should be back open, apart from very limited restrictions as is determined by the Chief Health Officer. In relation to international students, New South Wales and South Australia have the most advanced plans there, and I'm still hoping that we'll see some international students back this year and have larger numbers back next year. Now, that would be consistent with the national plan. And we want to see those international students back because they're good for the universities. They provide a revenue source. They can be good to enhance the student experience in the classrooms. And of course, they're great for the general economy as well, and many go on to become great Australians subsequently. So, it's an important sector for us. We want to see them back and I'm hoping that we’ll get at least some smaller numbers this year and some larger numbers early next year.

LAURA JAYES:

Okay. We hope so. New South Wales leading the way on that one, of course. Alan Tudge, thanks so much. We'll speak to you soon.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks very much, Laura.