Release type: Transcript

Date:

Sky News with Chris Kenny

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

CHRIS KENNY:

Let's turn now to the Federal Education Minister, Alan Tudge, who joins me from Melbourne. Thanks for joining us, Minister. First up on our travel block to Australians coming home from India, why have we imposed this block on people in India when we never did the same to people coming back from the United States, Europe or the UK when they had higher infection rates?

ALAN TUDGE:

Chris, obviously, this decision has been made just yesterday, and it's a temporary measure just for a few weeks and in recognition that COVID is rampaging throughout India. I mean, the daily infection rate at the moment, as you may know, is 350,000 new infections every single day. So, there's some serious issues there. We're obviously leaning in to support India, in any way we can from a health perspective. But in the meantime, we are pausing those flights coming in from India.

CHRIS KENNY:

But last year in percentage terms, the infection rates in the UK, in Europe and the US were higher than that. And we brought in tens of thousands of Australians back from those countries. We've had a whole year now where we've seen how effectively our hotel quarantine works and we're now rolling out the vaccine. Two million Australians, vulnerable Australians, have been vaccinated. We're in a much better position now to handle Australians coming home wherever they're from.

ALAN TUDGE:

We're in a better position in terms of the vaccines being rolled out, but as you say, two million have been vaccinated, there's still many more that we'd like to see vaccinated. And we've learnt a fair bit about hotel quarantine over the past 12 months as well, particularly here from my home state of Victoria. But there are still obviously some risks associated with hotel quarantine; it's not completely foolproof. Although, we have hotel quarantine as good as anywhere in the world and it has been largely successful. But as you know, if we take in too many people and very high risk individuals, then it does just increase the risk overall, that infection breaking out again into our community, then that having a very big impact on the economy and on people's health here in Australia. So, it's a precautionary measure, Chris. It's a temporary measure. And we hope, obviously we'll be able to resume those flights at some stage in the near future.

CHRIS KENNY:

It just seems that when we had very high infection rates, higher than India has at the moment in the US and the UK and the like, because they're first world countries and things looked a lot more orderly there, we were happy to take Australians coming home. But Australians coming back from a developing country where of course, it looks more shambolic, where we know it will get worse, we're not prepared to look after those Australians in the same way.

ALAN TUDGE:

I'll just say it's a precautionary measure, obviously taken now, taking into account the health advice, and we've always acted, Chris, on the basis of the medical advice and that's been the case in this instance. And I think it is a sensible, temporary measure while India is going through a very, very difficult time with such a high proportion of people now, or such a high number of people now becoming infected each and every single day. And that's of the ones that we do know are being infected; 350,000 each day, as I said. So, it's cautious, it's temporary and we hope that India can get back on its feet at some stage in the near future.

CHRIS KENNY:

Well, in your portfolio as Education Minister, this couldn't have come at a worse time because you've been looking at trying to find ways to open up our international borders to overseas students again. Has that all been put back on the backburner now or are we still looking at ways we can get overseas students through quarantine, perhaps vaccinated as a requirement and back into our universities?

ALAN TUDGE:

Listen, we want to get international students back into Australia at some stage. They have been a very important export market for Australia and they've also provided a great pipeline of people who have subsequently become Australian citizens. But we're just not in the position at the moment, Chris, to open up our borders generally, let alone for international students. And we have the quarantine arrangements in place primarily for returning Australians. Now, I've said, the Prime Minister has said, that if state governments present to us plans for quarantine arrangements for international students, which satisfy the criteria which we have laid out, which includes quarantine arrangements above and beyond those for returning to Australia and includes the sign-off from the Chief Medical Officer, then we will take a look at that and we'll look very carefully at that. I've just received a proposal from James Merlino, the Acting Premier here in Victoria just 24 hours ago and we'll take a look at that. But we are just being very cautious, and I think Australians would understand why we're being cautious, because obviously our priority, Chris, is the health and the economic security of Australian citizens, and we don't want to put them at risk. So, we're just taking it carefully.

CHRIS KENNY:

Can I just get a brief answer from you on the next election? Will security be the buzz word? Economic security, border security, COVID security, strategic security?

ALAN TUDGE:

Chris, the election is still a long way to go, but I can assure you that economic management, economic security, if you want to call it that, national security, they're always key features of federal election campaigns. And I'm sure they'll be key features of the next federal election campaign.

CHRIS KENNY:

Indeed. Thanks for joining us, Alan. I appreciate it.

ALAN TUDGE:

Thanks, Chris.