Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: The Quad meeting, Return of international students, Greg Hunt, Whyalla Steelworks, Christian Porter.
10 March 2021

Michael Rowland: The Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan joins us now from Parliament House. Minister, good morning to you. So, how big a deal is this Quad meeting, the first ever, for, I guess, regional security and trade?

Dan Tehan: This will be an absolutely historic meeting, bringing together the leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia to discuss the Indo-Pacific and, in particular, our agenda for a free and open Indo-Pacific. So, an historic meeting bringing all these leaders together, and really shows that President Biden puts the Indo-Pacific near the top of his agenda because he’s organised such a multilateral meeting so early on is, I think, incredibly significant.

Rowland: And, how much of this is driven by concern about what China’s up to – it’s increasingly robust territorial ambitions in the Asia-Pacific?

Tehan: Well, this is about having a very positive agenda for the Indo-Pacific. The types of things that will be discussed will be how we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, responses to climate change, how we can make sure there are secure supply lines for critical technologies. These are the types of positive issues that leaders will discuss, and it’s very historic that this will be the first time that’s been done at the leaders’ level.

Rowland: Okay, another issue in your portfolio. In fact, we just spoke about the comments from the New South Wales Treasurer Dominic Perrottet. He wants international students included in the cap for overseas Australians returning to Australia. In your view, as the Minister for Education, does that have, does that idea have any merit at all?

Tehan: Well, Michael, I’ve moved on now – Trade, Tourism and Investment …

Rowland: … I’m sorry, trade, yes, former Education Minister. Things move so quickly.

Tehan: They do, they do. Had a wonderful two years as Australia’s Education Minister and this was an issue that I looked at very seriously. What we need from all states and territories, initially, is a plan from them as to how they want to bring international students back into their state and territory, how they’ll be accommodated, how they’ll put those quarantine arrangements in place – and, we want that to occur. Then we want National Cabinet, obviously, to look at the issues of caps to make sure that we can accommodate returning international students, as well as all those Australians we want to return home. So, we’ll continue to work through with them on this issue but remembering this is a $40 billion export earner for Australia. So, all of us have an interest in making sure that we can get the international student education market back up and running as quickly as possible.

Rowland: Okay. Your fellow Victorian Cabinet Minister Greg Hunt is in hospital recovering from an infection. Have you spoken to him? Do we know how he’s going this morning?

Tehan: I spoke to him yesterday. He sounded well. Obviously, he needs some antibiotics to fix what he’s, what the issue that he’s currently got, and he’s very confident that he will be out of hospital sooner rather than later. And, can I say, I don’t think there’s a fitter and more active member of our Cabinet than Greg, so anyone who can bounce back, it will be Greg. But, when I spoke to him yesterday he was going well.

Rowland: Okay, and he was making the point, as well – I’ll ask you the question – he got the AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday. Is this infection in any way related to that injection?

Tehan: No.

Rowland: To another issue, the Whyalla Steelworks, very much under a cloud this morning as it’s owner, the GFG Corporation, scrambles for emergency finance. How concerned is the Federal Government about the future of the 1,500 or so workers in Whyalla?

Tehan: We’re always concerned about workers and their futures. Everything that we’ve been focused on as we’ve come out of this pandemic has been about making sure that our focus is on jobs and the job recovery – and we’ve seen that growing at pace. The latest economic data has shown the strong recovery that we’re seeing in the Australian economy, so we’ll be doing all we can to help and support those jobs. Obviously, it is concerning, the financial situation that the company finds themselves in. So, we’ll wait and see what the final outcome is but, obviously, we’ll be doing everything we can to support jobs, like we have as we’ve come out of this pandemic, every minute of every day.

Rowland: Okay, and finally to the Christian Porter rape allegation. The ABC is reporting the former Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson reckons the Prime Minister should have, a) read that anonymous dossier sent to him by friends of the alleged victim, and then sent it to the current Solicitor-General for legal advice. Should he have done that?

Tehan: Well, I haven’t seen those comments. All I know is that what the Government did is that we followed the processes, as they were advised to us by the AFP. That was the correct process to take …

Rowland: … This goes to the possibility of an independent inquiry, which is where Justin Gleeson is coming from, and his argument is the Solicitor-General, on receipt of that dossier, would decide whether or not an independent inquiry into whether Christian Porter was a fitting person, fit and proper person to be a member of Cabinet was warranted or not. Surely, that should be an approach the Government should be at least thinking of?

Tehan: Well, we followed the proper legal processes. We took the advice from the head of the AFP, and we’ve made it very clear that our justice system needs to be the one that we follow. We do not set up an alternative justice system to look at allegations, and that’s the approach that the Government has taken. We took advice from the head of the AFP, we followed that advice, and that is where the matter should rest, as far as I’m concerned.

Rowland: Okay, Dan Tehan, Trade, Tourism and former Education Minister. Thank you for joining us this morning.

Tehan: Thanks, Michael.

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