Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News

  • Transcript
Subjects: Reopening of international border; interstate travel; vaccines.
23 November 2021

Peter Stefanovic: Let's go to Canberra now, and joining us is the Trade and Tourism Minister, Dan Tehan. Minister, good to see you. So the return to migration has been described by some as quite the sugar hit. We've spoken about this before. It was needed, so many businesses out there need employees at the moment. But there are some concerns about a long-term plan that appears to be missing at the moment. So is there a long-term plan in place?

Dan Tehan: Yes, there is a long-term plan, Pete, and that's the national plan which was set out by National Cabinet, which is about the safe reopening of Australia and we're seeing that occurring. Singapore, their nationals now are here in Australia as tourists, which is wonderful news and I know was warmly welcomed by Singaporeans. We'll now move with Japan and South Korea because it's safe to do so and they'll be here as of the 1st of December, as will international students, our ag workforce visa holders and our working holiday-maker visa holders. These will help to fill gaps in our economy, remembering that the focus of the government is how we come out of this pandemic strongly, how we grow our businesses, how we make sure that the unemployment rate continues to drop. That's the focus. That's what our safe reopening is all about and we're doing it in a safe way which will boost business, boost those employment opportunities but also make sure, based on the medical advice, that we're doing it safely. And we always said that this would be a very systematic and planned reopening, and that's exactly what we're doing.

Peter Stefanovic: Just not for Queensland or WA at this stage.

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously we also have to make sure that we do that safe reopening internally as well and that's why we put the national plan in place. That's why the national plan set out the type of actions that state and territories said that they would undertake once we hit those vaccination rates. And, look, the sooner we can make the country whole the better for all of us, especially as we head up to Christmas.

Now, not all states and territories will be open by Christmas, but South Australia is joining New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT. Tasmania and Queensland will do that soon, they'll do that next month and then obviously the NT as well. So we are beginning to reopen internally as well, which is wonderful news but also externally. And I think all Australians know that we are on the path out of this pandemic, which is absolutely fantastic. They know that there's hope there. They know that there's a plan there. They know that we're recovering and everyone should be very, very reassured (a) about how we've handled the pandemic on the economic side, on the vaccination side, and now how we're going to handle the pandemic as we come out. Systematic, planned, all about making sure that Australians know that we're securing their future as we come out of this pandemic.

Peter Stefanovic: How certain are you, Minister, that we will get a high number of students from China? Because as you and we're all aware, the Chinese government advised them not to come out here.

Dan Tehan: Well, the online enrolments have held up incredibly well throughout the pandemic for Chinese students. So they continue to want to go to Australian universities and even through the pandemic they've demonstrated that by signing up for online degrees knowing that once we reopen that they will be able to return to Australian universities. So all the signs are positive in that regard and you've got to remember, for international students right across our region Australia offers a high-class education at a very affordable rate. And I'm very reassured that what we will see is international students wanting to return to Australia, which is great news. It's our biggest services export earner – it was over $40 billion before the pandemic, and I'm sure over the next two to three years we will be able to rebuild that and remembering also that international students provide that important workforce, especially for our retail and hospitality sector through their ability to be able to work 20 hours a fortnight. So that also is another important component.

They also help our CBDs, and we've seen especially in Melbourne, the CBD hit really, really hard and I think international students coming back to Melbourne in particular will help businesses in the CBD.

Peter Stefanovic: Just back on Queensland, the government's still persisting in asking people who want to go there for Christmas to take these expensive Covid tests – 150 bucks or thereabouts, which obviously stacks up the more family members you take to Queensland. Do you support that, or would you be urging a rethink from the Queensland government?

Dan Tehan: Well, what I think the Queensland state government needs to do is look at what has been undertaken in Victoria, in New South Wales, in the ACT as they've reopened. And, really, what they've wanted to do is make it as seamless as possible for people to be able to travel, whether they're travelling interstate or they're travelling from overseas. So my hope would be that they would look and learn from what other states have done and then over time requirements such as the testing requirements that they've got in place, they would be able to reduce. Because ultimately in the end we want Australians to be able to travel within Australia like they used to. We want to be able to limit these new requirements that have been put in place and the more seamless we can make travel the better it is for the 660,000 people who work in our tourism industry.

And, in particular, you've got to remember that a lot of Queensland is built on their remarkable tourism industry. You know, they've been the heart and soul of the Australian tourism industry because of what they have to offer. And I think, you know, my hope would be that the government would work with the tourism industry, work with the aviation industry, to make sure that it is as seamless as possible for people to be able to travel to Queensland and these requirements that they've put in place would quickly over time be reduced so that more practical measures can be put in place.

Peter Stefanovic: And when it comes to vaccinations, do you believe it should be up to businesses to police that or are you happy with Premiers deciding that?

Dan Tehan: Well, ultimately in the end the government has taken the advice of the medical experts where it's been deemed the best thing for individuals to have the vaccine, for instance, if you're working in our aged-care workforce, then the government has said, “yes, we do have to put special requirements in place.” But more broadly as the PM has said yesterday, it's better to leave these decisions up to businesses and then let them on the ground be able to make those decisions.

So we'll continue obviously to take the expert medical advice on these issues. It's very important we do so. Where that expert medical advice says that there is a need, for instance, with protecting our medical workforce, then obviously we'll take that advice. But more broadly let's leave it up to businesses and others to be able to make that decision.

Peter Stefanovic: Do you have any concerns about these protest votes from some members of your government?

Dan Tehan: Well, I think the most important thing is that all of us should be focused on how we can help Australia come out of this pandemic and what we need to be able to do it. For instance, we were just discussing how we can safely reopen Australia. That needs to be the focus because that's what's going to drive the jobs. That's what's going to protect the futures of Australians going forward. So I think all of us need to ultimately be focused on what's in the best interests of Australia as we come out of this pandemic and legislation that's before the parliament which is going to help us deal with the pandemic as we come out of the pandemic I think should be looked at on that basis. And I know that the PM and others are talking with all members of the Coalition to make sure that that focus remains on the Australian people as we come out of this pandemic.

Peter Stefanovic: So are you disappointed by the actions of George Christensen, et cetera?

Dan Tehan: Look, everyone in this parliament has particular views and they'll want to put those views in particular ways. But I think what we've got to do is always remember that we're put here by the Australian people to deal with the issues that we confront. We're confronting a once-in-a-century global pandemic, so in the end ultimately all of us should be looking at that and saying, “Okay, what is it that is going to benefit Australia as we come out of this pandemic?” That needs to be our focus and so my hope would be that every piece of legislation is looked at in that regard –what is it that will make sure that Australia is a better place to live and work as we come out of this pandemic, and if all of us in government do that, we'll get the right outcomes.

Peter Stefanovic: Dan Tehan, appreciate your time, as always. We'll talk to you soon.

Dan Tehan: Thanks, Pete.

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