Interview with Steve Price on Australia Today

Subjects: Singapore bubble; vaccination rates; international borders; international students.
22 November 2021

Steve Price: Dan Tehan is the Trade and Tourism Minister, he’s on the line. Thanks for your time, I know you’ve got a busy two weeks coming up. When do the first of these visa holders get to come into Australia?

Dan Tehan: So, they’ll come in as of the 1st of December. The great news, of course, is that our friends from Singapore came in on the weekend, the 21st was the date for that, and they were very excited about coming back, and now we’ll see international students, working holiday maker visa holders, who will come back and that’s great, especially international students. They get access to first‑class education here, but they also are able to fill those part‑time jobs, especially in our hospitality industry. And then Japan and South Korea will also open up to their citizens as of 1 December, so we’ll start to see Singaporeans, South Koreans and Japanese tourists returning. So, more and more we’re opening up, which is especially wonderful for our tourism industry that employs 660,000 people right across this nation.

Steve Price: The problem we’ve always had, Minister, during this whole pandemic of 19 months has been different states operating different ways. These visa holders can come into which states, and I presume they don’t have to quarantine?

Dan Tehan: Yes, so they can come into New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT without quarantining at this stage and our hope is that the further we hit those high vaccination rates — and they’re among some of the highest in the world already — we’ll see, obviously, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia follow — they’ve set dates, Northern Territory and then, obviously, Western Australia, the expectation is sometime next year.

Steve Price: It would appear, though, that Queensland is going to keep its border shut, at least until the middle of December, so how do people in food production in Queensland who can’t get their crops off the trees or out of the paddocks, how do they get on?

Dan Tehan: Well, that’s going to be one of the real challenges for them and, obviously, the Queensland State Government has put in place quarantine arrangements to try to address that, but it will mean that it’s going to be harder to move those agricultural workforces between states and that has been a problem through the pandemic, and it’s why obviously the national plan was encouraging all states and territories to open up so we can address these issues. So, that ultimately will be a decision for the Queensland State Government, but the sooner we can hit those vaccination rates and get the country whole again so we don’t need to have these quarantine arrangements in place for people to move to and from state or territories, the better.

Steve Price: I see in the UK at the weekend 40,000 new cases of COVID. I presume the people coming in will have to be double-vaccinated or will we require them to be double-vaccinated plus a booster?

Dan Tehan: At this stage, it’s double vaccination but we’ll continue to watch and monitor this and, ultimately, other countries, like in the UK, are starting to put their own booster programs in place. We’re about to commence ours here in Australia, or already started our booster program. So, we’ll continue to monitor this and, as the time frame dictates, obviously, double vaccination and a booster will probably become necessary, because it’s around six months after your second dose that the recommendation is that you start to get that booster.

Steve Price: I note there’s probably 130,000 international students, Minister, still outside Australia. So, we’ve had a small start with the Singapore arrivals. How many of that 130,000 – that number, comes from Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson — how many of that 130,000 does the Federal Government believe will come back?

Dan Tehan: Look, we’re confident that we’ll get a large proportion of those international students back. The fact that they’re able to start planning now because of the announcement that they can come back as of 1 December, I think, means that we’ll see a lot of them come back for the first semester next year and then reports I’ve seen from the university sector is that they’re expecting the numbers to bounce back so they reach that pre‑pandemic level by 2023 or 2024 at the latest. We have the best universities in the world. International students have shown that they want to come here and study. Obviously, they’re able in most instances to also be able to get part‑time work. So, they’re able to fill those part‑time positions as well. So, I think we’re going to see international student numbers return to where they were pre‑pandemic very quickly.

Steve Price: What’s the situation with China? Clearly, we have a difficult relationship with China currently. Do you imagine that there will be students from China coming back to Australia any time soon?

Dan Tehan: Look, I do expect to see Chinese students returning to Australia. One of the things that we’ve seen throughout the pandemic is that Chinese student online enrolments have held up incredibly well throughout the pandemic and Chinese students, like other international students, have shown a real want and desire to come to Australia to study. I think those numbers will hold up, especially if you look at the evidence based on what we’ve seen from the online enrolments from Chinese students throughout the pandemic.

Steve Price: Are you making any inroads into, in your position of Trade Minister, to removing some of the blockades that China still currently has on things like seafood?

Dan Tehan: No, we haven’t been able to make any progress. Obviously, I wrote to my Chinese counterpart saying that I would like to sit down and be able to work through these issues in January – still yet to get a response to that. We’ve had officials make representations, but we haven’t been able to make any inroads with regards to getting those disputes settled. We’ve taken China to the WTO on two of them, on barley and wine, and they’re in the process of those cases being – well, what do you call it? The legal processes are beginning on those, with barley they’ve already begun. On wine, we’re going through establishing panels and all the preceding requirements that are needed. So, we’ll continue to progress in every avenue that we can these disputes in the hope of getting them resolved sooner rather than later.

Steve Price: Two weeks of Federal Parliament to go. We’re speaking with Dan Tehan, who’s the Trade and Tourism Minister. You’ve got two Senators, Liberal Senators, one from South Australia, Alex Antic and the other from Queensland, Gerard Rennick, who say they won’t pass any Government legislation until the Prime Minister acts on the issue of mandatory vaccination. We saw massive protest marches. You’re a Victorian. You would have seen the numbers at the weekend. What’s your view on mandatory vaccination and do you believe that the Federal Government can prosecute a case to prevent, like in Victoria is going to happen, that nonvaccinated people can’t take part in any part of society for all of next year is what Dan Andrews has said?

Dan Tehan: So, what the Federal Government’s position all along has been is that the vaccine is not mandatory. Obviously, we’ve encouraged people to have the vaccine, but we’ve never mandated the vaccine. These issues are obviously ones at the state and territory level. We’ve seen in New South Wales, I think, it’s sometime in December, where they will lift their requirements. So, I think states and territories need to look very closely at international experience, what’s happening in the UK, for instance, where they were going to go down that path but then decided not to. Look at what New South Wales is doing. In the ACT, there has been no mandating whatsoever and they have the highest vaccination rates of anywhere in the country. So, my hope would be that state and territory governments would look at the experience in each other state and territory, and at what’s happened overseas, and determine their policies so, once again, our communities can work and live together. The last thing we want to see is division. So, my hope is that they’ll work through this in a very sensible way.

Steve Price: You’re a Victorian Liberal, are you disappointed at what appears again now to be a huge gap in trust between Daniel Andrews and Scott Morrison? The Premier of Victoria said at the weekend, “When the Prime Minister stops double-speaking to extremists, his relationship with me will be a lot better. Why the Prime Minister, or anyone else, instead of just standing up on Thursday and condemning violence and congratulating Victorians for what they’ve done, he couldn’t do that. He was incapable of doing that.” It doesn’t appear that their relationship is very solid.

Dan Tehan: One of the things through this pandemic that I think has stood this country in really good stead has been the way that the Prime Minister has brought all the premiers and the territory leaders together to deal and work through this pandemic. And he’s done so, I think, in a way where he has put politics aside. So, you know, I think we need to appeal to all state leaders, in particular, and to Daniel Andrews in particular, to remember the grace that the Prime Minister has shown, the leadership that he’s shown in putting that political point‑scoring aside and really continue to work in unison as we come out of this pandemic because that’s going to be the best thing for the Victorian people and the best thing for Australia. So, my hope is that he would put that political point‑scoring aside and really focus on Victorians and on the national effort to make sure that we come out of this pandemic strongly.

Steve Price: Just finally, I mentioned that Newspoll has shown that Labor’s primary vote in Victoria is 44 compared to the Coalition 36; on a two‑party preferred basis that would be 58 to 42 Labor’s way. Why do you think it is that the Victorian Coalition has failed to capture the attention of Victorians given we’ve been the most locked down people in the world, and we’ve had the highest death rate in the country, and still there seems to be a huge groundswell of support for the Andrews Government? Doesn’t make any sense to me.

Dan Tehan: Well, Steve, that’s ultimately a question for the State Opposition Leader and the State Liberal Parliamentary Party – 

Steve Price: You’re a Victorian. You live here. It must surprise you.

Dan Tehan: I do...

Steve Price: Nicely answered. Thanks for giving us so much time.

Dan Tehan: Thanks, Steve.

Steve Price: Daniel Tehan there, who is the Tourism and Trade Minister.

This transcript has been redacted in accordance with Digital Transformation Agency guidelines.

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