Friday, 04 December 2020

Interview with Leon Byner, 5AA

LEON BYNER: Now, there's been an idea put out and we, as you know in South Australia, we rely a lot on international students. It's actually part of the indistinct of Adelaide that these students contribute tremendously because they take part time jobs, they have to have accommodation, all the sort of things that you know and understand. And because of travel restrictions overseas, we, from the universities, have really missed out badly. So vaccine passports could help get thousands of international students back to Australia next year. By the way, if you want to have a guess how big an industry it is, to put a number on it, these international students, $40 billion. So how it would work, and we'll talk to the Acting Minister in a moment, the foreign students would need to show a digital vaccination certificate that if they’d received an approved COVID-19 vaccine overseas, to enter Australia without having to quarantine.

So let's talk to Acting Immigration Minister, Alan Tudge. Alan, thanks for coming on.

ALAN TUDGE: Good morning, Leon.

LEON BYNER: When is this going to happen?

ALAN TUDGE: We're aiming to have this up and running by the third quarter of next year. So around the middle of next year…

LEON BYNER: [Interrupts] Why does it take that long?

ALAN TUDGE: Because we're developing a whole new information technology system and we're going out to tender right now, we’ll go through a procurement process. They'll develop it up, it goes through testing and then it gets rolled out. Now, this isn't a straightforward exercise. We’ll be fully digitising that incoming passenger card; we’ll be wanting to collect the biometrics for those international arrivals coming in to connect to it so that it's fully authenticated. And the real opportunity, I think, as you indicated, is that down the track, we're hoping that once you've got this incoming passenger card digitised, you may be able to then digitally staple an authenticated vaccination certificate to that so that when you come into the country, we know that you've had that vaccination and we know that you're safe to be here without quarantining.

LEON BYNER: I've got to ask you a question, and this has no doubt come up. And a few listeners have cleverly emailed me, Jock who lives at Ridgehaven; Bernadette, she's out at Glenelg. They want to know okay, so let's say somebody gets a vaccination, they come in. When you're vaccinated against COVID, does that mean that you can't carry the actual virus to spread it?

ALAN TUDGE: That is my understanding. My understanding, once you've been vaccinated, you have a very high surety of not getting the virus, and therefore not spreading it. But, you know, these are still going through the final stages of the assessment of these vaccines. But we're very optimistic about it, optimistic that we will have this vaccine available for Australians from about March of next year.



LEON BYNER: Now, next thing, is it the case now that because of COVID and the more sophisticated technologies that we will necessarily be using to keep a track on people, that the whole business of who you are, why you're here, we're going to up the ante on it? Is that a fair way of looking at this, particularly for anybody overseas?

ALAN TUDGE: For those international arrivals, we’re always incredibly careful about who comes into the country? We want to know who they are. Everybody has security checks [indistinct] as well as health declarations as well. But, we are in the process of digitising our entire visa system, which will make it, will give it more integrity in the process. And of course, from a vaccination perspective, we will be seeking to ensure that we can have an authenticated vaccination certificate, biometrically connected to that individual so that we can guarantee that individual, should they come into the country, has had a vaccination and therefore can avoid quarantining. Furthermore, though, Leon, and this is important, by digitalising that incoming passenger card, and everybody knows that incoming passenger card, you know, that you fill it out when you’re just about to arrive into the country.

LEON BYNER: Yeah, sure. Yeah.

ALAN TUDGE: We’ll make that digital and it means that that information will be more accurate because there won't be spelling, there won't be ineligibility, et cetera. And it can immediately go to the contact tracing teams as well in a confidential manner so that if there is an outbreak, immediately, those state-based contact tracing teams can say, okay, well, we know it's occurred from this individual. We know where that individual is. And we can contact that particular person and ask who he or she has been in contact with.

LEON BYNER: So when do you think South Australia can have our first lot of students from overseas?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, there’s obviously a pilot being worked on at the moment, which I think, as the Premier indicated, but for the most recent incidents in South Australia, it would have occurred this year. But it's been deferred now, I suspect early next year. But that's still being worked out. But there's obviously strong intent to do so. Now, international students, as you said, Leon, they have been exceptionally good for Australia and they're good for Australia in terms of, obviously, economically. You pointed out that figure, $40 billion this is worth. It's our third, third or fourth biggest export industry and it’s about $2 billion to South Australia.

LEON BYNER: That's good. Now, listen, I've got a question: given China's communist government's displeasure with Australia, are they going to rain on our parade on this, do you think?

ALAN TUDGE: To date, we've still had very significant numbers of Chinese students wanting to come here for the high quality education which we provide.

LEON BYNER: Because you know that they're [indistinct] welcome, as far as the community is concerned, don’t you?

ALAN TUDGE: Well, I do know that and Chinese students, along with Indian students and Nepalese and others, are the main source of our international students these days. We welcome them here. They make a contribution. Many stay on and become very fine citizens and we want that, those pathways to continue. So we'll be working hard to try to get the international student market open, but we have to do it in a safe manner. That's the most important thing. But we will get there. And obviously with vaccines being rolled out next year, that provides us some significant hope.

LEON BYNER: Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge, thank you for coming on the show. And by the way, compliments of the season to you.

ALAN TUDGE: Thanks very much, Leon. You too.