Australians stranded overseas might have to wait longer to return home, with the New South Wales Treasurer proposing changes to international arrivals.
- Mr Perrottet says he wants to change who gets a seat on the limited flights coming into Sydney
- He says NSW relies on its international education sector more than tourism
- Advocates hope to see international students arrive as soon as July
Dom Perrottet wants to prioritise some international students over Australians to keep the local economy ticking.
Education for international students is the country’s fourth-largest export and Mr Perrottet says in New South Wales it is worth more than tourism.
“We understand the politics behind prioritising Australians returning home but there are our own people here who rely on education exports to provide for their family and make a living,” he told the ABC.
There are more than 39,000 Australians still stranded overseas and weekly limits on international arrivals have drastically slowed the process of getting people back.
Mr Perrottet acknowledged the large backlog but said he wanted to change who got a seat on the limited flights coming into Sydney.
“We believe it would make sense to use some of the cap to bring back international students,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be a huge amount but we can scale up over time.
“The challenge that we have had at the moment is that particularly in New South Wales, we are taking the lion’s share of returning Australians.
“What we would like to do is ensure we have international students forming a component of that so we can support that aspect of our economy … it is one that is very important for many people who rely on this aspect of the economy to make a living.”
New South Wales welcomes back 3,000 Australians from overseas every week, while Victoria has cancelled all international arrivals and Queensland takes about 1,000.
Dire warning: Unis could face decades of pain
Universities Australia chair Deborah Terry has raised concerns that international students will look elsewhere if they cannot travel here.
“We are conscious of the fact that other destinations, desirable destinations for international students are opening up,” she said.
She said there needed to be renewed focus on working out how to get international students back to Australia.
“If it doesn’t occur, there is a risk that as vaccination programs roll out internationally, that other study destinations become more attractive to international students,” she said.
Mr Perrottet painted a more dire picture.
“If we don’t move now and try and get this sector back on track … then I think it will have a significant impact on our educational exports for decades to come,” he said.
PM says onus is on universities, states
The federal government has said its priority is getting Australians home and any international student arrivals will have to be on top of the existing passenger caps.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently reiterated that it was the role of universities, states and territories to sort out travel plans for students.
“We’ve always been happy to work with the international education sector if they want to put in place supplementary self-funded quarantine arrangements and flight arrangements,” he said on Friday.
“That has always been there for the international education industry, the large universities and others to go down that path.”
Some universities have worked on plans for months, but have been knocked back at the final stages due to hotel quarantine issues.
Only the Northern Territory has had some success, with 63 students flying to Darwin in November.
Professor Terry said the number of Australians still overseas was “an understandable roadblock” for the education sector, and she wanted the Commonwealth to assist.
“I think from the sector’s point of view, we would welcome a national coordination approach,” she said.
“There have been lots of discussions within each of the states … and a willingness, I think, on behalf of the universities in each jurisdiction to work closely together, to work through the details.
“To be able to give a sense of what the timelines might be, would be very helpful.”
Queensland has floated the idea of establishing a regional quarantine facility that would allow more people to fly into Australia.
Alison Frame from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet confirmed it was an idea still being considered and she had written to the Queensland government to outline what would get the proposal over the line.
“Setting out what … stipulations the Commonwealth would require in order to proceed … and that we were keen to support them, we would look to do whatever we could do to progress a proposal, ” she told a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday.
Mr Perrottet has said a national approach “would be best” rather than different state approaches.
However it is achieved, New South Wales and Universities Australia are pinning their hopes on getting some international students back as soon as July.