Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government is working on a plan to bring international students back to Australian universities – but it comes with a stipulation.
States hoping for the return of foreign students – which will provide a desperately needed financial boost to universities – will need to open their borders to the rest of Australia.
That means states including Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland would need to throw open their borders.
“We'll be working closely with states and territories, firstly on a pilot basis, to enable, in a very controlled setting, for international students to be able to come to Australia,” Mr Morrison told reporters on Friday afternoon following a national cabinet meeting.
“But only on pre-approved plans for particular institutions worked up between federal authorities and state and territory authorities.”
Mr Morrison said the government had received proposals by universities but stressed the process would not be rushed.
“I'm not suggesting this is going to happen soon,” he said.
“This is something that I'm sure we would all welcome happening again, but it has to be done with the appropriate quarantine entry arrangements and biosecurity.”
The federal government has spent recent weeks criticising states premiers, particularly Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk, for refusing to open their borders.
“I made it clear to the states and territories today, if someone can't come to your state from Sydney, then someone can't come to your state from Singapore,” Mr Morrison said this afternoon.
“If you want to open up borders for international students, then you have to open up borders for Australians.”
Ms Palaszczuk had earlier speculated on a possible September timeframe for the state’s borders to reopen but this week suggested it would likely happen in July. Interstate travel is expected to be included in Stage 3 of Queensland’s Roadmap to easing restrictions, scheduled to commence on July 10.
The Prime Minister said on Friday while he wants to see it happen “as soon as possible”, he expects all states, with the possible exception of Western Australia, to open their borders in July.
“I anticipate states will be working through those decisions in the next few weeks,” he said.
“And they'll come to their own conclusions, but what is important, whatever date that is, that it is nominated as soon as possible because that will enable the travel and tourism, and hospitality industry to plan for that time.”
When asked, Mr Morrison said he hopes to be in a position to commence pilot programs to allow for the entry of international students next month.
Australia's borders have been closed to non-citizens and non-residents since March.
PM defends slavery comments
During the press conference Friday, the PM clarified his comments and apologised to any hurt they may have caused.
“In Australia, we know we have had problems in our past. We have acknowledged those,” he said.
“My comments were not intended to give offence and if they did I deeply regret that and apologise for that.”
The Prime Minister acknowledged the treatment of South Sea islanders during the practice of blackbirding starting in the 1860s when indigenous people were tricked or coerced into indentured labour in Australia.
Mr Morrison reiterated there was no law in the country’s history that approved slavery.
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