Transcripts → 2019


Doorstop - University of Western Australia

Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia


Date: Saturday, 26 October 2019

Attracting international students to Perth, submarine maintenance, unconventional monetary policy, WA events

MARK MCGOWAN: Thanks very much everyone, pleased to be here today with Senator Mathias Cormann, Minister Ellery and Dawn Freshwater from UWA.

We’re here today to announce changes to the migration settings that are agreed between the Commonwealth and the State Government of Western Australia.

Essentially, what this will do is, it will declare Perth to be regional for the purposes of visa settings which will enhance our appeal to international students.

We rely very heavily on international students in Western Australia to create jobs. It’s a $2 billion industry in our State. There’s over 14,000 jobs directly created for West Australians out of this industry and we want to make sure we continue to appeal to international students.

In the last budget, we invested additional money for marketing campaigns, attraction campaigns jointly with universities, TAFE colleges, schools and the like. We want to make sure we maximise the investment but also the rules around it to allow for more students to come into Western Australia.

So today, we have reached agreement with the Commonwealth on Perth being declared regional for the purposes of international students and visas. This will enhance the appeal to international students because they get additional points towards other visa arrangements, which is all very complex, but additional points which allow them to choose Western Australian ahead of other locations. It brings Perth into line with Adelaide and Hobart and, indeed, other regional parts of Australia. 

What you find in other states, particularly in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, is they have regional universities, so that means we are at a disadvantage because we don’t have any regional based universities in Western Australia. 

By making this regulatory change, we are enhancing the appeal for Western Australia to international students. It will help us make jobs. It will help us get that market growing and it will make sure that we are, once again, an appealing place to students to come here, study, learn and create jobs for our citizens. The other great thing about international students is their families come to visit, so it’s very good for tourism.

So if I can just in a nutshell say we’re very pleased to work with the Commonwealth Government. I’d like to thank Senator Cormann, in particular, for his interest in this issue. Very pleased to work with the Federal Government constructively to make this change. We expect that it will make Western Australia’s appeal to international students even stronger.


MATHIAS CORMANN: Thank you very much. It is very good to be here with our Premier Mark McGowan, the Education Minister, Sue Ellery, and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia, Dawn Freshwater. 

This is very good news for Western Australia. It will help our world-class universities here in Western Australia compete with other universities around Australia to attract students here to WA. 

This is something that will help us grow the economy, create more jobs, create better opportunity for people here to get ahead. It is very good that the Commonwealth and the State Government here in Western Australia have worked this issue through.

Perth not being in that regional classification for migration purposes did put us at a disadvantage. The State Government working with the Federal Government has been able to address this. 

Certainly for our universities and our higher education sector more generally, this will help make them more competitive in attracting students to Western Australia. As the Premier said, additional students increase exports of international education which will help us attract more people from all around the world, their families and friends and indeed it will help us create more opportunities here. It is good news. I am very happy about it. 

Perhaps Dawn might want to say a few words as well.

DAWN FRESHWATER: Thank you, Senator. This is excellent news for the five universities and the education sector across this great state. Perth is already a significantly attractive destination for international students. This makes it more attractive and importantly, as you have already heard, in terms of international students they contribute to the economy, the prosperity of the State and the nation. They actually generate jobs and create jobs for people who have never even set foot in a university. We are delighted about this announcement and the changes that have been made. Thank you to the Federal and the State governments for working with us on this agenda.

SUE ELLERY: If I can just add to support what’s been said so far and thank the Commonwealth Government for their cooperative attitude in addressing this. As the Premier said, international education is already generating 14,600 jobs in Western Australia. Those jobs are not just on campus, not just teaching students and it’s not just in the visitations that we get from their friends and families, but if you think about the things that are needed to support international education. Accommodation, for example, we’ve now got great accommodation hubs for international students in the Perth CBD. It’s a great generator of jobs. This is a really good announcement to make today to make sure we are much more competitive with the other states in Australia as well.

MARK MCGOWAN: Did you have any questions for Sue on this?

QUESTION: Just briefly, with the Australian Workers Union expressing concern that this may also detract away from local jobs. Is that fear substantial?

SUE ELLERY: No. I think comments that were being made were really about the skilled migration list which is separate to this and which is not affected by this decision at all. You’ll recall that the Premier literally tore up the list of occupations that were attached to the skilled migration list in the first week that we were elected. Today’s decision has no impact on that. The State still determines the priority occupations that can come in through the migration program.

QUESTION: Do we know how many extra students can come to WA specifically?

SUE ELLERY: There is not a number on it. But we know that the market is large. Of course, Western Australia because of our time zone, we’re really well placed to take advantage of the growing market particularly in Asia and our universities are some of the best in the world.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I might just say here. The international education market nationally has grown quite significantly in the last two years. Western Australia could have got a higher share and we believe will get a higher share into the future as a result of the change that has been announced today. I think what has become obvious in recent times is that Perth’s universities and the Perth higher education sector not having the advantage of that regional status for migration purposes did find it harder to compete. That is what we are addressing together today.

QUESTION: Premier can I ask just to help clarify the difference between the decision you made two years ago to remove Perth as a regional zoned city and then this decision because on the surface it does look like you’re just going back.

MARK MCGOWAN: Everything is very complex in this area and takes a lot to properly understand all the nuances of the rules. Essentially, when we made the changes a couple of years ago, we did two things. One is what Minister Ellery mentioned, which is the West Australia Skilled Migration Occupation List. There is no change to that. We changed that to ensure that we didn’t add to the list we provided to the Commonwealth. Bricklayers and plumbers and school teachers and people like that where we have lots of people looking for work in Western Australia. There is no change to that. We made changes to the regional list because of the interaction with the 457s. Now, 457s in the meantime have been abolished. More recently, the Commonwealth made some other changes that have influenced the definition of regional nationally. As I said before, we don’t actually have regional universities. Therefore, Western Australia is at a disadvantage. It’s all very complex. If mistakes have been made, we’re certainly making sure that they have been fixed today. This will ensure that Western Australia has a great opportunity to attract more international students and create jobs for our State.

QUESTION: You said if mistakes have been made, do you mean mistakes that your Government made?

MARK MCGOWAN: I freely admit we made changes a couple of years ago, but it was in the context of the 457s. There’s complexity around that. 457s since then have been abolished. We freely admit that there have been changes at all levels and complexity at all levels, but what we’re doing today is making sure that it’s all fixed for the future. We have the very best opportunity to attract international students and create jobs for WA.

QUESTION: But was it a mistake to make that decision two years ago in hindsight?

MARK MCGOWAN: There are complexities. What we’re wanting to do, and have done, is prioritise Western Australian jobs. As I said, the Western Australian Skilled Migration Occupation List remains as we changed it after the state election, so it prioritises Western Australian jobs, but there have been changes at all levels of government. I’m happy that whatever complexity is put into the system is being removed today. We are fixing the situation so that we promote international students, we create local jobs for West Australians.

QUESTION: Mark, can I ask you a question about submarines?

MARK MCGOWAN: Are there any more questions for Senator or…

QUESTION: Yeah, I’ve got a few more on the topic. Earlier this month the Immigration Minister ruled out adding Perth to the list of cities to be considered regional zones. Did he make a mistake?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I have been talking to the Premier about this for some time. From a Perth point of view, from a WA point of view, I certainly was keen to see this addressed. Once I knew that the State Government was of the same view I pursued this internally within Government. The Government made a decision. That is the way we work these issues through. It was helpful for the Premier and the State Government and Western Australian Federal members of parliament to be of the same view. We were able to persuade our colleagues nationally that this was a sensible and important adjustment to make.

QUESTION: From a Federal perspective, does it look as though the WA Government negotiated themselves out and then back in to the same ranking?

MATHIAS CORMANN: From our point of view, we are very pleased that this issue is resolved. We think that this is good for WA. We believe it is good for universities. It certainly helps our universities compete nationally. They are very competitive in their own right, all other things being equal globally. But this was an issue that put West Australian universities at a disadvantage. I am just very pleased that we’ve been able to work together to sort this issue out.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, your perspective was that it was the wrong decision to make two years ago and this is righting that decision?

MATHIAS CORMANN: My perspective is that it was important to make sure that we announced this decision today, which we have now done. It is a good decision.

QUESTION: What would you say to the workers groups, like unions, who say this is going to put pressure on Western Australian jobs?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I disagree with that. It will create more jobs. This will help us strengthen the economy and create more jobs and create better opportunities for West Australians to get ahead. Attracting more international students to Perth will help us in so many ways. It will also help further improve the quality of higher education here in Western Australia for people from Perth.

QUESTION: If I can just start. There’s just a couple of things I wanted to ask you Mark. Just start off with the submarines. Obviously you have got Mathias here. Maybe I should have just started with just asking Mathias first. Mathias can you just outline to me just quickly whether we are going to all day, but the process from here on in. When is actually a recommendation going to Federal Cabinet on the South Australian maintenance contract?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The process has long been on the public record. We again went through it in some detail in Senate Estimates this past week. The Finance Department, the Defence Department, relevant areas out of Defence that is and the Australian Submarine Corporation are working to put forward some options. We expect that a decision will be made sometime by the end of the year. That is the current timetable we are working on. It will be a decision that will be made based on our national interest, based on the requirements of our Defence Forces and in particular the requirement to have a smooth transition from the Collins class submarines to the Attack class submarines.

QUESTION: You just, can I just clarify it’s been I thought reported that it will be Linda Reynolds who makes the recommendation to Cabinet. Is it her or you?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into cabinet processes, but it is a matter of public record that I am the one hundred per cent shareholder Minister for the ASC. It is a matter that both Defence and as Finance Minister, as the shareholder Minister for the ASC, we both have a keen interest in.

QUESTION: So you will both make the decision together?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No. The decision is going to be a decision for the Cabinet.

QUESTION: For the Cabinet. But the recommendation goes from who?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into the ins and outs of Cabinet processes. I am the shareholder Minister for the ASC. Linda Reynolds is the Defence Minister. There will be ultimately a Cabinet decision. It will be a decision that will be made based on our assessment, the Cabinet’s assessment of the national interest. 

QUESTION: You talk about the national interest, which you would expect, I mean you are a Federal Finance Minister, you’d expect that. How difficult is it? I mean you have mentioned that both yourself and Linda Reynolds will be working together on the final recommendation to Cabinet, how difficult is it that you are a WA, do you feel pressure?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I will always, on something like this, when it comes to defence capability, when it comes to the defence of our nation, we always focus on our national interest. That is what people across Australia expect us to do. That is what people here in Western Australia expect us to do.

QUESTION: Senator, the reports today that the Treasury has flagged printing money to boost the economy. Is that something that the Government should consider?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government is not considering printing money. Do not believe everything you read in the newspaper.

QUESTION: The department has also warned that Australia is closer than we have been previously requiring an unconventional monetary policy. What does that say about the state of the economy? And how can you continue to say that everything is fine?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, do not believe everything you read in the newspaper. The first point I would make is that monetary policy in Australia is a matter for the Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank has that responsibility independently. I would refer you to repeated comments by the independent Governor of the Reserve Bank, who has made it very clear that he cannot foresee a circumstance where in Australia unconventional monetary policy options would be required. There is a lot of hyperventilating and a lot of crazy speculation from people that are quite misinformed. 

QUESTION: Mark, can I, thank you Mathias. Mark can I continue just that theme of submarines for a moment. So you have heard Mathias, it is in the national interest that will be the decision that is made. You would argue that the national interest is for that work to come to WA as I take it. What last minute lobbying or work are you trying to do to convince Mathias and Linda Reynolds to put the right recommendation to Cabinet?

MARK MCGOWAN: We have been working with the Federal Government to put our case forward. We have produced a business case. We have produced reports from various accountancy firms. We have made sure that the capability of Western Australian industry is promoted nationally. We are doing everything we can in relation to this. I represent Rockingham. The submarines are based there. Henderson is just across Cockburn Sound. It makes a lot of sense to me that full cycle docking happen here. We think that is in the national interest. But we will put our case. We will await the outcome. 

QUESTION: Scott Morrison is in Fremantle today visiting the submarines. Do you think it is likely that we will be able to win those contracts for WA?

MARK MCGOWAN: I didn’t know that. But I am pleased. I am pleased that the Prime Minister will see the capability of West Australian industry. The nation’s mining industry, the oil and gas industry is based here. Half the Navy at least is based here. The capability of Western Australia is there for all to see. I am pleased that the Prime Minister is seeing it.

QUESTION: Mark, obviously the Prime Minister is here for Telethon and whatever he is doing today. Will you be, I know you will probably have a chat to Mathias, but will you be having a chat to the Prime Minister as well about this while he’s here?

MARK MCGOWAN: I will see him at Telethon this evening. I am sure the subject, many subjects will come up, including submarines.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you, just on that, sorry guys and then I’ll, just on Telethon, sorry a completely different subject, how, it’s a good feel weekend for our State, there are a lot of horrible things that go on and so forth. How important is it for WA to maintain its Telethon spirit to keep showing the generosity that it has for years and years and years and what does that say about us as West Australians do you think?

MARK MCGOWAN: Telethon has been around for fifty-two years. It is unique to Western Australia. It gives us a bit of that home spun, old style entertainment and also encourages a spirit of giving. Young people love it. Old people love it. It is a great thing. I hope it lasts forever.

QUESTION: Premier, if I could just get you just back on this visa change issue. What would you say to people who think that this decision is going to put their job at risk?

MARK MCGOWAN: This doesn’t. This creates jobs in Western Australia. The system is complex. We are simplifying it. We are attracting international students. We are ensuring that we can promote Western Australia to the world. It will create more jobs for our State. 

QUESTION: Premier, are the reports in the paper accurate, that you are trying to get Ronaldo here? Mathias said you can’t believe everything that you read in the newspaper. Can we believe that one?

MARK MCGOWAN: As you know, we have put a huge effort into events. We had Manchester United here earlier this year. We had the first UFC in Western Australia in 2017. We are working to attract all sorts of events and people to the State because it is great for tourism. We’ve had record growth in interstate and international tourists over the last. Twelve per cent growth. Biggest growth in spend. Biggest growth in numbers. We work hard to get people and events to the State. Speculating about individuals or individual clubs, I won’t do, because there are confidential negotiations. But we work hard on this issue.

QUESTION: But you’d like Juventus here?

MARK MCGOWAN: They are a great club. Juventus is a great club. Ronaldo is a world figure.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Why don’t you get Bayern Munich here while you are at it?

QUESTION: That’s right. That’s right.

MARK MCGOWAN: Apparently I read in the paper today, Ronaldo has relatives who live in Yangebup.

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah he does yeah.

MARK MCGOWAN: So Ronaldo has relatives who live in Yangebup. So all those people are great for the State if we can get them here. We work on these things. But I am not going to go into which individuals or clubs, might or might not be coming. 

QUESTION: Just hypothetically too, with Juventus and Ronaldo, if he is coming in July next year, that will be the same month as the Euro 2020 competition in which he will almost certainly partake for Portugal. Often players who partake in those international tournaments get left out of pre-season tours overseas. Would it be a worry if Ronaldo isn’t available to come with they do end up coming?

QUESTION: That will just test your knowledge out now. Let’s see how good you are on soccer, come on.

MARK MCGOWAN: Senator Cormann probably knows … interrupted

MATHIAS CORMANN: Sounds like a very hypothetical question.

QUESTION: Do they play soccer in Rockingham? Come on.

QUESTION: Because these big stars are quite important to these tours. And if these teams don’t bring their big stars, the impact is much less isn’t it?

MARK MCGOWAN: Obviously we work hard on attracting events and individuals. These things are all negotiated privately, because you don’t want to jeopardise the States position and let other places know what you are doing. That’s why these things, we keep them off the radar until we announce them.

QUESTION: And just quickly, terrible tragedy today. Two young people that have lost their lives. Have you had a briefing from police or Mark or anybody?

MARK MGOWAN: Just on that, I just got off the phone from the police commissioner. He has explained to me the situation. It is true, that two girls have tragically lost their lives. A woman is in custody. It is one of those shocking, appalling, horrible, tragic things that sometimes happen. It affects all of us. We will make sure that there is support for children at the school. Psychological support and the like. But it is just one of those horrible, horrible things that sometimes occurs. My thoughts go out to the family of the young girls.

QUESTION: You had a briefing from Chris Dawson was it?



MARK MCGOWAN: Anything more for Mathias?

QUESTION: Premier, just quickly as well, the Subiaco One apartments are coming out today. And you recently announced the stamp duty rebate. Is that a good opportunity for people, do you think the stamp duty rebates will work as the housing is quite sluggish at the moment.

MARK MCGOWAN: Industry says they will work. Getting construction activity brought forward is important for creating jobs. I personally think it is a great time to buy. Get into the market, buy. It is never going to be more affordable. You can, using our stamp duty rebate, get a new apartment, avoid some of the costs and create jobs for Western Australians. What could be better?

QUESTION: And also a kookaburra’s head was ripped off at a hotel…

MARK MCGOWAN: I don’t know much about it apart from what I heard just before. But animal cruelty is horrible. I think everyone in the community is appalled by it. 

Thank you.