Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Wednesday, 10 June 2020
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning.
QUESTION: Thanks for your time Minister. What do you make of the Chinese Government’s decision to urge caution to its students visiting and studying in Australian universities, is it misinformation? Is it responsible government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We disagree with it. Australia is an open and welcoming country. We are very popular with international students. We have a world class higher education sector. We are a highly successful, tolerant, welcoming, multicultural society. We will continue to promote who we are as a nation. We will continue to welcome international students from all corners of the world, once this coronavirus crisis is behind us hopefully at the same levels as before.
QUESTION: Do you see this as economic coercion?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave the commentary to you. From our point of view, we have a world class higher education sector offering great opportunities for international students from all around the world, including from China. We are a welcoming country. We are a successful, multicultural society. We encourage everyone from all around the world who might consider higher education in a foreign country to consider Australia, because we are a great place to come and study.
QUESTION: Malcolm Turnbull says that China should turn down its hostile diplomacy. Do you agree?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I will leave the commentary to others. I am just going to stick to our positon which is that Australia is a successful multicultural society. We are a welcoming country. We encourage all potential students who are considering higher education in a foreign country to come to Australia. We are a great place to study.
QUESTION: What do you think we have actually done, that Australia has done to upset Beijing?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to get into these sorts of conversations. We are committed to the best possible relationship with China, but we also will stand up for our national interest. From time to time there will be issues on which we disagree. Our view is that we ought to work through these issues positively and constructively. Ours is a very important relationship which delivers mutual benefits to both sides. We will continue to put out best foot forward, but by the same token we will continue to stand up for our national interest.
QUESTION: Should the national cabinet be delaying the rapid easing of restrictions as a result of the weekend’s protests? Should wait until we see what the data is?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The chief medical officers from around Australia will be considering these issues. It was unfortunate to see these mass protests in breach of the rules on the weekend. We will not know for some time whether or not they have consequences on the health front. Hopefully they will not. But it was an unnecessary and unacceptable level of risk that was imposed on the Australian community in the context of a pandemic when we are working very hard to avoid a second wave of infections, which would have a devastating effect. It would literally cost people lives and it would put jobs and the economy at risk again. So hopefully that will not happen. But that is the reason why I was so strongly of the view that the mass protests on the weekend, in the context of a pandemic, were reckless and irresponsible. That does not take away from the importance of the issue. Of course the issue that people were demonstrating about is an important legitimate issue. Here in Australia we also have to continue to grapple with those difficult issues. Governments of both political persuasions have made genuine efforts to better address those issues. Ken Wyatt as our Minister for Indigenous Australians is working very, very hard to address many of those issues that were raised by the protestors on the weekend. But in the context of the pandemic, what I would say to everyone, there are other and better ways to express your strength of feelings in relation to these matters. There are other and better ways that does not put the health of the community at risk the way these mass protests did last weekend.
QUESTION: Can I just clarify then, have you actually received, or has the Government received any formal advice from chief medial officers that there may need to be a delay of reopening of the economy as a result of the protests?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I have just said is this. The chief medical officers from around Australia are considering these matters. Advice is provided in the ordinary course of events through the national cabinet process in particular. I will let these processes run their course. I will let the Prime Minister and others make announcements in due course as appropriate.
QUESTION: Mister Cormann you mentioned alternative ways of protesting. What would you suggest, given that a lot of people who are protesting may feel that it is the only way to get the Government’s attention to do anything?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Let me say that Anzac Day marches did not happen this year. People found a way to commemorate the great sacrifice and contribution made by our veterans on Anzac Day. There are other ways that you can express your view. In the context of a pandemic where we are all fighting to supress the spread of an awful, awful virus that is killing people, a mass protest like that is reckless and irresponsible and is not the right way at this point in time to express your view, however legitimate the issue.