Australia: Tasmania snuffs suggestion to quarantine international students for NSW

quarantining international students
NSW plans to quarantine returning international students in Tasmania scuppered. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

The Tasmanian government has poured cold water on the New South Wales (NSW) government’s plan that would see the state quarantining international students on behalf of NSW. NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said yesterday (March 8) that the two states governments have had “extensive discussions” on a proposal for international students to quarantine in Hobart hotels before travelling to NSW. This initiative would help revive the state’s 14 billion Australian dollar education sector, reported The Sydney Morning Herald. International student education is NSW’s largest service export.

A statement released by Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein today (March 9), however, dismisses reports that the plan is still under consideration. “The Tasmanian Government confirms it has received an approach from the NSW Government to quarantine international students on their behalf,” said Gutwein. “At this time, however, we have advised this is not under consideration with our priority remaining the safe management of seasonal workers entering the state and our own international students when public health advice is that it is safe to do so.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had tasked Perrottet with delivering the plan in partnership with the Tasmanian government, which would mean NSW universities contribute to the bill of quarantining international students. Under the proposal, international students would travel to Tasmania and quarantine for two weeks at a hotel before flying to NSW to study. Due to the federal-government imposed cap on overseas arrivals, NSW does not have the capacity to quarantine its returning international students. 

“We’ve worked very closely with the sector around putting proposals to the federal government in relation to how we can bring the sector back [but] we don’t control borders,” Perrottet was quoted saying. “I’ve had numerous discussions with the federal treasurer around the importance of this, the Premier is completely supportive and focused on ways in which we can bring this sector back.”

NSW had worked closely with universities about the cost-sharing arrangements, according to Perrottet. They also held discussions with the Tasmanian government about how NSW could enter into a potential plan with them for returning international students to be quarantined in Tasmania before coming into NSW. “We have had extensive discussions and I can assure you we will continue to prosecute the case because of the economic impacts of this industry,” he adds. Perrottet also said in his half-year budget update last week that the government anticipated that international students would begin to return to NSW before the end of the year.

quarantining international students

There are still no concrete plans regarding the quarantine of international students. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Alternative plans to quarantining international students 

Perrottet has not given up on the plan, which included requiring NSW universities to contribute to the cost of quarantining international students. “I remain committed to finding a way to return this vital industry to NSW and will continue to work constructively with colleagues such as Mr. Gutwein to find a solution,” Perrottet was quoted saying by The Sydney Morning Herald.

He expressed his frustration with the quarantine system, which sees NSW taking the bulk of returning Australians, which hampers their efforts to cater to international students. “Forty percent of those people who were or who are in hotel quarantine have come from outside of NSW and that impacts our cap and as a result — we’re taking more than our fair share of returning Australians at the expense of having international students returned.”

Research by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute estimates that there will only be 300,000 international students living in Australia by mid-2021, a drop of around 50%, if Australia’s borders remain closed.

The international education crisis is not just a university problem, said the report, adding that more than half (about 57%), or AU$21.4 billion of the AU$37.5 billion in annual revenue associated with international education comes from goods and services spent in the wider economy.

Applications for international student visas have taken a plunge, falling 80% to 90% below what they were at the same time in 2019. There are approximately 210,000 fewer international students in Australia than would otherwise be expected.