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Overseas students on track for SA return as political leaders bicker

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Premier Steven Marshall says he’s hopeful that international students will return to South Australia next month, as he and the Opposition traded barbs over his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Marshall told an estimates hearing this morning that the Government still intended to welcome international students next month, despite concerns about the state’s closed border to New South Wales.

The trial, which received Commonwealth approval last month, will see up to 160 overseas students at a time quarantine at flight school accommodation at Parafield Airport before returning to university campuses.

The approval hinged on a Commonwealth Government pre-condition that South Australia’s border remained open for domestic travel when the international students arrived.

However, the worsening coronavirus outbreak in NSW, which today reported 177 new cases, has dampened hopes that South Australia’s border will reopen to that state in the short to medium term.

“I’m hopeful that it (the trial) will start next month, but, of course, my focus has been very much on the current cluster that we’ve had in South Australia – the outbreak, the lockdown and then coming out of the lockdown,” Marshall said.

“A lot of work has been done on preparing that (Parafield Airport) site and making sure it is suitable for bringing back some of our international students.

“We’re very keen to get them back to support our universities, to support our economy and to support jobs in South Australia.”

Asked by Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas how the trial could go ahead given the current border closure with NSW, Marshall said the State Government was still discussing a compromise with its federal counterpart.

“The Leader raises a good point – that was one of the original considerations by the Commonwealth, but it was a very different situation back at that time,” he said.

“We’ve got a good working relationship with the Commonwealth and we’ll consider that matter.”

Marshall said he was unsure from which countries students would arrive.

“We have had a lot of briefings with Cabinet on this matter, but… there’s been a lot of water under the bridge over the last 10 days,” he said.

“We do have direct flights which are still coming into South Australia from countries like Singapore, where we know we have a lot of students, especially medical students at the University of Adelaide who are keen to get back.

“Obviously, we will be doing everything we can to reduce any risk with people that are coming back into South Australia.”

The Premier said the universities and students would cover “vast majority” of the cost, but “there are bound to be some incidental costs associated with it borne by the taxpayers of South Australia”.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge conceded coronavirus outbreaks across the country had thrown international student repatriation plans off course.

He told Sky News this morning that a decision on timing would be up to the SA Government.

It comes after Marshall and Malinauskas clashed in the chamber over the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

You talk about undermining public health advice – you’re an absolute disgrace

During questions about the Government’s medi-hotel system, Marshall accused his counterpart of “deliberately undermining the great work of SA Health”.

“It’s very well for the Leader of the Opposition and the Australian Labor Party to go out on a daily basis and say ‘we’re offering bipartisan support’, but then go out and offer alternative suggestions – helpful or otherwise – on a pretty much daily basis, which do undermine the public’s confidence with regards to the way that we’re managing the COVID-19 pandemic so far here in South Australia,” he said.

“They are not doing anything to advance this cause whatsoever.”

Malinauskas retorted: “I understand that you want to sort of exercise a bit of political bravado in estimates, but that is pretty unfair”.

“Not on any occasion has anyone in my team done anything to undermine public confidence in health advice. We’ve done the exact opposite,” he said.

Marshall went on to describe Malinauskas of being “hesitant” to get vaccinated, after accusing him of failing to accept a government offer to get the Pfizer vaccine during the initial stages of its rollout.

“He did want to be included in sort of a publicity shot – that wasn’t appropriate at the time, but we did offer him a speedy Pfizer,” he said.

“There has been some hesitancy – maybe the Leader of the Opposition was feeling a bit hesitant about having that shot, I’m not 100 per cent sure.”

Malinauskas responded by calling Marshall a “disgrace”, while fellow Labor MP Tom Koutsantonis described the Premier as a “child”.

“You talk about undermining public health advice – you’re an absolute disgrace,” Malinauskas said.

– with AAP

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