Alan Tudge named as Australian education minister

MP brings ‘a good understanding’ of international education and a chequered record on refugees and staff relations

December 18, 2020
Alan Tudge

Former policy consultant Alan Tudge has been named Australia’s education minister, after a senator’s resignation initiated a conga line of cabinet changes.

Mr Tudge replaces Dan Tehan, who was anointed education minister shortly after Scott Morrison’s ascension to the prime ministership two years ago. Mr Tehan has now claimed the trade minister’s role vacated by his predecessor as education minister, Simon Birmingham.

Mr Birmingham was appointed finance minister in October after incumbent Mathias Cormann resigned to campaign for the position of secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A former business consultant with law and arts degrees from the University of Melbourne and an MBA from Harvard, Mr Tudge gained an insider’s perspective on education policy as a senior adviser to then-education minister Brendan Nelson in the mid-2000s.

He has been instrumental in international education policy in his recent role as acting minister for immigration, citizenship, migrant services and multicultural affairs. He was also minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said Mr Tudge was one of six cabinet ministers on the National Council for International Education. “He brings to his new portfolio a good understanding of the key issues impacting on our sector,” Mr Honeywood said.

Mr Tudge was considered sympathetic to the plight of international students rendered penniless during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is believed that his arguments for federal government assistance failed to gain much traction with cabinet colleagues.

More recently, he has courted controversy over an affair with a staffer. And Mr Morrison faced calls to sack him over a federal court ruling that he had engaged in “criminal” conduct as acting immigration minister, when he failed to implement a tribunal’s order that an asylum seeker be released from detention.

Australian Greens education spokeswoman Mehreen Faruqi said Mr Tudge’s elevation “shows how little the government values the education system”.

“Anyone a federal court judge has found to have acted criminally is not fit to be a minister of the government,” Dr Faruqi said.

Mr Morrison said that Mr Tudge would take up his new role with “a clear brief of improving education outcomes and helping younger Australians navigate the challenges of a rapidly changing world”.

The prime minister said that as a former officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Tehan brought “strong credentials” to his new role. The one-time diplomat faces the challenging task of steering Australia through its increasingly bitter trade war with China.

Mr Tehan presided over the education portfolio during a period of tension between universities and the government, exacerbated by the sector’s thinly disguised preference for the Labor opposition during the 2019 federal election. Despite this, he succeeded in negotiating substantial higher education funding changes – an achievement that eluded his predecessors Mr Birmingham and Christopher Pyne – when his Jobs-ready Graduates reforms passed parliament two months ago.

Mr Tehan has also kept faith with party colleagues by moving to strengthen free speech provisions in universities.

A bill to redefine the legal meaning of “academic freedom” is currently before parliament, and the government has flagged further legislation if more universities do not adopt a “model code” for free speech and academic freedom developed by former high court chief justice Robert French.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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