By some measures, 36-year-old former lawyer Amanda Stoker arrived in federal parliament at just the right time.
In a year in which older conservative men embarrassed themselves and the Coalition, Senator Stoker represents the young, fresh face of free speech and traditional values in a party she says has “vacated the field” out of shame.
“I came into parliament because I was a bit frustrated,” she told The Australian in her first major interview since becoming a senator in March.
“I wanted to see us become a party that was confident and unashamed of our values and ultimately I am a doer, so I put my hand up.
“Our society is changing in a way that our party has not been comfortable with, and I think people have taken the view that we were absent. We have lost that argument for now.”
Senator Stoker said the need for clarity on social issues had never been more intense.
“As a party, we feel safe on the economy and our record is good,’’ she said.
“But we live in times now where it is not enough to tell people who have been well-off for quite some time that we can handle the economy. It needs to be something more than that.”
Being an economic dry, Senator Stoker says, is inextricably linked to having a “particular set of social values”, such as equality of opportunity, not outcome; reward for effort; freedom of speech; and freedom of association.
Senator Stoker — who grew up in a working-class family in Sydney’s far southwest at Campbelltown before working four jobs throughout university, including at a linen store and as a waitress — recognises that she may not be from the same stock as a classic Liberal member.
“Dad’s a plumber and neither of my parents finished high school. I went to public schools as a kid,” she said.
But this “hands-on” experience in a family where her parents were able to determine their own future and help their children on the way solidified a feeling she had that life is better when government gets out of the way.
“People in the party who may come from a more privileged background might appreciate these points from a different angle, but they are fundamental for us,” Senator Stoker said.
Although she recognises that hardship is insurmountable for some families, Senator Stoker is insistent that it made her better at her job and in life.
“I would not trade being a Campbelltown kid for anything. Sometimes, when you encounter other people in life who had every advantage, they might never have been challenged,” she said.
For what it’s worth, she says, Scott Morrison “is a good PM for us at the moment” because he had brought the party together. But she rejects the notion that conservatives have an identity crisis.
“Those who regard themselves as Liberal moderates would regard themselves as socially left and economically dry but, the way I see it, the identity crisis is with them because they find those two things hard to reconcile,” Senator Stoker said.
As a former lawyer and federal prosecutor who once served as an associate to then High Court justice Ian Callinan, Senator Stoker says she has the ability to “analyse something dispassionately”.
The current discourse, however, is the very “antithesis” of this idea.
“The discourse at the moment goes straight from idea to judgment; there is no teasing out the way that ideas can be more complex,” she said.
Earlier this month, Senator Stoker and Coalition colleague Barry O’Sullivan moved a motion in the Senate which called late-term abortion — newly legalised in Queensland — a “crime”. Before she was even in the parliament, Senator Stoker spoke in relation to the laws, saying: “The measure of a society is how it treats those who cannot speak for themselves: the aged, the ill, people with a disability, children and the unborn.”
This had her branded as a proponent of hate speech by some Queensland state Labor MPs. The mother of three girls aged five and younger — raised with the “brilliant” support of husband Adam Stoker, general counsel for the Brisbane Airport Corporation — cares little about the criticism.
“Politics needs people who are a bit like me, not afraid of being called all the nasty names,” she said.
“It was a fairly innocuous statement and the Left pretends it was built on compassion.
“Well, how can you say shut down the live-export industry because of the poor animals but, in the next breath, say it’s okay to kill unborn children?
“Why all the bleating about the children on Nauru who, by the way, are getting better healthcare than many of the kids in remote Australia?”
The social conversation, she said, was “being led by the Left”.
“We, as a party, have opted out of that conversation and that’s why people’s thoughts on climate change and marriage, for example, are being shaped by the Left,” Senator Stoker said.
“The average Australian might be a tradie, they might go to the pub of an evening to have some fun with mates, and I think they would be judged pretty harshly by those people who consider themselves to be enlightened when the reality is they carry this country.
“The people who consider themselves to be the arbiter of polite culture are not the ones who carry the wealth and security of this nation.”
But Senator Stoker does not accept she is the only “fresh” face for conservatism in a party whose scandals have taken out or damaged some of the older members.
“I look around and see Andrew Hastie, Nicole Flint, (Slade) Brockman, (James) Paterson … I see plenty of people having a fresher kind of look for conservatism,” she said.