Speech: March for Life 2022

Today we gather – as we do each year – to do something important.

We take time to honour the lives of all human beings – from all walks of life, of all ages, in whatever circumstances they are.

That’s a deeply compassionate thing to do.

It says to the woman who finds herself unexpectedly or inconveniently pregnant:we love you and we will support you to honour that life and yours.

It says to the couple who learns that the child they are expecting has a disability: your child is perfect and we will provide you with the help you need to help their gifts shine.

It says to the couple who has been told they cannot conceive that we understand your yearning for a family, and we will support policies that make adoption far more accessible than it is right now.

It says to older Australians, you are valued and we will strive to protect you from the elder abuse that is known to correlate with readily available euthanasia.

So I want to thank each and every one of you being here. For showing the courage to display your beliefs – not to push them on others as we are so often accused of doing – but rather to extend the hand of support and kindness and generosity to people who face great fear about their ability to cope with the circumstances they find themselves in. 

For the measure of a society is how it treats those who cannot speak for themselves. That includes the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and it includes the unborn – the most voiceless of all.

It is madness that we invest for years into our best and brightest to become doctors, teaching them to heal, and then we ask them end life. 

And it is just plain wrong that our society seems more ready to condemn cruelty against a dog or cat than it is against a human child – even one old enough to be capable of life outside of the womb, one who, if unwanted, would have many families into which he or she would be warmly welcomed and supported and loved.

On moments like today, we challenge our society to ask: who do you want to be?

To me, the answer is easy.

I want every child to know that they matter. Planned or unplanned, convenient or not, with or without a disability. You all matter, you all have incredible gifts to offer our world, and it should be our honour to walk beside you, supporting and encouraging you as you discover and reveal what your talents and contribution will be.

You are more than a clump of cells. At just twelve weeks, with your beating heart and all of your key organs, with ten little fingers and ten little toes, you are a human, and you deserve to reach your potential.

And, without a shred of judgment, with nothing but kindness and open hearts, we should wrap our arms around every woman facing difficulty and help her either to grow the confidence needed to adapt to the unexpected, knowing she will be helped, or help to facilitate adoption to a ready family.

It baffles me that some people have questioned whether I am an appropriate person to serve as assistant minister for women because I am pro-life. They suggest there is some conflict between the roles.

But there is no conflict in wanting to support women and the most vulnerable in our community.

I know there are many women who find themselves in incredibly difficult situations. We should be providing care and support to these women, so that they know terminating their pregnancy isn’t their only option.

I want all women to have a real choice. 

Not to be shoehorned into abortion of a healthy child because she feels ashamed or embarrassed to be pregnant. Not to face coercion by a partner into abortion as part of what we know is a form of domestic violence. And not to feel like their life is over just because it hasn’t gone to plan.

And I strongly believe that the little girls and boys whose lives lie in the balance deserve to be heard, deserve to be respected.

So, how can we build a culture of life in this beautiful country?

A friend of mine told me an interesting fact. Most teenage boys have not, throughout their teens, held a baby. Isn’t that an interesting thing? But when they are supported to do so, even when it is a real-weighted doll – they cradle that child to their chest in the most protective way. 

But by giving young people more chances to interact with, and be responsible for, babies, they can come to understand as they grow up the opportunity that is pregnancy – one to be valued.

And when we educate young people to interact with, serve and support older people with dementia, we show them that even with this difficult illness there is a hearing, feeling human within capable of love and joy and fun. Perhaps that experience will make those involved think twice about their families as they age. 

It is with stories like these I am filled with optimism for what is ahead. Hope that it will be the coming generation that seizes the privilege of life with both hands. Belief that with every passing year, the number of babies terminated in Queensland will fall. That our vulnerable will be valued and heard and supported to achieve their potential. That our women will be safe and granted real choice, even in adversity. 

We can do this. Thank you so very much for being a part of the movement for change.

[End]

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Second Reading - Excise Tariff Amendment Cost of Living Support bill 2022

 

Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (19:28): I rise to speak to the Excise Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022 and of course it forms part of the federal government's budget delivered yesterday by Mr Frydenberg. The budget does something very important for all Australians. It acknowledges the challenges that households are facing right now as our market adapts to many of the challenges that have put inflationary pressures on prices; the concerns emerging from Europe and the Ukraine; and the impact on fuel prices. The impact on the cost of transport and its impact on groceries and household bills is something that we acknowledge in this budget, something that we empathise with and something that we understand. So, there is action to reduce the cost of living now, whether one looks to the cost of fuel which, by halving the fuel excise for the next six months, means a household with two cars that fill up once a week will find themselves around $700 better off during that period. Whether it's about the cost-of-living tax offset—$420 that means more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners in this country will find themselves better able to cope with those increased costs of living. We'll have pensioners, carers, veterans, jobseekers and eligible self-funded retirees and concession card holders better equipped to handle the price fluctuations we have seen due to that international change. We're also taking important steps to make sure that more Australians can afford the cost of a home. We know and we understand just how important that ambition of Australians to be able to save for and get into a home of their very own is, including ensuring that that's not something that's out of reach for people who are single parents. We're more than doubling the home guarantee scheme to 50,000 places per year, knowing that the enthusiasm for this program in its early years has been through the roof. Helping more Australians get into their own home, get out of the cycle of renting and own their own little piece of Australia is a big part of how we are showing that we understand the pressures that are on people to manage those cost-of-living pressures every day. But we're not just dealing with the here and now. We also have in this budget a long-term plan that is about building the kind of strength in this economy that delivers job and wage growth for the long term, and that is something every Australian benefits from. With $2.8 billion invested to increase the take-up and completion rates of apprentices, we will see more skilled people in the workforce. There will be 800,000 people supported into training places as a part of this budget. With support for small businesses to get supersized tax deductions for every dollar they're prepared to spend investing in the skill sets and training of their employees—investing in the software, the technical and electronic infrastructure needed to improve productivity, to improve cybersecurity and to improve efficiency of their business—they can get benefits of up to $100,000 a year per business if they are prepared to double down on their investment in the jobs of their team, in the growth and in the contribution that they make to our economy. We're investing hard in local manufacturing. Of course, we've made enormous progress in developing the kind of specialised and high-skill manufacturing in Australia that remains an area in which we can be very competitive despite the comparatively high labour costs that we have in Australia. It is going from strength to strength. With support for greater commercialisation of the research that is being done in enormous quantities, particularly in partnership between our universities, the CSIRO and industry, we are driving the commercialisation and the manufacture of new technologies, whether those are in energy, medical supplies, defence or other high-priority areas for this country. Importantly, agriculture and energy are core to this manufacturing strategy. It's all about making sure there is a steady stream of high-value intellectual property developed here in Australia so that income from new patents developed here can be taxed at almost half the rate that ordinarily applies. That means this country will become a really attractive destination for people to set up shop, do their research and development and forge a manufacturing enterprise. Our regions are a big part of the story of the coalition government's vision for the future growth of our economy. Investment in our regions is how we ensure that we give great opportunities to people who live outside our cities, who we know ordinarily have fewer opportunities from which to choose. It is how we harness the enormous gift that we have in the size and richness of the mineral and land wealth of this country. And it is how we ensure that people, no matter where they live in this great country, can have not only the same aspiration to have a great job and afford a home they can be proud of but also the expectation of high-quality services. By building the wealth of this nation, by harnessing both the human talents and the natural talents of our regions, we can make sure that there is opportunity for all in this country from the strength of our economy. All of this makes possible something that is really important, and that's our safety net. We're able to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on because of the strength of our vision for our nation's economy for the long term. Of course, we have guaranteed Medicare. We have funded our health system at increasing levels every year under our government so that now health spending is at a record high. In last year's budget there was a landmark $2.3 billion investment in the mental health of Australians and in suicide prevention, and in this budget we have built on that commitment further. We heard today in the debate on the Women's Budget Statement just how much the prosperity, the safety, the health and wellbeing, and the leadership of Australian women is vital to this economic story. That is something the women of this country, who now face almost the lowest gender pay gap ever and the highest workforce participation they have ever seen, are benefiting from now. And the families of this country will continue to benefit, with more support for child care and more flexibility in paid parental leave than we have seen in the past. I could keep going but I think the point is clear: we are able to guarantee the essential services that Australians depend on because we have a strong plan for our economy to deliver opportunity for all. What that means is fewer Australians who need our support in welfare. Those very same people not just are getting the dignity of a job, not just getting the pride, the skills and the camaraderie that comes from having work to go to every day; they also become contributors to this country in the sense of making contributions to the tax system. They are net givers rather than takers. That is what we need to make sure we can guarantee the essential services on which Australians rely for the very, very long term. Finally, this budget makes it possible for us to make a record investment in the security of this country. As we face a less certain world, as we observe geopolitical tensions in Europe and elsewhere, it is more important than ever that we invest in the good men and women of our defence forces, that we grow our capability to protect our shores, and that we prepare our cybersecurity, in both the governmental and defence senses but also to assist industries to cope with changing dynamics on that front. Our cybersecurity investment in this budget puts us on a robust footing in this new frontier for international conflict. So it's in that context that I look with great optimism to what is ahead for Australia. These bills play such an important part in realising that vision, delivered so well by Treasurer Frydenberg yesterday. We look forward to not just sharing it with the Australian people in the days and weeks ahead but delivering it—delivering it today, tomorrow, next week, next month and for the years and decades ahead.

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Adjournment Speech - Top Blokes Foundation

 

Top Blokes Foundation Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (21:01): I rise tonight to speak about something that's really close to my heart, and in some ways it's connected to what Senator Hanson has just mentioned. If we're serious about making sure that we reduce the incidence of violence against women and men—violence against anyone—in our community, we don't just need to invest in making sure that there are support services for people who experience this terrible phenomenon and we don't just need to make sure that they have safe places to go if the worst should happen. We also need to make sure that we're doing what's necessary not just to put ambulances at the bottom of the cliff but to put fences at the top of it. It's to do the preventative work that's necessary to keep people in the kinds of healthy relationships with one another that underpin a society which is functioning so well that these statistics move in the right direction. I was really encouraged to get to know an organisation called Top Blokes Foundation. Top Blokes do something which is really special: they engage in small group mentoring with young men aged between 10 and 17. During a three- to six-month regular program of meeting up at school, they talk through the hard issues. In an ideal world, everybody would have a strong father or mother figure who could do this for them. In an ideal world, people would have a home environment that has good examples of how to treat one another and relationships with those who raise them which stick together in the best possible way. In an ideal world, people would have parents who can talk about difficult subjects, whether it's about how to treat people with whom they're in a relationship, whether it's about body image, whether it's about work ethic, whether it's about how we present ourselves to the world or whether it's about expectations and what we expect from people of the opposite sex, even as it relates to young people's unfortunate but surprisingly prevalent exposure to influences like pornography. Top Blokes help to bring out the best in some of the most troubled and high-risk young men in Queensland by providing experienced social work guidance from great influencers like Zed and his peers—JT, Jason and the like— who I got to meet recently at Shailer Park State High School. They're transforming the lives of young men and keeping them out of our jails, out of our family court system, in work and contributing to our community in a way that their parents and teachers had almost given up hope of at the time they enrolled in the program. Teachers report young men who are better able to manage their anger and calm themselves; cope with adversity; and manage conflict in healthy ways. They've got clearer and healthier expectations of what a good relationship looks like. And here's something I think we can all be really excited about: instead of turning to influences like drugs and alcohol as a way of numbing or blocking anger, they've got the skills needed to be able to process it healthily and direct their energies in a positive way so that they don't feel the need or wish to use drugs or alcohol. This is transformative for the lives of the young men involved, and it is an investment that I am so proud to see the philanthropic community of Queensland making. They are doing incredible work, and I can only commend it enormously. I remember the stories of one of the young blokes I got to talk with. He was able to greet me with a strong look in the eye and a handshake, introduce himself by name and explain to me some of the things he'd done in past that he wasn't proud of, as well as all the ways he'd changed and the ways in which he looks to the future with positivity. He says he's going to do an apprenticeship, and that he's looking forward to being a mechanic. I have no doubt he's going to achieve that goal. That's partly due to his great teachers at Shailer Park State High, but it has a lot to do with the talented and caring people who are transforming women's safety by giving men the skills they need to flourish.

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Senate Farewell to Senator Kimberley Kitching

 

Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (12:43): I rise to make a small contribution in memory of Senator Kitching. Senator Kitching was a principled, kind and intelligent parliamentarian. She was warm, gentle and decent. Her decency, her trustworthiness, her fidelity to ideas and principle meant she was effective in working across the aisle to advance what she believed was in the national interest. She and I came to become friends in that context. Along with colleagues like Senator Paterson, Mr Hastie and Mr Byrne, we worked together often to ensure that Australia's interests were protected, despite the changing geopolitical environment, even though—and Senator Paterson might remember this—in the early days this was mocked by some corners of our respective parties. We were, together, able to raise awareness of important threats to Australia's sovereignty and to help make Australia safer. While Kimberley was so very loyal to her party, and fierce in debate, she was capable of rising above the tribalism that so often characterises this place. This job is hard, it is exposed, and the expression of vulnerability that is so vital for good mental and physical health is harshly penalised. Many have commented today on Kimberley's beaming smile and how her enthusiasm could be contagious; but if we are honest, friends, we know those big smiles often hid a sadness and were sometimes a necessary protective device in an environment that can often be harsh and, at times, cruel. The realities of the human experience don't fit well into the black and white of the sound bites that are chased in this place; but Kimberley was courageous in difficulty, and, though she was quickwitted and intelligent and bright, she never used it to wound. It's part of the reason debate with her in this chamber was always such a joy—and she was no less effective for that grace. Andrew, I know your life will never be the same. I hope you will have peace, despite your grief, knowing hers was a life well lived. To Professor and Mrs Kitching, I'm so sorry you've had to bury the daughter you raised and educated with so much love. To staff, I hope the time you've had with Senator Kitching puts you in good stead for what's ahead. It's my sincere hope that this place will become kinder, fairer, less tribal and more nuanced as part of Kimberley's enormous legacy. Kimberley Jane—I'm Amanda Jane, and we would often laugh together that people of a certain age were either Janes or Louises in the middle—may God rest your beautiful soul. We'll always claim you as a Queenslander.

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Speech: Bar Association of Queensland’s Annual Conference

SENATOR THE HON AMANDA STOKER
Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General
Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations
Assistant Minister for Women
LNP Senator for Queensland

Speech: Bar Association of Queensland’s Annual Conference

Sunday 27 March 2022

*Check against delivery*

Introduction

Thank you for your invitation to be here today. I am honoured to have the opportunity to your annual conference.

This is the second time I have address one of the Queensland Bar Association’s conferences. However there have been some major changes to our legal system since the last time I was here, with the merger of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia taking effect in September last year.

This marks a major change in the history of Australia’s family court system – and we’re already starting to see the benefits.

Family law system – need for reform

The need for meaningful reform in the federal family court system has been apparent for years, with seven major inquiries since 2008 indicating a need for reform.

Cases before the family courts have increased in volume and complexity.

There has been an alarming growth in the incidence of cases involving child abuse and family violence. These now make up the majority of cases.

And of the 18,300 notices filed in the former Federal Circuit Court between November 2020 and 2021, 64 per cent of parties alleged they have experienced family violence.

Our court system ought to be of benefit to our community. However the dual court structure and overlapping jurisdiction between the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court had led to inefficiencies, confusion, delays, additional costs, and inconsistent experiences for many court-users.

Put simply, it led to poor outcomes for children and families.

One of the clearest problems with our federal and family court system has been the extensive backlog of cases.

Previously it could take up to 26 months for a case to be resolved in the Federal Circuit Court, with the median time to trial being 21 months.

For the Family Court, it could take up to 38 months for a case to be resolved, with the median time to trial being 24 months.

The impact of these delays was highlighted in recent inquiries by the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System, with hundreds of Australian men and women sharing their stories of the emotional and financial strains caused by prolonged litigation.

The Inquiries heard how excessive wait times escalated family disputes and left parents in situations that were unsafe for themselves and their children.

They heard how the frustration from delays and the depleted of resources led forced parents to accept what they felt were unfair settlements.

And they heard how the complexity of the process left people feeling disempowered, unable to navigate the system without professional help.

These are some of the reasons why there has been widespread recognition that the previous structural arrangements in the courts – with separate rules, practices and processes – were just not working effectively for Australian families.

A single point of entry

The Government’s structural reform of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia has been based on extensive analysis of the evidence and significant consultation with the courts and other family law stakeholders.

The reform is designed to create a modern court that is responsive to the needs of litigants.

It provides a consistent pathway for Australian families navigating through the federal family courts, with a single point of entry for first instance federal family law matters.

The previous two federal family law courts have been brought together to ensure consistency in process and, importantly, certainty of the family law pathway.

There is also now a single set of rules, procedures, case management, and practice.

A new duty on parties

In addition to these structural and procedural changes, the reform is also designed to drive cultural change, with the legislation imposing a duty on parties to act consistently and with the overarching purpose of facilitating the just resolution of disputes according to law as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.

If a lawyer fails to comply with this duty, a judge may order that they personally bear costs. These provisions recognise that parties may need assistance from their lawyers to act consistently with this duty and require lawyers to assist their clients to comply.

If, for example, a party wants to prolong litigation as a strategy to increase costs to the other party, their lawyer would be obliged to explain that this would be contrary to the overarching purpose and may have adverse cost consequences for their clients.

This objective is underpinned by a principle that ought to be at the heart of every proceeding within our justice system – that outcomes for Australian families should be timely and just.

Consistent appeal pathways

This once in a generation structural reform implements a more effective approach to family law appeals.

The new appeal process mirrors the Federal Court model. It brings both courts into lockstep on their appeal pathway, providing a logical harmonisation and consistency in practice and process for the Commonwealth courts.

And because most appeals will be able to be heard by a single judge, the court will have greater flexibility to manage its appeal workload, thereby freeing up considerable judicial resources.

Improving the efficiency of the courts in this regard will have important flow on effects for the experiences of court users, including reducing the delays in the family law system and improving the overall time it takes for families to have their matters dealt with.

New approach to case management

Along with these changes, the government has provided the court with an additional $60.8 million in funding to reform and optimise its case management processes.

This includes funding to establish a Central Assessment Team to centralise the processing of over 106,000 family law applications per annum.

As part of this, we have increased the number of Senior Registrars and Registrars and enabled them to have an enhanced role, which includes triaging and managing cases upfront, and conduct alternative dispute resolution.

Senior Registrars have the responsibility to hear interim applications and conduct alternative dispute resolution.

Only Senior Registrars with the appropriate skills and aptitude to undertake this role will be recruited. But this will be supplemented with ongoing training and professional development.

Crucially, complex interim hearings will still be dealt with by judges.

Not only with this increase access to alternative dispute resolution, it will also shorten the time that families spend in litigation.

It will reduce the emotional and financial costs experienced by already vulnerable families and assist them to find a workable and lasting resolution to their dispute.

And it will free up judges time so they can focus on trials and complex cases

Creating a more efficient judicial system

I’ve already mentioned that prior to our reforms it could take up to 26 months for a case to be resolved in the Federal Circuit Court and 38 months in the Family Court – timeframes that can only be described as shocking.

Thankfully, this reform will enable an estimated 8,000 additional cases to be finalised each year. This will have a massive impact on court wait times.

The primary target is for around 90 per cent of family law cases to be finalised within 12 months, with the median time to trial to be approximately 10 months – meaning wait times and finalisation rates will be cut in half.

This will make a massive difference to countless Australian families during a very challenging period in their lives.

The impact so far

It has only been a few months since the reforms were implemented, but we are already seeing the early signs of success.

Since the reforms commenced, registrars have undertaken around 13,000 court hearings which would otherwise have been undertaken by judges.

As a result, the average docket size for judges has reduced dramatically.

In May 2021, the average number of matters for judges of Division 2 of the FCFCoA was 330. This has reduced to 193 as at 31 January 2022 – a decrease of over 41 per cent.

This has freed judges to focus on trials and complex cases involving family violence and other risks to children.

Over 7,500 dispute resolution conferences have been conducted in the last 16 months, with more than 50 per cent resolving.

This has been supported by the new case management reforms and accompanying funding for additional registrars and family consultants to conduct alternative dispute resolution conferences.

Significant inroads are even being made into the large backlog of family law cases, with the pending caseload having fallen by 12 per cent since September 1 last year. Many of these cases have been in the court system for years.

The number of cases awaiting trial in Division 1 of the FCFCoA has also substantially reduced, falling from 300 in the largest registries to around 50 cases.

These are significant results, which will have a real impact on communities in Queensland and around the country.

Increased access to alternative dispute resolution is saving costs and trauma for parties. Reforms to shift the front-end case management work from judges to registrars is providing a pathway for more cases to be heard quickly, efficiently and cost‑effectively. And it’s providing a pathway for high-risk cases to be identified early, to ensure the safety of vulnerable parties and children.

The Benefits for regional and rural Queensland

The increased number of registrars available to conduct hearings and dispute resolution conferences has also provided greater access to justice for litigants in rural and regional Queensland.

Already there are additional registrars located in regional areas including Townsville, Cairns and Rockhampton.

This will help people in those areas access the same court services as those in the city, whether this is face to face or via an electronic platform.

The Government has also committed to expanding the Family Advocacy and Support Services to an additional 26 locations across Australia, from 1 July 2022. This will enhance access to critical frontline legal and social support services for parties in family law matters involving family violence.

In Queensland this access will increase from three existing locations to a total of 11 locations in all FCFCoA registries and circuit locations, across rural and regional areas.

This highly effective program contributes to the likelihood of timely and satisfactory resolution of legal matters, helps reduce risk and the power imbalance between victims and alleged perpetrators of family violence, and supports holistic legal outcomes.

Conclusion

I acknowledge the concerns raised by some stakeholders. Further reforms may be necessary to refine the new processes, and feedback from practitioners and other legal experts will be important in the process.

The government will continue to monitor and review the reforms, to ensure they achieve the intended outcome of a modern court responsive to the needs of litigants.

But Australia’s family law system has a proud history of innovation. It is supported by incredibly hard-working and dedicated legal professionals – including members of the Bar Association of Queensland.

Thank you for your time, your professionalism and hard work, and your dedication to the administration of Justice.

I hope you enjoy the remainder of your conference.

[END]

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Second Reading - Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021

Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (21:26): Mitochondrial disease can be serious and debilitating. It causes a range of symptoms, including muscle and neurological problems with symptoms that can range from the mild to the severe, and sometimes it can prove fatal. Between one in 5,000 and one in 10,000 Australians will develop severe mitochondrial disease. For those individuals affected—Australians like Julian, Shelley, Rosie, Alana, Pippa, Kara, Dot, Marcus and so many more—the seriousness of the condition is only compounded by there being no cure at this stage. This bill offers hope to each of those people and their families, and that hope is so important. These people's lives matter. Every life matters. Yet those two short sentences carry with them the very difficulty of this bill. The Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021 sets out a legal framework for mitochondrial donation. In doing so it provides hope for a world without mitochondrial disease, but it does this by allowing in this country—we'll be only the second country in the world to permit it—five different experimental procedures, some of which require human life to be created and then destroyed during the donation process. That's why, after careful consideration of this bill and the procedures it allows, and with something of a heavy heart for those families who I know are looking for answers, I can't support it in its current form. Mitochondrial donation is not a cure for mitochondrial disease; it instead aims to prevent children inheriting the mitochondria that causes the disease. This is a really worthwhile goal. While mitochondrial donation is yet to lead to a successful birth—as I mentioned, the UK is the only country to have legalised the procedure to date—this on its own shouldn't be a deal-breaker. We all want Australia to be a leader in medical research because we all want Australians to get the best possible medical care. That inevitably that has to involve experimentation. But our desire for medical progress must be balanced against the nature of the research involved and the ethical ramifications of it for the rest of society. In the case of this bill I believe it ignores ethical implications in the hope that it will lead in time to viable medical treatments. Mitochondrial donation involves a permanent modification of the human germline. That's not germs as in bacteria, but, rather, a reference to genetics. The procedure involves combining the genetic material from two females in order for eggs and zygotes to be created without the genetic disease. A human embryo created through this process will contain, necessarily, the genetic material of more than two people. That is an ethical boundary that causes me concern. The reasons for wanting a treatment of this kind are completely understandable, particularly from those who carry the disease. It must be heartbreakingly difficult for those who desperately want to become parents but know they carry the gene. I can only say how much empathy I have for those in that position. But we're only in the very early stages of understanding the human genome. We have a limited understanding of genetics, and there's a real risk that our experiments will cause off-target effects—in other words, unintended consequences that occur due to editing the genome in the wrong place. The consequences of our actions won't only affect the child born through a successful procedure; it will affect all of their future descendants. It's important to stop and think about the ethical threshold we may be about to cross. By allowing genetic manipulation to reduce disease, we are permitting genetic manipulation that could equally be used for a host of nontherapeutic purposes. It's not beyond contemplation that the science used in mitochondrial donation could be used for other, more troubling, purposes. These include editing the physical attributes of a child or creating human enhancements. I regard both of these as unethical, especially if human lives are created and then destroyed during the donation process in order to make it possible. There are, as I understand it, potential methods by which mitochondrial donation may be able to be pursued without creating human lives solely to end them for the purposes of donation. I'm open to the pursuit of treatments that don't require such ethically troubling steps. I'm open to amendments that will enable treatments to be pursued for mitochondrial donation that don't involve the creation of embryos for their destruction. I remain troubled by the risks of the editing process and the use of the genes of more than two people to make a child. Ultimately, it's not right, in my view, for the life of one human to be prioritised over another, or used as parts for another. There is goodness in every human. There is dignity in every human, and there is the spark of the divine: unique talents, gifts and contributions to be made in every single human. That's why I can't, in good conscience, support this bill without amendments that adequately safeguard against these risks.

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Senators Statements - Anti-Trolling Legislation

Social Media: Anti-Trolling Legislation Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (13:58): The Morrison government is tackling the problem of online trolling and ensuring administrators of social media pages aren't liable for the comments that other people make on their page. Our anti-trolling bill ensures that people won't be able to use anonymous social media accounts to defame other people online. It represents action on an issue that so many parents express worry about. Victims of this behaviour will have the ability to unmask an anonymous user, allowing them to pursue them in court. This will ensure that laws governing people's conduct in the real world will also apply for people online. There will be safeguards to ensure that these mechanisms can't be abused. There will also be provisions that allow the Attorney-General to intervene in cases such as where there is a major power imbalance. Importantly, the bill clarifies that people who have social media pages are not liable for defamatory comments that other people make on their pages, resolving an issue of uncertainty that had been created by the High Court's decision in the matter of Voller. Without this reform, countless individuals and businesses could inadvertently get caught up in legal battles for failing to moderate the comments on their posts, even if they lack the time and resources to be able to complete that task. It shifts responsibility for these comments back on to the people who make them. The bill won't solve all problems with social media, of course, but it's an important step and it's using accountability to drive better culture online. The PRESIDENT: It being 2 pm, we'll move to questions without notice.

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Adjournment Speech - Corruption and Integrity

 

Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (12:25): Senator Patrick says he's motivated in bringing this suspension motion by the frustration that the government is running out of time to deliver its Commonwealth Integrity Commission before the end of the year. So, in order to give effect to that frustration, he has decided to attempt to derail the government's legislative program in a game of competitive one-upmanship about who around this chamber most stands against corruption. Well, the reality is that there's nobody in this room saying that corruption is a good thing. There's nobody here who's saying that corruption is the order of the day. Everyone in this place stands against corruption. It's part of the reason this government has engaged in such a detailed consultation process to make sure that we can deliver an institution that has the teeth it needs while learning the lessons of the integrity commissions in other states that have gone horribly awry. Senator Lines: Which states? Senator STOKER: I'll happily tell you that, Senator Lines, in just a moment. But, really, he's frustrated about not getting through the government's program, and so, to do that, he's going to derail getting through the government's program. I mean, can you bear it? Then we moved around the chamber to hear from Senator Gallagher, who was complaining that we have a desire to introduce a bill of this significance with the support of those opposite. Now, every time I go out into the Australian community, they want to see more of the major parties working together to get sensible agreement on matters so fundamental to the institutions of this country that we want them to have an enduring and stable quality. But, no, they want to engage in a game of partisanship, a game of political one-upmanship, instead of just getting the heads around the table and agreeing on what it is possible to do amongst the people in this room. It leads me to say again: can you bear it? The hypocrisy of those around this chamber makes my eyes water. But it's important that, rather than trying to cast slurs on people who serve in this place, under the coward's castle of parliamentary privilege, we instead step back and look at what works in these institutions. If we look to the example of the New South Wales ICAC, we see a long list of great injustices that have been inflicted by a star chamber which itself needs to be held accountable. For those Australians watching and thinking, 'But we do need something to look at corruption at the federal level'—and, of course, it is important that we are stomping out corruption at every opportunity—few Australians realise that, first, we have 12 agencies at the Commonwealth level that deal with corruption. We don't have one or two. We have 12 agencies that are responsible for tracking down and stomping out corruption every day of the week. So, in the time between now and when the Commonwealth Integrity Commission comes into force, these things are not languishing by the wayside; they are being dealt with and they are being addressed. The next thing to say is that we've already taken action to expand the role of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. We've expanded it. We have funded it, and it is already delivering those aspects of the federal government's Commonwealth Integrity Commission bill. It's already happened. It's already funded and it's already being delivered every day of the week. So there are an awful lot of political slogans being chucked around by those opposite, but there's not a lot of connection to reality. Let's have a look at the long list of injustices that can occur when we don't get the design of an integrity commission right, because, can I tell you, the design that has been proposed by those in the Greens and the design proposed in the Haines bill would empower many great injustices of the kind that we have seen in New South Wales. Nick Greiner— Opposition senators interjecting— The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Fawcett): Members on my left, you are given the courtesy of silence when you speak. I'd ask that you extend that to others when they're on their feet. That is how this place works to provide everyone an opportunity to express their views. Senator STOKER: Let me give you an example of the case of Nick Greiner—1992 we're talking about here. This is the man who fought for and established the New South Wales ICAC. This man referred himself to it, such was his belief in it. He was found not to have acted corruptly, not to have acted illegally. They bagged him so much anyway he was forced to resign. (Time expired)

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Senators Statements - Aged Pension Cards

 

Cashless Debit Card Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (13:54): We have had months of misinformation from Labor when it comes to the cashless debit card. Now, an AAP fact check has confirmed what we all know to be true: that Labor's claim that the government are going to put all age pensioners onto the cashless welfare card is entirely false. The Morrison government have made it clear: we have no plan, and we will never have a plan, to force age pensioners onto the cashless debit card. Frankly, the ALP should be ashamed of running a scare campaign so absolutely based on lies and aimed at striking fear into the hearts of our age pensioners. This claim has been fact checked previously by outlets like the New Daily and Starts at 60. Like the AAP, they too found no evidence to support Labor's claims. The cashless debit card program requires the quarantining of a percentage of welfare payments into a separate bank account, accessed using a card that prevents cash withdrawals or spending on certain items like alcohol and gaming. It is aimed at helping people to put food on the table, get kids to school, become job ready and get their utilities bills paid. The cashless debit card is currently being trialled in six sites around Australia, such as in the Cape York region in Far North Queensland. The Department of Social Services is responsible for implementing the cashless debit card policy and, as their website states clearly: … Age Pension recipients can choose to join the Cashless Debit Card program if they wish to. That's right—it's optional! The claim that age pensioners will be forced onto the card has never been anything other than a fabrication concocted by the Labor Party to scare pensioners into voting for them.

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Second Reading - Crimes Amendment (Remissions of Sentences) Bill 2021

Senator STOKER (Queensland—Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations) (10:40): I thank senators for their contribution to the debate on this important bill. The Crimes Amendment (Remissions of Sentences) Bill 2021 will enhance community safety by addressing the unacceptable and unjust consequences of remissions that Victoria is granting to federal offenders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect of section 19AA and the application of emergency management days in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many federal offenders who are incarcerated in Victoria— including terrorists, child sex offenders and drug traffickers—are receiving substantial discounts off the sentence expiry date set by the sentencing court. Removing the automatic recognition of these remissions, known as emergency management days, will ensure that federal offenders serve the sentence as set down by the court at sentencing, regardless of the state or territory in which they serve that sentence. It will promote community safety and achieve certainty about the release date for offenders. I thank the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights for their careful consideration of the bill. The government welcomes the recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee that the bill pass and does not accept the recommendations made by the Australian Greens in its dissenting report. The government agrees with the committee that, on balance, the concerns about retrospective application do not outweigh the clear advantages of ensuring greater certainty that sentencing decisions for federal offenders are not reduced or amended, especially where offenders continue to pose a serious risk to the community. The bill restores certainty about the end date of a federal offender's sentence, so the matters relating to retrospectivity don't change that in the slightest, and it allows agencies and prisoners to plan the rehabilitation process ahead of their release. The circumstances that allowed high-risk federal offenders to serve shorter sentences than those set down by the courts in Victoria must not occur again. Keeping Australians safe is the government's highest priority, and this bill ensures that offenders who are in prison from the time of commencement will not receive any remissions off their sentences and will instead serve the sentence that the court considered at sentencing was appropriate for them in light of their circumstances, their offending and their risk profile to the community. The bill addresses the significant risks to community safety and unacceptable and unjust consequences of high numbers of emergency management days being granted by Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, I thank senators for their contribution to the debate, and I commend the bill to the Senate.

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