Subjects: Queensland’s Covid-19 restrictions, Respect&Work, National Summit on Women’s Safety
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Amanda Stoker is an LNP Senator for Queensland the Assistant Minister for Women, and I spoke to her a short time ago. Minister, welcome.
AMANDA STOKER: Thanks very much. Good to be with you.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she wants more medical advice on the implications of opening borders for kids under 12 that are unvaccinated, and the implications of that. Is that reasonable?
AMANDA STOKER: It's utterly unreasonable, and for a lot of reasons. The first is that nowhere in the world is there a vaccine that's approved for under 12s. Nowhere. And so she's set a goal post that can be met by no one. I think that exposes her real agenda here, and that is to keep Queenslanders living in a state of perpetual anxiety and uncertainty rather than a path towards living safely alongside the virus. The other thing to note about it is that she's had 18 months to raise these concerns. Why now? Why is this the moment that she's decided to put the welfare of children on the table? For the Morrison Government, the interests of families, children, people of every age, have been front of mind from the start. And if the Premier had had a good look at the Doherty modelling she would have seen that the potential for risks to children was considered, and it was found to be extremely low. What all the experts say about this virus, even in its Delta strain, is that it is highest impact in the over 70 age bracket, where about 7 per cent of people find themselves in the ICU. It's remarkably low impact on children. And less than 0.1 per cent of people under 14 find themselves in an ICU. What this is, is blatant scaremongering and the politics of fear from a Premier who is out of control.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. But on the substantive issue, a lot of parents are concerned about the Delta virus and the impact it may have on children. We know around the world, including both in Sydney and in Melbourne, there are children that are hospitalised. There is no option of vaccinating those children. Is it not a legitimate concern to talk about the status of children and what will happen if the Delta variant does enter Queensland?
AMANDA STOKER: All parents are concerned about their children. I'm a parent myself. And the safety of my kids is always the first thing on my mind. I completely get it that that's something parents are concerned about. But the data on this is very clear, and that is that even unvaccinated children experience mild to moderate symptoms, even if they find themselves unlucky enough to be exposed to the virus. They have that position even when unvaccinated. Their position is much stronger than it is for adults and for older people. The evidence from a scientific perspective on this is very clear. And whether we're listening to the expert professor and paediatrician, Robert Buoy – pre-eminent in this field – or any of a long line of others. Their evidence, their advice, is very clear and consistent; and that is that the risk to children here is very low. The best thing we can be doing is getting as many Australians as we can in those higher risk categories – the certainly well over 12 category – vaccinated. And just like Premier Palaszczuk undermined people's trust in AstraZeneca, she now seeks to undermine trust in the national plan by fearmongering and scaremongering on protection of children. And it is just wrong.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, but obviously she's making an estimation that the people of Queensland who have lived in a COVID zero environment don't want to take this risk. Why should Queensland open its border, even when you're 70 per cent vaccinated, if there are thousands of cases in New South Wales daily?
AMANDA STOKER: Because what we know from the Doherty modelling is that once we reach 70 and 80 per cent of people being vaccinated, then the risk is remarkably low. And in fact at 80 per cent, the harm that is done from the restrictions exceeds the risk of harm that comes from the virus itself. That modelling is very, very clear on the subject. And so if we're serious about protecting Queenslanders, and indeed the rest of Australia, from serious harm to health, then we've got to look at all of the potential harms to health and the balance is out of whack once we get vaccinated.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. But that does mean that many Delta cases could happen every day in Queensland if that border was open without restrictions, right?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, we've got to be sensible about this. Living with the virus means there will be cases in the community. That's part of the process. But what it will also mean is that the cases numbers won't matter so much as the number of severe cases. And we know that once people are vaccinated, severity drops down enormously. And so we need to shift the kind of measures we're using in an environment where we are trying to live effectively alongside the virus. I think it's really important that when we're considering this we ask those who don't want to be a part of the national plan, what's your alternative? Because hiding under the doona for eternity is not an option. PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Government yesterday voted against a bill to implement recommendations from the [email protected] Report. Why doesn't the Government support requiring bosses – employers – to stop sexual harassment so that the onus is on them?
AMANDA STOKER: Patricia, I've got to take issue with the way you've characterised that. We didn't vote against a bill. It was the Government's bill to implement the most pressing recommendations.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: They were amendments that you rejected right? That's what I'm referring to.
AMANDA STOKER: That's right. There was a couple of amendments, yes. There was a couple of amendments that we rejected. But overwhelmingly that was a bill from the Government, implementing the recommendations of the [email protected] Report. Now to the extent that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure but on that detail of that responsibility on employers to stop the discrimination, why don't you support that?
AMANDA STOKER: What we support is every practical measure that's been put in that report being implemented. And so what we have supported is for the same effect to be achieved using another mechanism. So instead of putting another standalone set of requirements into another separate act, we've beefed up the way that very same issue is dealt with under the workplace health and safety provisions. So it's very, very clear there is a positive duty to ensure the safety of all working people in our workplace health and safety legislation. We've legislated to make it clear that that includes sexual harassment. Because everybody has got a right to go to work without finding themselves in danger. There was no utility in duplicating that in a second act.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure. Why not allow unions and other groups to bring claims to court?
AMANDA STOKER: That's a really good question, Patricia. And I think it's really important to think about what's needed to help people who've had bad experiences access justice. So in that bill, we put through a lot of changes, including extending the period of time that a person can bring a complaint, so that they've got time to sort of heal and come to terms with what's happened before they take it through a legal process. But it's not necessarily constructive to turn this into a lawyer's field day and a unionist's picnic, when what really matters is that individuals know what their rights are, they can hold employers who don't do the right thing to account, and they've got affordable, accessible ways to get there. And the way we've done it means that anybody, union or not, can get the justice they require if the worst should happen to them.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The National Summit on Women's Safety is taking place next week. What message does the Government's opposition to some of those changes that we just talked about, those amendments as you say, send ahead of that roundtable?
AMANDA STOKER: The National Summit on Women's Safety is a really important moment. What we know is that this is a government that has invested in record sums – literally $3 billion has gone into women's safety over the course of this government, more than any other government before. And I believe another about $13 million went into the safety of Indigenous women today. This bill, or the bill that was passed yesterday for [email protected], deals substantively and effectively with all of the things that the Government committed to in the Roadmap for Respect, which was our response to Commissioner Jenkins' report. We have dealt in substance and in a practical way that reflects the need to get this done in a way that works for business, that doesn't unduly bolster red tape, that keeps it simple for employers and employees alike. With that workplace piece done – in a way that I think we can hold our head high and say we've delivered effectively, and practically, and affordably for everyone – we now go on to say: how do we translate that enormous investment in dollars that the taxpayer has made in women's safety into making sure we're getting the practical outcomes on the ground, the big bang for buck, because we want to make sure we're delivering value for taxpayers, and keep innovating to make sure that vulnerable women in our community are getting the best help they can to go from in danger to financially and secure safety wise. And then elevating themselves further into positions of confidence and leadership. We really want to make sure we're delivering for women everywhere in the cycle and everywhere in our community.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, we know that domestic violence and family violence is a scourge, well, across the world but certainly in our country too
AMANDA STOKER: Yeah.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why don't you go with this proposal that's been put to you for 10 days of domestic or family violence leave for people in this country, largely women?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, there is already provision for people to get unpaid leave, right? So it's very important to know that nobody is going to be forced to go to work in circumstances where they face. It's also
PATRICIA KARVELAS: No, but this is paid leave. That's a whole different ball game when you're actually being paid for being off.
AMANDA STOKER: I understand. I understand, Patricia. And there are a lot of people who, under their EA or their reward, have that additional entitlement. But what we were reluctant to do is to impose a one size fits all requirement that didn't necessarily reflect the differing means of the employers we're dealing with. Now, I think our position on that is worth another look once we're through this COVID period, but we were reluctant to increase the burden, particularly on small employers in circumstances where the COVID period has smashed them around really hard
PATRICIA KARVELAS: That's interesting you make that
AMANDA STOKER: Right now, the best thing we can do for vulnerable women – sorry, I beg your pardon, let me just finish. The best thing we can do for vulnerable women at this point in time is keep them secure in their ability to work. PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah. Just on that point, you say it might be worth looking at again. So you are willing to consider this idea?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, we're always open-minded, and we really want to make sure that we are providing the maximum we can in terms of women's safety without doing anything that might jeopardise the security of their employment. There's a fine balance here. So we have considered it for now, but that doesn't mean it's done for all time, and we're always open to when the evidence or the circumstances change.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: You mentioned COVID having smashed employers. Does that mean you think after this turbulent period – and it certainly is, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria – that you think it's worth looking at, revisiting next year when vaccination rates are up?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, quite honestly, I'll be looking at it very carefully from a personal perspective. I'm really passionate about making sure we can do the right thing by people who face these terrible circumstances. We should always be re-examining the evidence and innovating. And so, yes; I will be checking this out from time to time and seeing whether the changes in the landscape mean we need a different approach.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, thanks for joining us.
AMANDA STOKER: Thank you so much, Patricia