Australia Today with Steve Price

Subjects: WA borders, election campaign in Queensland

STEVE PRICE: Amanda Stoker is the Assistant Attorney General. Also, of course, a Queensland LNP Senator. Senator, great to catch up again.

AMANDA STOKER: Good morning. How are you doing? 

STEVE PRICE: I'm good. There's a clause in the Constitution that says you have to  guarantee free trade between the states. How does Mark McGowan get away with  shutting WA down all the time? 

AMANDA STOKER: Well, that's a good question. Early in the piece there was a  challenge mounted by Clive Palmer, of all people, to his closures, and how that  contravenes that particular provision - Section 92 of the Constitution. The court there  held that the measures that were in place were proportionate to the nature of the  threat faced. But time has moved on, and the situation is very different. And we now  face very different situation where almost 92 per cent of the country is double  vaccinated, 95 per cent of the country are single, at least single vaccinated. And we are  facing a much lesser threat from a virus. So, it's quite likely that if the court were asked  to consider the matter afresh, it may well find differently. It's worth also observing  there's another provision in our constitution that's implied, and it's called the implied  freedom of political communication. It's the idea that our democracy requires  Australians to have access to their politicians, to be able to access the information  they need to make good decisions and be active citizens. And when Mr McGowan  locks out of Western Australia those who are accountable to Western Australians as  federal representatives, whether what he is doing is, you know, it's at least arguable  that it would breach the implied freedom of political communication. 

STEVE PRICE: I also saw an interesting theory from Constitutional Law Professor, Anne  Twomey, I'm sure you're aware of her and this idea that she's put up that, you know,  in the previous case when Palmer took it on that legislation to keep people safe sort of  overrode the argument that the border should stay open. She now makes the point  that, look, there is in Western Australia already Omicron - it's there, we know there's 

Authorised by Senator the Hon Amanda Stoker, Liberal National Party, Queensland 

cases, they've been reported. So, you could argue that the protection clause in that  earlier legislation to keep the people of WA safe is now redundant because it's there. 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, it's a, it's an argument worth exploring, if it's a quarantine  type of approach that's about keeping something out, how does that work in  circumstances where what you're trying to keep out is already in? All of this smacks of  what we should really be holding Mr McGowan accountable for. Because, let's face it,  Western Australians have done their bit. They got the vaccination. The federal  government has done its bit. We put record hospital funding into WA. We've provided  $14 billion of economic support to get them through the pandemic, we funded testing,  free vaccinations, Medicare increases, PPE. And we know that Omicron is a milder  variant than we have yet seen. So, if not now, then when? There's only two reasons  why he might be trying to keep Western Australians living, locked at home and locked  in fear. And the first is that he has failed to use that record funding to properly  manage the health system, or he's trying to play a nasty political game that involves  locking out people like the Prime Minister from being able to do their job. But either  way - the first of them being the more concerning - but either way, that is appalling  and it's something for which he must be held accountable. 

STEVE PRICE: Yeah, it seems a bit of both, doesn't it? I mean, there was a report last  week that, for example, a Broome Hospital has run out of everything from surgical  gloves to masks. They don't, simply don't have any supplies. And so, what they've  done is underfunded, it would appear, their investment in health to the detriment of the people of Western Australia and they don't want to be called out. 

AMANDA STOKER: And at the time, they've had a mining boom, they've had royalties  at really high levels. There's absolutely no excuse for this. And for him now to  manufacture fear and encourage the people of Western Australia to hide under the  doona forever, is really harmful. It's harmful to families who need to be united, it's  harmful to the mental health of people who are - you know, we're social creatures, we  need to interact with one another. It's harmful to the economy, it's harmful to the life  prospects of young people who should be getting into work and, you know, doing all  the things that make life as a young person fun and exciting and planning out a life. This is actually quite cruel and it shouldn't be allowed to pass, whether it is to hide  incompetence on the medical front, or whether it is for a political manipulation. 

STEVE PRICE: On the political manipulation, there are some seats there that the  Coalition would want a campaign in them - we talk, of course, of Christian Porter's seat  and there's two others. If the election's not until May - election campaign - election  day to be in May, campaign would probably start in April; do you think he can hang on  that long? And surely, if he's trying to, it's going to become pretty obvious if he's, if  he's still trying to keep that border shut and keep Scott Morrison out of there, which is  disgraceful. 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I don't pretend to be in the mind of Mr McGowan. Most  people would have thought the idea that he'd be trying to lock everybody out, even  now at the end of January and going into February, would be unthinkable. But it's time 

Authorised by Senator the Hon Amanda Stoker, Liberal National Party, Queensland 

for Australians and Queenslanders to hold Labor accountable for what they're doing  here because it is wrong. And if we were to find ourselves with a Labor Government at  the federal level working in cahoots with people like Mr McGowan, one can only  imagine how tyrannical this place could become. 

STEVE PRICE: Clive Palmer has put his hand up. He says he's going to stand for a  Senate spot in Queensland, which would be some direct threat to you in an election  campaign. Can you retain your spot as a Senator in Queensland with him spending  huge amounts of money? 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I very much intend to. 

STEVE PRICE: Well, we hope so. 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, Mr Palmer's always spent a lot of money in Australian  elections, and money gets you so far. But ultimately, the real test of this Government,  and the test by which I think is Australians will judge them at the ballot box, is how  we've managed the recession; how much we have given us optimism for the  aftermath; and what has happened with jobs. In fact, even Jim Chalmers, Labor's  Treasury spokesman, said that jobs will be the main issue at the election, and we'll be  judged on what happens to unemployment. When we think about how Treasury said  at the start of the pandemic, we were looking down the barrel of 15 per cent  unemployment across Australia, and then we look at the current numbers, and we're  at 4.2 per cent, - the lowest level of unemployment in 13 years, the equal fourth  lowest monthly outcome since the ABS began tracking this information in 1978 - when  we think about how there are 1.7 million more people in work now than when we  came to government, and one million more women in work, it's hard to think that the  message of fear and hysteria, that will no doubt be plugged by Mr Palmer's millions,  will be able to cut through what I hope Australians know in their hearts, and that is  that this is a Government they can count on to get them through good times and bad. 

STEVE PRICE: The survey today shows that cost of living is the biggest issue. What do  you think's the biggest issue for Queenslanders? 

AMANDA STOKER: Queenslanders need to know they need to have the confidence  that there will be stability and there will be economic opportunity going into their  future. Because that's the basis upon which businesses take on a new staff member;  they're the basis upon which young people go into study and enter the workforce; it's  the basis upon which families prepare for the biggest investment of most people's life,  and that is buying a home. And so, that economic optimism, and who is best placed to  make sure there is a great opportunity to thrive for all, is the biggest issue in  Queensland. 

STEVE PRICE: Great to catch up again. Thanks. Talk to you soon. 

AMANDA STOKER: Good on you, Steve. Thanks.