Transcript - ABC Brisbane Drive with Steve Austin E&oe

Subjects: vaccinations, Queensland Government confusion on PCR testing

STEVE AUSTIN: Well, a growing number of Federal Government MPs are raising concerns about vaccine mandates and are pressuring the Prime Minister to act. He had a- the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, had a meeting with Queensland Senator Gerard Rennick, but I gather it didn't go to plan. So let's find out how things look. LNP Senator Amanda Stoker is the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Industrial Relations and for Women. Amanda Stoker, thanks for coming on once again. Are you there, Senator Stoker? I don't seem to have her. I've now got you, my apologies.

 

AMANDA STOKER: Got me now? How are you, Steve?

 

STEVE AUSTIN: I got you now. Hello.

 

AMANDA STOKER: It's good to be with you.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: So listen, is the Federal Government feeling under siege currently?

 

AMANDA STOKER: No, I don't think so. There's obviously some colleagues, particularly from Queensland, who are understandably concerned about the welfare and the safety of people who aren't vaccinated in Queensland at the moment. I can tell you my office has received literally thousands of calls from people who say versions of this. I have a disability or a pre-existing illness that means I'm reluctant to get a vaccine when my health is already so precarious. I'm undergoing cancer treatment, and it's already very hard on my body, or I'm pregnant, or I'm trying to get pregnant, and it's been a hard road, and my system is really sensitive. But because I'm reluctant to get a vaccine, until I'm through this period of time - if indeed it's something that one will emerge from, like, for instance, pregnancy - but in 17 days, I face a real cliff in which I'm not able to work anymore. I'm not able to interact with the community in the way that I used to. And if you do like the back of the napkin math, we're talking about 100,000 people across Queensland who are in this position. Seventeen days until the mandate of the Queensland Labor Government mean that they won't be able to work, they won't be able to pay their bills. So they're understandably stressed, and as good representatives, you can understand why there are some senators on our side who think this is a real problem. And that is an understandable problem.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: So 100,000 Queenslanders is your figure that are in this position?

 

AMANDA STOKER: That's the rough calculation - 31,000 in retail and 23,000 in hospitality out of that 100.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: All right. So, are you- okay. Are you one of those? I mean, a number of Coalition senators said they won't be supporting government bills until the vaccine mandate is dropped federally. Are you going to do the same? If you're so concerned, are you going to do the same?

 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I think we need to be very clear about a few things here. The Federal Government is not imposing this unreasonable and unfair and illiberal requirement on people. It's always been-

 

STEVE AUSTIN: But Scott Morrison has supported it in New South Wales and Victoria. Why aren't you supporting it here?

 

AMANDA STOKER: Well, I'm not supporting-

 

STEVE AUSTIN: Why isn't he supporting it?

 

AMANDA STOKER: I'm not supporting anywhere a mandate beyond the highest of risk industries. It is really important that, as the Prime Minister has said throughout, the decision to get vaccinated needs to be one for the individual, because individuals should decide what goes into their bodies, and that has never changed.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: Labor's Jason Clare says the Prime Minister has lost control of the party.

 

AMANDA STOKER: Well, I don't think that's right. You expect colleagues to robustly defend the interests of all the different bits of their community. Now, I make representations of my own, although I have to do it in a different way because I'm in the ministry. But we all go to bat really hard for different groups in our community who are doing it tough. We owe it to people who face the very real risk that they will not be able to work in 17 days, to fight for them just as we fight for everyone else.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: My guest is LNP Senator for Queensland Amanda Stoker. She's the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations, and Assistant to the Minister for Women. So even though you're concerned, and even though you say roundabout there's 100,000 Queenslanders who are going to refuse, and in 17 days, lose their job or position because they're not getting vaccinated, you're not going to join that growing number of MPs who are refusing to pass government bills in Federal Parliament?

 

AMANDA STOKER: No. No. I'm not going to blame the Federal Government for something that has been inflicted by Annastacia Palaszczuk, and what I am going to do-

 

STEVE AUSTIN: Why do you think your federal counterparts are blaming the Federal Government for this then?

 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, you'll have to ask them. But what I am committed to doing and the decision I have taken is that the best way to hold the Premier accountable for what she is inflicting unfairly on people who are already dealing with vulnerable health or disability or a whole bunch of other conditions in their lives, the way to deal with that unfairness is one, to hold them to account robustly, which I like to think I do. And the other thing is to work very hard in every avenue that is available to me to make these peoples' lives better.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: The Premier's position is that she's protecting Queenslanders. She's protecting Queenslanders because the federal health advice and the state health advice is get vaccinated, it's your best defence against a virus, that if you're not vaccinated, has a high probability or a probability of making you very ill if not losing your life.

 

AMANDA STOKER: Look, it is my view, too, that vaccination is the sensible thing to do, but there will always be some people in our community for whom exceptions might need to be made. An inflexible approach to this actually ignores the way that medicine involves assessing individuals on their own merits and on their own basis. But let's be real here, the Premier picks and chooses upon the medical advice. The Federal Government has very clearly followed the evidence of the technical experts from day one and in every way. The Premier, however, and I'll give you a perfect example, it's about the border tax that's been imposed this week. We have the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the committee of experts, that have said very clearly and unanimously large scale, non-targeted, asymptomatic PCR testing should be strongly discouraged in favour, of course, of the evidence that shows that once we get to 80 per cent, that's utterly unnecessary and a poor use of resources. But in the face of TGA approval of the use of rapid antigen testing, which is far cheaper, it's somewhere between 10 and 30 bucks a pop. It satisfies the requirements of the Queensland road map. And despite that, the Queensland Government is insisting that the only slightly more accurate but slower, more expensive and less accessible to the community, PCR tests be used. You can't pick and choose from the medical evidence here, and that's exactly what this premier does, and she does it for one reason only, and that's because she sees political advantage in manufacturing fights with the Federal Government. Thinking that Queenslanders aren't smart enough to notice that she's being incompetent on the home front.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: Well let me come in there. She has said in her press conference that, she doesn't give one on one interviews unfortunately, but she says in her press conferences that what she's concerned about is when the borders open sometime after 17 December, that Delta, the Delta virus, will be coming in from other states into Queensland. That's why she's doing the PCR test, she's trying to give the best possible test to detect it.

 

AMANDA STOKER: Well, it's only marginally more accurate than a rapid antigen test, and it takes three days to make allowances for the processing time that's required for that. I would be very, very surprised if there was an evidentiary stacking up of that approach over rapid antigen testing. And of course, nothing that we can see from the federal perspective supports that at all.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: Are other states using just PCR testing, or are they using rapid antigen as well as you say?

 

AMANDA STOKER: Well, rapid antigen testing, let's face it, requirements of this nature are much stronger than are required in just about anywhere else. But the reality is it is not improving the quality of the testing by any significant amount, is massively increasing the cost burden on people so that it's now, you know, $600 for a family of four to get into Queensland to go on a holiday at a time when funds are tight, people are just going to go somewhere else. That's more pain for Queensland tourism operators. When you can go down to the Coles or the pharmacy, get a rapid antigen test, TGA approved just about as effective, a whole lot faster, a whole lot cheaper, and you can get over the border within, you know, minutes. This is not practical. It's not sensible. And in a history where this state government has undermined confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine, have exiled Queenslanders from their own state and have stunted holiday and business travel in a way that is just deepening the pain. Pain of the kind that you just heard from, from David, the limo driver. And we need our community to get back on track, and that doesn't mean kicking 100,000 people out of work and pushing them onto welfare that will be needed from the Commonwealth taxpayer. It means getting back to normal.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: Okay. I have to leave it there. Thank you so much for coming on, Senator Stoker. Thanks very much.

 

AMANDA STOKER: Sorry for the passionate approach, Steve.

 

STEVE AUSTIN: Queensland LNP Senator Amanda Stoker, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General.