SUBJECTS: COVID-19 restrictions, border closures, vaccinations, National Women’s Safety Summit
Jade Macmillan: Amanda Stoker, thank you for your time.
Amanda Stoker: Pleasure.
Jade Macmillan: Let's start with National Cabinet’s plan to start easing COVID-19 restrictions. Would the Federal Government really cut off financial support to states and territories that don't stick to that plan?
Amanda Stoker: The Government’s committed to working with the states and territories to deliver on the plan that was voluntarily agreed by all the states and territories, with the Commonwealth Government, at National Cabinet. That's the commitment they made, it's the commitment they need to keep, because it is the only option on the table to help Australians get back to work, get back to school, get back to socialising and doing all the things that make it great to live in Australia. Vaccination is at the heart of that program and we have done everything required to make sure that states are equipped to deliver on their end of the deal.
Jade Macmillan: The Federal Treasurer, though, has indicated that the Federal Government would withhold funding to states that don't stick to the plan. Is that something that you think should be threatened at the moment?
Amanda Stoker: Look, I think you should expect the Federal Government to become more and more robust in its requirement that the states hold up their end of the bargain. Now, it's far better if we can do things on the terms that were voluntarily agreed. But it's very important that the Federal Government, led by the PM and the Treasurer and all of the team, are doing what's necessary to provide leadership on this subject. Australians need it. Australians want it, and we are delivering it.
Jade Macmillan: The West Australian and Queensland Governments have suggested They'll keep their border restrictions in place for as long as they feel they are necessary. They've both enjoyed quite popular support from people in those states. Are you concerned that by publicly pressuring those premiers, the Coalition could hurt its chances in WA and Queensland at the next election?
Amanda Stoker: We're in the business of doing what's right for Australians, not necessarily in the business of chasing polls. It is true that, particularly in those two states, there has been strong public support for lockdowns in the past. But I also think it's true to say that Australians are sensible people who can see that as vaccination progresses, it no longer makes sense to close borders and lock people in their homes. We need to get out from under the doona in a way that is safe and sensible. And the National Plan is the roadmap to get there. It is not okay for the Western Australian and particularly the Queensland Government’s to use lockdowns and border closures as a mask for the fact that they have incompetently managed their state hospitals. Ambulance ramping is at 58 per cent at Logan Hospital. It's at 50 per cent at Gold Coast University Hospital. It's at 57 per cent at Redlands Hospital. I could keep going. But at a time when federal funding for hospitals has never been higher, federal support for the PBS and for Medicare has never been higher, there is no reason for state health mismanagement to be borne by Australians, by their job prospects, by their business viability and by their educations. It is not the right thing to do. And quite frankly, it's time they were held accountable.
Jade Macmillan: Last week, you suggested the Queensland Premier might be keeping borders shut to keep Coalition competitors out of the state, that it's in her interest to keep the Prime Minister out. Do you seriously believe that that is the intent behind these restrictions?
Amanda Stoker: I think that the Premier is a canny political player, and she has not hesitated to play politics with the pandemic to date. And I'm calling on everybody in the state government to do what's right by Queenslanders, rather than by their short-term political interests.
Jade Macmillan: Let's speak more about the vaccine rollout. Do you support businesses being able to demand proof of COVID vaccinations from their customers, before they can enter a premise like a restaurant?
Amanda Stoker: It’s a really difficult thing. We have a situation where it must be genuinely voluntary for Australians to decide which vaccine they go for and whether their health conditions, on the advice of their doctor and their conscience, are such that the vaccine’s right for them. But you’ve also got restaurants who want to make sure – and other businesses too – that they can keep their staff and their customers safe. The way forward here, though, is- much as was outlined by the Fair Work Ombudsman about two weeks ago, is a sliding scale. Some businesses face high risk in terms of the chance that they will expose people to the COVID virus, and others face low risk. And what is reasonable in the circumstances is something you’ve got to look at in light of the particular circumstances of each one. But there’s good advice available there from the Fair Work Ombudsman, and I encourage particularly businesses to access it and rely on it.
Jade Macmillan: Does that relate, though, as well to businesses when it comes to their customers? Would that cover them if they perhaps wanted to demand that customers need to show proof of a vaccine before they could enter somewhere like a pub or a cafe?
Amanda Stoker: Well, the same principles apply, in that what will constitute discrimination is subject to notions of what is a reasonable requirement in the process. And so the same principles apply, no matter which way you look at the problem.
Jade Macmillan: Just before we go, I want to turn finally to the National Summit on Women's Safety happening next week. It did have to be postponed because of the pandemic. But what do you want to see coming from that summit? What needs to be priority here as the Government looks to formulate the next National Plan for Women's Safety?
Amanda Stoker: You're right to identify that the Women's Summit is a really important opportunity in formulating what goes into the national plan for protecting women and children from violence. And it's a really good chance to bring back experts in the field, people who are providing services on the ground, and people who have experience of violence and of helping perpetrators through it to make sure that we're working from the best evidence base, that we really understand what the best tools we have at our disposal are, and that we are addressing the problem in ways that are practical and meaningful and represent really good results for the public's taxpayer-funded investment. I'm really optimistic that we can provide great national leadership from taking the world's best practice, whether it is in the field of coercive control, a session I look forward to being a part of, right through to perpetrator rehabilitation and education programs. And in doing so, we can make sure that the record investment this Government has put into women's safety delivers practical results for vulnerable women on the ground. It's also a really good complement for the cease program which has been announced today by Minister Ruston that is all about making sure that we are providing the accountability and the monitoring and the education programs necessary to help recidivist perpetrators of violence against women and make sure that the ordinary over-50 per cent recidivism rates are cut down. When this program was tested in North Carolina – and it’s the only other place where it’s been run before – it got those down markedly, down to in the teens for recidivism rates. So that’s really promising, and with a $4.2 million investment to kick that off, we are working at every point in the story of violence from shaping attitudes through to accountability to make sure all women can be safe at every point in their lives, and we owe them no less.
Jade Macmillan: Just finally, the existing plan expires next year. Will the new plan be ready in time? And can you give us a sense of how much more money the Government is prepared to spend to make this happen?
Amanda Stoker: I believe it will be ready in time. And I am also confident that this Government is prepared to continue to back the safety of women and children with dollars wherever it’s needed to do so, certainly borne out by its record to date. And the information we get from the summit will be really helpful in informing precisely where that money should go.
Jade Macmillan: Amanda Stoker, thank you for your time.
Amanda Stoker: Thank you.