Transcript - ABC Radio Brisbane Drive

Subjects: Federal Commonwealth Integrity Commission, Queensland’s hospital crisis.

STEVE AUSTIN: Let’s turn to federal politics now. Yesterday I spoke with Labor’s Jim Chalmers, today

a member of the federal government.

Legislation for a federal anti-corruption body may be introduced to parliament before the end of the

year. At the last election – the federal election – the Coalition promised to establish an independent

integrity commission, but it has not yet appeared. And if you’ve been following the news you’d know

that several Coalition MPs have expressed their concern about the operation of the New South

Wales anti-corruption body, following the resignation of now former Premier of New South Wales

Gladys Berejiklian.

So let's speak with the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Senator Amanda Stoker.

Senator Stoker is not only the assistant to the AG, but also Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations

and for Women. She's also from Queensland. Senator Stoker, good afternoon to you.

AMANDA STOKER: Hello, thanks for having me on the show.

STEVE AUSTIN: Where is the federal anti-corruption body the Government promised years ago?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, it's on its way. We've got draft legislation together and we have engaged in

an extremely elaborate and in-depth consultation process – because there are a lot of people in our

law enforcement, and particularly academic community, who take an interest in this. It's a difficult

thing to design, but I think we're very close to having it right and ready to go, and we expect to have

it introduced before the years is through.

STEVE AUSTIN: Why is it difficult to design when most of the states in Australia have one? Hong

Kong has on – which many of the Australian ones are actually based upon. What's difficult about it?

AMANDA STOKER: Great question. So, every one of those jurisdictions tackles this problem in an

almost completely different kind of way. And so there's bits and pieces that are good, and bits and

pieces that don't work as well in all of those different models. So we've been trying to make sure

that we learn the lessons from those designs that aren't as good, so that we don't make the same

mistakes, and take the gems from those designs to make sure that we are seizing that opportunity to

learn from what's been done before. We've also been conscious and careful to get the balance right

between making sure we are giving this a body- giving this body the powers it needs to be able to be

an effective way of identifying, and investigating, and confronting corruption where it arises, without

unduly or unfairly encroaching upon fundamental principles of criminal justice that are there to

protect everybody, from all walks of life.

STEVE AUSTIN: Much of the commentary I've read suggests the opposite. The Federal Government

is producing a weak model, or looking for a way of producing a weak anti-corruption model, so that

it can't actually investigate fairly straightforward matters involving federal Members of Parliament.

Is that not the case?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I think there will be political opponents who are keen to spin that line. But

the fact of the matter is it's easy for them from the peanut gallery to argue for something and call it

robust, when in practical terms, it would trample upon the rights, the fairness, and the reputations

of even very innocent people. We don't want to see that happen here. That is not good for any

Australian.

If we look, for example, to the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption,

which has really broad powers of inquisition, really broad powers to be able to set aside matters that

are fundamental to ensuring people are treated fairly in the criminal justice process. We look to it

and we see, you know, Premiers whose careers have ended but have committed no crime. We see –

in recent days – a Premier who has had to resign, essentially because the process is unlikely to be

swift enough to be able to allow her to continue to lead from a position of strength and trust.

We've had examples of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, executing unauthorised

warrants, or trying to investigate matters that don't, at law, constitute corrupt conduct. These things

are really very important to making sure that- I mean nobody really cares about the interests of

politicians, right? I'm across that. But even ordinary public servants, we need to make sure that their

rights under the criminal justice process are treated as they should be. These things matter, and we

shouldn't have a situation where individuals' reputations can be tarnished over matters that come to

nothing. We shouldn't have the case that people are treated for the rest of their adult lives as

though they are corrupt, simply because they cooperated and gave evidence. And all of those things

happen when we have a process in these corruption commissions that doesn't adequately balance

the need for appropriate protections for quality evidence and fairness, as against the important

objective – an objective we very much support – of ensuring we stamp out any corruption wherever

it arises.

STEVE AUSTIN: No one is suggesting that innocent people should be assumed guilty, but with the

Federal Government's integrity commission, there is real question marks over, say, someone like

Christian Porter, who received a $1 million donation from we still don't know who. And the best that

could happen was that he voluntarily stepped down from Cabinet. That is a remarkable situation for

an experienced federal minister. So could your Commonwealth integrity commission examine that in

some way – the Christian Porter matter? He still has not revealed who gave him $1 million.

AMANDA STOKER: Well look, I'd suggest that he hasn't revealed it because he doesn't know. But the

commission as currently[1]STEVE AUSTIN: If someone gave me, magically, $1 million, Senator, I would ask their name.

AMANDA STOKER: And look, fair enough. But the commission that is currently in the exposure draft

design would, I believe, enable an investigation into the source of those funds. The question, though,

that often crops up, is- there's a few different things that crop up in terms of design that are really

important. One is should there be public or private hearings? And the sensible answer is probably

something that involves a bit of both, right? Depending on the circumstances[1]STEVE AUSTIN: Sure. But there's plenty of models. There's plenty of models. I mean, the Crime and

Corruption Commission here in Queensland has a model. So there you go, problem solved. You

know, there's one here in Queensland.

AMANDA STOKER: And as I say, we've been working through those and looking at what works and

what doesn't, and those are things that we have taken on board through the consultation process.

STEVE AUSTIN: Okay, let me come back to you again. I want to come back because there's a real

concern about what's happening in Canberra. So Angus Taylor, as you know, a couple of years ago,

there was real concern about a water buyback arrangement he was investing in, in inverted

commas. Could the- you know, there was real concern, it was raised in Federal Parliament, debated

and argued in Federal Parliament a lot. The Government defended that. Could a Commonwealth

Integrity Commission look at something like Angus Taylor's water buyback investments?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, if there was any suggestion that it amounted to corrupt conduct,

absolutely. But can I say, Steve, that was, in my view, an extremely scurrilous attempt to paint the

minister with something that was a dealing done by sort of a far flung member of the family. Now, if

it's corrupt, absolutely that's something that can be investigated. But it's important that we have

systems in place to make sure – and here's one of the protections that exist in the current design –

that people who are doing this in a way that is malicious, or not motivated by a desire to get

transparency and better government, but instead maybe personal grievances, or political objectives,

or personal gain. That shouldn't be allowed. It needs to be the case that this is a system that

operates fairly for everyone involved, particularly because once these things are set up, and you arm

it with a whole lot of lawyers who hide under the shield of that awfully appealing word of

independence, they end up becoming awfully unaccountable themselves.

STEVE AUSTIN: The Federal Government first promised this in December 2018 – a Commonwealth

Integrity Commission. The money has still not been put aside for it in the last budget, and it looks

like it won't be going to the people of Australia before the next federal election. Is that right? It's not

going to get up before the next federal election. That’s four years of consultation.

AMANDA STOKER: Well, the first thing to say is that it has been funded in the budget. If you go to

the budget papers, you'll see that the first phase of it has already been funded and indeed for all

practical purposes implemented through the changes that have been made to the Australian

Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity that will form a part of the new Commonwealth Integrity

Commission.

STEVE AUSTIN: So it's been part funded? Okay.

AMANDA STOKER: It's been part funded, and indeed part implemented. But the other thing to say is

that in the time since that promise has been made, first there has been the development of the

design, there has been an exposure draft – there was the intervention of COVID and people's mind

moved to other things. There's been a return to it. It's in its final phase now and we expect it'll be

before the Australian people before the end of the year. I am not concerned about this being

something on the never, never. It is coming and it is coming real soon.

STEVE AUSTIN: This is ABC Radio Brisbane. Senator Amana Stoker is my guest. She's the Assistant

Minister to the Attorney-General of Australia. Steve Austin is my name.

Finally, and briefly, is the Commonwealth's short changing Queensland when it comes to health

funding? Queensland is desperate for more money to tackle the resurgence of Delta. When the

international borders open up, the Premier has said I'm really concerned about this and we may not

open up because we can't and we're worried about the health system. Are you short changing

Queensland?

AMANDA STOKER: No, is the answer. The numbers don't lie here. We have increased our funding for

Queensland's hospitals by 99 per cent – almost double. In the same time[1]STEVE AUSTIN: Over what period of time?

AMANDA STOKER: Well over exactly the same period of time that Queensland has increased its

contribution by 55 per cent. In that same- I can tell you in numbers, if you'd prefer, we have taken it

from 2.6 billion to 5.2 billion. And you know, in that same period, the ramping rates in Queensland

hospitals have gone out of control. At the moment, Redlands Hospital, 65 per cent of ambulances

are ramped. At Logan Hospital, 62 per cent of ambulances are ramped. At QEll with 61 per cent. I

could keep going, and these are dreadful, dreadful numbers.

The crisis that exists in Queensland's hospitals is 100 per cent wholly and solely the product of the

Queensland Government's mismanagement of hospitals. Labor like to pretend they're the party of

health, they're the party of health mismanagement because what is going on in Queensland's

hospitals is nothing short of scandalous. And for the Premier to try and use people's fear of COVID,

people's fear of Delta, to run something of an extortion racket to conceal her under performance, is

utterly disgraceful. She's known for 18 months to two years that we can't stay locked up forever, and

it is wrong for her to be holding all of Queensland's families to ransom, separating them from people

in other parts of the country, to conceal her hospital mismanagement. We've never funded this at a

higher level than at present, and our percentage of the funding has never been at a higher level than

it is right now. It's time for Queensland to come clean on this issue, because the blackmail tactics are

utterly shameful.

STEVE AUSTIN: Senator Stoker, thanks for your time.

AMANDA STOKER: Thank you.