Transcript – ABC Radio Brisbane Drive

Subjects: Jenkins report, parliamentary business, and social media

STEVE AUSTIN: Let's go once again to federal politics and Canberra, where last week two MPs across the floor to vote against the Government, George Christensen and Bridget Archer. I understand only one of those members was hauled into the Prime Minister's office. But I'm keen to know a range of things from my guest, LNP Senator for Queensland Amanda Stoker. Senator Stoker is Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, and Assistant Minister for Women. Senator Stoker, thanks for coming back on the ABC.

AMANDA STOKER: Hi, Steve, good to be with you.

STEVE AUSTIN: Okay, let me ask you. We've had the report today that one-in-three Commonwealth staffers has been sexually harassed whilst working in Parliament House.

AMANDA STOKER: It's pretty sobering, isn't it?

STEVE AUSTIN: The Prime Minister has said he's appalled, but not surprised. As the minister assisting the Minister for Women, how would you describe this news?

AMANDA STOKER: Well, I think it's really, really sobering, really sad, and an opportunity, I think, for everybody to reflect upon what that means for the people who work in Parliament House. And what that means for making sure that the people who contribute to supporting our parliamentary processes are our best and brightest. We're not going to have the best possible people doing the job if they don't feel safe and able to go about their work without having to deal with these things. It's not okay.

STEVE AUSTIN: One-in-three is an extraordinary figure. I think the community standard is about one-in-four, one-in[1]five, but I don't have the facts in front of me. But what is it about the culture of Parliament House where one-in-three people have been sexually harassed?

AMANDA STOKER: And look, the numbers in the wider community aren't okay either. They're not good in Parliament House, as this report has told us. What does it tell us? It tells us it is a unique, but also a really strange working environment. You take people who are often really ambitious, you take people who are often attracted to the excitement of a place like this, you put in really long hours, and often times, I think people can lose perspective. None of that is an excuse. None of that makes it okay. It provides, though, I think, a clear agenda for making things better.

STEVE AUSTIN: You haven't been there that long, have you? How long have you been in federal politics, as a senator now?

AMANDA STOKER: Four years.

STEVE AUSTIN: Have you noticed- I mean, did you notice that? Did you notice this difference, because you'd worked in the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, a whole range of other areas before you went into politics? Did you notice this changed atmosphere when you first started?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I noticed it's a very different workplace. There are- there's nothing else I've seen that can compare to it for intensity, for the length of the hours that you do, for what is demanded of the people who work in the place. But none of that is an excuse. Ultimately, people need to be safe in order to do their best- [Connection lost] STEVE AUSTIN: Are you still there, Senator? Are you still there, Senator? I'm not quite sure what's happened. We appear to have lost.

AMANDA STOKER: -an excuse.

STEVE AUSTIN: Look, I'm sorry, there's something major- you dropped out for about 20 seconds then. Just repeat that last.

AMANDA STOKER: Are you there?

STEVE AUSTIN: Can you hear me?

AMANDA STOKER: Oh, yes, I can hear you. I had just said that, while it is a very different workplace to anything else I've seen, that there are unique pressures and hours that are different to anything else, that there is travel and pressure, and all of those things. None of that's an excuse. Ultimately, people need to be safe to do their best work. And there's no compromising on that. That's non-optional.

STEVE AUSTIN: Alright, I appreciate your patience with us. Something funny happened the line then. Well let me ask you: last week, two MPs cross the floor to vote against the government, George Christensen and Bridget Archer. But only one of those, the woman, Bridget Archer, was hauled into the Prime Minister's office, and reportedly reduced to tears. Why is that? To outsiders, the impression has been given that there's this ongoing problem with women in the LNP hierarchy in Canberra, or the Liberal hierarchy in Canberra.

AMANDA STOKER: Yeah, I think this reflects a pretty big misunderstanding. There was accountability for both of the people who cross the floor, in the sense that there was a reach out from leadership to each of them. But George Christensen is a member of the Nationals party room, and so it was his leader, Barnaby Joyce, that went through the process of reaching out to him. And I guess I won't speak for what happened in the conversation, but I imagine that there was both checking for his welfare and an attempt to sort of assess where he's going to from here. Similarly, there was a reaching out from the Prime Minister's office, as well as other members of the leadership team in Josh Frydenberg and Marise Payne, and they did a similar sort of welfare cheque in with Bridget Archer. Now, that makes sense because the PM is head of the party room to which Bridget belongs. There's, from what I can tell based on I guess hearing the different accounts, not having been there myself.

STEVE AUSTIN: Sure.

AMANDA STOKER: -is that it was a meeting that was conducted in a very professional spirit. But, there's no double standard involved in the process that was undertaken because everybody answers to the head of their party room.

STEVE AUSTIN: All right. My guest is LNP Senator for Queensland Amanda Stoker. Amanda Stoker is the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations and Assistant Minister for Queensland. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. Well, let me ask you about some other issues. So the government announced on Sunday, or the Prime Minister announced on Sunday, that you'll be bringing in new social media laws, or you'd like to, where you want to force social media giants to reveal the identities of online trolls so that their victims can legally pursue them. I don't think this has been introduced to the House yet, so what can you tell me around this, and when will it be actually introduced in the Parliament?

AMANDA STOKER: So, my understanding is that there will be a bill and associated information released on that tomorrow. But what the bill will do that I think is really important is twofold. First, it will make it clear that a person who owns a page, say it's Janet's coffee shop down the road, is not a publisher of comments that are put on that page. So that if a third party commenter wants to say nasty things about an individual on your page, it is the person who has, in a sense, spoken that is accountable for those words, rather than the person who owns the page for the coffee shop.

STEVE AUSTIN: Okay.

AMANDA STOKER: That's important. The other thing that it does is provide a mechanism for social media giants who, during a recent decision from the High Court, faced a real risk that they would face liability for these types of third-party comments, to shift that responsibility to the person who made the comments by revealing their identity. Now, it's quite a common thing for people to have a social media profile in a name that isn't necessarily their legal name. A very common thing, and there's nothing bad about that. But if you use it to do things that are illegal, like defame another person, then you can't hide behind an anonymous or a pseudonym in your profile to avoid accountability for things that you would ordinarily, in the real world, of course, face liability for.

STEVE AUSTIN: All right. And so the laws or more information will be given, or released to the Parliament later on this week, or tomorrow, or something, you believe?

AMANDA STOKER: I think you can expect that.

STEVE AUSTIN: Okay, All right. My guest is LNP Senator for Queensland Amanda Stoker. And on that theme, I was intrigued to hear or read on the weekend that you have been using a fake name to make posts on your own Facebook page. Why would you do that, Senator?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, that was, A) a long, long time ago; 2) reflected a technical error in the way that posts were going onto my page rather than anything that reflects a grand conspiracy. The profile

STEVE AUSTIN: I'm not suggesting a conspiracy. I'm suggesting you would try to hide who was asking the question.

AMANDA STOKER: Yeah. And look, that's not right, in the sense that all parliamentarians have posts – sorry, pages – that are in their professional capacity, but in order to operate those pages, you need to have another profile that is, I guess, in an individual capacity. My individual capacity one – that is needed to be able to operate that – was in the name Mandy Jane, and there was really just a technical problem in the sense of like switching profiles to be able to post. It was a mistake rather than anything else. But it is a helpful example for us to use in the context of this bill, to say if I were to use the Mandy Jane profile to do things online that were defamatory of others, this bill would provide that I should be accountable for that; and that it would be up to Facebook to reveal my true identity; and that the person who claims to have been defamed should be able to, in the real world, identify who I am and sue me for it.

STEVE AUSTIN: It looks deceptive to the ordinary viewer or listener.

AMANDA STOKER: Look, like I'm conscious of that. But, you know, a technical error was made some time ago in which I think two comments were made from the wrong profile.

STEVE AUSTIN: Okay.

AMANDA STOKER: But there was nothing defamatory. There was nothing troubling about it. And it's actually a matter of public record that's been around for a long time now.

STEVE AUSTIN: Senator Stoker, thanks for your time once again.

AMANDA STOKER: Ta. STEVE AUSTIN: Queensland LNP Senator Amanda Stoker.