Transcript - Australia Today with Steve Price - 5 November 2021

Subjects: QLD border, VIC emergency powers legislation, vaccinations
STEVE PRICE: Senior Senator from Queensland is Amanda Stoker. She's on the line, the Assistant Attorney-General. Great to talk to you again.
AMANDA STOKER: Hello, how are you doing?
STEVE PRICE: When are you going to get your border open so we can actually come there on holidays?
AMANDA STOKER: I wish we could get this Premier to be a little bit more sensible and practical so we could have all of you up here spending your fine money on our beautiful tourism.
STEVE PRICE: It’s pretty crazy isn’t it, Amanda? When you think about in Victoria yesterday, 1,343 new cases off the back of 1,247 the day before, New South Wales 249 off the back of 348 and the border between those two states and Canberra, the ACT, opens officially today for everyone who’s vaccinated and yet in Queensland, how many cases they got up there? I can’t even remember, currently probably none and the border’s still shut.
AMANDA STOKER: That’s right and it is that classic politics of fear that’s being manipulated to really not just keep you guys out in a way that is unfair, but also to crush people’s businesses, to deny medical treatment to people who live in Northern New South Wales and who ordinarily would be part of our hospital system, to keep families apart – you know, this is by far, you know, easily not the worst situation out there but my kids haven’t seen their grandparents for six months. They’ve got a niece they’ve seen once, who lives in Melbourne. I mean, this stuff’s just madness and it’s unnecessary in circumstances where there is a readily available vaccine.
STEVE PRICE: South Australia – no cases at all. Still keep their borders shut. I mean, I was just talking to Matt Cunningham from Sky in Darwin. They've got a- Katherine shut down for 72 hours of the back of one case. I mean, I know there's a National Cabinet on today, and hopefully these matters will be raised, but it looks like- I mean, strange bedfellows, but Dominic Perrottet and Daniel Andrews seem to have come to some sort of agreement that ‘look, we can’t keep locking people up. We can’t keep destroying businesses, we’ve got to let things open up and let people get on with their lives’. That seems to be pretty sensible to me.
AMANDA STOKER: Look, it is sensible and the goodwill that Australians have shown, the patience they’ve shown with enormous encroachments on their liberty over the last two years, will run out. And so it’s really important that there is a pathway to getting back to normal; our economy needs it, our mental health needs it, good relationships between families and members of our community need it, and the survival of our tourism industry needs it too. It cannot be the case that the politics of fear is allowed to trump good sense in circumstances where, once you’ve got a vaccine, what we’re really dealing with is a you know, big version of the flu-
AMANDA STOKER: -rather than something that’s is truly going to be something we’ve got to stop living for.
STEVE PRICE: Incredibly, New South Wales is 89 per cent vaccinated, Victoria is 83. Now, I didn’t think we’d get to those levels as quickly as we have. Queensland’s back on 66 per cent so not only has Annastacia Palaszczuk got Queensland locked up, she’s not been doing much of a job in encouraging people in getting vaccinated either.
AMANDA STOKER: And this is the double-edged sword of extreme border lockdowns; it creates a false sense of security that means people think they don’t need to prioritise getting a vaccination. It means that in Western Australia and in Queensland, where we have been hiding under the doona and becoming our own little hermit kingdoms, there’s been a real complacency about doing what everybody else has been prepared to prioritise so that we can get on with life; that mixed messaging around the safety of vaccines that we have from Jeanette Young early on, and the Premier, didn’t help either. And it means that when those things are combined with the classic incompetent administration of delivery of vaccine that we have had from Queensland Health, it’s been a bit of a perfect storm. They’re pretty keen to blame the feds, of course, that’s their usual tactic but the very fact that there’s been a much better performance in so many other states tells us it’s a Queensland problem, not a federal problem.
STEVE PRICE: Yeah, and I suspect their under-spending on health has got them worried and they know if they did have an outbreak they probably wouldn’t be able to cope. I do note that as many as ten, maybe 15 Senior Counsel, QC’s in Victoria have expressions concerns over this new bill that Daniel Andrews, the Premier, wants to shove through Parliament that would give him unprecedented powers and it would appear that he’s done a deal with the Greens, the Animal Justice Party, and the Reason Party; why that party is called ‘reason’ I’ve
got no idea but this is a dangerous piece of legislation, that’s going to be thrown out if the Libs win the next election. Have you had a chance to look at it?
AMANDA STOKER: I’ve had a really food look at it and it should send chills up the spine of every Victorian. At a time when - you would hope - politicians are stepping back to learn the lessons of the last two years, to work out, you know, what did work, in terms of controlling a pandemic, and what was excessive and unnecessary, instead the Andrews Government has doubled down on broad-ranging powers to, basically, have unlimited interference with the liberties of Victorian citizens, and just on the basis of a serious health [inaudible] being in the state, this can be triggered when there’s not even a pandemic declared yet. This can be triggered when it’s not even present in Victoria yet, and then, once these orders are in place, it doesn’t just provide medical reasons for people to have encroachments upon their liberty – it can be on any basis whatsoever. And so in circumstance’s where we have, over the last thirty years, forty years, had an increasing understanding of how it’s not a good thing to discriminate against people on the basis of, for instance, physical attributes, or attributes that they can’t control, this bill empowers the Premier and the Health Minister to be discriminating on the most arbitrary of bases if they wish to do so, and there’s really no time limit on it. There are three-month blocks of orders that can be rolled indefinitely, and those who fail to comply with these orders, even if they’re unreasonable, even if they’re discriminatory, even if they affront our sense of right and wrong, can face fines of near enough to $100 grand. It is a terrifying piece of legislation and I’m really pleased to see the lawyers of Victoria, through the Victorian Bar Association, giving this the thumbs down in the way that it deserves.
STEVE PRICE: Well, they described it as being equal to the Stasi in East Germany and if the Stasi were still around and had these powers they would still be in government.
AMANDA STOKER: And it is a tyrannical spiral-
STEVE PRICE: What do you think the motivation is? What do you think is motivating this?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, I mean, I am not inside the head of Daniel Andrews and his mates. But it is a rare thing that an authoritarian philosophy - and let's face it, that's what those of the political left are, socialism is a very centralised, authoritarian way of doing things - they are always going to want to aggregate power in themselves, because that's how they see the ability to craft their version of the Utopia. But what those of us in the real world know is that individuals decide what's the version of a great life, what that means for them. And it's going to be different for everybody. And historically, we have had a really good handle of the importance of fundamental liberties in helping people be able to craft their version of what it means to have a good and meaningful life. Governments can't do that, and so I think this is the direct product of the way that those from that hard political left see politics and also see the role that they can play in doing what they think is the right thing for our community. I hope that what this period in time will do for Australians and what this law will do, particularly for Victorians, is lead to something of a renaissance in understanding of the importance of the right to speak, the right to freely associate, the right to choose what you want to think about and who you want to share it with. All these basic liberties that, in many
ways, until recently, people might have thought they were self-evident and a fait accompli. But as it turns out, we've got to keep renewing them and keep fighting for them.
STEVE PRICE: Just on that broad question before you go. Daniel Andrews was asked two weeks ago about how long unvaccinated people living in Victoria would be denied entry to things like book shops and cafes, casual retail, everything bar your supermarkets and so on. And he said, oh well, life will look very different for those people well into 2022 and even to 2023. New South Wales, by comparison, has pushed it back one week. But vaccinated and unvaccinated people in New South Wales will be treated equally from, I think it's around about December 8. What's your view on that? I mean, are we really going to say to people who, for whatever reason, medical or otherwise, don't want to get vaccinated, and they're the ones taking the risk with their health, that they're not going to be able to go to a movie in the middle of next year?
AMANDA STOKER: It's deeply troubling, isn't it? The situation is that every Australian has had access to a vaccine. They've had access to information about it, and they've made a decision in their own interests as an individual about what's right for them. Now for most people, that'll be they've chosen to protect themselves with a vaccine. But if a person for whatever reason, whether it's religious, conscientious or health-based, has decided that it's not for them, and they're prepared to bear the risks associated with that in a health status, then there's no need to restrict that person's ability to interact with the rest of the community because everyone has made a decision that reflects their level of comfort with the risk. It's important, I think, to observe a few things. One, New South Wales has observed, this stuff isn't necessary in order to manage the pandemic. That's the proof point, I think, the comparison. The next thing to say is that when we look at the national plan for living safely alongside the virus, once we get to the fourth stage of the plan, it is very clear, black and white. There is to be no distinction between the way vaccinated and unvaccinated people are treated in our community, because the social corrosion that comes from breaking up our community in that way is deeply harmful, and it's not something that we should perpetuate on this basis, or any other. And if Andrews is going to persist in refusing to allow unvaccinated people to take their rightful place in our community, even though it's highly recommended that people get a vaccine, still their call as individuals, he will be in breach of the national plan to which he and all the other premiers of signed up. And this kind of one toe in, one toe out approach to the national plan is really harmful to the ability of us as a country to get up and move on from this period.
STEVE PRICE: I agree a hundred per cent. Thank you for giving us so much of your time, Amanda.
AMANDA STOKER: It’s a pleasure.
Media Contacts:
Valeria Cheglov – 0438 494 351 Patrick Hannaford – 0424 625 518
Authorised by Senator The Hon Amanda Stoker, Liberal National Party, Queensland