Transcript - Australia Today with Steve Price

Subjects: CIC, online defamation laws, Queensland border

STEVE PRICE: There's been a big discussion, of course, in Canberra about whether we need a national version of ICAC. Now, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, made it pretty clear last week in comments, in the House, under Parliamentary privilege, that he considered that ICAC had, and I'm paraphrasing here, treated Gladys Berejiklian appallingly. He accused ICAC of being a kangaroo court and said that he did not want to establish such a kangaroo court in Australia, in Canberra, as a national body. Amanda Stoker is the Assistant Attorney[1]General, Queensland, of course, LNP Senator. Senator, thanks for your time again.

AMANDA STOKER: Hi, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: PM didn't make any secret of that fact that he's not a fan of ICAC.

AMANDA STOKER: Well, and that's understandable. The New South Wales ICAC has been, in many ways, guilty of the kind of abuses of its power that you absolutely would not want to see replicated anywhere else anywhere in the world, let alone the Commonwealth level here in Australia. So, it's really important we learn the lessons from the New South Wales ICAC, make sure that it doesn't start- that we don't establish something that has the potential, like New South Wales ICAC, to start to ignore the law that it is meant to operate with so we aren't empowering a system of tyranny in itself.

STEVE PRICE: So, bring me up to speed on the version that the Coalition would contemplate establishing. How is that different to the way ICAC works in New South Wales?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, that's a really good question. The first thing to say is that we know that in the New South Wales ICAC, the fact that investigations, no matter how embryonic they may be, are conducted in public, no matter how much weight or significance is given to the substance of the allegations that have been referred to it, has the effect of people who have been accused of something, being treated as guilty until proven innocent, rather than the other way around. And it has the effect that people who are mere witnesses, really not accused of anything and are really just doing their civic duty, being treated like they're guilty of something terrible. And we know that the public spectacle of ICAC hearings means that oftentimes, people find they are ultimately either not prosecuted or acquitted or [inaudible] vindicated, and nevertheless their career is ruined. They often lose their family, they often lose their livelihoods, and they've got no path of redress. So, what we are doing is learning from those lessons, and we are providing for a situation where the default position will be that these things are done in private, like a normal police investigation would be, until you get to the point where you know what the evidence looks like, you know you're getting to a particular standard, and then it goes to the criminal justice system for prosecution. Because that way we make sure that we aren't doing great injustices to people based on half cooked facts, or even malicious allegations, and then finding that the damage is done even when it doesn't come up to proof. The other thing we're doing is making sure that it is a crime to maliciously, or, you know, without foundation, refer people to the Federal Commonwealth Integrity Commission, so that people don't misuse the powers of this body. Because, as we've discussed, they can do great harm if they're not applied in the right direction.

STEVE PRICE: Labor Party wants an ICA- type setup. They are a fan of the New South Wales system which seems a little odd given the carnage that ICAC has created in New South Wales. It's, if my memory is correct, it's cost at least three Premiers their jobs. I remember the case well of former Police Minister, Mike Gallagher, who was named by ICAC and was never found guilty of doing anything but lost his job. There's several high profile business people in New South Wales who have been named by ICAC and never been charged with anything. Labor will say, though, that if you're going to hold these hearings in secret, in Canberra, then you're trying to hide things.

AMANDA STOKER: Well, it's a matter of balance. The Commission is there to make sure that if there are things that are problematic, we get to the bottom of them. But we don't want to do that recklessly. We don't want to do that in a way that is more about inflicting damage on individuals in a wanton way, than it is about getting to the truth. The fact, though, is that if a Commonwealth Integrity Commission decides that there has been action that is corrupt and refers it to prosecution, it then goes through a public trial. But that public trial happens in circumstances where all the ducks are in a row, and we know we're not tearing down people in a needless kind of way. So, you still get your public exposure of wrongdoing, but you get it at a stage when you know that you've reached a certain standard of evidence that means you're not going to be recklessly tearing people down. And I think that's important because, while lots of people want this conversation to be all about, you know, politicians being dodgy, the vast majority of the people who are going to be captured by this system are public servants, police officers, border force people. These aren't people who signed up for the public nature of a political career. They're people who diligently, quietly, and overwhelmingly honestly, go about their duties in a much less exposed, kind of, expectation.

STEVE PRICE: We're talking to the Assistant Attorney-General, Amanda Stoker. Senator, how important are these new laws in regard to social media to try and prevent trolling?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I think they're really important. We got a case from the High Court a little while ago that said social media giants needed to be accountable for defamatory statements that were made online. Now that decision on its own had the potential to put big liabilities onto social media companies. And most of us probably wouldn't be super sympathetic to that, right? But the fact of the matter is, they can't be scouring every comment and assessing it for whether or not it's defamatory. The way we should be dealing with people who misbehave online is to get to the source, to pull down the mask of anonymity behind which trolls hide, and let people be accountable for what they do online in the same way that they would be if they were standing face to face. It shouldn't be the case that people can abuse one another, defame one another, and do all kinds of misbehaviour online that they would never do if they were standing in front of a person in the real world. So we can take away the ability of a coward to hide behind a pseudonym, and allow a person who, for instance, has been defamed to ask the court to reveal the identity of a person who has an online pseudonym, so that they can be held accountable in law, whether that's by suing for defamation, or by having a police investigation that means a person is held accountable for the harm that they're doing, whether it's stalking or other nature. So, this is about keeping people safe. It's also about reassuring parents that the great anxiety they have with their children going online is that they will be going into an environment where we are driving for a better culture. Because it's a pretty toxic place, the internet, and we know that it's doing harm to young people. And we've got to give parents the tools that they need to be able to supervise well, but to support their kids to safely go into that part of their life.

STEVE PRICE: And one of our colleagues here, of course, Erin Molan, was instrumental in helping make that happen. Just before you go, you're a Queenslander. I mean, this border issue with, you know, PCR testing and how much it's going to cost, and who is going to pay and who's not going to pay, and I spoke to the Tweed Mayor last week, and it's making their life impossible. How frustrated, are you, as a Queenslander, as opposed to a Senator, with the way that the Palaszczuk Government's running its border closures?

AMANDA STOKER: It's just- it is so heartless that- I really do think the people in those border communities, and people, particularly on the south half of Queensland, are just so demoralised with the way that this is tearing our communities apart. You know, it's making it hard for people in the Tweed to access medical care at the Gold Coast hospital. It's making it uncertain for people who might want to take a holiday on the Gold Coast to know whether or not they're going to be let in, or whether they're going to be slugged with a cost. And when you step back, a lot of that uncertainty was caused just by the Queensland Government not being on its game and not even realising that these tests were being covered anyway. I think the real conversation we should be having is, why can't this be managed with the rapid antigen testing that you can pick up in a supermarket, that you can pick up in a chemist, that costs you 30 bucks max, and by which people in our community can start to, as responsible individuals, take charge of their own health, rather than having a big nanny state pointing and waggling the finger at us all the time, telling us whether or not we can or can't travel from place to place. We've reached the point now where our community is so highly vaccinated, it's time to get back to normal. It's time to give these tourism businesses on the Gold Coast a chance to build back, because they are suffering. And it's time to give Queenslanders the certainty that they need to be able to get back to business and get back to work.

STEVE PRICE: Hundred per cent and we, all of us in the southern states, want to come and visit, and we're not going to do it until we know that we can get in and out without being trapped there. Senator Stoker, thanks for your time as usual.

AMANDA STOKER: Thanks, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: Amanda Stoker there, who is the Assistant Attorney-General. [END]