Transcript - Sky News AM Agenda

Subjects: Covid-19, Social media regulations, and Commonwealth Integrity Commission

JAYES: I want to bring in now another Queenslander, Amanda Stoker. She happens to be the assistant minister for women. Thanks so much for your time. Amanda. First of all, can I ask you about Queensland's response and really the country's response? Omicron, do we just need to take a deep breath here?

STOKER:  Look, I think it's right that everybody's being cautious and then making sure that they're gathering all the necessary evidence before they jump into knee jerk responses. We are approaching this stage of the pandemic from a position of high vaccination and of high preparedness. And so, I'd suggest there is the need. To shoot first and look later; it is important that people exercise caution here. I'm hopeful that it can be managed in a way that is sufficient to allow the continual reopening of Queensland in particular and see people able to reunite Christmas, see greater fairness in access to health care for people who live in the border areas between the Gold Coast and the Tweed and of course, see some hope for people in the tourism industry on the Gold Coast who have been suffering so badly for years.

JAYES:  I mean, we've seen Queensland; they're behind on the vaccination rates and have certainly been slow to open up the borders. From this, what you've seen in the last three days and this new variant, are you worried that Queensland might panic and stop those reunions for Christmas?

STOKER: Look, I always worry when it comes to the Queensland government because they have a tendency to ignore evidence and instead chase polling and politics. But what we have always planned with as a country is the idea that there will be more variance. That's part of the landscape in which we deal. And so everything that has gone into Dougherty modelling, everything that has gone into the national plan reflects the fact that that's Solinsky we're dealing with. So in many ways we're ready for this. There's no need for deviation from the plan because it contemplated this kind of a situation from the outset .

JAYES: We're getting into territory that is very heavily election territory with an election, whether in March or in February of next year. What do you think will happen with border closures? I mean, could borders, could states like Queensland and WA, use this new variant to keep borders closed and therefore use this stop the Prime Minister from getting in and campaigning? Indeed, the opposition leader too.

STOKER: Look, I put nothing past the Palaszczuk government. They always put political interests above the interests of Queenslanders, above the interests of their jobs and above the interests of the livelihoods I derive from their a
businesses. Forgive me for sounding a little bit flat on that front, but we've just seen over and over and over again. However, it would be enormously disturbing to see the right of Queenslanders and indeed the right of all Australians to be able to connect with the people who represent them, to be able to hear on the ground from the people who represent them; because of the heavy handed over use of public health orders. Now, I'm hoping we won't go down that path. I'm hoping that common sense and respect for our institutions prevails. But I am a little sceptical about the motives of Queensland Labor.

JAYES: All right. Let me quickly ask you about these new laws that were unveiled yesterday about trying to unmask the trolls. And when it gets to that defamation action, what the government can and can't do, this is really ambitious. I would say. Does it sit well with you that taxpayers could end up funding such action?

STOKER: Look, I'm not uncomfortable with the idea provided that it is proportionate to the nature of what we're dealing with. Ultimately, these laws are a response to a high court decision in the Voller case that said social media platforms and indeed page owners could be held liable for the comments that random people post on that page. It's important that our ordinary Australians have certainty about the fact that they're not going to be held liable for what some troll posts on their page. But it's also important, particularly for parents to know that the standards of conduct we expect of people in the real world are the same as the standards of behaviour we expect from people in the online world. That's how we stop social media from becoming a kind of cesspool that is very dangerous for young people in particular to enter. By being able to take the mask off those who engage in the worst a
trolling behaviours and by providing a compliance process or alternatively, a court order process for getting the details of who stands behind the pseudonym so that they can be held accountable. We can start to not only get redress for people who've suffered terrible defamation, abuse and stalking and the like, but we can also drive better behaviour. So people behave online as they would if they were standing face to face with the person for whom they're commenting.

JAYES: It sounds dangerously close to impinging on people's freedom of speech, doesn't it?

STOKER: I like to think of it as and encourage for people to speak, but to speak with accountability. I don't think it encroaches upon free speech to say that you can't do it anonymously. Don't say things that you aren't prepared to stand by. By all means speak freely and speak frankly. But if you aren't prepared to stand by what you say, then you've got to ask the question of why you’re saying it.

JAYES: I mean, so much for getting a government getting out people's lives though. You're telling people how to behave essentially?

STOKER:               I don’t think that's right. The causes of action that people would rely on here, whether that's for stalking and intimidation in a criminal sense, or whether that's defamation, we're not touching those laws, those laws are exactly as they have always been. All we're doing is making it possible for people who are presently frustrated in their ability to use those laws, to be able to identify who they need to identify as the person against whom the complaint is made for the purposes of using already existing causes of action. So, there's no new courses of action here. It's really just about making people able to access what's already right.

JAYES: Ok, one final question. As an assistant minister for women, it's been said to me by someone on your own side that you might have, quote, ‘diabolical problem with women in the lead up to the election’. Do you think that's true? And how should we see the treatment of Bridget Archer last week.

STOKER: I don't think that assessment is right. The first thing to say is that this party's record, when it comes to women is outstanding. By even the measures that those in the public might like to use to assess this, whether it's: the number of women in cabinet, highest ever; whether it’s female workforce participation, being at a really high rates; whether it's the gender pay gap, having closed down more than it ever was, labour; whether record investments in women's safety and domestic violence; all of these things. I think show that we deliver enormously for women. In terms of Ms Archer, it's, I think, reflective of the duties we all have as MPs to keep one another informed, to treat colleagues respectfully. That’s a two-way street. And I don't think there's any indication that, that has been other than respectful in the present case.

JAYES: Just before I let you go, have you ever used an anonymous account online?


JAYES: Would you do it?

STOKER: Oh, hang on. I have used - when I came into parliament, I got my personal Facebook account and I, I changed it to my first name and my middle time. But that was just so that my children's privacy could be protected amongst largely family and friends.

JAYES: So, there are cases when using anonymous accounts or ok?

STOKER: If you're going to use an anonymous account, and I don't cavil with the idea of an anonymous account, but if you do the wrong thing with it, then it should be possible for you to be still held accountable for that behaviour. So, if I were to use my you know, my account, that is not using my full legal name and I used it to defame someone terribly. It should be the case that the person I've defamed can go to Facebook and say I need the real identity behind this so that I can sue her in defamation. Because that kind of transparency is necessary for people to be able to exercise their legal rights.

JAYES: Amanda Stoker, thanks so much for your time as always.

STOKER: Thanks Laura.