Transcript – Sky News, the Kenny Report with Chris Smith
Subjects: China influence on universities, Julia Banks comments, Queensland borders
CHRIS SMITH: Good to have you with us. Now, the links between China’s Communist Party and Australia’s universities, both on and off campus, pose a real threat to this country. The CCP has been accused of long-reach repression, monitoring students and harassing tutors. There’s plenty of first-hand evidence. The former ASIO Chief Duncan Lewis has played down the threat posed by China’s research links, warning against histrionics, that he believes don’t align with the national interest. For more, I’m joined by Queensland Senator and Assistant Minister for Women Amanda Stoker. Amanda, good to have you with us.
AMANDA STOKER: Lovely to see you Chris.
CHRIS SMITH: The former ASIO Chief Duncan Lewis seems to be playing down this impact. He reckons there’s too much histrionics. What’s your call on that?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, it’s important we approach this very serious issue with a level head. We don’t want to get carried away, but what is reported by Human Rights Watch is very serious. They’ve spoken with students from mainland China, on Australian campuses, firsthand and they describe having to self-censor. They describe bullying, harassment and intimidation. Reporting on them to authorities back home and, quite disturbingly, families on mainland China receiving visits from Party officials to follow up and deliver consequences for those people who are too outspoken here in Australia. They draw in that report connections between Australia’s high number of international students that come from mainland China and draw out some of the risks that exist to academic integrity as a consequence of that dependence on foreign money. And so, I’ve been somebody who, when I was a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, was a proponent for that Committee looking into the issue of just how switched on universities are and just how switched on they need to be in order to ensure that our universities are meeting their role of being a place of genuine, free inquiry and a place where academic freedom and freedom of speech can genuinely prevail, because without it, universities don’t fulfil their function.
CHRIS SMITH: Yeah, and I worry when people start to say, ‘oh, our national interest’, when you’re calling out the truth, I don’t buy that. I think, you know, at the end of the day you’ve gotta call it out and calling it out is not histrionics. I want to go into something else. Earlier in the week, the former Liberal MP Julia Banks had plenty to say, disparagingly, about the Prime Minister, and she apparently had some foul brush with a Minister. What did you make of her comments and do you buy the fact that she doesn’t want to take it any further?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, I think it’s very easy to take cheap shots and not follow through. What I know of the Prime Minister and what I know of the team I work with, is that they’re enormously professional; they always act with the interests of the Australian people as their first, second, third, fourth and fifth priority and that’s as it should be. You see that in their work to get Australia’s economy back on track, you see that in their efforts to ensure that we are able to be protected and to suppress the COVID virus, you see it in their efforts to make sure we don’t just look after this country, but we are safe in an uncertain world.
CHRIS SMITH: Yeah.
AMANDA STOKER: It’s a cheap headline. That doesn’t mean we don’t all need to pull together and work hard to build as good a culture as we possibly can but I certainly haven’t seen in my personal experience the matters of which she complains.
CHRIS SMITH: Okay. We’ve seen some really heartless border closure decisions during this pandemic. I don’t think it gets as bad as the case of Anthony McCormack, who just wanted to go in and see his mother before she died. She’s now passed away, as we learned today. This is some of what he had to say this afternoon.
AUDIO: It’s just devastating, in these compassionate cases; they’re complicated, they’re nuanced. They need dialogue. Like, you need to be over-communicating in these situations. And none of that was going on with that Queensland team. I mean, no one proactively called me at all, in the entire process.
CHRIS SMITH: This is the worst case we’ve seen in this pandemic. Not even a communication once they closed his file. These are human beings, not numbers.
AMANDA STOKER: And it really is, you know a reflection of a tale of two governments. Poor Mr McCormack has done everything right to try and get himself back into the country to see his mother before she passed away. And New South Wales proactively reached out, gave him a phone call before he got on the plane from Canada-
CHRIS SMITH: Yep.
AMANDA STOKER: -were there to meet him at the airport, facilitated an exemption, particularly given eh was vaccinated, from the usual quarantine requirements, and they did everything they could to make it right. As right as it can be in circumstances where a person is about to lose their mum. And then you compare it to Queensland, a government, sadly as a Queenslanders I am far too used to seeing the incompetence of, and they didn’t reach out, they didn’t even answer the phone when he called-
CHRIS SMITH: Just gross. Just gross.
AMANDA STOKER: -multiple times. He couldn’t get an answer and then, even after he waits, they deny his request. Now his mum is gone. He didn’t get to say goodbye and when you add this circumstance of the horror stories we’ve heard of babies being separated from parents and people being turned way at the border for health care. I mean, this is barbaric and it’s wrong.
CHRIS SMITH: Yep. Barbaric is a good word. Amanda stoker good to have you on again. Good to see you.
AMANDA STOKER: Thanks very much.
Media contact: Valeria Cheglov 0438 494 351 / Patrick Hannaford 0424 625 518