Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Transcript - ABC News Breakfast 13 October 2018

October 13, 2018



Subjects: Wentworth by-election; discrimination in schools; climate change; cities policy


PRESENTER: Amanda, tell us how the new legislation would work?

AMANDA STOKER, LNP SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: I haven’t seen the detail of it, but what I think is in the forefront of everyone's minds as we try and deal with the question of balancing the rights of people who are homosexual and have other sexualities against those of religious people. We have got to balance the two. We've got to make sure that everyone's right to live and let live is accommodated. The Prime Minister’s made the position clear, there is not going to be a right for people in a religious school to expel students of a different sexuality, but we’ll just have to look and see what the detail of that legislation entails.

PRESENTER: From what we have seen, do you think it strikes the right balance?

AMANDA STOKER: Well, I haven’t seen very much yet. I'm concerned to see that Australian principle of living and letting live is operating. It is important we don't forget the rights of people who have a faith to be able to practice and live that faith, just as we need to accommodate the rights of people who think differently.

PRESENTER: Andrew Giles in Melbourne, there was obviously a lot of angst when some of these recommendations were leaked, do you think that this announcement from the Prime Minister strikes the right balance?

ANDREW GILES: Well, I agree with Amanda on one thing: we don't know enough, I'm really pleased that now, thanks to Bill Shorten's letter to the Prime Minister yesterday, that Australians can feel relieved that schools shouldn't be expelling students by reason of their sexuality. But I’m concerned there is more to be done. This doesn't begin and end at expulsion. I'm pleased that we're talking about protection from discrimination rather than freedom to discriminate, but there is more to be done to make sure that our kids, at vulnerable times in their lives, are properly protected under Australian law.

PRESENTER: Amanda, do you think that principle, as you say, of live and let live includes schools being able to expel students due to their sexuality?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, the laws that we have in place are laws that have been put in place across-the-board by Labor state governments -

ANDREW GILES: There is no such law in Queensland. 

AMANDA STOKER  We need to make sure we have a system that gets the balance right. I don’t think kids should be chucked out of school. But at the same time, schools have a right to operate according to their value systems. So from what we can see from the Ruddock review, the announcement was that the policies should be tightened to make sure that kids aren't being chucked out of school and that's important.  Let's just wait and see what the legislation says.

PRESENTER: Do you think schools that are teaching those values should be receiving federal funding?


PRESENTER: Why? If it goes against the principle of what the government is saying, and it goes against community expectations, why should they be getting federal funding if they’re discriminating against children?

AMANDA STOKER: Well I don’t think that’s what they're necessarily doing. That's jumping the gun pretty severely. The principle that parents should be able to choose an education that aligns with their values for their children and that a school should make clear what the values are and that the people who are sent to go to that school should adhere to the values is not a controversial one. And I think that we need to provide real choice for parents in education that allows for the full spectrum of children's needs whatever they maybe to be accommodated 

ANDREW GILES: The point here is making sure that all our kids get a great education and that enables them to fulfil their potential. Some kids are not heterosexual. Some kids are struggling with their sexuality. I think the Commonwealth Government has a right and a responsibility indeed to look after these kids in school. And we are the major funder of non-government education in Australia. I think it is entirely reasonable that we set the standards about protecting all of our kids so that everyone gets the chance to fulfil their potential in school. 

PRESENTER: To your knowledge, is there discrimination, are children being chucked out or expelled based on their sexuality? Do you know any cases of that actually happening?

ANDREW GILES: Well, there have been cases and it is right to point out that there are different legal frameworks in different states and territories here, and I think Queensland and Tasmania are the outliers where the situation is probably more progressive than in other jurisdictions, but there has been cases in respect of teachers on sexuality and also students on other discriminatory grounds recently in Victoria. One thing that would be really terrific is if the Ruddock review hadn't been conducted in secret and if we had a chance to look at not just the recommendations that report in full, to really inform a debate about this as well. 

PRESENTER: Amanda Stoker, why aren’t we seeing the full report from the Ruddock review? 

AMANDA STOKER: Look I’m sure we will see it when it goes to cabinet, but it’s not true to say that this has been conducted in secret. This report has been subject to wide community consultations – a record number of submissions to the committee. There has been significant involvement of the community on all sides of this argument and when we have that report we will have that full debate, that I think Australians deserve.

ANDREW GILES: We just don’t know that. We don’t know. It’s fine for you to suggest this, but you’ve been sitting on this report for five months. 

AMANDA STOKER: It’s quite normal for a report to go to cabinet, before it is released to the wider community. That will happen and I don't think we need to be concerned about that. But what we need to be concerned about though is that we aren't blinkered in our approach to this issue. Education is one part, but we have got to make sure that people aren't being kicked out of their jobs for having a religious practice, that people aren't finding that the religious organisations that they're involved in aren't allowed to operate according to their values. These things are happening at the moment and we need to make sure that we are having that full debate that takes into account both sides of the argument and we'll do that when the report is released after cabinet. 

ANDREW GILES: Well we’ve been asking for that full debate for five months.

PRESENTER: This has been a contentious issue and it is coming to the fore just one week out from the Wentworth by-election. A Liberal electorate, but it looks like it is going to be a very tight contest indeed. Amanda, how damaging is this, I guess, public airing partially of the Liberal Party's laundry one week out? 

AMANDA STOKER: I don’t see it as the airing of laundry. I see it as part of a debate that Australians across-the-board are concerned about and they are interested in. In Wentworth the Liberal Nationals have a fabulous candidate in Dave Sharma. At 37 years old, the youngest person to be appointed as an Australian ambassador. A distinguished career as a diplomat and a great mind. He is more than capable of engaging with these issues as he goes on the campaign  trail and it is wonderful to see Australians in Wentworth having a  say on this. 

PRESENTER: There is a meet the candidates meeting in Wentworth tomorrow. I understand they have a number of candidates, but they haven’t quite got a commitment from the lead two, and Dave Sharma, at the moment. What do you think the main issues of concern will be brought up at the meet the candidates meeting?

ANDREW GILES: I’m sure that climate change is going to be a huge issue and the dysfunction that's characterised this government. I think people in Wentworth want to know why Malcolm Turnbull isn't the Prime Minister. It is extraordinary that our new Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, can talk to the voters of Wentworth when he can't explain why he took over from the previous Prime Minister. I think that issue and the failure of this government to take seriously climate are the two critical questions and I would be really interested to see, if this great candidate Dave Sharma will turn up and account for himself on those issues. 

PRESENTER: Amanda, Malcolm Turnbull may not have been all that popular in the Parliamentary party, but he certainly was in the Wentworth electorate. How big an impact is that loss is that going to be and do you think they’re going to wonder about why their local member is no longer there?

AMANDA STOKER: I think what people are going to be really concerned about going into the by-election are issues like how do you manage the congestion of our cities and balance that with the need to continue to have skilled migration. There has been a lot of interest on the ground this week about the government's proposal to increase regional migration, to better balance our population requirements, there has been a lot of interest in the $75 billion over ten year investment in making sure that we have and the infrastructure our cities need to manage those growing pains. All of these are really important on the ground and they affect the electorate of Wentworth being right in the middle of Sydney, quite importantly. 

PRESENTER: Andrew Giles, do you think that’s part of the answer, to force migrants into rural and regional areas to help with that population growth in the major cities?

ANDREW GILES: I think what we’ve seen from the Government is just another thought bubble. What Bill Shorten offered the Prime Minister a week ago was to work on a national plan about resettlement, and that’s something that a House of Representatives committee that I have been sitting on has recommended as well. We don't need these thought bubbles and we don't need to be forcing people to move anywhere. We need a plan to rebalance our settlement. We need to look at things like high speed rail if we are to give people a reason, and the jobs and the economic incentives to relocate outside of our major cities. Well, of course, we concentrate on making sure that our big cities are working as effectively as they can be and  that's been a major failure of this government, under which infrastructure investment as publicly funded has declined massively.

PRESENTER: Should you ask new migrants to move to some regional areas? I mean, if you can put yourself in their shoes, you come to Australia and get told to move to some place you’ve never heard of that might not have the sorts of services you might otherwise expect. What's the government going to do to make it easier for those people and incentivise moving to regional areas?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I think anybody who really wants to come to Australia will see the incredible opportunity that exists outside of Sydney and Melbourne and the South East corner of Queensland. People who want to come from other countries where they don't have those opportunities and that's a beautiful match of our needs with their needs and a great opportunity for us to move beyond the unstrategic filling up of the cities without infrastructure that occurred under the Gillard-Rudd years.