Doorstop – Parliament House
Subject: Religious Discrimination Bill
JOURNALIST: Senator, what are the chances nothing gets through the Parliament?
AMANDA STOKER: That is, always, in a parliamentary process, an option. But let's not jump to things, let's do what's necessary here and that's engage in the consultation process all the different stakeholders in our community who will be affected by the amended arrangements that have gone through the House, so we can make sure that a change - that was something complex enough to justify and, indeed need, a 12 month Australian Law Reform Commission process, can now be fully understood in a much more compacted timeframe, so that we are making sure that we're giving schools and religious groups what they need, as well as giving those in LGBTI+ groups the assurance they need. That consultation process in an important part of the time between the House and the Senate.
JOURNALIST: You're the Assistant Attorney-General, shouldn't you have foreseen that being able to expel trans students from a school would be an issue?
AMANDA STOKER: We have been highlighting for some time that there are real complexities associated with the accommodation in a sensitive and caring way, of being who are dealing with gender identity in, for instance, single sex schools. It is a problem that schools have raised with us on an ongoing basis and so we are really concerned to make sure that the education choices that are made by hundreds of thousands of Australian parents – to send their kids to a religious school – on the basis that it will teach certain things and provide, you know, certain conditions isn't jeopardised because of this change. Now, it's not what the government designed, it's not what we had thought got the balance right between the needs of all the different groups in our community. That's why we're going to go and talk to them all again today and make sure that we're getting the balance right for all those people.
JOURNALIST: Given the constraints on the Senate sitting calendar [inaudible] – you've got Estimates next week, you may not be back much after that, can you actually have that consultation today, look at that legislation this evening and get some sort of outcome, or is it going to be put off until after an election?
AMANDA STOKER: I think it's possible-
JOURNALIST: So, in the Senate will you seek to remove the amendment that was passed by the crossbench and Labor and several Liberal MPs in the House last night?
AMANDA STOKER: What we're going to do is consult with all the different groups in our community that are affected by it, get their take, make sure we understand fully the implications for them and we will make decisions once we've got all that information on the table.
JOURNALIST: You're a woman of faith as well, how concerned are you about things being watered down that were initially a bit stronger when it comes to statement of belief, and other things? Also, with your conservative colleagues, is there a real concern that this Bill was quite different to what was envisaged?
AMANDA STOKER: Sarah, the religious groups in our community were very clear that the Bill we brought in represented for them a baseline; that it was the bare minimum that they could see would be of use. And that's why going and talking to them again, like we did somewhat overnight, and will continue it into today, is going to be really important, because for them it already represented - for many, many groups - the bare minimum for it to do the job, so to speak.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned as well, that that was the bare minimum? As, you're a woman of faith as well, aren't you?
AMANDA STOKER: Yes, and look, it's challenging and I wouldn't want to see the Bill doing any less than it does.
JOURNALIST: Labor says that they weren't willing to let perfect be the enemy of the good. Will you then allow these amendments to go through - that have already gone through the House – So that this Bill can pass, rather than it being some sort of stalemate and it not going through before the election?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, as I said, we're going to make those calls on the basis of talking to the people in our community who are affected by it.
JOURNALIST: What will you say to voters if this doesn't pass and you've broken a promise [inaudible]-
AMANDA STOKER: Well, our promise was to do everything we could to get the balance right and to put in place the protections that were needed for people of faith in our community. If on consultation with those groups, they no longer think it does that job then I don't think we could be marked down in circumstances where we have really moved, for want of a better term, heaven and earth to make it happen.
JOURNALIST: So the Prime Minister said at the coming election [inaudible] he promises to do everything he possibly can not to actually do things?
AMANDA STOKER: I think that's a really cheap shot. We're all human beings doing our very best and I don't think anybody could either either the Prime Minister's or the government's efforts to get this important piece of work done.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister promised to deliver, that specific word was used as opposed to 'do every effort we can'. There's a distinction there.
AMANDA STOKER: Oh, well, look. I think that's a bit disingenuous, we're all human beings trying our very best to get stuff done in this place. We are still working very, very hard to make sure we can deliver it and, you know, I'm not going to split hairs with you, there.
JOURNALIST: Politicians aren't going to get a whole lot of sympathy from the members of the public for sitting through the night, up until 5 in the morning-
AMANDA STOKER: That's true.
JOURNALIST: -will it be the same situation for your chamber overnight-
AMANDA STOKER: We don't come here for sympathy. That's alright.
JOURNALIST: Exactly. So doesn't that suggest, the fact that you're having to leave this to the last minute, ram it through, extend sitting hours to get this dealt with, or indeed not get this dealt with, shows that the government has botched this parliamentary process?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, for the first of your propositions there, it hasn't been rammed through. We had a very long discussion last night in the House. It wasn't like, for instance, under the Gillard Government where huge swathes of legislation, more than twenty at a time, were guillotined and shoved through without debate. We had a genuine, respectful and sincere debate and that reflects a genuine, sincere and difficult debate that's occurred over three years. I think that characterisation is one that's not borne out by the facts.
JOURNALIST: Should you have brought it in earlier than now? We're right at the end of the term – it's been on the agenda since 2018.
AMANDA STOKER: Well, I'm on the record as saying this is something that like all election commitments, should be done as soon as possible and you know, that is what it is. We're here, we're getting it done.
JOURNALIST: Dave Sharma yesterday said it was quite frustrating that it had taken so long to come to Parliament. I believe it was his by-election where this issue was first brought up. Do you share his sentiments?
AMANDA STOKER: Oh yeah, a little but it's not about us, it's about getting it done and getting the right outcomes in a policy sense for our community. Thanks guys.