TONY BURKE, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Obviously there's nothing more important today than the condemnation of what we have seen coming from Paris. The actions there have been an attack on fundamental democratic rights and freedom of speech. The events we have seen there have been appalling acts of terrorism. I, on behalf of the Labor Party, spoke this morning to the French Ambassador and conveyed on behalf of the Labor Party to the French Ambassador both our condemnation of these actions, and our complete solidarity with the people of France at this moment.
I thought it was important we do that as an Opposition so that it's clear to the Government of France and indeed to the French people, that the condemnation and the solidarity they hear is not simply coming from the Government but from both sides of politics and mirroring the views that are felt by every Australian. The Ambassador responded to me by saying that these sorts of attacks are attacks on freedoms that both of our countries fundamentally believe in. And our thoughts and prayers are very much with the people of France and in particular the people of Paris at the moment. I think we have all been deeply moved by the symbols of people who have taken to the streets, making absolutely clear that they won't be afraid and that they won't respond in a way that these sorts of cowardly actions might seek.
Domestically, and obviously this doesn't compare with the gravity of what we are dealing with internationally today, but there has been a debate running all week with respect to changes to the GST. As you know, Tony Abbott made an infamous election eve promise. In that election eve promise, every part of that has now been broken with the exception of “no changes to the GST” and the Government is gearing up to bring in changes to the GST. The denials that the Finance Minister made in an interview this morning reminded me almost verbatim to denials that were given a year ago by Tony Abbott when he claimed that there was absolutely no proposal for the Government to introduce a GP tax; only to find that that was then exactly what this Government did. The Australian people have worked this Government out. We know their word means nothing. We know when they want to make a policy change they will direct it at lower and middle income households. We know that they will aim for those who can afford it least. The GST debate is an exact example of that, that we are seeing unfold before our eyes all week. Don't think these backbenchers are acting alone when they speak. It is orchestrated from the Government and I am sure everybody right through to the Finance Minister himself knows that all too well.
On a final note before I go to questions. If I can note on behalf of the Labor Party the passing of Kep Enderby. Kep held a number of portfolios, including Attorney-General, during the years of the Whitlam Government and our deepest sympathies and condolences go to his family. He had many great achievements in his roles in the Labor Party.
Happy to go to questions.
JOURNALIST: If you think the Government is taking the issue to the election and if the tax review recommends a modest increase and the economists are calling for it as well, why wouldn’t Labor back it?
BURKE: Let's not forget that in the first instance among the different calls we’ve heard from backbenchers, one of them has been claiming that they have a mandate from 1998 and they can act immediately. Another in an op-ed yesterday, another backbencher was arguing that on some issues they might have to go to an election, on other changes they might be able to act immediately. The promise from the Prime Minister was “no changes to the GST”. It was that unequivocal. It was a clear promise that they are now testing the wind, flying the kites, to work out how far they can get away with breaking it. The night before the election the Prime Minister said there‘d be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to pensions, no cuts to the ABC or SBS and he said there’d be “no changes to the GST”. The GST part of that promise is all that is left and the campaign we're seeing all week is the campaign urging the Government to change that.
JOURNALIST: So what do you think that they’re going to do different? They’ll do it in the next term and [inaudible]?
BURKE: In terms of what I think the Government will do, I gave up some time ago on trying to psychoanalyse this Government. They have gone to new extremes that no-one anticipated before the election. The Australian people were quite justified in believing that the Government would not go down the path that they have gone down, almost from the moment they got into office, when they doubled the deficit and then started using the deficit that they themselves had doubled as a reason for making cuts to lower and middle income families.
JOURNALIST: Back on the Paris attack, there are some people calling in France and in Europe for newspapers there to run those offensive cartoons that offended some of the Muslims in those countries for a week some people saying for 12 days to respect every one of the victims. Do you think that would help the situation?
BURKE: I am not aware of those sorts of claims. I always work on the basis that if these sorts of actions are trying to get us to change our behaviour and to change what sort of society we are, then we don't do that. We don't change who we are no matter what sort of campaigns are brought against us by these sorts of thugs.
JOURNALIST: Should the Federal Government consider sanctions against Indonesia if Sukumaran or Bali Nine members are executed?
BURKE: The answer to that in terms of sanctions is no. There is bipartisan opposition to the death penalty and there are processes that are followed, no matter who is in government, in dealing with these issues government to government. From everything that I've seen so far, the Federal Government is acting according to those protocols that have been in place for a long time.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Tony Abbott’s comments today that he’s effectively losing confidence or trust in Gillian Triggs?
BURKE: The specifics of individual decision that have been made by Gillian Triggs are up for legitimate commentary. That is something that is quite appropriate for those arguments to go back and forth. I made comments yesterday about my dealings with Gillian Triggs while I was Immigration Minister and everything that I saw during that time was someone acting sometimes with different interests and a different job to the job I had; many people have different jobs in a government the size of the Federal Government. Certainly in all of my dealings with her she was a person of utter integrity and utter probity.