TONY BURKE, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: As you would be aware, the Premier of Queensland Campbell Newman has now called the election date for the next Queensland election. Be in no doubt, there will be a series of reasons that Campbell Newman has for choosing that date. Be in no doubt that Campbell Newman was well aware that if you hold an election in January, two weeks before the Federal Parliament comes back to sit, you can absolutely minimise how much exposure there will be of Tony Abbott in the lead-up to the election.
If you wanted to pick a date that would minimise how much of Tony Abbott would be seen in Queensland, then that's the date you'd pick. Campbell Newman can't avoid the fact that Tony Abbott remains the box office poison he was described as in the Victorian election. He will be doing everything he can to try to minimise the number of times Tony Abbott finds his way into Queensland.
But, when you are talking about box office, make no doubt as well, Campbell Newman is the script writer for Tony Abbott's style of politics. Whether it be the promises that get broken, the cuts to health and education, the use of a Commission of Audit or, in the worst instance, what happens to unemployment while you are in office, Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott are in lockstep. When you talk about the challenges the Australian economy and, indeed, many of the challenges with the Federal Budget, a lot of it comes back to what's been happening with unemployment. When Campbell Newman became Premier, unemployment in Queensland was 5.5 per cent. By the time Tony Abbott became Prime Minister, unemployment had gone from 5.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent. Now, Queensland leads the unemployment ladder at 6.9 per cent.
It's appalling to see the Premier of Queensland boasting about the Queensland economy without acknowledging that that means nothing to people who are out of work and, under his Premiership, more and more Queenslanders have been out of work. When you combine the behaviour of the Newman Government with the behaviour of the Abbott Government, you see exactly what Liberals do. They cut health, they cut education and people lose both their jobs and, if they have jobs, lose rights at work. That's what Liberals do. That's what we have seen with the Queensland Government. That's what we have seen with the Federal Government here. It's no surprise at all that Campbell Newman has chosen a date that minimises the exposure of Tony Abbott but, no matter how much he tries to minimise it, he can't run away from the fact a Liberal Government in Queensland shares the same beliefs as the Liberal National Government here in Canberra.
JOURNALIST: What kind of impact do you think that Tony Abbott's unpopularity around the country will have in Queensland - it is a conservative State?
BURKE: Campbell Newman is doing everything he can to try to time an election in a way that has people thinking about Tony Abbott as little as possible. The challenge, though, for the Liberal National Party is it's very hard to hide a Prime Minister. It's very hard to hide a Prime Minister particularly when he's going after low and middle income Australians. They see it in cuts to health, they see it in cuts to education, they see it in the GST debate that has continued to rage since I last had a chance to talk to you yesterday. They have let their backbench off the leash here because they have a clear plan to change the GST. They want to introduce it to food. They want to make sure that every time people go to buy the most basic grocery items, Tony Abbott's in there taking the money from them at that exact moment. Every check-out in the nation, even at your local fruit and vegetable store, becomes a tax collector under the plans that Tony Abbott has his backbench running around. No one should think what's happening with the GST debate right now is just the backbench talking. Let's not forget, 12 months ago, you had backbenchers floating the idea of a GP tax and the Ministers saying nothing. What they did last year with the GP tax, they're doing right now with the GST on food. I don't believe they'll be able to hide that in Queensland.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe we could see a situation where Campbell Newman could lose his seat, Kate Jones is a good contender but Labor still won't regain the number of seats it needs in Queensland to hold power there?
BURKE: I'm not going to get into the prediction of where we’re going to be by 31 January. What I will say is, if there was ever an example of gymnastics being done during a media conference, what Campbell Newman just did was extraordinary. I mean, he kept talking about trains, we were watching the proverbial train wreck in terms of him trying to justify that a bigger number was a smaller number when they were talking about the margin of the seat of Ashgrove as opposed to the statewide swing to change Government. If that's the way he runs his books, that's the way he runs his budget, God help Queensland. Certainly that would explain why he thinks a higher unemployment figure is good for the Queensland economy and a time to talk about being the lead state. They are the lead State, they’re the lead State in unemployment. That media conference where he tried to justify a numerical nonsense in front of people where it sounded, from the TV coverage, like it ended up being journalists laughing during the period of him talking, that was something else. You don't see many media conferences like that, that was one to press the record button and hang on to.
JOURNALIST: You say you can't hide a Prime Minister but exactly what do you think the Federal implications will be in Queensland?
BURKE: Whatever happens in the Queensland election it will be worse for the Liberal Party because Tony Abbott is the Prime Minister. Whatever happens, Tony Abbott is a net negative. He is a net negative, not because of any personality defect or anything like that, he is a net negative because of what he believes, because of what people have seen him doing as Prime Minister of Australia in ways that hurt lower and middle income Australians. They've seen what he does, they know it's bad for them. Wherever this Queensland election ends up, there is no doubt whatsoever that Tony Abbott is a drag on the Liberal National vote.
JOURNALIST: Will Bill Shorten be campaigning in the Queensland election?
BURKE: I would have no doubt whatsoever Bill will be up there.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect Julie Bishop to take the Prime Minister's place on the campaign trail?
BURKE: Don't know - we saw moments of that in Victoria but I'm not up to being able to predict that level of intricacy of how the Liberal Party might conduct their operation. They continue to surprise me here.
JOURNALIST: On other matters, last year was the third hottest on record, doesn't this put more pressure on Labor to come back to the negotiating table on the RET?
BURKE: The issue with the RET has been that Labor has been willing to have negotiations but they've had to be sensible negotiations and we hadn't been willing to come to the table to talk about the RET, the Renewable Energy Target, in terms that were about effectively reducing levels of renewable energy. That's not what it is there for and the approach that the Government had, had us in a clear view they weren't serious negotiations. I'm not in a position to be able to take it further than that today.
JOURNALIST: What does Labor make of the Prime Minister not ruling out Australia's increasing involvement in Iraq?
BURKE: Anything about national security is a significant call and something where it would be wrong for anyone, particularly in my role acting as Leader of the Opposition at the moment, to be second-guessing based on sound bites what decision are going to be made. As I said yesterday, we would expect if the Government have any plans of that nature, there would be sensible consultation with the Opposition and we would make our decision based on the information that we were provided with.
JOURNALIST: When is the next briefing, is there one within the next few weeks, are you expecting one coming shortly?
BURKE: There is nothing imminent that I'm aware of. I have seen the comments that have been made to media, but I would work on the basis that it would be astounding if the Government decided to go down that path without having sensible conversations with the Opposition.
JOURNALIST: That second-guessing is what the public and the media have been left to do because we aren't being told either way whether they are planning to increase troops or not. Do you think this level of secrecy we are seeing around the operation in Iraq is necessary?
BURKE: Yesterday I referred to the secrecy concerning not allowing Australian journalists to ask questions, not respecting the fact that Australian journalists had always been willing to not broadcast detail of events that were sensitive until after they'd actually occurred on trips to war zones and things like that. That was the culture of secrecy I was referring to yesterday. When we are dealing with significant strategic decisions of deployment, then I'm not sure why the Prime Minister is flagging the sound bites that he is. I'm not sure why he is doing that, I'm not going to second guess why he is doing that. I would expect the responsible way to act, if they are planning any change, would be to have sensible conversations with the Opposition before they embark on something, if they want any hope of bipartisan support.
JOURNALIST:Tony Abbott today ruled out any changes to the GST in their first term. Should the debate surrounding the GST be taken completely off the table?
BURKE: I don't think anything this Prime Minister says as a guarantee really holds much weight. The day before the election, he said "No cuts to health, no cuts education, no changes to pension, no changes to the GST, no cuts to the ABC and SBS". Look where that left us. Today he is saying "Oh no, we’re not about to change the GST". I don't think there’s anyone who takes this man at his word anymore. The backbench on this issue are doing exactly what they did on the GP tax and we will be out there prosecuting the case which is right and which Australians expect us to, which is that extending the GST to food hurts lower and middle income families, it is regressive. Yes, it raises more money and it hurts more people. It's against our policy, we're opposed to it. We will campaign against it. Thanks.