PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
FRIDAY, 9 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Coalition campaign to raise the GST; foreign fighters; Kep Enderby
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Well the worst-kept secret in Australia is now out in the open, with Andrew Robb firmly declaring that he's in the camp for increasing the GST. This is, of course, a campaign which has been running as a guerrilla campaign for the first part of the year. Dan Tehan, Dean Smith, Ian McDonald – these are just some of the many members in the Coalition party room who want to increase the GST. With issues like this you've got to look to history. Labor introduced Medicare, so you should always think that we're looking for ways to expand and improve it. The Coalition introduced the GST, so you should always suspect that they'll be looking for ways to increase it. But fundamentally, expanding the GST would be bad for Australian families. And while Tony Abbott might appreciate Andrew Robb's effort today, Australian families aren't going to appreciate having GST put on their school fees, their healthcare costs and their fresh food. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Andrew Robb didn't, in that article this morning, specify putting it on fresh food or medical or education, did he?
LEIGH: I think it's pretty clear from the comments that Mr Robb has made that he is in the camp of increasing the GST. A camp which, let's face it, also includes Josh Frydenberg, the Assistant Treasurer. There are many Coalition MPs who want to expand the GST, and at the moment, the only unbroken part of the Prime Minister's pre-election denial of what he'd do remains the GST. He's broken his promise on cuts to health and education. He's broken his promise on cuts to pensions, and he's broken his promise on cuts to the ABC and SBS. We can only suspect that he's gearing up to break this promise on increasing the GST too.
JOURNALIST: Do you think he'll try and do it before the election?
LEIGH: I think anything is possible with this government. Let's face it, this is a government that seems willing to break promises left, right and centre. They pledged to be decreasing the deficit but in fact, they've increased the deficit significantly since they came to office.
JOURNALIST: Do you think we need tougher powers to stop people from returning from Syria and back into the country, or do you think they're harsh enough?
LEIGH: Labor is comfortable with the bipartisan position which has come out of a bipartisan committee report. Our view is that this is a danger that we need to be alert to, both in terms of our role as a good international citizen, but also in terms of the importance of making sure we keep Australians safe.
JOURNALIST: Do you think enough is being done, when passports are taken from suspected foreign fighters within Australia and they are kept here, is enough being done to educate them, or re-educate them?
LEIGH: Again, I'm comfortable with the position which has been reached on a bipartisan basis, flowing out of the committee's report.
JOURNALIST: Just back to the GST: why did Labor ask Treasury to do some modelling on increasing the GST or broadening the GST when you were in government?
LEIGH: Labor has always been aware of the risk that the Coalition would look to increase the GST. We've looked at the impact that would have on Australian families and it's a significant hit for the cost of living. Mr Abbott says that he's concerned about Australian families' cost of living, but let's face it, the biggest hit would be this expansion of the GST which is now being driven from the Cabinet table.
JOURNALIST: Did Labor, at any stage, consider broadening the GST?
LEIGH: Labor's view is that we shouldn't increase the base or the rate of the GST. We're the only political party that is standing firm on the view.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you once more, on terrorism: Tony Abbott has again today pointed to the need to tackle the issue of terrorism in Iraq and Syria, which he's pointing to as a source. Do you believe that recent events in Paris add to a case for Australia doing more in Iraq and, potentially, Syria?
LEIGH: I support the bipartisan position that's been taken on this. It is a definite concern that we need to address, but I think the current position does that.
JOURNALIST: Andrew, could I ask about the ACT Government's announcement today that it would move to expunge history convictions of gay men having consensual sex. As an ACT politician, what do you make of this? Are you surprised that it's taken the jurisdiction so long to act?
LEIGH: It's appropriate we should be looking at this with the passing of Kep Enderby this week. Kep was the last member in the House of Representatives who represented all of the ACT, and the first Member for Canberra. But he was also the person who drove through not just no-fault divorce and the Racial Discrimination Act, but also the removal of the ban on sexual relationships between same-sex people in the ACT. So yes, I do believe it’s appropriate that we expunge those convictions. I say this not only as somebody who believes that this is a fundamental issue of human rights, but also as somebody who used to work for Justice Michael Kirby, possibly the most prominent gay man in Australia and whose relationship with his partner began in the 1960s.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that other jurisdictions should follow suit? Queensland is dragging its heels quite a bit on this, it could potentially be an election issue for them.
LEIGH: Yes, I do. We're talking about an issue which really clears up the historic record, and I think that would be appropriate.
JOURNALIST: So just back to the GST: does Labor support the GST on goods online?
LEIGH: Our view is that the Coalition ought to keep its promises. Josh Frydenberg was campaigning in the last election for keeping promises and lower taxes. And yet the first issue that he tackles upon getting the job of Assistant Treasurer involves breaking promises and raising taxes.
JOURNALIST: So you don't?
LEIGH: We would certainly want to see a case being made for changing the GST. But again, I would direct you to the promises the Coalition made in the last election. "No increases in the GST" – we didn't make Tony Abbott say that. He chose, of his own volition, to say 33 times that there wouldn't be increases in the GST. And yet that seems to be the issue that his Cabinet is pushing for first and foremost this year.
JOURNALIST: So you'd be prepared to consider it, once you saw the evidence?
LEIGH: Our view is that the Coalition ought to keep its promises. I know that's an old-fashioned view, and I know that after the evidence of the last year you might wonder why on earth anyone would expect the Coalition to keep its promises. But that's certainly the view that the Australian Labor Party takes.
JOURNALIST: Just back to Kep Enderby: how significant a figure was he?
LEIGH: Kep was an extremely important figure in Australian politics. He was somebody who drove important legislative reforms on racial discrimination, on no-fault divorce, and indeed on legalising sexual relationships between consenting adults in the ACT. He is somebody who never fluctuated in his principles, somebody who held fast to his view as a social democrat, and as an internationalist through his role as President of the World Esperanto Association. He was a really unique character and somebody who'll be greatly missed.
JOURNALIST: How much of a pioneer was he for the ACT, especially in the 1970s?
LEIGH: He was a great champion for the ACT, but a great champion too for human rights. He was somebody who my family knows. Indeed, my dad was telling me this morning that I stayed at Kep Enderby's house while I was in utero. He's somebody who really made a mark on the Australian parliament through his values, through his belief in tolerance and the inherent dignity of all Australians.
JOURNALIST: We've seen overnight reprisal attacks against mosques in France, you'd obviously hope that nothing like that starts to happen in Australia?
LEIGH: The way in which we fight the awful acts of barbarism that we've seen in Europe is through a recognition that violence begets violence. There's nothing that can excuse the attacks that occurred in France, but there's nothing that ought to justify attacks on religious institutions. The fundamental values of religious freedom and freedom of speech must be our bedrock as we respond to these horrendous events. Thanks everyone.
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