PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TONY BURKE: Good morning everybody. First day of Parliament, the first day back after an extraordinary day yesterday. I want to just take a moment to pay credit to all Members of Parliament for the way yesterday was handled. The Government members, crossbench, ourselves; I think by and large everyone was extraordinarily respectful of what was a very significant day in the Parliament as we paused for a moment and took some time to remember Gough Whitlam.
Yesterday afternoon you would have seen the Labor Members make our way down to Gough’s old workplace and laid a wreath at the steps there and it’s been extraordinary how the steps of Old Parliament House have become a gathering point for people to stand and remember the site of one of Australia’s greatest political speeches by one of Australia’s greatest political figures. To be there and gather as we did, and some people said was it a wake, it was sort of a family get together that we had for people from the Labor Party yesterday and there in Kings Hall, standing between the entrances to the two chambers where on one side you’ve got the House of Representatives where Gough dominated for that period, and on the other side the Senate where those battles took place that came to a head in 1975. So it was a good moment for us a Labor Party to have that gathering late yesterday, but I think it was extraordinary the way the Parliament was able to have a rare moment where we behaved in a way that was worthy of some of the greatest orators that we’ve had and we don’t do that often.
Today as well there’s issues with respect to red tape repeal. There’s no easy segway from talking about Gough Whitlam to talking about this, so I’ll just do the jump straight across. We don’t know the detail of what’s in it this time. It’s difficult to make too much comment, I can say this: Labor was involved in getting rid of many many thousands of regulations without doing the big dramatic moment of let’s do them all on the one day. When the Government talks about number of things that they’re changing, last time a whole lot of them were changing ‘e-mail’ with a hyphen to ‘email’ without a hyphen. Getting rid of regulations like whether or not the states had their own armed forces which they didn’t anyway, getting rid of the right of the Government to take a bullock and use it for military purposes, but also a big part of what they did last time was take away consumer protection in the Future of Financial Advice Laws, and also were involved in cutting the wages of cleaners. So we want to have a look at the detail on this, its one thing to say here’s the global figure, here’s all this evil red tape. If it involves getting rid of consumer protection, if it involves, as happened last time, getting rid of the independent role on intelligence monitoring, you know some principles are there for a reason and a very good reason, and if it involves cutting the wages of cleaners as we saw last time, that’s hardly something for the nation to celebrate. So during the course of today we should find out more about what the Government’s wanting to do on this.
JOURNALIST: With intelligence are you expecting the meta data legislation to go before both houses in the next week or so?
BURKE: I don’t have a specific timeline on that.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Australians should support an Asian Development Bank in China?
BURKE: You’d have to refer that to others, I don’t have the information to be able to give you an answer.
JOURNALIST: America’s keen, sorry America’s against the idea.
BURKE: I’d have to refer that to others. It’s a reasonable question but I’m just not in the position to give you an answer to that straight up.
JOURNALIST: Just on red tape, so why haven’t you seen the detail, it just hasn’t been presented to you or, they say there’s $2.1 billion worth of savings, you haven’t identified any areas of concern?
BURKE: Yep and if that’s true and there all genuine just red tape issues then good on them, that would be similar work to work that we did when we were in Government. At the moment we’ve been given the extraordinary level of detail of an op-ed from Josh Frydenberg and that’s it so when we’ve got copies of legislation we’ll work through them and as I say if it’s actual business red tape or redundant regulations then you clean them from the books if it’s genuine red tape. Things like moving things online which we did, which the Government’s continued with, they’re smart things to do. If it’s about cutting the wages of cleaners or getting rid of intelligence monitoring, that’s not real smart and not something that the Parliament should celebrate.
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you by the fact that another Australia teenager has released a video guiding ISIL and making a threat directly to our Prime Minister?
BURKE: You read the comments that are in the press today from anonymous members of that boy’s family and you just think how on earth does it happen that a child raised in Australia goes off, without the knowledge of the family, with views like that and actions like that. I don’t think anyone who I’ve spoken to understands how that sort of transition occurs. Obviously fighting in that sort of force is something that’s illegal under Australian law and so it should be. I do feel for the family members who look at someone who they’ve known as a child being raised in Australia and just ask the question how on earth does this happen?
JOURNALIST: Would you consider this further reason to support the Government’s Foreign Fighters Bill?
BURKE: On the specifics of the bill we’ve got a Caucus meeting today we’ve got our own process to work through and I’ll leave the official spokespeople to deal with that issue, but I would say we take a very constructive approach on different proposals that the Government brings forward. We take national security extremely seriously and we work through the detail of these issues.
JOURNALIST: Should the issue of quarantine and biosecurity remain in Agriculture or be put under an Immigration type portfolio?
BURKE: If there’s no information compared to what there was a few years ago then by all means look at it. I was Agriculture Minister for three years and this idea was bounced around back then. We you deal with ordinary Customs issues, you’re dealing with one specific skill set, when you’re dealing with biosecurity, you’re dealing with a very different skill set. People only have to look at what the impact would be on the Australian livestock industry for example, if Foot-and-Mouth Disease got in. With Customs they can say well if one thing gets through there might be a bust there might not be, with biosecurity if one thing gets through entire industries can be wiped out, they are a very different skill set. You would need an extraordinarily good reason to the merging what is purely an enforcement role very much with Customs, to something that is a combination of enforcement and a very high level scientific role within biosecurity. Certainly a few years ago when the issue was put to us around the Cabinet table, when we analysed it the case was not made to combine those and as I say the risk with biosecurity, people think oh yeah it’s a few farm diseases things like that; depending on what comes in the impact can be extraordinary and it would be a very brave Government that took a risk with that.