KIERAN GILBERT: With me to discuss this and other matters today, the Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Mr Burke thanks for your time.


GILBERT: Mr Burke what do you make of this suggestion as Shadow Finance Minister? That a two year pause on the foreign aid spend is likely to pay for our deployment to Iraq and the national security spend. 

BURKE: Tanya Plibersek made the comment last night that it’s in really poor taste to be trying to link the issues in this way. This Government has already slashed $7.6 billion out of foreign aid and we need to remember that foreign aid can be one of the extraordinarily powerful weapons, if you like as well, against extremism. There is a lot of good that can be done with foreign aid not only from a humanitarian perspective obviously, but also from a security perspective, and if you look at their last cuts to foreign aid, even foreign aid to Iraq has had a cut. There are some really unwise priorities in how the Government’s decided that foreign aid can consistently be the bucket they keep on going to for cuts.

GILBERT: Isn’t there an argument that can be made that in a humanitarian mission, which the Government and Labor says this is, that this is essentially aid. That we are going to the aid of hundreds of thousands of individuals that some, I know some governments, define a lot of their defence spend and deployments as aid spending. 

BURKE: Hang on I’m not sure that Australia’s done that before, I could be corrected on that, but I’m not aware of it being used in that way before. Certainly given the nature of the conflict we’re involved in, given the nature of the extremism that people are dealing with, continued cuts to foreign aid can have some very perverse outcomes and the Government should be very mindful of that.

GILBERT: Well given Labor’s blocking a lot of their other saves, is it really in a strong position to be saying don’t touch aid when there are $10 billion worth of welfare cuts that are going to hit the fence? We know that you’ve done a deal with the Government to allow about $3 billion worth of savings through, but another $10 billion not going to happen.

BURKE: Well it’s hardly a deal, our position hasn’t changed and if the Government wants to put up savings, cuts whatever you want to call them, they know we would never support, then they shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t support them. Now we will never support cutting the pension, we’re not going to support the cuts to family payments, we’re certainly not going to support young people being told for six months they will have nothing to live on, and the Government knew that when they introduced those measures. They knew these were measures that Labor would never vote for, so they shouldn’t have been surprised when they introduced them to the Parliament and we didn’t vote for them.

GILBERT: You say it’s not a deal but they’ve split the bills and you’re going to vote in those areas, essentially it is a deal isn’t it? You’ve got $3 billion or there abouts in savings, $10 billion remain blocked by the Parliament in terms of getting these savings through, is it incumbent upon Labor now to say ok make savings here and here to pay for what is a multi-billion dollar military deployment right now?

BURKE: They’re the Government and it’s for the Government to deal with the agencies and come forward with budgets and in Opposition it’s for us to hold them to account and to point out, in different ways, when they choose paths that might be unwise. I mean that’s the nature of a Westminster system that Government has the job of putting forward these issues. But in terms of when people want to say it’s some sort of deal, let’s face it, Labor a few weeks after the budget got through the detail, Jenny Macklin went out on our behalf with Bill Shorten and said these are the issues we’ll support, these are the issues we’ll not. The Government have spent months giving up some savings that were meant to start on 1 July, ‘saying oh we don’t think you really mean that,’ and saying ‘oh no no maybe Labor will give in to the pressure and eventually vote for things that they’re saying they won’t’. All that’s happened now is the Government have finally acknowledged that Labor will not have a bar of cutting the pension, family payments or leaving people with absolutely nothing to live on.      

GILBERT: So they’re being pragmatic essentially getting what they can through, this is what Governments do all the time it was…

BURKE: Most Government’s would have done this in June, I’ve got to say. I don’t know why we’re in October with savings that were meant to start and some of them, not all of them, but some of them were meant to start on 1 July this year.

GILBERT: They’re going to pursue, they say they are pursuing the rest of the measures I guess it’s hard to predict how the crossbench will react in the Senate. Clive Palmer has chopped and changed quite a bit hasn’t he?

BURKE: Yeah and I can’t speak for the crossbench but I can speak for Labor. These are issues that Labor said we will never support, it’s taken months for the message to get through, but also the point you made just then Kieran is absolutely true, which is the Government are still saying they might not be putting these other issues through right now but they will continue to pursue them. So in terms of protecting the pension this is winning round one, but the Government will continue its attacks on the pension. Be in no doubt that this issue…

GILBERT: You’ve referred to the pension a number of times but there’s nothing between now and the election. They’re going to take this and seek a mandate for the changing of the indexation of the pension, that’s right isn’t it? So you’re talking about the pension but right now what’s going to happen in the next budget, is there any tangible change to the pension in the next budget?  

BURKE: Well it’s in, the savings already get booked within the forward estimates. Each budget comes…

GILBERT: Forward estimates beyond the election.

BURKE: Yeah but Budgets come out with a four year plan in terms of what’s going to happen with the Budget. I’ve never a seen a situation where in a subsequent Budget everything that had previously put forward in the Forward Estimates suddenly got ditched. I’ve never seen that happen.      

GILBERT: But the point is people get to have their say on it. They get to go to the election and have a vote on it?

BURKE: It was in the budget papers this Budget. They put it in there for a reason, they wanted to lock in the fiscal settings so it was difficult or near impossible for anyone to restore the indexation rates or the retirement ages that Australians viewed as decent, which Labor said we would defend. We’ve won Round One of that, but be in no doubt what you say is true; this will be an election issue, this will be an issue right up to the day of the election and Labor’s position has not shifted and doesn’t shift on these issues. The Government has brought forward a series of changes. I don’t remember when they said before the election they were going to leave young people with nothing to live on for 6 months. I don’t remember them saying families would get up to a $6000 a year cut with the changes that would happen including changes to family payments. These are issues where they’ve now said they’re not retreating and that guarantees this is an issue right up to the election.

GILBERT: I’m interested in your view on the burqa debate. It’s been, as you know a number of comments made in the last few days from Coalition MPs from Jacquie Lambi, the Prime Minister saying he finds them confronting but it’s up to the presiding officers whether or not for security reasons that head dress is banned or how they deal with that in Parliament House. What’s your view on this debate? I know you’re electorate has one of the largest percentages of Muslim Australians in it. What’s your sense on this? 

BURKE: Of all the security issues that people want to talk about it is bizarre that in the Federal Parliament we’re having a debate about clothing. Absolutely bizarre that that’s the debate that’s opened up. The Prime Minister had a choice to either be unifying Australians and bringing people closer together or in the current climate to send messages to some people that somehow they don’t fully belong. I cannot understand why a Prime Minister of Australia of any political party in the current climate would adopt the line of argument that Tony Abbott adopted yesterday. George Brandis his Attorney General was asked an almost identical question at the Press Club and answered it in a responsible way that was about keeping the unity of Australians and telling people ‘you’re all within the Australian family and we stay together here’. The Prime Minister chose a divisive path as though he was still Opposition Leader; I don’t for the life of me understand why he did that.

GILBERT: You’re accusing him of being divisive in the comments?

BURKE: The consequence…

GILBERT: Wasn’t he just expressing his own personal concerns and then saying people are allowed to wear what they want?

BURKE: He is the Prime Minister of Australia, he’s the Prime Minister of Australia. You don’t wonder around saying ‘oh I just want you take this as though I’m just Tony Abbott on the street and it’s nothing to do with my job’. It runs in the national media because he’s Prime Minister of Australia. People feel hurt because he’s Prime Minister of Australia, people are not being brought together in a way that Australia needs more than ever because division was chosen as the pathway. It was a dumb call. George Brandis handled it responsibly, Tony Abbott handled it in a way that in no way advances us as a unified country.

GILBERT: And finally on a much lighter note, it would be remiss of me not to mention your blue and white on the tie and also your paraphernalia. 

BURKE:  That’s right, we’re redecorating things for you today. So I’ve got a scarf for you to wear, so that you’ll feel completely part of it.

GILBERT: I can’t wear this I’m sorry.

BURKE:  No, no, you need to.

GILBERT:  I can’t…

BURKE: And we’ll give you flags for the set.

GILBERT:  Thank you very much.

BURKE: It’s all organised. You’ll do well now.

GILBERT: Mr Burke, thank you very much.

BURKE: Good to be with you.

GILBERT: Go the Rabbitohs.

BURKE: No! I won’t be defending Albo this week.   

SYDNEY PRESENTER: Kieran thank you. Yes the Bulldogs scarf almost kryptonite to Kieran Gilbert.


Tony Burke