FRAN KELLY: Well Tony Burke is the Shadow Finance Minister and one of Labor’s senior tacticians as the Manager of Opposition Business. I spoke with him earlier.


KELLY: The Treasurer Joe Hockey told us earlier on AM that there is a risk we will face falling living standards if we can’t implement our economic strategy. Do you accept that? That the Government has a right to get its strategy through and in fact we are at a turning point right this moment of falling living standards if we don’t off the back of those figures yesterday.

BURKE: I’m trying to reconcile what I heard Joe Hockey say in the AM interview compared to what he was saying to you only, I think it was, two days ago. He was trying to talk confidence up when he was saying we all need to get behind Santa, everything is looking good at the moment, 75 per cent of the Budget’s through; all that optimism and now two days later his message has changed and changed fundamentally. I think this speaks to what has been one of the key problems for the Government this year. What their narrative is, what their story is, what their explanation is of what is required in the economy and the Budget changes and changes constantly. We’ve gone from an immediate Budget emergency, to a long term structural problem, back and forth, the argument changes every day. I don’t think that the fall in confidence that’s there, that is real, is unrelated to that at all.

KELLY: Well I think what is clear and is real is the economic news we saw yesterday, which makes it clear that the economy is in trouble. GDP growth was near negligible 0.3 per cent in the September quarter. The Treasurer this morning says we have to earn our future; $28 billion worth of budget measures remain stranded in the Senate. Do you think you have to do your bit following those figures yesterday and help the Government get more of its Budget through this Senate?   

BURKE: There are two parts of the responsibility here. One is in doing the right thing by the Budget, you also need to be doing the right thing by the economy. The problem for the Government with the number of the measures that haven’t been able to make it through the Parliament, is they might in the immediate term look like they help the bottom line but fundamentally they’re bad for the economy. If you’re talking about growth you have to ask the question: What are the key drivers of growth? One of them is labour productivity. Now you don’t improve labour productivity by making it harder for people to look after their health. You don’t improve labour productivity by creating a situation where it’s harder for people to get a tertiary education to skill themselves up. They’re the drivers of labour productivity, they’re the sorts of drivers we need for growth into the future. If the story that the Government is telling today, which is where I think they’re up to today, which is for the long term we need to make sure Australia is a nation of growth, then for both growth generally and inclusive growth the measures that are currently before the Senate would be absolutely the wrong path for Australia to go down.

KELLY: Well not everyone seems to be on key with what you’re saying, we’ve heard the outgoing head of Treasury Martin Parkinson again yesterday let me quote him saying: “Unless we tackle structural reform including fixing our fundamental budget problem we will not be able to guarantee rising income and living standards for Australia.” That’s the head of Treasury, in other words he’s giving a big hint isn’t he to Labor and the others in the Senate to get on and allow the Government to tackle some structural reform?

BURKE: I don’t take those comments as a contradiction of what I’ve just said at all. I don’t dispute that there are long term challenges to be able to deal with, what I’m saying is the measures that the Government have put in front of us right now are the wrong pathway. There are other ways, other options that the Government should have taken and that we’ve been encouraging them to take. It wasn’t of our volition we opposed and tried to stop them having the Direct Action policy, where they pay polluters to pollute and achieve no environmental benefit. It wasn’t at our insistence that they’ve continued to pursue a Paid Parental Leave Scheme which is the opposite of means testing. For all their talk about means testing their Paid Parental Leave Scheme says the more you earn the more you’ll be paid by the Government.

KELLY: Well let’s look at the Paid Parental Leave Scheme because the Prime Minister has said this week he will tweak it and there’s stories today suggesting it is going to be wound back to some degree. If the Government does do that, which is one of the things the Opposition has been urging it to do, will you either give a tick to whatever the scheme is that comes back or consider giving the Government something in return like the indexation of fuel excise?

BURKE: I don’t think you trade a bad measure for an additional bad measure, and you know the petrol issue I think people know full well when it comes to broken promise territory the expectation the Prime Minister gave before the election was so fundamental, right through to campaigning at petrol pumps. To think that the moment he gets through an election he can sneak issues like this past the Australian people is pretty bizarre. They should get rid of the rolled gold methods that they want to deal with Paid Parental Leave on the basis that it’s the wrong policy. We introduced paid parental leave when we were in government and we did it in a way that works with your general principles of making sure that you don’t pay people more from tax payer’s money on the basis that they were already earning more.

KELLY: Does Labor have a political problem looming though, as I say the Treasurer today is going to warn Australians that the standard of living is at risk? He is pinning that to some degree on the Senate impasse on the budget, they’re blaming Labor for that, in fact Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was joining the budget strategy yesterday, let’s have a listen.

JULIE BISHOP: If Labor do not pass our savings reform in the Senate including savings that they themselves had identified then the Government will have no alternative but to look elsewhere for savings. So if savings are found from my department I will hang that around the neck of Tanya Plibersek each and every day until the next election.

KELLY: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop speaking yesterday. She went on to list you amongst the Labor front benchers she’ll hang those cuts around the neck of. Is the danger for you that if you don’t seem to be doing something to help the Government get the economy moving again you’re going to wear the blame.   

BURKE: A couple of things, first of all I don’t think any government, including when we were in government, has ever successfully got through a strategy of pretending they’re not in government and the Opposition actually is, the public see through that straight away. If the Government wants to go down that line with the Australian people of claiming they’re not really in government, then well we can see where that ends. In terms of the specific proposals that they refer to where they say that proposals that where introduced, that we had supported when we were in Government, the classic one that they refer to there is the Research and Development Tax Offset. Now let’s not forget the best evidence you can get that the circumstances are not identical is when we proposed a particular measure there, they were opposed to it. They were opposed to it in opposition. So they can’t argue - clearly the context must be different if it’s a measure that when they were in opposition they were opposed to and we know full well that particular measure was part of the Gonski Education Reforms which they have abandoned.

KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast our guest is the Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke. Tony Burke on a couple of other matters just briefly, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison we’ve just heard offering the Senate a new deal to restart processing a backlog of 30,000 refugees most of whom are stuck on Bridging Visas. These are people who arrived in Australia when Labor was in Government. It’s what the Government calls the legacy case load Labor never dealt with the problem. Now you’re standing in the way of the Government fixing it, why?

BURKE: I find it chilling that Scott Morrison is effectively wanting to use people as hostages here. He could’ve started processing. He chose to not do the processing and now saying unless we vote for his measures, then he’ll continue to keep people in detention, effectively as part of a political game.

KELLY: Tony Burke thank you very much for joining us.

BURKE: See you again.  




Tony Burke