KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now the Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives and the Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke. Tony Burke thanks for your time.


GILBERT: As you heard the Senate’s possibly extending their sittings, but that won’t affect the House of Representatives I wouldn’t have thought?

BURKE: We’re expecting that the Government will keep us here for a period of time. The Government obviously has the numbers in the House of Representatives, so they can push that sort of thing through.

GILBERT: So that might even go beyond today for the House of Reps as well, is that a possibility?

BURKE: It’s not impossible, I’d be surprised if we finished at five. We’ll see how that goes. Sometimes what the Government does is send the House of Reps away and bring us back if required, or something like that. But they’ve given some indications that we may be staying later today, exactly how much later is something that they haven’t confirmed with us.

GILBERT: Now as we finish the year we saw the National Accounts figures for the September quarter yesterday showing effectively an income recession for individuals and businesses around Australia. Is our political discourse and the block in the Senate not in tune with what’s happening in the economy? Because it seems that according to Martin Parkinson the Treasury Secretary wraps up at the end of this week and others, there is a bit of urgency about this now and the need for a bit of budget reform.    

BURKE: Well the challenge that we’ve got, I mean I think the strongest indicator at the moment to look at is what’s happened with confidence. Confidence is 13 per cent down on when the Government came to office, and if you look at the moment when there was a significant hit to confidence as well, it’s after that Budget came down. The Treasurer for example, yesterday, was out there arguing that ‘we want to have a huge Christmas, we want people to spend up big’, today he’s warning living standards could fall. The argument from the Government changes each day and it’s gone from a Budget emergency to no immediate emergency. When the Government can’t explain what they think is happening with the economy then you get a hit to confidence and you get a whole series of challenges starting to unfold.

GILBERT: He is saying that the onus is on Labor as well to agree to reforms, to do the structural changes that Martin Parkinson the Treasury Secretary argues among others that you know, these are so important and Hockey is saying well the onus has got to be on Labor as well to cooperate a bit.

BURKE: Two points on that, when we were in Government we tried to say at some points in time: ‘everything was the fault of the Opposition’ - doesn’t go real well. The Australian people expect if you’re in Government that you will govern and you’ll take responsibility, and we’ve seen none of that responsibility coming from them at all. Secondly, the measures that are currently held up are the measures that squarely hit fairness and squarely hit labour productivity. If we’re talking about long term challenges within the economy, then you don’t create situations that make it harder for people to get higher qualifications because that’s how you improve your labour productivity. You don’t attack the healthcare system and put a challenge up as to whether or not people when they start to get sick will go to the doctor to get checked up, because those sorts of issues factor in, in the long term, to labour productivity. So the sorts of measures that are held up at the moment they might be able to look at a balance sheet and say ‘oh in the short term if we only take in the immediate impact of these policies.’ They reckon it’s good for the bottom line; the long term outcome of this doesn’t just hit fairness, it’s also bad for the economy.

GILBERT: This is something that the Opposition Leader’s been under a bit of pressure to articulate and of course we are two years away from the next election, but going in to 2015 as a key member of the economic team of the Labor Party do you recognise that structural changes, further structural reform, is a must in terms of the medium-to-longer term otherwise our living standards and this decline in income will continue?

BURKE: Long term challenges are essential, they’re essential to work with. You have to deal with your long term challenges, you can’t just be dealing with whatever the immediate issue is in the 24-hour news cycle, of what the issue is at any given moment; failure to do that is part of the problem of this Government. It’s why they haven’t been able to establish any clear narrative, because they look at the media of the day and they’ll argue something quite contradictory day after day. For example, look at how they argue the deficit. In one breath you’ll have them say ‘there are all these measures held up, look it’s a disaster’. In the next breath they’ll say ‘oh but it’s all ok 75 per cent of it is already gone through’. We, as you know, have supported more than $20 billion worth of measures going through, but what is held up in the Senate at the moment are measures that hit unfairness, that are bad for the economy, that are bad for confidence and, long term, bad for labour productivity. You would not expect us to do anything other than oppose those measures.

GILBERT: As we go into 2015 and we’re seeing these warnings about living standards and effectively as I say the national accounts showing an income recession, what is the outlook for 2015? I know you’ve accused the Treasurer of having mixed messages on the one hand telling people to spend but then warning about the impact of living standards. What’s your view on 2015 as we move forward is the economy ok?

BURKE: Well I can tell you what we want it to be and we want it to be a period of growth and inclusive growth. Growth that doesn’t just appear in a total figure for the nation, but is actually shared across the nation. Where you get that form of inclusive growth, that’s what we want it to be. In terms of what it will be, when you’ve got a Government that is now wanting to claim that the Opposition’s in charge of how they govern and anything that they do now on a series of issues they’ll say ‘oh it’s not our fault its them over there’. They’re in Government, they’re responsible for these decisions. They will frame a whole lot of things that characterise 2015, whereas this year it’s been a year where we absolutely benchmarked their policies squarely against the lies Tony Abbott told before the election. Next year their policies will be being benchmarked against the aspirations, against the principles and, as the year unfolds, against the policies of Labor.

GILBERT: You say it’s all about the Government but a fair bit of it as well is about the Aussie dollar isn’t it? Because as the treasurer rightly points out in the Financial Review this morning we need to the Aussie dollar to come down, a lower dollar would cushion the impact of the falling terms of trade. He’s right on that isn’t it and that’s out of the Government’s hands to a large, well completely?

BURKE: Let’s not pretend every leaver is in the hands of the government, it’s not. But they have some leavers that they are in control of, well they’re meant to be in control of, sorry that they are in charge of, and they’ve been a mess with it. Absolutely a mess. Even on the most basic principle of confidence, do you talk up the economy or talk it down, we’ve got a Treasurer who can’t answer that question.

GILBERT: As the Government recalibrates around the MYEFO, the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, it looks like the Prime Minister’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme will be reined in or modified as part of a broader child care policy. This is the front page of The Australian this morning; you would welcome that of course. 

BURKE: How many times have we had this conversation, you know how many times has there been a run in the papers or a run in the news that Tony Abbott was going to walk away from his Paid Parental Leave Scheme. We know when they talk about ‘oh Labor’s blocking savings’ or something like that, they can save money straight away on their gold plated Paid Parental Leave Scheme that’s unfair. They could’ve saved money on a Direct Action policy which does nothing for the environment and gives money to big polluters. They could’ve saved money for the bottom line by not getting rid of taxes on high income superannuation and by not getting rid of the revenue measures for multinationals who want to park there money in tax havens. There is a series of things this Government could have done and chose not to. Instead they’ll leak stories like this out from time-to-time, but there’ll be one test in the mini-Budget that you referred to at the end of the year. Will this Government have Australia in more debt than when they arrived? One of their key benchmarks was that they were going to pay down the debt from day one, they were going to deliver surpluses straight up -

GILBERT: They’ll just say that you’re blocking it though, that will be the retort won’t it?

BURKE: No, no. What they release at the end of this year in that mini-Budget will presume that every single one of their measures has already gone through. The document itself will be a lie because there will be things can never make it through the Parliament that they will factor in. But even on those numbers you can safely predict when that mini-Budget comes down, that Australia’s debt at the end of this term of government will be higher than when Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey arrived.

GILBERT: Mr Burke thanks for your time.

BURKE: See you again.   



Tony Burke