HOST, BARRIE CASSIDY: Tony Burke, welcome.






CASSIDY: Is that a reasonable argument that you left the Government with a deficit, they're trying to do something about it, you've got to take some of the responsibility?

BURKE: To have a Cabinet Minister as senior as Julie Bishop running the argument of 'they made me do it’ - it's an argument you hear in the school playground. It's no wonder, when their talking points were leaked the other day, the claim that the adults are in charge isn't there anymore. They know that Joe Hockey doubled the deficit within a few months of taking office. When Joe Hockey releases his mini-Budget they will presume that they got everything through the Parliament and you will still be able to see deficits continuing and Joe Hockey continuing to blow out the Budget.

CASSIDY: You still left them with a deficit, they're trying to deal with it.

BURKE: Doubling it is a strange way of dealing with it. Having schemes like, right up until today, they've still been pursuing the paid parental leave scheme, we don't know what they're going to do in its place. They've had the spending proposal that's gone through on Direct Action where you're paying polluters. They haven't hesitated to have new spending programs and to shove money out the door or to get rid of revenue like we had on high income superannuation. They have added to the deficit time and time again, step one was when they did the donation to the Reserve Bank and it's just got worse from there.

CASSIDY: You mentioned the PPL, do you accept though that it looks as if they're headed in the right direction?

BURKE: It's not the first time they've leaked this, so we'll wait ’til we see the details. It shows how chaotic the Government's become. It shows that this proposal was never fair or affordable and it also shows they never should have taken a billion dollars out of the child care budget.

CASSIDY: While you're critical of a lot of what the Government is doing in terms of the cuts to health and education and the ABC, you won't commit to restore any of that funding?

BURKE: Well as I said before, what Joe Hockey's doing with the Budget means the state of the Budget is getting worse and it also means the state of the economy, through the hit they've had on confidence, has been getting worse as well. Confidence has taken in the order of 13 - 14 per cent hit.

CASSIDY: That's why you won't restore the funding?

BURKE: No, what it means is that we don't know what the state of the Budget or the economy is going to be in 2016. We do know that it's worsening under them and obviously this morning I'm not going to start making our spending promises. Our record's clear. Labor has always spent more than Liberal and National Party governments on schools and hospitals. We've always had a higher commitment –

CASSIDY: Spent more on everything.

BURKE: We've always had a higher commitment - well certainly not paying polluters through Direct Action - we've always had a higher commitment on health and education, that will be seen through. But when you don't know what the state of the books or the state of the economy is going to be it's irresponsible this far out to be making those sorts of commitments.

CASSIDY: You don't think though it makes your claims and your arguments and your criticisms a little hollow?

BURKE: I think it shows we're being economically responsible and we're not making the sort of stupid mistakes that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey made when they were in Opposition, of making promises like an unaffordable and unfair paid parental leave scheme four years ago and then colliding with reality to discover that it's unfair, unaffordable, can't get through the Parliament and their own party room doesn't like it either.

CASSIDY: You're a former Immigration Minister, a report on '7:30' during the week of former sailors and they were talking of the horrors of recovering dead bodies of asylum seekers from the ocean. Have you ever seen a more compelling argument for doing just about anything to stop people taking this dangerous journey?

BURKE: I'll never forget as Immigration Minister the first drowning that happened on my watch or the name of the first child to die on my watch - he was 18 months old. And while there's been some criticism of some of the measures that we put in place, which basically reduced the number of boats by about 90 per cent, doing something about the number of people drowning at sea is absolutely imperative. I've never hidden from that and if you look at how those numbers changed during my time as Immigration Minister the difference is pretty stark.

CASSIDY: They've stopped all together now?

BURKE: What we've got at the moment and also not only has it stopped now, I don't know what the operations are at sea, there's a level of secrecy about it, and the Australian people don't know exactly what the operations are at sea. What we do know though is that they stopped before there was any need for temporary protection visas and what we saw in the Parliament this week was the Government reintroduce temporary protection visas when clearly they were not required to have an impact on boats. It means we'll have people left indefinitely in Australia in limbo, but also the way it was done was Scott Morrison effectively holding children, who could have been released, as effective political hostages and saying they don't get out unless the Senate votes his way. It's an extraordinary thing for a minister to have done.

CASSIDY: You're right to say the boat stopped before the TPV decision was taken but turning back the boats was clearly an initiative that helped that outcome. Why would you do anything now that the boats have stopped all together? Why would you do anything that risked putting into reverse that outcome?

BURKE: Well, I mean it was clear when we were in government that the number of people arriving in Indonesia, to get involved in people smuggling operations, had itself stopped. There are a number of people who were already in Indonesia who were going to still have a go, but the flow of people into Indonesia for that purpose had basically come to a halt already while we were there.

CASSIDY: The year is ending with the government behind in the polls. You were a critic of much of what happened under Kevin Rudd's leadership, do you see any parallels between that and what's happening now?

BURKE: If there was ever a description of chaos applying then, it absolutely applies now, absolutely. The chaos that we've seen and the discussions back and forth about Joe Hockey not having the confidence of his colleagues, about the Prime Minister in his first full calendar year already being asked whether he will be there at the next election and people backgrounding against him, and today for an announcement that people have called on him to make from the day he won office to abandon the paid parental leave scheme. I’ll guarantee you this today, there will still be questions of detail on today's announcement that the Prime Minister won't know the answer to. He still won't know the answer to because the chaos of this Government is extraordinary and it's been immediate.

CASSIDY: Speaking of chaos, you as Manager of Opposition Business, you're a record breaker. More people were booted out this year than ever before. What's going on?

BURKE: Well, you know the rules, I'm not allowed to criticise the Speaker outside of the Chamber. I've said a few things inside the chamber from time to time. In the Christmas comments at the end of the year I mentioned to Bronwyn Bishop that she and I had done a lot of work on each other's profile during the course of the year. Certainly there is a general view that just like in sport, if you've got an umpire the umpire shouldn't also be a player and the umpire shouldn't be involved in sledging.

CASSIDY: As she said in the Parliament if you think you're behaving like little angels that's pathetic.

BURKE: I've never claimed that. We'll go hard, have no doubt about that. When the Government's pursuing the sorts of unfair policies they're pursuing, we're right for going hard in the Parliament. The Parliament should be able to cope with the fact that if the Government wants to treat the public in the horrific way they are, from the Budget on, then there will be a Labor opposition that won't give an inch.

CASSIDY: Just one final question in the spirit of Christmas, nominate the Government's best performer?

BURKE: Well whoever I nominate it won't help them and I will get in trouble from my colleagues. If I had to go for one I'd probably go, even though he's not the one being generally referred to at the moment, Malcolm Turnbull. I’d give you that for two reasons. First, I think he got the Government out of a hole on an issue that's not popular here, which is the ABC funding. The most bizarre situation was Tony Abbott refusing to even admit he had promised there would be no cuts to ABC funding. At least Malcolm was willing to come out and say 'yes it is a broken promise', which I think got the Government out of its talking points. But the other thing is when he stands up in the Parliament, even when he's having a go at us, there's at least a sense of humour. There's at least, you know, more than just 'you're horrible', thump the table, thump the table. I think parliament could do with a bit more of that.

CASSIDY: Thanks for coming in and have a great Christmas.

BURKE: See you next year.



Tony Burke