KIERAN GILBERT: With me this morning on First Edition is the Shadow Finance Minister and Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Mr Burke thanks for your time. What’s the balance that Bill Shorten has to achieve tonight between opposition but also being constructive?

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE TONY BURKE: The speech that you get tonight is one where Bill Shorten gets the opportunity to lay out the Labor principles that we’ll be applying, to make those principles clear. You’re a long way out from the next election, so it’s not a situation where you go line by line on election commitments that you would deal with in two and a half years-time, but what you get tonight are the clear principles that Labor will be applying.

GILBERT: Do you accept that Labor has to restore its economic credibility in the eyes of the electorate?

BURKE: I think the Government started their argument about being left with a Budget emergency and as the arguments gone on it’s been left in tatters for them. People have realised that Joe Hockey himself doubled the deficit that Joe Hockey himself changed all the parameters around the budget, sent billions of dollars across to the Reserve Bank to try to make the books look worse than they are. Australians know we’ve got triple A credit ratings from all three major agencies; this is not an economy in crisis.

GILBERT: What about the specific measures like the fuel excise for example, is this just politics, the fact that you’re going to oppose the indexation or the return of indexation on fuel excise because economists, every economist I’ve spoken to says it is a good move in terms of a structural reform for the budget.

BURKE: Well let’s not forget who this hits. People on high incomes tend to have fuel cards, people on high incomes don’t tend to be paying the petrol themselves. If you’re on a lower income there is no price that you are more aware of than the differential prices on buying your petrol. This is an incredibly price sensitive issue and Tony Abbott can’t think he can spend four years talking about cost of living and claiming that there will be no increase in taxes and then he can just wonder into the Parliament, do the exact opposite, break the promise in the exact sort of area he claimed he’d be a friend for, and just have that sail through. We’re opposed to it.

GILBERT: But is that just because of the broken promise or do you think its bad policy?        

BURKE: Well I’ve given you two issues. One is the issue of the broken promise, the other is the issue of who it actually hits and who it actually hurts.

GILBERT: What about some of the inconsistency from Labor on a couple of issues like the age that the pension kicks in. It was Labor that started the reform in that area, lifting it from 65 to 67, now you’re in opposition you say ‘no no no that’s where it’s got to stop’.

BURKE: Well and we said we’d take it to 67 and that support remains but you can’t just keep adding a few years every budget. You can’t have a situation where the retirement age is something every budget we say ‘oh because you went this far now we’ll just keep adding on’. It’s one thing for people in white collar jobs to work through until they’re 70 but if your job is physical labour, your body just doesn’t allow you to keep putting off retirement age and the people who keep saying this is a great idea, it’s pretty hard to find anyone in a blue collar job who is claiming that working till 70 before you’re able to access the pension is in any way fair.

GILBERT: You’ve got a rare ally in the NSW Premier and a couple of the Liberal Premier’s actually in your criticism of the budget, now in terms of that situation it looks like the GST inevitably is going to be debated once again. Why is Labor so opposed to the notion of broadening the revenue base particularly when you look at the GST for example, wealthy people consume more so there going to be contributing more through the GST, and if you generate enough funds you can compensate those on lower incomes.   

BURKE: They might consume more but they’ll also have a higher percentage of their income that they’ll spend overseas, there’s a whole range of give and take on that, it’s also -

GILBERT: It’s also tax evasion as well, so you can avoid tax by getting the GST, that minimises that tax avoidance doesn’t it?


BURKE: Our position has always been that we’re not supporting an increase in the GST. Let’s not forget you could watch the entire budget speech and not know that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott had ripped $80 billion out of health and education. $80 billion out of hospitals and schools. Now right up until the day before the election, Tony Abbott’s argument was ‘no cuts to education, no cuts to health’. It was unequivocal and then to see $80 billion taken out of schools and hospitals and thinking oh maybe if we don’t mention it in the speech no one will notice, there is no way that they can think they’ll get away with something like that and the states are on to it immediately. When you say unlikely allies, I think anyone who cares at all about schools and hospitals is an ally when it comes to fighting that part of the Budget.

GILBERT: Now I’ll ask you a question that I asked you earlier but I didn’t really get the answer I was hoping for. In terms of Labor’s - 

BURKE: I can’t always help that.

GILBERT: Labor’s economic credibility, do you accept that you’ve got to restore that in the eyes of the electorate?

BURKE: Well as I say, I think that the argument’s that were run during the election, as we’ve seen the way Joe Hockey’s had to cook the books to try to manufacture some sort of crisis, people have realised that the finances of the nation are in good order. That the finances of the nation before Joe Hockey came in and doubled the deficit. Triple A credit rating, countries that have a budget emergency don’t introduce a Paid Parental Leave system where wealthy people get for six months more than double what a pensioner gets in a year.

GILBERT: What about the prospects finally of an early election. Tony Abbott has issued a veiled threat to the crossbench on that front. Would Labor be ready given that your primary vote hasn’t really revived even though the Government’s been struggling in the polls. 

BURKE: How unbelievably arrogant from Tony Abbott for him to think he can pick and choose who would be hurt in a new election after a Budget like that. He’s just broken faith with everything he said at the last election and if his view is he wants to go to the people again well the Opposition, we’re not going to be saying ‘please don’t go to the people’. He has just let the people know that everything he said before the election was a lie.

GILBERT: Mr Burke thanks for your time.


BURKE: Always good.


Tony Burke