LYNDAL CURTIS: The Opposition’s Finance spokesman Tony Burke joins me now. Mr Burke, would you like to be a fly on the wall at the dinner?

TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER & MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: What a day. If today as we heard in the last interview is an example of things being measured and methodical you can only imagine what chaos must look like. It’s just all dissembling at the moment for the Government.

CURTIS: I would like to go to a budget specific, the thing the Prime Minister singled out for mentioned last night the GP's co-payment, there is already accepted, long accepted, co-payment for PBS medicines. What is the difference between a co-payment for your medicines and a co-payment for the GP who prescribes them?

BURKE: What they're adding is a tax on the visits that determine when you find out whether or not you're sick, where you find out the extent to which the ailment that you think you've got might be something more serious. Now, if you talk about something as ordinary as stomach pains, it could be something very minor, could be something quite, quite serious.

CURTIS: But a co-payment to pay for the medicines to fix that stomach ailment, if it’s serious, has been in place for a very long time?

BURKE: No, no. If, for example you're looking at the potential of something that could be very serious like stomach cancer or something like that, the fee for the visit, any imaging, the fee for any pathology services, the tax applies to every single one of them. Now that's something where if you say "I can't afford it right now, I’m going to put the visit off," it will make a massive difference.

CURTIS: But there are people aren’t there on good wages to who could afford a co-payment under those circumstances of only $7 even if they have to pay it two or three times who are being bulk-billed now?

BURKE: Well let's not pretend this is a general means-tested system that they're proposing, it's not. The Prime Minister and Treasurer keep getting those details wrong every time they've asked and have misrepresented it, including on the 'Q & A' program on the ABC. They’ve been getting those details wrong. But the principle behind Medicare is really simple - that we treat each other in Australia the way a family treats itself in looking after each other’s health, where the health of one person matters to all of them. As I say, by the time you get your script, you know whether or not you're sick, but this determines whether or not people even find out and massive complications can happen if people don't present to the doctor as early as they should.

CURTIS: If you could, though, have a system maybe with a smaller co-payment that was means-tested, would that be more acceptable?

BURKE: We believe in Medicare, we believe in a universal health system, we believe when you go into the doctor, the only question you have is whether or not you're sick, not whether or not you can afford to go.

CURTIS: The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are sending out, as we've seen, different messages on HECS debts this morning but the one thing they agree on is that the Government is gearing up for a fight, is not preparing to back down over uits Budget. How prepared is the Labor Party to have that fight not only for the budget measures in the Senate but he fight for public opinion.

BURKE: The fight is very simple, it's not like they've wedged Labor with this budget. They've drawn the line exactly against our core values and in terms of issues to fight on we are on the strongest ground and on the issues that define us. The differences of opinion that we've had today between the Treasurer and the Prime Minister within minutes of each other giving the exact opposite messages are just extraordinary, and let's not forget if this unrolls the way the Treasurer has described, what it actually means, because, for example, we've been asking the Prime Minister in Question Time what happens when young people have to choose between getting their own mortgage, buying a home or getting an education? If the debt continues to get collected as part of your estate that will have a direct impact...

CURTIS: The Prime Minister has, though, ruled it out.

BURKE: And he Treasurer said it should happen.

CURTIS: Prime Ministers trump Treasurers don’t they?

BURKE: Well, this is the same Prime Minister who ruled out cuts to education, health, and changes to pensions. We've been here before and I'm not sure why when we're dealing with an entire budget based on broken promises, his words this morning minutes after the Treasurer said the exact opposite should really mean much to all?

CURTIS: So you're prepared to gear up for this fight and have the battle for as long as it lasts?

BURKE: We have made clear what we believe that reflects what we say and what we do in the Parliament.

CURTIS: Finally, you're the Manager of Opposition Business in the Parliament. Since this parliament began sitting you have been putting pressure on the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, are you doing that because you think she’s vulnerable?

BURKE: I’ve had a view that the Standing Orders ought to be upheld. I have a view that the starting point for parliamentary debate is that members of Parliament are given a fair chance under the Standing Orders and that the referee should not be a participant on the field or in our case in the parliamentary debate.

CURTIS: But you've been prepared to press your case at every opportunity, haven't you?

BURKE: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Let's not forget what this Government has tried to do. This week the Government tried, by a vote of the Parliament, to compel me to say particular words. I mean, what sort of game are they playing in Australia where they think Liberal members of Parliament should be able to dictate the words that Labor members of Parliament will actually articulate? This is meant to be a democracy. The games that they are playing in this Parliament when we were told there were going to be adults in charge, it’s a complete school yard the way they’re running it.

CURTIS: Tony Burke, thank you very much for your time.

BURKE: See you again.


Tony Burke