KIERAN GILBERT: Now the Prime Minister’s top business adviser Maurice Newman has urged the Opposition and minor parties, if you’re going to block the cuts to revenue measures in the budget then you’ve got to come up with alternatives, that’s the front page of the Financial Review today, what do you say to that?

TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE & MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Don’t think we get to excited about Maurice Newman’s comments. I mean Maurice Newman has been a well-known supporter of the Liberal Party and effectively the story we’ve got today is supporter of the Liberal Party supports the Liberal Party. Now the content of what he said there is pretty straight forward where he wants us to be completely forgiving of a Prime Minister who breaks his promises. Now we’ve always said there’s four issues we’ll take into account: The effect on the bottom line, the impact on broken promises, most importantly whether or not the measures are fair and finally the impact they have on workforce participation. Our position has been consistent and if the Government wants to come up as their budget starts to go into disarray, wants to come up with alternative proposals, we’ll look at them through the same lens. Their position can change and appears to have been shifting and changing day to day, our approach is completely consistent.

GILBERT: But Maurice Newman is not the only one it seems there’s a growing support, vocal support within the business community for the budget, and support for it. Andrew MacKenzie the CEO of BHP has also come out in support saying he believes it’s a fair budget and it’s getting, the Government is focussing now on the productivity message which he believes is crucial.

BURKE: I think the test to fairness is how many people or organisations representing people who are on lower and middle incomes will make that same conclusions and I’ll tell you what the sorts of names that are coming out at the moment aren’t the people who are out there representing those on lower and middle incomes in Australia.

GILBERT: So you’re saying that the BHP chief doesn’t understand the plight of ordinary Australians, is that the point?

BURKE: Well, I’m not surprised if people who haven’t been hurt by the budget find it fair, but for most Australians where the hit has gone squarely at lower and middle income earners, it’s a bit much for, to just tell them it’s fair when they’re the ones who are disproportionately feeling the pain of the budget.

GILBERT: But is it incumbent upon Labor also to provide the alternative because increasingly that will be the focus because the Government will say to you, because of your measures or opposing their measures you’re going to be blocking $40 billion in revenue.

BURKE: No, no, no. Let’s get this straight. If the Government comes up with stupid proposals or proposals that hurt people, we will vote against them. Now it was a no brainer that if you try to dismantle Medicare, Labor’s going to vote against that. They knew that when they brought forward the proposals to start dismantling Medicare and change it from a Medicare card to a credit card for what you’d have to bring when you wanted to go to see the doctor. They knew Labor wouldn’t vote for it, but let’s also not forget Labor doesn’t have the numbers in either house to block. We’re a minority in either house. What we do have the position to do though is make absolutely clear what our principles will be, what we’ll apply and where we’ll stand. If they can’t get it through each house of Parliament it’s because no one else is agreeing with them.

GILBERT: On your point though relating to the universality of Medicare I want to ask you a question that the Prime Minister put in a speech last night and get your direct response to it. He said in his address to the Mineral’s Council ‘if it’s right to pay a co-payment when you get a pharmaceutical benefits scheme drug, how can it somehow be morally wrong to face a modest co-payment when you go to the doctor?’

BURKE: Really simple. The visit to the doctor is when you find out whether or not you’ve got an ailment, whether or not you’ve got a serious problem. The symptoms of early stages of stomach cancer or something that’s just a general stomach pain might not be all that different or feel that different. But whether you present early or not makes a massive difference to your health and what matters here is when your deciding whether or not to present, is the only issue am I sick or is there an additional issue can I afford it. That makes a real difference. Once you’re in the situation of going to get medication, at that stage, the state of your health has already been diagnosed, the  determinations have already started. But the things you have to do to find out how sick you are – go to the doctor, get your pathology, get your imaging, all of those attract this GP tax.    

GILBERT: But you still, once you’re sick you need the drugs and therefore a co-payment is applicable there, you already know you’re sick you still need the drugs though don’t you? So the point is the moral equivalence, why is one so much worse than the other?

BURKE: Well, I think I just answered that Kieran, that first, no, no –

GILBERT: The Prime Minister doesn’t accept it and that’s the point.

BURKE: No the Prime Minister doesn’t because the Prime Minister doesn’t believe in universality of Medicare. The Prime Minister doesn’t believe the only consideration in when someone’s deciding whether or not to go to the doctor, should be whether or not –

GILBERT: Is the PBS under the broader umbrella of Medicare though, because if it is then under the universality of the health system, if you’ve already got a co-payment for one element of it, why not the other that’s the point?

BURKE: Yeah and what I’ve said, I’ve said it a couple of times, I’ll say it a third but the answers not going to change. It’s that GP visit and the original diagnosis when you go to the doctor, when you get your pathology, when you get your imaging, that is when you determine whether or not you’ve got something minor or something far more serious. To get the answer to that question is something that is absolutely critical, is discovered right at the beginning before something becomes more complicated, and if it does become more complicated because someone delays and puts it off because they couldn’t afford it, that’s a massive health issue for them and ultimately a bigger hit to the Government’s bottom line anyway.      

GILBERT: Well they are looking to obviously negotiate with the minor parties because as you say it is not just Labor, it is the independents and the minor parties, last night Mr Turnbull the Liberal front bencher was dinning with Clive Palmer and also the Treasury head Martin Parkinson, so it does show that at least Mr Palmer despite some of the rhetoric is, does appear to look, be constructive at least with open ears to what the Government is saying.

BURKE: Yeah look, two things on that: First of all I’m not surprised Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t watching State of Origin, I am a bit surprised Clive wasn’t. More significantly, doesn’t say it all when they want to lobby to get the budget through and they’re getting Malcolm Turnbull to do the lobbying and keeping Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey as far away from persuading people as they possibly can. I reckon that the fact that it was Malcolm Turnbull at the dinner last night and not Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey says exactly that this Government knows the people who are out there selling the budget don’t know what they’re talking about, they don’t know the detail of it and they are hopeless at selling.

GILBERT: Now finally, your working relationship, is it now untenable with Bronwyn Bishop, the Speaker of the Parliament. She demanded, well the Government demanded an apology from you, you didn’t provide that for comments that you’d made and do you accept –

BURKE: I don’t know, I actually don’t accept that. There was a detail that they’d said I got wrong in a speech –

GILBERT: You did apologise for that?

BURKE: Yeah.

GILBERT: They went on to say that they wanted a general apology you didn’t give it?

BURKE: No, well why would I? Why would I? I mean if they want me to apologise for having made statements about my views on the bias of the Speaker then my views haven’t changed so there is no reason to apologise. 

GILBERT: But on the issue of –

BURKE: If you get a fact wrong, if you get a fact wrong, and make no mistake the use of that dining room in my view whether it’s used for party political purposes for the Liberal Party now or more than a generation ago on one occasion by the Labor Party. If it was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. I have no problem arguing that it was wrong both times.  

GILBERT: It did bunk Labor’s campaign against the Speaker for being, for inappropriate use of the suite when there was a former Labor Speaker who did just the same thing.

BURKE: Well I think both are inappropriate.

GILBERT: Now finally then is your position, the relationship I should say with the Speaker untenable, or how does this work. You’re the Manager of Opposition Business and you continually accuse her of bias.

BURKE: Well if I think the Standing Orders aren’t being applied, then I’ll stand up and say so, but the one thing I’ll never do, absolutely never do is what the Liberal Party tried to get me to do two days ago, which was vote in the Parliament and say this Labor Member of Parliament will need to say these words now and think that somehow Liberal Party Members using their numbers on the floor of the House will force me to say particular words. If they think they can do that to a Member of the Labor Party, they’ve got another thing coming.

GILBERT: And the 90 minutes in the Parliament, with that distraction, it wasn’t really a good look for anyone though?

BURKE: Oh it was pathetic. It was pathetic. Here you’ve got –

GILBERT: For both sides.

BURKE: Well I didn’t move the resolution and I said in my speech you’ve now got your apology, withdraw the resolution and let’s get on with debate. But you had a situation where Government Members would rather talk about a fight between myself and Bronwyn Bishop than talk about their own budget. I reckon if we’re in a situation where they’ve decided a conversation about myself and Bronwyn Bishop is more popular for them then a conversation about the budget, they know exactly how bad this budget is.

GILBERT: Tony Burke thanks for your time.

BURKE: Always good to talk.


Tony Burke