LYNDAL CURTIS: The Manager of Opposition Business in the Lower House and the Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke joins me now. Mr Burke, welcome to Capital Hill.


CURTIS: The Government have had elective crunches before, is this anything different?

BURKE: Yes it is. You often get legislation coming in some time after, that in and of itself is not unusual. We have a number of changes that take effect on 1 July and while it's common practice that revenue measures that haven't gotten through if the legislation is before, then the tax office will behave accordingly, I haven't seen that happen before with family payments.

CURTIS: Is it a different between with the way revenue is treated and the way payments are treated?

BURKE: I expect so. I’ve been going back trying to find a precedent and haven’t found one. It may well be that someone can point to an example of this having happened before. But I don't see how the Government can be cutting payments to low and middle income families without having the permission of the Parliament.

CURTIS: Because the legislation to, one of the particular ones that effects, is the freeze in the income thresholds and the rates of family tax benefit. You haven't seen the legislation for that yet, have you?

BURKE: That’s right. You’ve got the issue as well of eligibility for Family Tax Benefit Part B for children going from the age of 16 being cut all the way back to six. Some of these changes are highly significant, very complex legislation granted, but if they wanted to put it in their Budget, and they wanted these measures to have particular commencement dates, then you would think they would have done some work on the legislation itself.

CURTIS: None of this matters in effect because you won't vote for it in the House of Representatives or the Senate. I don't think the Greens will either. So if they try to get it through in the next fortnight it will be blocked anybody, wouldn't it?

BURKE: I can only speak for how Labor would vote, how other parties vote is a matter for them. What is true beyond any doubt, though, is this Budget is currently in disintegration mode. I have not seen a situation before where so many elements of a Budget have started to fall apart immediately from Budget day on. We started initially with cabinet Ministers and the Prime Minister not being able to accurately explain what was in the Budget. Now they don't have legislation to be able to clarify what’s in the Budget. It's hard to believe that any of the numbers from Budget night are going to survive.

CURTIS: But in government you left office with Budget measures that weren't legislated. It is not new for legislation to take some time coming and it is not new for legislation to be blocked in the Senate. Your side of politics, when in government, used to rail against the Senate for blocking things like the private health insurance rebate.

BURKE: What we have at the moment is not simply one measure here or one measure there. We have a Budget which is based on a principle that, no-one these days - except you will find four people who will still claim, there is a Budget emergency and that is about it. Everybody knows the premise of this Budget was flawed. And then when you get to the Budget itself, all the priorities of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are about targeting the people who can least afford to pay. It's no surprise that there's community opposition to that and it's no surprise that that community opposition is finding its way into the parliamentary debate as well.

CURTIS: Just in looking at it in purely political terms, if the Senate does manage to knock some of the rough edges on this Budget, doesn't that in the end favour the Government if the measures they end up implementing are not as harsh as they first suggested?

BURKE: Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have measures that are aimed at hurting low and middle income Australians. We make no apology for standing between this Budget and those Australians and doing what we can to be fighting that every step of the way. Now, the broader political concern as to how the whole thing unravels, I’ll leave that for others to analyse. The point for us is if Government is trying to hurt low and middle income Australians then we will stand in their way.

CURTIS: Tony Burke, we will have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.

BURKE: See you again.




Tony Burke