KIERAN GILBERT: With me to discuss that and other issues of the day, the Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke. Mr Burke thanks for your time. A double dissolution trigger, still very unlikely given, well not the trigger but the prospect unlikely given we’ve got the new Senate coming in as of July 7 and likely to pass large parts of the Government’s agenda.

MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE, TONY BURKE: I don’t know if that’s the only reason why it’s unlikely. You only have to go back a couple of months and both Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were very much we’re going to push everything through, we’ll get our way on everything and if not they were all there threatening a double dissolution, threatening an early election. Well the rest of the Parliament doesn’t view that as a threat, if they want to say let’s go to the people, then absolutely we’d be there for that call. 

GILBERT: Julie Bishop said yesterday she thinks Australians are ready for a bit of stability, to move on from the uncertainty of the last couple of years. What do you say to that?


BURKE: Well, let’s face facts. Two months ago Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were talking up an early election, now you’ve got Julie Bishop saying ‘oh no no, no that’s the last thing we’d want’. What’s happened in the middle – the Budget. What’s happened in the middle is the public have realised that promises from Tony Abbott meant nothing and systematically health, education, pensions, new taxes; they’ve seen that Tony Abbott’s word is worth nothing and at that moment they changed their view on an election.

GILBERT: The Government is going to be sending some 2.5 million newsletters to pensioners on, to explain the Budget. This ‘News for Seniors’ newsletter was also produced under Labor so it’s hard for Labor to take the moral high ground isn’t it?

BURKE: Well Labor was informing pensioners about improvements in their conditions and what Tony Abbott if he’s going to do this should be honest about, is that he’s cutting pensions. Is that if you change the indexation rate to a lower rate, if you have Budget papers saying there’s a saving from the pension, that’s called a cut. He said there’d be no changes to pensions, if this material is going to be honest, it’ll be letting people know that that promise is broken and that there’s a cut from what there otherwise would have been.

GILBERT: He said no change this term and there will be no changes.

BURKE:  No he didn’t, no he didn’t, he said no changes to pensions, that was the promise. It was made right up until the day before the election, no changes to pensions. They’ve brought down a Budget with changes to pensions. Not only on the indexation rate but changing the eligibility age all the way out to 70 which is one thing if -

GILBERT: Which Labor started, to 67 -

BURKE: Sorry, they’re different ages. You can’t just say ‘oh Labor had an age Liberals have an age therefore it’s the same thing’. It’s one thing for people in white collar jobs to say ‘oh maybe we can keep working longer’ but for people who physically are using their bodies every day and wearing themselves out in their job, whether it’s stacking shelves in retail, working in factories, working on construction sites, working as cleaners, that retirement age shift is a massive difference for those people. He said there’d be no changes, there’d be no changes to pensions. First Budget, changes to pensions.   

GILBERT: I want to ask you about something that is in your area of responsibility as a Shadow Minister of Finance, this idea that Labor’s going to block the infrastructure fund that Joe Hockey set up in conjunction with the states. How can Labor set up a situation where the Federal Parliament decides on asset privatisations that happen at the state level, surely that is the purview of the state government?

BURKE: Completely, and this Parliament can’t decide whether or not state governments privatise assets. What this Parliament can determine is whether or not Commonwealth money provides an incentive for states to privatise, and our amendments will just reflect Labor’s position. The Liberals, with Joe Hockey’s policy, asks for backing in all privatisation as though privatisation is always good. The Greens and Clive Palmer as I understand it will be voting in a way that says they oppose privatisation in every case. Labor’s position has always been there’s some we support some we oppose and we’ll have amendments that are about making sure the incentive is not provided to every privatisation, but can be provided if it’s one that stacks up sensibly.

GILBERT: So and if, and if you don’t get the amendments up you’re going to back it anyway?

BURKE: If the amendments don’t get up we’re not going to vote against the infrastructure funds being given at all.

GILBERT: And so finally on the World Heritage decision to be made tomorrow on the Tasmanian Forests, you made those changes as Environment Minister, can you tell me what expectation there is on this and this decision and I suppose it’s very hard to predict?

BURKE:  Australia’s now joining Oman and Tanzania as the only countries to ask the World Heritage Committee to remove areas of natural listing. What you have to remember is John Howard, Malcolm Fraser, whoever’s been in Government in the past, has always said when Australia tells the world something will be protected forever, then Australia honours that. What Tony Abbott’s doing now is an aberration, it’s irresponsible, it tears up an agreement in Tasmania that was good for jobs and hopefully the World Heritage Committee sees this for what it is.

GILBERT: Well they say it’s not pristine forests basically, that’s their argument.

BURKE: Yeah and they’re wrong, they’re wrong. There are some areas where you’ve got a small patch in an area that has been damaged in some way, of course you don’t put a donut hole in the middle of a world heritage area, of course you include the whole area. In that part of Tasmania you’ve got the tallest flowering plants in the world, this is a spectacular part of our planet.      

GILBERT: Tony Burke thanks for your time.


Tony Burke