Late yesterday the Senate carried a resolution that said if the Government hasn’t got their agenda through then we’ll be here again on Friday, and if necessary we’ll be on Saturday and on Sunday and we’ll continue to be here until they’ve got their bills through. What we’re seeing is the outcome of the chaotic Parliament. What we’re seeing is the outcome of a Government that thought they were going to have their grand victory fortnight and didn’t bother to talk to anyone about amendments, didn’t bother to talk to anyone or negotiate with anyone and we’ve ended up with a Parliament in complete chaos. Where two weeks that had been scheduled since the end of last year are now stretching out for extra day after extra day because the Government has no idea about trying to manage their own agenda and their own program here.

Not only that, when it comes to their agenda as we saw with the Future of Financial Advice reforms yesterday, they’re willing to completely throw all of their initial argument out the window and read from whatever script they’re handed from the cross bench, with the spectacle last night of Clive Palmer leaving the House of Representatives, walking into the Senate watching Mathias Cormann read the script he’d been told to read, and then leave in the Chamber again once the job had been done and once the Government had played their role as puppets.

At the end of all of that we ended up with a simple outcome of less consumer protection and more red tape. I want to leave people in no doubt though, if we are going to be here on Friday there should be a Question Time on Friday, if we are going to be here on Saturday there should be a Question Time on Saturday. We have on the record almost every senior member of this Government saying that if Parliament sits on a Friday it’s only part time work if you don’t have a Question Time. So if we’re going to be here, the Government should be committing that a Question Time actually take place.

The only other thing I’d just add in opening is we’ve got the mining tax reforms up before the Senate today, the changes that the Government wants there. We’ve got amendments there to save the Schoolkids Bonus, to save the supplements and to save the changes in superannuation. We are standing by those amendments and if Tony Abbott wants to make any dent in the up to $6000 that he’s costing families it’s essential that they agree to Labor’s amendments otherwise everything that he’s been saying about cost of living over the last few years comes to a complete dead end because he will add massively to the cost of living pressures on families when he abolishes the expenditure measures that are up before the Senate today.

JOURNALIST: Has a Labor Government ever added sitting days to the Parliamentary calendar?

BURKE: Well in 2007 we did exactly that. In 2007 when we first came to office we made changes to introduce Friday sittings. You might remember Joe Hockey was holding the cardboard cut-out of Kevin Rudd at the time. The images will be strong. At that time in the debate the Liberal Party was adamant: if you’re going to sit on a Friday there has to be a Question Time. They said if there’s not going to be a Question Time it’s only a part time Parliament. Now I know not many things that they said before the election seem to apply these days, but when you’ve got everybody from Joe Hockey, to Christopher Pyne right through to Bronwyn Bishop on the record as to what should happen on a Friday, I think there’s no doubt that they should make clear today if we’re here beyond Thursday, they should be proper working days for the Ministers not what they had described as a part time Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying that Eric Abetz doesn’t have control of the Senate, because of what’s been going on in the Senate?

BURKE: Oh well it’d be an extraordinary re-definition of the word ‘control’ if we were to imply that anyone in the Government was in control of this nation’s agenda at the moment. The Government at the moment has let this entire place descend into chaos. There’s no other way of looking at it. I have never seen a situation where a Minister is commanded to read from a script from a member of the cross bench and then goes on to do it. I mean the humiliation for Australia’s Finance Minister that you have to stand up and read the script you’re handed to by somebody else, not just table the letter you’ve sent, but then stand up and read word for word. You know, of all the things you’re meant to own in this Parliament, you’re meant to at least own the speeches that you make, not outsource them to the cross bench.

JOURNALIST: What do you think it means for the future for any sort of Government, well anything the Government wants to have on its agenda?

BURKE: Well what we have is a Government that had a plan to win the election and no plan to govern. That’s what we’ve got and now that they are there they know what they oppose, they don’t know what they want to do other than cut, and the circumstances we’ve been landed with are circumstances where they aren’t even necessarily engaging in negotiation. They’ve got themselves to such a point after the chaos of last week and now the mess of this week, where they’re looking around the chamber saying here’s our blank chequebook tell us what we have to write in it and we’ll agree, and that’s exactly what happened with Clive Palmer with the FOFA reforms. We’ve still ended up I might add though, with an extraordinary situation, it’s hard to pull this one off. Not many occasions in public policy do we get a Government in the one hit increasing red tape and reducing consumer protection. That’s a pretty extraordinary own goal but that’s what we saw yesterday.     

JOURNALIST: Are you glad the Government’s finally come to the party on Qantas?

BURKE: Yeah well we’ve had the same position since 2009 when the Aviation White Paper came out. When we adopted that position to get rid of the 25, 35 but to keep Qantas in Australian hands to let Qantas be an airline that still calls Australia home, we adopted that in 2009 and at the time Tony Abbott and others said no, said no changes what so ever. We’ve kept that same position the whole way through and I know some of the newspapers today have referred to it as some sort of deal that’s been brokered between the Government and the Labor Party, effectively they’ve accepted what has been our position since 2009.

JOURNALIST: It’s taken six months for that to happen, in that time Qantas’ bottom line presumably has been going backwards, is this a little bit too late for the Government to be doing this?

BURKE: It certainly would have been better for Qantas if the Government had acted on this months ago. What the Government’s done is they’d presumed that the moment there was a new Senate the world would suddenly turn around for them, the sun would shine, the birds would sing and everything would be as they hoped. So they let chaos reign until the new Senate arrived, thinking that the new Senate would somehow automatically deliver order for them. Hasn’t exactly worked out that way and ultimately Australians do want a Government that’s governing. This mob aren’t.

JOURNALIST: The fuel excise is due to increase in August that’s not going to happen is it?

BURKE: The Government as I understand it have now taken it off the agenda. I presume they’ll pursue it again at some point but from the resolution that went through the Senate yesterday my presumption is the Government now concede that that’s not going to happen. And there’s a number of budget changes that could have been implemented for example on Family Tax Benefit Part B we agreed for changing the top limit from $150,000 down to $100,000. That save is meant to start on the 1st of July [2015]. They could have had that. But they did the whole bravado thing of saying well if we can’t have it all we’ll have nothing and as a result there’s a cost to the budget that is only there because of the arrogance of this Government. 

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Clive Palmer’s changed position on FOFA? Just a week or so ago he was saying he wouldn’t negotiate with the Government, he said you’d be an idiot, a while ago to be pushing these changes then backed the Government in. What’s your view of him?

BURKE: I’m not going to give character assessments of that nature. What I’ll say is as a result of what happened yesterday consumers have lost out. Consumers have lost out badly and at the same time that we had the draft report come out from David Murray talking about the need for proper consumer protection, this Government is walking away from it.

JOURNALIST: Should we expect a mini budget by the end of the year?

BURKE: Well what we have at the moment is a Government that for years claimed that debt and deficit were always the absolute enemy and everything you had to do was to avoid them. What’s their record now? First they make debt unlimited, then they double the deficit and now they’ve got a budget that is actually the way the Parliament’s working through it, looks like it’s going to leave Australia’s deficit higher still. That’s what we’ve got from the Government. It’s the opposite of what they said they would do, they’ve now, on all three of those, had a clear pattern then when it comes to it they’re willing to blow out the deficit further and they’re only solution that they’ll ever offer is to hurt the people who can least afford it. I think the public is working out the character of this Government very quickly.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t there a risk though with Labor and the Greens lined up against so many budget measures that the Government will impose other savings measures that may end up hurting Australians more?

BURKE: We make no apology when the Government says they want to abolish universal healthcare for saying we’ll stand by Medicare. We make no apology whatsoever for saying if they want to tell ordinary Australians that you don’t get to retire until age 70 we’ll fight that, well if they want to effectively cut the pension by reducing the level of indexation we’ll stand side by side with pensioners. If the Government’s serious about wanting to have savings, and there are difficult decisions in every budget, we took them, we had something in the order of $180 billion of savings during our time in office. Budgets aren’t easy, they do involve difficult decisions but if the Government’s proposal is simply to hurt the people who can least afford it then that’s their stupidity that is leading us to a blow out in the deficit, nothing else. We’re not going to change our values.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey’s essentially warning what David was just hinting at there. He’s just been on AM saying that if Labor and the Greens don’t come to the party and let some of the budget measures through the Senate they’ll look at other things that they don’t need to legislate. Obviously that could be what he was hinting, that it could be worse cuts than what are in, to other programs.

BURKE: Very simply, what Joe Hockey is saying there, is he’s saying Labor should join with the Coalition and hurt the people who can least afford it. Well the answer from Labor is no.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of comments from the key Abbott advisor on education about introducing corporal punishment back into schools?

BURKE: It’s an argument that I think has been settled for more than a generation now. It’s something that is extraordinary and if it’s a hint of where the review’s going then we have an education proposal on the way that’s looking backwards rather forwards.               


Tony Burke