RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tony Burke joins us, he is the Shadow Finance Minister in Bill Shorten’s Shadow Cabinet. Tony Burke thanks for being with us.

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS TONY BURKE: G’day Raf, at the beginning of the intro I thought I was about to be the Editor of the Australian so I liked the second part of that.


EPSTEIN: Well would you like to be? Tell me is it retribution, has it, did Chris Uhlmann in that question characterised correctly what you think the Government’s considering?

BURKE: Oh it sounds like it. It sounds like they’re wanting to run some sort of hostage argument that if you don’t make step one, that you believe is reprehensible they’ll try to do something even worse. You know, the reason we’re voting against a number of measures is because they’re the opposite of what we believe. Like they knew when they put forward the budget that Labor was never going to support dismantling Medicare, they knew it and it’s a bit rich now for them to, or that we’d support cuts to the pension.

EPSTEIN: You might disagree with what they’re doing but there’s no, the Government was certainly voted in by those who voted for them on a position of taking a tougher line on the Budget, so if they choose to do that by regulation, there’s nothing wrong with doing that instead of legislation is there?

BURKE: Well they were elected on a few things, they were elected on what you just referred to, they were elected on no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to pensions, no cuts to the ABC and the SBS. They’ve already broken all of those and have gone down all of those paths, so what they’re talking about now legally, technically are there ways of putting savings in other areas? Yeah there are. But if they think a threat like that is somehow going to get us to vote for things that we believe are fundamentally wrong and that hurt people, then, you know, I don’t feel threatened by it at all.

EPSTEIN: I’m not sure if they are threatening you or others but still, I am very curious though about the language that the Opposition have used to criticise the Government. Clive Palmer has basically made a deal with the Government over the Financial Advice Laws, FoFA, people may or may not know what that’s about but Bill Shorten was describing that as a grubby deal and I just wonder why it’s a grubby deal for Tony Abbott to negotiate from a minority position in the Senate but it wasn’t a grubby thing for Julia Gillard to, I don’t know, sign an agreement with the Greens and get any number of agreements with the Independents, why use that language?

BURKE: Ok well, that language is a direct quote of Michael O’Neil, Chief Executive of National Seniors Australia who is in the papers today saying all they are is part of a grubby deal, they have treated older Australians with contempt. So that’s where there language started today, came directly from the Chief Executive of National Seniors Australia who has looked directly at what the changes to the Financial…

EPSTEIN: And I understand the criticism and he’s been on the radio a fair bit, on the ABC, but I am curious you made much of the fact when you were in government that the Opposition didn’t understand the legitimacy of the minority Government, of the minority in the Lower House, so why use the very same language they used on you when you said that criticism was not valid.

BURKE: Well they promised as an election commitment that there would be no deals with Independents under a government Tony Abbott lead, they specifically said.

EPSTEIN:  And you can point that out without calling things a grubby deal. I, I just, suppose I’m disappointed when politicians, you know use detrimental words on the very thing that Parliament’s supposed to do. You get the votes to get your legislation through that’s how it’s supposed to work. 

BURKE: Yeah but when you have a situation with respect on this one, where Tony Abbott specifically said these sorts of deals with Independents was something that he would not do, then you’ve got to expect that we’re going to respond when he does the exact the opposite the moment he’s in office. The outcome of this isn’t just okay there was a deal cut with Clive Palmer, it’s also the outcome of that hurts people. Hurts people very directly and you end up with a whole series of protections that were there to stop a repeat of Storm Financial, to actually stop people from being in situations where they think they’re getting independent advice and they’re actually not, from having their savings protected. Now, you know, it’s not simply the process, the outcome itself is very real and it’s hard to find a commentator who’s come out in support of what the Government did yesterday.

EPSTEIN: Tony Burke’s with us he’s the Shadow Finance Minister, it means he’s part of Bill Shorten’s national ALP Opposition. Tony Burke do you trust Clive Palmer?

BURKE: Well, it’s a brilliant question because I haven’t dealt with him a lot, certainly what we’ve seen this week was he’d made a commitment publicly that he was going to knock out the Government’s changes to consumer protection laws and then ended up supporting the Government on it, but you’d have to, you know, on that, what you’re raising there is a personal relationship question.

EPSTEIN: No, no, if I’m a voter, a reporter, a politician and I hear Clive Palmer say something, I’m interested. You’re a senior member of Bill Shorten’s team should I trust Clive Palmer? 

BURKE: Well certainly on this issue you couldn’t and the outcome of that’s been seen. On other issues let’s wait and see, it’s all very, you know he’s new to the Parliament but certainly on this one he’d made commitments that he was going to protect consumers, we ended up with the most extraordinary own goal where we’ve both lowered consumer protection and increased red tape for business in the one hit.

EPSTEIN: The fact is that both you and the Government, you have to live with Clive Palmer, it’s much easier for you to criticise the Coalition than Clive Palmer because you might want his vote in the Senate.

BURKE: My view on all of these Senate negotiations, and they’ll always be a fascination with minor parties and things like that in the Senate but my view really simply is if you want to stop these sorts of changes ultimately it won’t be minor parties in the Senate that provide the protection it will be a change of government.

EPSTEIN: Do you think though at the next election, we know seem to have put Senate reform on ice because the Coalition needs the votes of so many of the crossbenchers, I’d argue there are going to be even more crossbenchers in the Senate after the next Federal election because we are going to have exactly the same rules that got them all there in the first place.

BURKE: Well that’s true, if Tony Abbott does the double dissolution threat which he keeps making but I don’t know that anyone really believes, but if he were to do that you could end up with significantly more because the quotas all get halved, so you know, all of that in any direction is all possible but you know and this is why you ask why do we deal directly with our arguments rather than criticising the crossbench, criticising those directly opposite us. The answer’s really simple, you can’t govern from opposition. Ultimately if you want to change these things and stop these different steps that the Government is taking that we believe hurt people, the only way really to do it is for there to be a change of government.

EPSTEIN: Tony Burke, look I want to return to where I began, I’m curious because you’re Shadow Finance Minister, the scale of the cuts being knocked back by the Senate, do you believe the Government could manage that scale of cuts just through regulation or do you need to make new law to do that?

BURKE: A whole lot of areas you can’t just do it through regulation so for example, all those things they’ve wanted to do to cut family payments.


BURKE: Or changes to the pension, even though the money goes, even though the money is appropriated in that sense, its demand driven and there’s specific legislation that you would need to change if you were to reduce it. So there a some programs that are straight grants programs and things like that.

EPSTEIN: Yeah sure

BURKE: Where the Government can turn taps on and off, but when it’s a whole lot of the issues that we’ve dug our heels in on really strongly, or a lot of the changes they’ve talked about for universities for example, those sorts of changes require legislative change. Now, could they end up doing that with deals through the crossbench, you know the experience of Parliament over the years is usually most Government’s get many of things that their seeking to get, that’s how it normally lands. That’s why, you know, I never work on the basis, when people say oh will Labor block something, we don’t have a majority in either house. We’re not in a position to be able to block. What we’re in a position to be able to do is if we see something is unfair, stand against it and stand firm against it. But ultimately we can only guarantee it won’t happen if there is a change of government.

EPSTEIN: And just briefly before I let you go we are going to have a word to Clive Mathieson, editor of The Australian. I’m sure you’d like to wish them a happy birthday; do you think they’re biased?

BURKE: There’s occasions when they’ve given some stories of mine a run that I’ve been really happy with, for example when I was Minister for the Environment I’ve got to say as a newspaper they made sure the detail got across the whole of the basin of what we were doing on the Murray Darling Basin Plan. So there are a number of issues, editorial comment, you can all talk about you know you look at whether the News Poll is better for Labor of Liberal and you can pick what page it’ll appear on and you see little things like that happen, but in terms of the strict policy issues that I’ve been involved with, my dealings with them have been very professional.

EPSTEIN: Ok, look thanks a lot for your time.

BURKE: Ok, see you.


Tony Burke