SUBJECT/S: Report into Children in Detention; Submarines; Abbott Government’s unfair Budget.

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now is the Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Mr Burke as a former Immigration Minister what’s your reaction to this report?

SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS TONY BURKE: Well there’s messages there, no doubt, for both sides of politics. I think the important thing, particularly when you’re dealing with issues where children are involved, is for people to work through the issues calmly, sensibly and try to make sure that the care of children can be improved. Now, probably the strongest marker there and the most common-sense outcome is to try to be able to get processing to happen as quickly as possible and to be able to get children into another environment; sometimes that can be hard. I remember I was Immigration Minister only for a few months, but in that time we got all of the unaccompanied minors out, but you can’t just dump children into a community, you’ve got to have a whole lot of support services built around. So, there’s challenges for government in this, but I think the messages that have come out of this report mean that the expectation is those challenges have to be met.

GILBERT: Peter Dutton is right isn’t he, in saying largely some of the findings are redundant in the sense that the Government’s policies through Scott Morrison, mostly, have been effective in reducing the number of children in detention now to under 200, it was close to 2000 under Labor at its peak in July 2013.

BURKE: First of all to say that the issues are redundant I do think is naive. Children often find themselves in detention environments because their family has been visa over stayers and issues like that. There’s a number of circumstances that can lead to children finding themselves in a detention environment. When a parent is detained sometimes the family chooses to be together. There’s a lot more complexity around that, than going back to campaign slogans. I think it would be an unfortunate situation if any Immigration Minister from either side of politics saw a report like that and didn’t think there were messages that needed to be taken out.

GILBERT: Do you think the Government should get some credit for the way that they’ve reduced the number of children in detention? As I say in the last couple of years from 2000 to now less than 200, that’s an achievement isn’t it?

BURKE: Everything about reducing the number of children in detention is an achievement and is important. I don’t accept your analysis that the big drop in numbers happened when Scott Morrison was minister because the truth is the big drop in numbers happened in those final three months after we introduced the offshore arrangements with the resettlement arrangements. That was when there was in the order or more than an 80 per cent drop. I don’t accent the analysis, but I don’t want to get into the politics of it. I think the message here is really simple, we’ve got a report that says the care of children has not been good enough, there’s messages in that for everyone.

GILBERT: The point about turn backs, Labor’s yet to embrace that part of the policy armoury, for want of a better word. Should Labor now just say ‘Ok, we’ll adopt the Coalition policy in its entirety’? It’s worked, whether it’s in conjunction with your policy when it comes to Manus Island or not, or whether it’s the whole thing, surely what’s happening now is working.

BURKE: I don’t think anyone can tell us exactly, well the Government could but they choose not to, tell us exactly what the operations are that they’re conducting offshore. So I do think it’s a bit much for there to be a political game between them and Labor saying ‘why won’t you embrace something but we won’t tell you exactly what it is.’

GILBERT: I want to ask you about the submarine issue. Labor yesterday asking the Prime Minister ‘is the deal already done?’ What is Labor’s claim here? What do you believe has gone on here?

BURKE: Our claim was to ask the question and it was a fair way in to Question Time. There on the floor I was chatting to David Feeney about whether we would ask it, and there was a chance that we thought Tony Abbott might stand up and just rule it out absolutely, well he didn’t, he didn’t at all. I think it was that moment in Question Time when everybody realised that, from what we’ve seen, it’s not only the people of Adelaide who he’s lied to, it’s not only his own backbench who he’s lied to, there also may well be international implications of representations the Prime Minister’s made. He could have cleaned that up in one quick answer if the…

GILBERT: So you suspect the Prime Minister’s done a deal with Shinzo Abe…

BURKE: I don’t know. If he hasn’t…

GILBERT: …on submarines and he’s now going ahead with this process regardless?

BURKE: No, I’m saying we don’t know, that’s why we asked the question. It wasn’t one where we were sitting there with a file in front of us. He could have simply ruled it out straight away, he didn’t, and I think there is now a long list of additional questions that Australians will be asking the Prime Minister as a result of that answer yesterday.

GILBERT: I want to ask you about the Budget and Chris Richardson from Access Economics again in his latest update on the economy suggesting that while the Budget measures have hit the bottom line by around $15 billion or thereabouts, the fall in commodity prices has been much greater in terms of its impact; some $40 billion since December. Do you accept that regardless of who is in power this would be an enormous problem facing the Government of the day?

BURKE: It’s a significant challenge no matter who’s in power. It’s interesting that this Government that thought the Global Financial Crisis was something that had no domestic implications, is now in a situation where they’re saying ‘oh but they’re facing massive headwinds’. It is true there are some issues that are beyond the control of the Government of the day. There are other issues that they’re in to up to their neck. There are two things we can see from this: First, Joe Hockey after everything he said in opposition, Joe Hockey will never deliver a surplus Budget; the second thing that we know now as a result of looking at all of this, is that this Government has trashed, completely trashed, consumer and business confidence by delivering a Budget that was bad for the economy. Yes there are additional issues with what’s happened with commodity prices, but there are some things that they can take complete responsibility for.

GILBERT: Now I’m seeing suggestions that Labor will have some policies out by mid-June, you accept that the pressure is now, or some focus, is on Labor to come up with some alternatives given the structural challenges that face this country in the face of falling commodity prices, but not just that, several other spends in the medium to longer term. What sort of areas can we expect policies?

BURKE: The first thing in terms of policies that we’re not going to do, is to do the thought bubble policies that they did when they were in opposition. The first of those was the Prime Minister’s signature policy on a gold plated paid parental leave scheme that then hung around his neck like an albatross for five years. So we’re going through a consultation process, we’re working our way through policy area by policy area. We’ll be making our announcements during the course of the year and by…

GILBERT: Would you expect some big ones by June?

BURKE: As the year goes on there will be some very significant policy announcements.

GILBERT: Mr Burke, thanks for your time.

BURKE: Good to be back.


Tony Burke