MONDAY, 11 MAY 2014


EMMA ALBERICI:  Our guest tonight is the Shadow Finance Minister, Tony Burke. He's in our Canberra studio. Tony Burke thanks for joining us.


ALBERICI: Multinational tax avoidance, the Treasurer says tomorrow he'll introduce legislation to stop 30 companies shifting profits offshore and not paying tax in Australia. That's not a measure you can resist, is it?

BURKE: I thought today was one of the more bizarre media conferences I think I have ever seen. It was like Joe Hockey had seen Scott Morrison was out everywhere and thought ‘quick I better announce something,’ and went out there with a policy he couldn't say exactly how it would work, and of all the days, he couldn't say how much it would raise. Now, this isn't just any portfolio. This is the Treasurer of Australia, the day before the Budget, as the Budget papers are being printed, with a revenue measure and refusing to tell people what the number is.

ALBERICI: But to be fair, corporates of this scale spend millions to avoid paying billions in tax. It's not easy to work out how much you might be able to prise back, is it?

BURKE: Treasury is there to try to give some sort of projection. Any revenue measure when it comes into the Parliament, we're given some sort of advice as to what it's thought might be able to be raised from it. Sometimes measures come in, companies find ways around them, and the numbers go up or down and revenue isn't always precise. But for the Treasurer, and he must've received advice on it, to decide he was going to keep the number a secret the day before a Budget, it was just weird.

ALBERICI: So Australia has one of the lowest rates of workforce participation among mothers. Will the government's extra $3.5 billion for child care address that?

BURKE: What they've announced today on child care, we'll look at the detail as it comes through and we will be in a much better position in coming days to start to work all of that through. Some of the measures they've announced I'm not sure whether they'll make their way through their own Party Room. You've looked at some of the - you can see some of the comments that have come out today from members of their backbench. I'm not sure how much of this will end up making it through. 

The other thing that's been odd is the way they've tried to link it with Budget measures from last year's Budget. When those measures were put in place we were told it was to improve the Budget bottom line. Now they're wanting to double-count those same measures and say ‘oh no, now it's not about the Budget bottom line, or maybe it is as well, but it's also so we can then spend the money on these other proposals’. So we'll know more when detail comes through. The thing we're sure of right now is the Government runs a different argument with a contradictory message not just every day now but every couple of hours.

ALBERICI: But principally, does Labor support the idea of channeling another $3.5 billion into child care in an effort to increase female work force participation?

BURKE: Well, the concept of increasing work force participation is a good one. The amount of money isn't the issue, it's the quality of the spend. That's something you can't really work through in full detail until you've got that information.

ALBERICI: Well, we do know that the funding of that child care package is tied to the passage of the family payments changes. What's Labor's position on that?

BURKE: We've never supported a situation where you have families who lose up to $6,000 a year. That's an extraordinary cut that was unfair in last year's Budget, it's unfair in this year's Budget.

ALBERICI: Are you talking about the measure from Family Tax Benefit B, that is taking benefits to when a child turns six rather than 16?

BURKE: There's a number of measures when put together were modeled by NASTEM. For a single-parent family, two kids, it came out as a $6,000 a year hit.

ALBERICI: Isn't that a little rich from Labor who were the ones who introduced the measure that would change single parent payments away from the more generous one back onto Newstart when their children turned six?

BURKE: On that particular measure, that was one where you had some people who were in the new scheme, some people who were in an old scheme. I'm not going to relitigate all of that. When you look at what's in front of us right now, there's no doubt that what the Government's putting forward is unfair, and it hits lower-income families the worst.

ALBERICI: So are you saying that given child care is tied to that particular measure, the child care package probably won't go through?

BURKE: It's rhetorically tied. It's a measure in last year's Budget. Unless they varied it, it won't even appear in the Budget papers tomorrow. So it's tied to the extent they've come up with a new focus group, a new level of spin, a new argument for the day saying these things are now locked in together. 

Don't forget, today as well we've had the Prime Minister on some of these measures saying ‘oh yeah, by the way, it's also all up for negotiation with the crossbench or with Labor.’ Last year we had frustration with Joe Hockey saying ‘there's no Plan B, it's only this unfair budget, nothing else.’ This year we've actually got the Prime Minister abandoning Budget measures and abandoning a Budget approach the day before the Budget’s even released. If the chaos was significant last year, they've managed to take it to a new level today.

ALBERICI: On the issue of paid parental leave, do you accept the Government's premise that some women are double dipping?

BURKE: I don't think you need me to argue against that one. I think the most effective people to argue against Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have been Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. A year ago, we were being told, even a few months ago, we were being told that those existing plans that were in place, those existing arrangements, were woefully inadequate, and we needed to go much harder with a gold-plated paid parental leave scheme. Now we're being told not that they're too soft, but they're a form of double dipping and even the word ‘fraud' was used today. 

Don't make any mistake here to acknowledge that if someone has those arrangements, invariably, they have them because they are in an enterprise agreement. They've been part of a negotiation where people have given up other benefits in their employment contract to be able to get those particular parental leave benefits. To then say it's some form of fraud or double dipping is extraordinarily, not just offensive, but also complete hypocrisy from what Tony Abbott said for the full four years from the time he became leader.

ALBERICI: Tony Abbott's been at pains to tell us that this Budget will be responsible and fair. If that's how voters see it, what's Labor's point of difference going to be?

BURKE: The first thing we know about tomorrow's Budget, you know, different bits have been leaked, the thing we know for sure is everything they said about debt and deficit is now untrue. Whatever the numbers are in tomorrow's budget, tomorrow night, Australians will see Australia's debt in dollar terms will be the highest it has been in the history of our nation. After all the claims that they'd reduce debt and deficit from day one, when they got in, they doubled the deficit, they then did a deal with the Greens to make Australia's gross debt unlimited, and now, we will see tomorrow net debt the highest it's been in the nation's history.

ALBERICI: More broadly, Scott Morrison says that a truly Labor Government in the Hawke/Keating mode would approve of this Budget?

BURKE: You know, if I were going to take advice from people on a true Labor Government, I don't reckon I'd start with Scott Morrison. I think some of his colleagues watching the way he has behaved over the last week aren't too keen on him being in the front row for the Liberals either. It was quite a back-hander on the football analogy he gave the Treasurer today.

ALBERICI: What do you mean?

BURKE: To compare somebody to a footballer who's currently on suspension. Scott Morrison, he's New South Wales, he's in a rugby league area where he is down there in Sutherland Shire. He would've known exactly what he was doing today.

ALBERICI: Do you mean, do you think there's something mischievous going on?

BURKE: There's no doubt over the last week it's been Scott Morrison who's been out there selling the Government's Budget instead of Joe Hockey. It's been Scott Morrison who's been out there trying to show, to his own party in particular, he thinks he can do a better job than the Treasurer of the Treasurer's job. If a picture tells a thousand words we've seen the photos of Joe, but beyond that, we saw the most bizarre media conference from Joe today, where he was clearly not ready to make that announcement. He didn't even have the dollar figure. But he's rushing in front of a camera because we've got a Government on the day they're meant to be more organised than a government is at any other point during the year, in total disarray.

ALBERICI: When is Labor actually going to show the electorate what it stands for, because at the moment, it would appear that the only thing Bill Shorten seems to be offering is the fact that he's not Tony Abbott?

BURKE: I don't think that's accurate for a minute. We defined ourselves last year, be in no doubt, by the things that we said we would not be moved on, and we would not be moved on our support for access to education; we wouldn't be moved an inch on making sure that Medicare remained universal and that families were able to deal with the household budget. 

This year, we've - and in doing so we've been responsible with how we've responded to the government; more than $20 billion of improvements in the budget bottom line, we supported the passage of them through the Parliament. We've now added an additional $20 billion in further improvements to the budget bottom line through our proposals for multinational tax measures and for dealing with high-income superannuation. 

In all of this the principle of fairness is one that Bill has stood completely firm on and it's one which has characterised Labor through its history, characterised those Hawke/Keating years that Scott Morrison was wanting to compare us to, and will absolutely characterise our response to whatever chaos we're presented with tomorrow night.

ALBERICI: Tony Burke, appreciate the time you have given us this evening.

BURKE: See you again. 

Tony Burke