SUBJECT/S: Budget 2015; Labor’s Plan For The Future; Immigration & Citizenship.

TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: This morning in an interview, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann straight out gave false information to the Australian people. He claimed the earnings of the Future Fund are being presented in this Budget the same as they've always been. That is factually untrue, and the Government's future projections into surplus largely turn on this fact.

For a number of years medium-term projections have appeared in the Budget papers. In those medium-term projections, no one has ever included the earnings from the Future Fund in those graphs. Labor didn't do it, even this Government in last year's Budget - for all the problems of last year's Budget - still didn't include the earnings of the Future Fund in their figures.

The reason for not doing it is simple, You completely distort the graph. You give the public a false sense of the future by having a number of years, as has always been the case, where the Future Fund earnings are not included in the underlying cash balance, and then flicking the switch in 2021 within the same graph and suddenly including them.

This is a Budget with something to hide. We thought it was bad enough on Budget night when Joe Hockey tried to hide the fact that this Budget still involves $6000 cuts to families, a GP Tax, $100,000 university degrees and cuts to schools and hospitals. But added to that, so embarrassed are they that they've come back with a Budget, after everything they've said before the election, that doubled the deficit in just 12 months, they’ve tried to give a fake impression in the graphs on the medium-term outlook.

The medium-term outlook looks better because they've done what no other Government has done. That's from 2021 on, started to include the earnings of the Future Fund even though they're not included in any of the years leading up to that. Up to half of the future surplus turns on the fact that they’re, mid-way through a presentation, willing to change the rules to try to make this Budget look better than it is.

Against that I know there's also been some questions today and yesterday where Mathias Cormann and Christopher Pyne have decided to invent their own versions of Labor's policies and as a result tried to point to some sort of Budget blow-out.

Be in no doubt, Labor has already put down more policies for the public to look at than any Opposition, at this point in the cycle, for the last 20 years. We've already done that, and including that we've put forward more than $20 billion worth of improvements to the Budget bottom line over the medium-term. That's what Labor has already been willing to do.

We don't need Mathias Cormann and Christopher Pyne inventing their own Labor policies to try and give a different set of figures. They’re having enough trouble with their own.

JOURNALIST: It's not uncommon, though, is it, for Governments to use different accounting practices over the years, is it? 

BURKE: To use different accounting practices within the same graph? That's pretty unusual, pretty unusual. There would have been a point in time when these numbers hit the Forward Estimates, but to present it as the medium-term graph, 'here's the pathway forward for Australia,' and mid-way through suddenly change the rules, is designed to do one thing: it's designed to make this Budget look more responsible than it actually it.

JOURNALIST: Mathias Cormann also said this morning that your offer to bring down the small business tax rate even further was a 'sick joke’ and that you couldn't pay for it, is that the case?

BURKE: It really shows the difference, not just in the policies, but the difference in how each side of politics at the moment is willing to conduct politics. This current Government, the Liberals and the Nationals, don't know how to do anything other than oppose. It doesn't matter what idea is put on the table, they want to rule it out straight away.

The fastest growing part of the Budget at the moment is superannuation tax concessions. It doubles over the next four years; in 10 years’ time it's projected that superannuation tax concessions will be costing the Budget more than the aged pension. Yet when we put something forward to improve the Budget bottom line to the tune of $14 billion, they rule it out straight away.

Multinational tax avoidance - we've got our policies there to raise in the order of $7 billion, what do they do? They rule it out, bring up their own policy with no numbers attached to it,  just an asterisk. Then, on the issue where Bill Shorten has said 'it will cost money, it is something where we'd need to work together to work through how to fund it,'  an offer of genuine bipartisanship for the benefit of small business and in turn, for the benefit of the Australian economy, the reaction form the Government is to rule it out straight away.

This shows one thing: whenever they've got a choice between backing the future of Australia or backing the politics of the day, they pick the politics. Australia deserves better than that.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t it an empty promise though? Given that it’s going to cost so much money?

BURKE: An empty promise, when the promise is one of bipartisanship, is made empty when the other side of politics says ‘we’re not even willing to talk.’ Now, we made the offer to work with them on superannuation, they refused. They said the fastest growing part of the Budget can grow forever and they’ll just let Australia deal with the consequences. 

We waited for a time, continued to offer for them to work on a bipartisan basis and ultimately, with superannuation, we did the hard work ourselves. Right now the offer is on the table to get a better deal for small business and a deal that will be more than a headline, it’ll be a structural change in the benefits for small business off into the future. 

They can either decide the politics of the day are more important or they can decide the future of small business and, in turn, the economy of this nation is more important. At the moment they’re picking the politics. Labor is determined, at the moment, we are offering bipartisanship to work together on how this could be funded. 

If they decide they just want to play political games, that’s their decision, that’s not how we operate.

JOURNALIST: Have you made that offer though with any idea where those savings will come from?

BURKE: We’ve made the offer as publicly as it can be made. We’ve made the offer on the floor of the Parliament on the one speech each year for an Opposition Leader which is fully televised. There is no more public way to say ‘here’s where we want to get to, we want to work with you in getting there.’ If you’ve already worked through every aspect of how it will be funded, precisely what the timelines would be and how it would be implemented, then it would have been a hollow offer. It was a genuine offer of bipartisanship. 

I think Australians are sick and tired of the fact that for years and years now the conversation between Government and Opposition, when one person talks about the future, the other person just says ‘no, we’ll have nothing to do with what you’ve raised.’ To think after everything they said on Budget night they’re willing to do that on small business. This is an issue of all issues where you’d think they’d say ‘yep, we’ll put the politics aside for that one,’ because as a Liberal Party they’d claimed this is something that really mattered to them. 

We have agreed to vote for their small business package. We’ve then said to them ‘you’ve developed that one on your own, we’re willing to go further and to develop that together.’ They’ve chosen the politics, it reflects badly on them and small business deserves better than that. 

JOURNALIST: Speaking of the politics, the polls today suggest most people are looking at the Budget relatively favourably.

BURKE: I’m not going to into detail on the polls. I find the commentary around them when you look at the two party preferred figure a bit odd. What matters is whether or not we’re have a long term conversation with the Australian people about the long term future for Australia. That’s what matters.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s likely the Government could bring on an early election given that boost in the polls?

BURKE: To be asked about an early election, it’s a decision made by one person and I’m not in the business of trying to psychoanalyse Tony Abbott. Any time I’ve tried to second guess what he might do, I’ve turned out to be wrong. I had thought he would never support paid parental leave, he then decided the current system was hopelessly low, he then decided the current system was ridiculously generous. I can’t second guess what this person will do, he’s too erratic as a Prime Minister. Will he call an election? Will he not? I don’t know, his colleagues don’t know and at any time of the day he’s probably got a different view himself. 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask your reaction, I guess as a former Immigration Minister, Dan Tehan has made some comments about the Government considering revoking Australian citizenship for people who are convicted of terrorism offence. This is citizenship, it’s not dual, just Australian citizenship. Do you think that could be problematic?

BURKE: I certainly haven’t seen that as a Government proposal, absolutely haven’t seen that as a Government proposal. I’m not going to leap on behalf of the Opposition to engage in someone sitting in the back rows of the Government benches, where it’s an idea that, from what I can see, even the ministers aren’t willing to venture forth on that one. 

On the issue of cancellation of passports, it’s something both sides of politics, us included, have taken a very strict view on and followed very closely the advice we’ve been given from the security agencies. National security issues need to be dealt with with a sober mind and a sensible conversation. I’m not going to rush into an argument with any backbencher who comes up with some brand new idea.

JOURNALIST: Would there be issues do you think with leaving people stateless? 

BURKE: Naturally that’s the case. I think the fact that this has come from the back rows and not even their front bench is willing to venture into this argument really says it all.

JOURNALIST: Just on the migrant crisis in South East Asia, what do you think Australia’s response should be?

BURKE: The response that we have to deal with in the immediate term is an acknowledgement only a regional approach is an approach that would work for the lasting term. We need to make sure, as Labor has always viewed, we want people who are in a genuine desperate situation to be able to be given a safe place, a safe haven, but to make sure that in finding a safe place for them to live they’re not using methods of getting there that cause them to lose their lives on the way. That’s been out position the whole way through on this and I think that’s as far as I can take it today. 

Ok. Thank you very much.

Tony Burke