FRIDAY, 31 JULY 2015

SUBJECT/S: Bronwyn Bishop

JULIE DOYLE: We're joined now by Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke, who's been listening in our Sydney studio. Tony Burke, we heard Andrew Wilkie there say if Bronwyn Bishop is still in the Speaker's chair when Parliament resumes, he will go ahead with this no confidence motion. If that was the case, would the Opposition support it?

TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: I haven't seen the motion, but I'm somebody who has previously moved a no confidence motion in Bronwyn Bishop. So, I don't think there's much doubt as to where we'd land.

I just want to clarify one thing. When you refer to when Parliament resumes, the first day we go back there will be condolence motions for Don Randall, who's being buried today. Nobody, I think, from any side of politics, will do anything but make sure that first day has the full dignity that should be applied when a Member of Parliament has died. And the appropriate speeches that will happen then.

Then we get to the second day back, when we get to the Tuesday, I will be astonished if Bronwyn Bishop is still in the chair. If she is, she shouldn't be, and we will be taking every step that's necessary to take, including supporting motions, moving motions, whatever we need to do, to make it absolutely clear Bronwyn Bishop should not be in the chair.

DOYLE: What kind of things are you talking about there Tony Burke?

BURKE: I'm not going to flag every tactic in advance. But be in no doubt of this point: if Tony Abbott has failed to act and Bronwyn Bishop is still there, every member of his frontbench and every member of his backbench is going to have to have to walk into the chamber and sign up to vote in favour or against Bronwyn Bishop remaining in that job.

Now, I've watched the last few days, I've watched very senior people and backbenchers within the Liberal Party not want to answer the question of whether or not they support Bronwyn Bishop. When Parliament gets back, they will have nowhere to hide.

I presume they're hearing the same thing in the community I heard at railway stations yesterday morning and this morning. The public have a very strong view of this. Liberal members of Parliament will not be able to hide. They will have to vote that they either sign up to endorsing Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker or they vote the way the rest of the community's telling them to.

DOYLE: Earlier this week, you said that when Parliament resumes, Labor will no longer respect the Speaker. What does that mean?

BURKE: I'm not sure if that's an exact quote; that was certainly the headline that was given.

It is the case, that for a long time, for as long as I've been in Parliament, there are times when there is cooperation from the Opposition to calm things down, to make sure that Parliament, while we'll have our political battle, still gets through all the other business. No-one can pretend that goodwill is still there.

Let's make no mistake about what's happened over the last - we're now in the third week of this - make no mistake about what's happened in these last few weeks. For a long time the public have seen Bronwyn Bishop show bias in the chair. They've seen Bronwyn Bishop treat members of Parliament with contempt. What's now happened is the Australian people have seen Bronwyn Bishop treat them with contempt. That puts her role in the Speakership on a completely different scale and the gravity of a no-confidence motion now is something where, it's not simply members of Parliament feeling aggrieved, it's the Australian public feeling aggrieved by a Speaker who has shown bias to the Parliament and contempt for the public.

DOYLE: Let's talk about what might happen in the Parliament then, if she remains in the chair. When the Speaker makes a ruling, will opposition MPs then defy her?

BURKE: We're still working through exactly, procedurally, how we will deal with it. As I say, I will be amazed if Tony Abbott is so stubborn he's willing to put every member of his frontbench and backbench in a position that they've been trying to dodge in every interview. None of them want to say that they'll support her. I will be astonished if he puts them in the position where they have to vote to support her.

DOYLE: If she is in the chair, though, how will Labor handle it?

BURKE: You start with the premise that whatever level of goodwill and cooperation has been there in the past will apply to condolence motions and nothing else. Absolutely nothing else. Strategically, what forms of the House we use, I flag them now, you don't flag your tactics in advance because then the government's onto it straightaway. So, if you just start with that premise, any level of cooperation the government ordinarily relies on is gone if we have a situation where Bronwyn Bishop's still in the chair.

DOYLE: That sounds like the Parliament could descend into chaos then, if there's no cooperation, no goodwill as you mentioned, we could see a farcical situation then in the Parliament?

BURKE: Well, we already have a farcical situation. You can't go to an event anywhere without someone talking about whether or not you got there by helicopter. We are already in a situation where the Australian people recognise the way this Parliament is being run by Tony Abbott's government is a situation of absolute farce. We're already there.

DOYLE: Talking about the number of MPs who’ve got into trouble in the past over travel claims. You've also had to repay about 15 claims yourself, including incorrect claims for travel for family members. So you're in a situation where you've made mistakes as well? 

BURKE: Yeah, and from the moment I started prosecuting this issue at my first media conference, I was upfront and said ‘many members of Parliament, myself included, have made honest mistakes.’ No-one makes an honest mistake to get into a helicopter and go from Melbourne to Geelong for a Liberal Party fundraiser. You don't arrive in a helicopter and say 'Oh, this was a mistake, how did I end up here?' Then turn up at a Liberal fundraiser and say 'Oh what a surprise!' That doesn't happen.

In terms of my own circumstances, when I was in my first term, I'd been given a verbal briefing and I misunderstood some of the rules. The moment I found out there was an error, the Department of Finance, I was talking to them, they said you could pay back these, they gave me a number of them, they suggested could be paid back and I said 'No, no, I'm paying back the lot of it. I will just pay back the lot of it so there's no doubt.'

DOYLE: Does it make it hard for you to prosecute the argument in this case though if you've had to repay claims yourself?

BURKE: No, you’ve just said ‘had to’. I've just said it was a voluntary payment that was made and actually applied to more circumstances than the Department of Finance were recommending.

Could I give a simple example of one of them? One of them that has been referred to in the papers refers to my late mum. Now, I used the same travel agent the Government uses because they had all my details. They were asked to charge something to my credit card. They didn't. They charged it to the Government. 

The moment we found out that fare had been charged to the government – not to my credit card – then I contacted the travel agent and said, 'No, you were meant to pay me.' They said ‘Too late, the government has already paid the bill.' So the only way for me to fix it was to repay the government. They're the sorts of circumstances we're talking about. 

That has nothing to with the circumstance of a Speaker who thinks it's part of the official duties of Speaker to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser. Or when she was a committee chair, decided it was part of the official duties of being a chair of a committee to have secret meetings she didn't tell the committee about, yet somehow it was their official business that just happened to be either side of a wedding.

You know, I know in these circumstances the Government will go scraping to try to find whatever they can throw back. The truth is, no-one in Parliament has a parallel to the way Bronwyn Bishop has behaved, and she, as Andrew Wilkie just said, is in the one job where she's meant to have a better standard than everybody else. Yet she is on a scale where no-one else has done anything like these sorts of decisions.

DOYLE: Alright Tony Burke, we'll have to leave it there. 

Thank you so much for coming in. We'll see how that all plays out when Parliament returns.

BURKE: Good to talk.


Tony Burke