ABC 7:30

SUBJECT/S: Barnaby Joyce  

LEIGH SALES: Labor MP Tony Burke is the Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives. He joins me now in Sydney. Thanks for coming in on a Friday night.

TONY BURKE: Good evening.

SALES: The Government in crisis stuff is a bit overblown, isn't it? We'll have a by-election in a safe Coalition seat. Barnaby Joyce will probably retain it. Business as usual?

BURKE: Well, up until now, they claimed they had a majority Government. What we found out today is we now have a minority Government in a hung Parliament, and it's happened because the Deputy Prime Minister broke the law. For the last 2.5 months, he knew he might have been breaking the law, stayed there anyway, voted anyway and has made decisions as Deputy Prime Minister - and at one point, was the Acting Prime Minister of Australia - and they based all of  this on the smooth overconfidence of Malcolm Turnbull saying he was so smart, he knew what the High Court would decide. And you can have a born-to-rule attitude, but you can't play that sort of game with the Australian Government. That's what we've watched.

SALES: Those decisions now are been and done. Is there anything you can do about that?

BURKE: Well, let's not forget, every decision that Barnaby Joyce has made will now have a legal question over it. There will be people out there, you would presume, who'll have vested interests who will want to challenge some of those decisions. The worst thing from our perspective was a decision that we wanted them to make that they weren't willing to make because Barnaby Joyce was in the job - that was to pull the gas trigger, which would provide a guarantee of some downward pressure on gas prices. They wouldn't do that because they weren't really sure about the gamble they were taking with the Australian people.

SALES: Given what a safe conservative seat it is, will the Labor Party or the union movement put many resources into trying to win that seat?

BURKE: Look, we'll contest. But, you know, you look at the last election - we got 7% in the  seat of New England. So we'll be urging people to vote Labor, but it's not exactly Labor heartland there.

SALES: This situation makes the numbers tighter on the floor of the House of Representatives, of course. How does Labor intend to operate in that scenario?

BURKE: We'll do what we've always done which is continue to pursue the causes that we're there to fight for. This episode shows, more than anything else, that the Liberal Party and the National Party go in there and they do everything to fight for their jobs. We're fighting for some causes. Penalty rates - there are 700,000…

SALES: Come on, you fight for your jobs as well.

BURKE: Look what happened the night we had control of the floor of the Parliament, when they decided to go home early because they couldn't be bothered. We didn't move a vote of no-confidence suddenly then. We decided we wanted a banking royal commission that was the only issue we pursued. We missed out on getting there by one vote. The vote of Barnaby Joyce, now found to be illegal. 700,000 people, this Sunday, will be paid less. Why are they being paid less? The vote of one person, now found by the High Court to be unlawful. There are real impacts happening out there.

SALES: You mentioned not moving a no-confidence motion in that scenario. Do you rule out doing that over the next month or so?

BURKE: I don't telegraph what tactics we'll go forward on on the floor of the Parliament, but the principle that we’ll continue to follow is to make sure that we're pursuing the causes that we want to achieve for people.

SALES: There are only two more sitting weeks of Parliament for the year, correct?

BURKE: That's right.

SALES: Are there any particular pieces of legislation coming up during that period that you'll be attempting to scuttle, given the opportunity of the tight numbers and the extreme discipline that it requires for the Government to get all members there all the time?

BURKE: Well, the by-election's in the middle of those two weeks. To my knowledge, it has never been the case that you finish the count within a week, because they've got to wait for the postal votes to come in. So you'd presume that there won't be a member for New England for those two weeks. In that time, there's one piece of legislation that we know will be there if the outcome of the postal ballot is for “yes". We're not going to try to blow up that. We want to get that vote done. So it'll depend on what legislation is in front of us. There's a whole lot of procedural barriers that you deal with in the Parliament, and as Opposition, you're not in control of everything - there are some things you need 76 votes for. This won't change. Won't get us any closer to the 76. The one thing that we know for sure, though, is Malcolm Turnbull predicted, in the election campaign, that he would be able to avoid the chaos of minority Government. Well, as of today, that's what Australia has.

SALES: Tony Burke, thanks for joining us.

BURKE: Good to be back.

Tony Burke