SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s minority Government, Bennelong by-election. 

TONY BURKE: Welcome everyone to the electorate of Waston, welcome to Roselands. Apologies for the M5 for the delay in getting here. We are watching the Government now lurch from crisis to crisis. The Government as of today, no matter which way you look at it on the floor of Parliament, this is now Government without a majority. It’s a Prime Minister without authority. I’ll explain just briefly what those numbers on the floor of the house now mean. The Government now can only command 73 of the votes on the floor of the house of representatives. When Labor and the cross bench vote together, that’s 74 votes. The speaker’s vote is not a Government vote. The speaker, when he’s in the chair, while elected as a Liberal member of Parliament cannot exercise the vote that way. He only gets the vote when the votes are already tied. If he does it’s not governed by the party political position, it’s governed by a series of precedents. So no matter which way you look at it the Government as of today is a minority Government with a hung Parliament and the Government lurching from crisis to crisis. 

We’ll now go to a Bennelong by-election. The Bennelong by-election will be a tough by-election. We need to recognise that in circumstances where there has been an intervention from the courts which has caused a by-election where someone has been involved with section 44 of the constitution. It’s not directly through the high court but there is a high court reason for the resignation today. When that has happened previously it resulted in a 5% swing to the re-contesting member. So we don't pretend for a moment that we’re anything other than the underdog in the by-election. But Labor will be contesting. I’ve spoken to the party secretary Kaila Murnain shortly before the media conference and we’re going through our processes now to select our candidate. It’ll be a tough campaign but it’s one that we will certainly be in. 

When we get back to the Parliament what Labor will do with the new situation is pursue our agenda. if you take as an example what happened the night, some time ago when we had the numbers on the floor because Government members had gotten lazy and gone home early. People like Michael Keenan just kicked off early. We didn't go for games or stunts or motions about what we thought of the Government or condemning the Government. We went straight to pursue our agenda to try to deliver a royal commission for the victims of the banks. We will approach the Parliament in the two weeks that are coming up in the same way. Our commitment is going to be to pursue our agenda. Our commitment whatever the numbers on the floor are, to be representing the people who have been hurt through the banks without getting a royal commission. Representing the people who have had their penalty rates cut. 700,000 workers tomorrow don't get penalty rates because of a majority of one. There’s now been a shift in two votes. Labor’s commitment during all of that is going to be pursuing our agenda and making sure that we are representing the people who need us most. 

JOURNALIST: Why won’t you refer Justine Keay and Susan Lamb to the high court? **inaudible**

BURKE: If I can explain the distinction, and it’s a big distinction, explain the distinction this way. The Labor members that the Liberal Party has wanted to talk about are people who had taken reasonable steps before the election in line with what the high court had previously said had to be done. There is no argument that they have taken steps prior to their nomination John Alexander has gone today because he took no steps before this election, before any of the elections he has previously contested. The members of the Liberal Party who the focus has been on has been on them because they took no steps whatsoever. Malcolm Turnbull can run around claiming that he is a high court lawyer and claiming that he has got a piece of legal advice. Well, we’ve been there before with Malcolm Turnbull. Malcolm Turnbull told us previously that he has got strong advice from no less than the solicitor general. He refused to show us what the solicitor general has said but he did declare that ‘the high court will so hold’. We all saw how that turned out. 

JOURNALIST: In fairness, why won’t you refer Justine Keay and Susan Lamb to the high court?

BURKE: The reference that you’re making in that question is to people who have taken all reasonable steps prior to their nomination. The people who have been referred to the high court have been people who took no steps with the one exception of Malcolm Roberts, where Malcolm Roberts did take a step it was to send emails to a fake email address. To bundle that example up with people who took reasonable steps in line with the high court decision in Sykes and Cleary is just the Government desperately grabbing to try to reach some argument to say ‘don’t look over here’. Well, sorry Malcolm Turnbull people are going to look over there. They are going to look over there for one very simple reason, they’re meant to be the Government, they’re not governing, they’re lurching from crisis to crisis and in each instance of the people who have been in the spotlight as members of the Government, the argument’s not whether or not they took reasonable steps. We’re talking about people who took no steps at all. 

JOURNALIST: It seems very unlikely that no Labor MP has any citizenship issues. How can you be so sure? How can you be so confident?BURKE: In every case when we have talked about members of the Labor Party, we’re talking about people who took reasonable prior to nominating. You don’t get to nominate for the Labor Party without taking reasonable steps. We had presumed that the Liberal Party did the same. I’m on the record in TV interviews making clear that I was sure the Liberal Party had the same processes in place that we had. Then Senator Parry came forward and it was quite clear they didn't have the same steps in place. Had he been a member of the Labor Party, John Alexander would never have been able to submit his nomination. It never would have happened. Because you go through this in our nominating procedure and you have to take reasonable steps before you’re allowed to nominate. 

What these Government members did was take no steps at all. That’s an extraordinary thing. To think that maybe no one will notice. Maybe it just won’t come out. Maybe you’ll get away with it. It’s just a born to rule attitude that beggars belief I had presumed the Liberal Party had some sort of process like the Labor Party has. Clearly, they don’t. 

JOURNALIST: While the Government numbers are down will you try and push through a banking royal commission?

BURKE: We’ll do everything that we can to pursue the issues where that majority will make a real difference. Now there are some procedural limits that you have by virtue of being in opposition. We don’t get to choose which bills are on for debate. There are some big procedural limits that we have and so I don’t want to raise expectations. There’s a series of things like bringing on a bill or bringing on a vote of no confidence or something that you can’t do without 76 votes. Members of the Government disappearing one after the other and falling off their perch, that makes no difference in terms of bringing us closer to 76 votes. It simply doesn’t. So there are some procedural limitations. But no matter what the limitations are, our intention and our drive will be exactly the same. That is, the banking royal commission was stopped by one vote. We now discover the Government had two people voting who shouldn’t have been there. The penalty rate cut affecting 700,000 Australians tomorrow went through as a result of one Government vote. We now find out there are two people who shouldn't have been allowed to vote at all. Now that’s two people who have been revealed now. I don't know whether there is more to come. But with the different names that have come forward about the Government, it’s never been a question that Government members as to whether or not they took reasonable steps. With all of them that we have seen so far, each member of the Government took no steps whatsoever and thought they could get away with it. 

If I can also add on the Bennelong by-election. As I said, the by-election will be tough. The traditional swing to a re-contesting member in this sort of a by-election is about 5%. So we’ll be running hard but we’re under no delusions about being anything other than the underdog in that particular race. There is one thing that will be interesting to see. The Bennelong of today is not the Bennelong John Howard first represented all those years ago. It is now very much a multicultural community. This will be the first time since the Government’s citizenship laws put before the Parliament that those communities have had a chance to vote in. A lot of people won’t know this but members of the Chinese community know this very well. Under this Government’s citizenship changes that they put to the Parliament you needed university-level English if you came from China and wanted to be an Australian citizen, but you didn't need to pass that test if you came from  England and wanted to be an Australian citizen. That sort of extraordinary double standard that hasn't been seen in Australia for decades has been before the Parliament this year. And voted for by the member for Bennelong John Alexander. It’ll be the first time that those issues have been tested in the electorate as well. I don't think those communities will have missed the fact that the Government intervened specifically to demand university-level English from them. 

Okay, thank you very much. 

Tony Burke