TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop - Eastwood Sydney


SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s desperate attempt to court One Nation, and the Bennelong by-election.    

TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Thank you very much for joining us here today. we are here in the heart of the seat of Bennelong. I’m here with Senator Jenny McAllister and Senator Sam Dastyari, and representatives from the council including the new Mayor Jerome Laxale. 

Today is day one in the campaign for the seat of Bennelong but there is an underlying principle that needs to be sorted out in the campaign here in Bennelong. Because when you look around this suburb this is no longer the Bennelong that John Howard first ran for. 

Bennelong has changed the way much of Australia has, and Bennelong is a strong example of modern multicultural Australia. The thing that is puzzling about all this is where even John Howard was able to stand up to One Nation. Even John Howard could say he wouldn't preference One Nation. Yet right now, the Liberal Party has started its process of directing preferences to One Nation. 

The One Nation deal in Queensland is already done, but it can be stopped. A Prime Minister with any authority would be able to stop a preference deal with One Nation. John Howard would have been able to stop a preference deal with One Nation, the former member for Bennelong. But Malcolm Turnbull, a Prime Minister with no authority and a Government with no majority, has failed to stand up for the people who live here. Make no mistake, when you attack multicultural Australia, which is exactly what One Nation is all about, you attack the community that lives here in Bennelong. 

We’ve seen this government change its policies already. No one was taking about the crazy citizenship changes at the last election. No one was talking about those changes until Pauline Hanson arrived in Parliament and Malcolm Turnbull decided that instead of opposing One Nation he needed to win them over.

Have a think about what the Government actually proposes with their citizenship changes. This Government, and it’s still Government policy - it’s the only legislation they’ve introduced to the House of Representatives.

It says that if you want to be a citizen and you come from China or Korea, you need to have university level English. But if you come from Great Britain you don’t. There is a university level English test that would apply to people who come from Asian nations, that would not apply to you if you come from England, Scotland or Ireland. That’s the sort of policy that only One Nation used to stand for. Now Malcolm Turnbull does as well. And the recontesting member for Bennelong wasn't out there complaining about the citizenship changes - he was in the Parliament supporting them. Supporting policies that were about sidelining communities that are part modern Australia, communities that live here. 

So today, the ring around started late yesterday, and already we’ve had volunteers here in the seat of Bennelong putting together a petition. Asking the locals to sign up to demand that Malcolm Turnbull end the preference deals with One Nation. If he wanted to end the preference deals with One Nation, if he had any authority, if he cared about communities like the people who live here, Malcolm Turnbull could fix this tomorrow. 

Instead of having a Prime Minister or local members of Parliament who will fight for this community, all we’ve got is a mob who will desperately fight to cling to power. We have a group of people who will desperately fight to hang on to their own jobs. If they won’t stand up for this community, if they won’t stand up for the people of Bennelong, the Labor party will. That’s why Labor are here today, that’s why we’ve launched a petition. 

Malcom Turnbull has the stop finally hugging One Nation and be willing to say - put One Nation last. 

JOURNALIST: Who will Labor put up as a candidate for Bennelong?

BURKE: We’re in the process right now of determining who our candidates are. I was on the phone yesterday to Kaila Murnain, the Labor Party State Secretary. The process won’t take an incredibly long amount of time, we don’t have a long time. We’ve started that process but we are not in a position yet to announce our candidate. In this local area Labor is strongly represented, particularly in local Government where Labor is very strongly represented here. 

What we don't have at the moment is a voice in Parliament that will send up for this community. 

How can you be the representative for a community like this and think it’s okay to demand that you need university level English if you come from China or Korea but not if you come from England? How on earth can anybody who believes in this community think a policy like that is okay. 

JOURNALIST: On the citizenship saga, do you contest the fact that some Labor MPs had not completed their renunciation by the nomination date?

BURKE: The claim that you’ve made there about people completing the actions that they could take, completing the actions that were within their power, the reasonable steps that they could take - every member of the Labor party took all those reasonable steps before the nomination date. Every member of the Labor party took every step they could take before the nomination date. 

Here’s the difference that Malcolm Turnbull won’t tell people, that the difference between how the Liberal Party people  under the spotlight have behaved, and the people who Malcolm Turnbull wants to throw mud at from Labor party who have followed the rules. The difference is this. Those who are in the spotlight for the Labor party took reasonable steps before the nomination date. Those who are in the focus from the Liberal Party took no steps at all before the nomination date. No steps at all. They are not in a reasonable steps argument; they are not in an argument following the old Sykes and Cleary decision from the High Court. 

The Liberal Party is in a position where not only, not only, did they take no reasonable steps before the election; they then thought they could get away with it. They then hid it. They waited until the entire High Court decision had been held, had been completed and had been ruled on. Then they said “by the way, me too.” That’s the way the Liberal Party has behaved here. You’ve got a difference between Labor and Liberal that is clearly the difference between eligible and ineligible under the High Court test of Sykes and Cleary. That test is this - you have to take reasonable steps before you nominate. Labor party members without exception took those steps. The Liberal Party members in the spotlight took none. 

JOURNALIST: You keep referring to reasonable steps but aren't you ignoring the fact that the most recent High Court judgment actually imposed a higher bar to candidates? 

BURKE:  The High Court test that we have at the moment - none of the people who they were deciding on had taken the steps required of the countries they were renouncing to. The only person who’d taken any steps at all was Malcolm Roberts, speaking of One Nation, and his steps were to send an email to an email address that didn’t exist. That’s what he had done. In terms of following the processes required by the different Governments every member of the Labor Party did, and did so and completed that process by the nomination date. But the High Court decision the more recent one you are referring to, didn’t have before it examples of people who had taken those reasonable steps by the nomination date. Sykes and Cleary did and that’s why I keep referring to it.

JOURNALIST: What about your Labor MPs now who are in an ambiguous stage. Shouldn’t they be referred to the High Court?

BURKE: There’s no ambiguity about whether or not they took reasonable steps. Absolutely none. And there has been no High Court case to test whether there is a change in reasonable steps since Sykes and Cleary. That remains the law in Australia. Because you can’t take a High Court case that was actually testing a different set of issues and try to draw sentences out of it and say – look the law has changed. We’ve had Malcolm Turnbull before tell us he’s got a legal opinion. We’ve had Malcolm Turnbull tell us he knows what the High Court will so hold. It didn’t end well for him last time. He’s got people in his Parliament who did not take any steps at all and it’s now becoming clear they do have dual citizenship. There’s not one member of the Labor Party who is in that position.

JOURNALIST: Christopher Pyne has now threatened to use Government numbers in the house to refer two of the Labor MPs to the High Court. What are your comments on that?

BURKE: What a desperate born to rule approach. What a desperate born to rule approach from Christopher Pyne. You know it wasn’t that long ago that the exact approach that Christopher Pyne and Malcolm Turnbull are advocating today was said by George Brandis to be dangerous. That’s what George Brandis said in the Parliament that that sort of approach would be dangerous. And now it’s Government policy.

When we get to the House of Representatives, I know that the Senate in Parliament is sitting next week, for the House of Reps we’ve got to wait another week. When we get there, I have no idea what Government policy will be by then. Malcolm Turnbull is not somebody who keeps the same opinion day to day, let alone week to week. Today they are embarking on a born to rule, desperate approach that only weeks ago George Brandis, the so-called first law officer in Australia, had described as being dangerous. Whether that’s their view on Monday week, I have no idea. And let me tell you I reckon they have no idea what their opinion will be by then either.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it a fair call though if there are questions of their eligibility to sit in Parliament?

BURKE: Well not under the High Court decisions that we have. There simply isn’t. All we’ve got is Malcolm Turnbull waving a legal opinion around. Well, previously we had him doing that. We kept saying –hang on can you release the opinion of the Solicitor General? He didn’t. And I don’t think the original opinion was ever as strong as Malcolm Turnbull was claiming. Now we have a legal opinion commissioned by the Liberal Party which has got holes all the way through it. That is based on a decision of the High Court that is determining other matters.

JOURNALIST: Are you imposing one set of rules for Labor and another set for Government over who you refer to the High Court?

BURKE: No if there is anybody who has dual citizenship and has failed to take steps by the time they nominated then they have broken the law. Anybody. I don’t care what party they are from. If there is anybody who is a dual citizen and failed to take reasonable steps before they nominated then they have broken the constitution, they have broken the law. We already know Barnaby Joyce broke the law. We already know that Fiona Nash broke the law. And while it hasn’t been determined by the High Court yet it appears pretty likely that we have got a similar situation for John Alexander. Now, no one in the Labor Party in that situation would have been allowed to nominate. You’re not allowed to nominate for the Labor Party if you are a dual citizen without first taking reasonable steps. And if you’re not willing to take reasonable steps, we don’t put your nomination in. We don’t allow it to happen. Now I had always thought, I had always presumed the Liberal Party had the same rules. I’d even said publicly that it’s no accident that no one from the Liberal Party has been exposed here. I presumed they have got the same processes that we have but apparently not. We simply thought that because a whole lot of them were hiding and not coming forward and being straight with the Australian public about the situation.

JOURNALIST: Just on same sex marriage there is already talks about the bill that is being drafted by Dean Smith to be **inaudible** a million times over. What do any of you say to that?

BURKE: The others might want to respond as well. My view very simply on this is Malcolm Turnbull has dragged us through a pretty ugly and pretty angry debate. At the end of that, we just want to get it done. We just want to get this change made and get it done. And for the people who campaigned for a no vote to think they can use a yes outcome as a band aid for their position is truly bizarre. A truly bizarre way to approach this. So the Dean Smith bill we need to remember is already the result of a Senate Inquiry. There was already an inquiry that said if you’re going to make this change, what’s the sort of provisions you’re going to put in place? That came through with a unanimous decision. Not easy to get a unanimous report in the Senate but that’s what came back. Now that we have that and a bill based on that, my personal view is get it done. I’m not looking for a series of amendments. I believe that we shouldn’t even need the full two weeks to be able to deal with this. I believe Parliament has already spent hours and hours and hours debating this issue. It’s time to get it done.

JORUNALIST: **inaudible**

BURKE: We’ll pursue our agenda. When Parliament returns, Labor will be pursuing its agenda. Some people have said will you play this game or that tactical game or this tactical game. Have a look at what we did the night that we had the majority on the floor of the House of Representatives because a whole lot of the members of the Liberal Party went home early.

They claim they had a working majority, but the majority of them decided to no longer work. They went home early and we had the numbers on the floor. We didn’t suddenly say – let’s move a motion to condemn the Government or let’s move a motion to embarrass the Government. We said, here’s an opportunity to try to get a royal commission for the victims of banks. And we did everything we could to get there and ended up three votes away from delivering that.

We very nearly got there. If we have the same opportunity then we will take it again. Because think of the issues that have been resolved by one vote. There are people in the shops around us today, right here today, who will not get penalty rates because of a majority of one. And we now find out that two of those people weren’t legally allowed to vote at all. And yet the people around here will still earn less money today as a result of votes that were unconstitutional. Now that’s an extraordinary outcome. I don’t know if we will be able to fix it because procedurally there are a few things you need an absolute majority for, it’s difficult to bring on a bill. There are real procedural challenges for us. But be in no doubt we will be fighting for it. We’ll be fighting for the people in the shops here right now, right now, who are being paid less today because John Alexander as the member for Bennelong voted for them to get a pay cut. Because Barnaby Joyce voted for them to get a pay cut. So we’ll be pursuing our agenda and we’ll be pursuing it hard.

Tony Burke