SUBJECT: The Government cancelling Parliament

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Tony Burke, welcome to RN
TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Good to be back on the program. 
KARVELAS: Why are you going to be turning up when Parliament is not sitting?
BURKE: Everybody should actually be turning up because Parliament is meant to be sitting. You’ve got a series of meetings, in particular, the most important one is our shadow cabinet meeting. Where we’ve got an agenda, we’ve got a series of issues that we need to work through. It’s critically important that that meeting takes place. 
KARVELAS: That’s shadow cabinet so there’s a lot of backbenchers not in shadow cabinet. 
BURKE: That’s right and we’re still consulting with the crossbench in terms of the broader caucus coming. We haven’t ruled that in or out yet, certainly, the shadow cabinet meeting is definitely on. The broader caucus is something that we’re still working through and we’re still consulting on. 
KARVELAS: Okay that’s interesting. So you haven’t made the determination. Christopher Pyne says if all of the Labor MPs did turn up, and you say you haven’t made that call yet, that it would cost $870,000. That’s a pretty expensive political point to make, isn’t it?
BURKE: It’s absolutely a relevant consideration and it depends on what work that we’re doing is what you have to work your way through. Don’t forget, the other people who have lost a lot of money in all of this are all the people who had organised their own flights and their own accommodation to meet with members of Parliament next week. There’ll be no end of people who had meetings scheduled, a lot of not for profit organisations as well where they’ve just discovered on a whim because the government is throwing a tantrum, that their money is completely gone. 
KARVELAS: Well you heard Christopher Pyne there, he said it happened in October. It’s not unusual for the Government to change the sitting weeks. There is a precedent. What’s wrong with them changing it to make sure that the Parliament is used effectively? Not just turning up for the sake of it. 
BURKE: I respect that you’ve got to ask the question but I don’t think many people will think that that is what’s going on here. Until the statement was made that there might be more than George Christensen willing to cross the floor the Government had said absolutely nothing about cancelling Parliament. Absolutely nothing.The last time you had a sudden deletion of a week of Parliament was in 2005 around the time of the Bali bombings. Christopher Pyne can try valiantly and it was a valiant interview from him, he can try valiantly to make this look like business as usual but you don’t need the Labor Party saying that this is chaos. Anyone who looks at this can see that this is chaos. 
KARVELAS: You say that you’ve still got to weigh up whether it’s worth bringing all of the Labor caucus to Parliament. When are you going to make that decision? Because clearly this is a live issue right now as we go to air people want this determined. It’s Monday and it’s only a week away. 
BURKE: That’s right. So its a decision that won’t take long but it's just something that we’ve got some consultation and we are working our way through those issues now.  
KARVELAS: I get the strong feeling, and I know you pretty well, I get the strong feeling that you think that it wouldn’t be worth the stunt. That you think that bringing everyone there for the cost would be a political miscalculation for Labor, am I right?
BURKE: If the only reason for going was for the purpose of a media conference then we wouldn’t do it. 
KARVELAS: But what else could you do because Parliament wouldn’t really be sitting. 
BURKE: This is what we are working through and consulting about at the moment in terms of what other work is able to be done. That’s what we are working through. That’s an appropriate thing for us to work through. There is no doubt that the work plan that the shadow cabinet has to deal with is reason for us to all be there. For the shadow cabinet to be there and the question is being worked through now with respect to the rest of the caucus. 
KARVELAS: What about the crossbench have you spoken to them? You say there is some discussion around that. What are your conversations with them?
BURKE: Some of the crossbench definitely indicated that they are coming. For those of us certainly on the frontbench, there’ll be negotiations and discussions directly with the crossbench on a range of policy issues. Bob Katter has already been raising a few that he wants to work through. A series of crossbenchers have raised different issues that they want to be able to pursue in that final week that we have. I've got to say, I don’t see for a minute why it should be that for that week marriage equality is the only issue we deal with. We should have had two weeks of Parliament. That’s certainly true. But we’ve already had 43 hours of debate on marriage equality. We’ve had 43 hours of debate at the last two terms on marriage equality without ever bringing it to a vote. The thing that the public wants us to do isn’t necessarily to spend another week talking about it. What the public wants us to do is just make the decision and vote. So why Christopher Pyne thinks that will take all 4 days is beyond me. And they are all issues that we will be working through with the crossbench as well. 
KARVELAS: So does Labor want to gag debate on same-sex marriage? 
BURKE: I’ve made the comment previously, I’m not sure if I’ve made it on this program or not but I’ve certainly made the comment a number of times previously. That we are willing to provide cooperation to make sure that it goes through quickly. So if that means shorter speaking times for members of Parliament which sometimes happens, Labor is there to shorten speaking times and make sure that everybody who wants to have their say can have it. If it means extending hours on the Monday or Tuesday night, we are we are very relaxed about extending hours. We offered that back in the context where we thought there were two weeks to work all this through. We get through most issues very quickly. This is one where there has been an extraordinary level of debate already. Lots of people will want to have their say one final time. But you can do that with shorter speaking times and extended hours. For the Government to declare today that in the final week of Parliament marriage equality will be the only issues Australia is allowed to deal with, is just bizarre. 
We’ve gone for years being told that we can’t have a decision on marriage equality and now we get told that we can have a decision on marriage equality, but not on anything else. We’ve got legislation on the NDIS, on schemes for victims of child abuse, on national security, on anti-money laundering. There are a series of issues and a lot of them are bipartisan. I don’t understand why the Government has decided all of a sudden we’re not allowed to talk about them. 
KARVELAS: Just on same-sex marriage, your electorate is one of the electorates that had a pretty overwhelming ‘no’ vote. Of course, you have declared ‘yes’ and said that you’re going to vote ‘yes’ in the Parliament. Does it worry you that your electorate is so out of step in your views?
BURKE: No and I've always said that my electorate was roughly the opposite of the national polls. I think the first time I said that publicly was an interview with yourself on this program some time ago now. If you think about an electorate like mine, one of the most multicultural parts of our nation, I’d argue the most multicultural but Chris Bowen always claims it’s his electorate. But my electorate needs me to be able to fight, and win fights, against racial discrimination. Against discrimination based on peoples faith. I can’t win those arguments if I’m picking and choosing when I’ll fight discrimination. If I’m going to be consistent then I need to make sure that regardless of the form of discrimination, if someone is being discriminated in my electorate or in any part of Australia they know that I will stand up and be on their side. That’s why for some time I had held off on declaring support for marriage equality on the basis I was concerned about how my electorate would take it. But there was one conversation. I’m not going to go into it in detail, where one of my colleagues at the end of a marriage equality conversation said to me, ‘say black instead of gay and hear how it sounds.’ At that moment it became pretty clear to me, if I was seriously going to be representing the needs of my electorate, I couldn’t pick and choose what forms of discrimination were okay. 
KARVELAS: Just finally, when the house does officially sit the Government’s numbers in the house are perilously low, if the opposition wrangled the votes of the entire crossbench, you could take control of the house. Is that what you are working on? 
BURKE: Our determination is to try and get control of specific votes. It’s not a political game. We’re not out there lobbying to say can we get a motion saying can we condemn the Government? But we know there’s support on the crossbench and majority support in the Parliament now to protect people’s penalty rates. We want to find a way of delivering that. We know there is now majority support in both houses for a commission of inquiry or a banking royal commission. Now, the standing orders make it hard for us to deliver that. The Government truncating the time and cancelling a week of Parliament makes it harder still. But We’ll be working at it and we’ll be doing everything we can to deliver on those sorts of issues. 
KARVELAS: Before I let you go it wouldn’t be fair to ask a question of Christopher Pyne and not you. you know that I like to be very fair and balanced in my reporting so I must ask you, what your favourite bird is? Is it the black-faced spoonbill as it is with Christopher Pyne?
BURKE: No but I love that Christopher Pyne picked a bird called bill. I thought that was wonderful. 
KARVELAS: I wondered about that too. 
BURKE: I love the pink robin. I, as you might know, spend a fair bit of time in some of the forests in Tasmania. Maybe once a year you’ll suddenly catch a glimpse of this magnificent, tiny, little bird with a beautiful crimson breast. The pink robin, that’s my pick. Beautiful bird, hard to find but about once a year I’ll spot one and love them. 
KARVELAS: You politicians are mad for a bird. Thanks for coming on. 
BURKE: Great to talk to you. 

Tony Burke