TRANSCRIPT: Sky News with Richo

SUBJECT/S: The Government in chaos, Turnbull shutting down Parliament, citizenship crisis, Bennelong by-election

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: In the studio on my right, probably a fair place, Tony Burke member for Watson. An electorate that voted very solidly no. 

TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Second biggest in the country. 

RICHARDSON: Second biggest in the country. But I don't think it stays as an issue does it? 

BURKE: Also, I went to the election telling the electorate that I would be voting yes. If I have done other than that, then probably there would be some concern. A lot of people will be disappointed, but no one is surprised that I vote yes. 

RICHARDSON: That’s what I thought. I have had enough of same-sex marriage, so there will be no questions about it at all. I have just interviewed Angus Taylor. You were obviously on the run getting here.  

BURKE: I caught the end. I remember our people using the line 'I support the current Prime Minister' and not saying their name out loud. I didn't miss that. 

RICHARDSON: In our case, the Prime Minister was changing so often that you could forget who it was going to be. 

BURKE: I think they might catch up. 

RICHARDSON: I think there will be a run here pretty soon. What he did say though is that nobody is interested in the fact that the Parliament has been put off and what week it sits. He said he went to an agriculture day in Goulburn yesterday and there were lots of people there and no one has raised it with him. No one is sending him an email about it. What is happening in your neck of the woods? 

BURKE: It is a continuation of complete chaos. It’s the chaos that's the issue. Getting to the point where they are so worried and they can’t even have the Parliament sit is the final example, up in lights, of the Government not in control. I know Turnbull said Labor thought they would deliver chaos - they don't need us to deliver chaos. 

RICHARDSON: They are doing a good job on their own. 

BURKE: Since we last met we have lost a Deputy Prime Minister. We have then lost the member of the former Prime Minister's seat in Bennelong. We have had new senators turn up to replace old ones and then only survive an hour in the same and two more go in the last week, one of them today. The chaos of the place is like I have never seen. 

RICHARDSON: I actually said something similar to that in my intro. 

BURKE: What this does in the shifting of the Parliament, people don’ t sit there with a Parliamentary calendar glued to the dates obviously. But when a Prime Minister does something as expected and without any legitimate reason, people see two things. One, they see the chaos, and then they ask the question, but why? The Government hasn't been about to answer the ‘but why?’ And that’s one of the things that’s got the leadership speculation going. 

RICHARDSON: The ‘but why’ attempts have been phenomenal. Firstly, there was this rubbish about how they want the same-sex marriage bill to be ready. It is such waffle that it beggars belief. I wrote in my column yesterday, or Monday, that I find it amazing that Christopher Pyne would say that it should not have come as a surprise to Labor because quote you “had been briefed on it a couple of weeks ago". Now, that’s just rubbish. I’ve spoken to Bill Shorten about this. There was a throwaway line, but there was no briefing.

BURKE: There was a meeting for the purpose of finding out what we could agree on for both sides. So different things get thrown up as ideas and if there’s not agreement, they get thrown out. This was thrown out as a throwaway line and immediately rejected by Labor and that was the end of it. Because it was clearly not something we agreed on. If that is meant to be what constitutes a briefing, you would not want to be in their party room briefing on anything.

RICHARDSON: It also means that you were so dumb in the Labor Party that you let weeks go by without happening to mention this. 

BURKE: That's right I think we would have had a thing or two to say. 

RICHARDSON: I reckon it would have been up there in some lights, that's for sure. Angus Taylor was also saying, and you and I are going to have a slight disagreement on this. My understanding is that Justine Keay is in big strife. Susan Lamb is on the cusp and the others might be okay. Do you think there are any in Labor's side that have a problem when all the details come out in the next couple of weeks?

BURKE: No. Everything on the Labor side, as far as I understand, is already out in terms of anyone that there would be a focus on. The rocks that the Government throws up our people are based on whether or not they think the steps they took constitute reasonable steps. That's their argument. Everybody who has gone on their side, including some additional people who may well come out in the next week, have gone because they took no steps at all. We have no one in that situation. Everyone that we have, every step they could have taken was taken by the nomination date. Turnbull is running around with a legal opinion saying ‘yeah, but you should have done it earlier than the nomination date.’ He reckons there's a new law. Well, we have heard Malcolm Turnbull run around with legal advice before. 

RICHARDSON: Yes ‘and the High Court will so hold.’

BURKE: So, if I were to go and get legal advice from someone you could rely on in a court case, it would not be him.

RICHARDSON: I don't think I’ll argue with you about that. But tell me, when it comes to the Parliament sitting in the week it is going to sit, where are the Government's numbers? It’s very confusing. The average punter would find it hard to understand who’s who in the zoo when it comes to the Parliament actually sitting. When he actually does sit, who has he got?

BURKE: What they've got now, you can't count the Speaker. The Speaker only votes in a tie and when they vote, it is governed by a whole lot of precedent. Tony Smith, to his credit, has followed that precedent to the letter. Hasn't come up often but he has followed it to the letter. He has done enough to build his brand in that job that I really don't think that he’d do anything other than follow the precedents that are there. A few weeks ago, the Government on the floor had 75 then there were 74 non-Government members, Labor and independents. Now the Government has 73 and there are still 74 non-Government independents. There are limits to what we can do. I can't just stand up and move no there’s confidence in the Government.

RICHARDSON: It just seems to me though, when you're looking at their counts, Cathy McGowan seems to me to be a signed up member of the Coalition. She votes with them on everything. When you say a non-Government member, she is highly unlikely to vote against them on anything? 

BURKE: She voted with us last time, the night that we took over the floor of the Parliament when we tried to get the banking royal commission over the line, and she voted with us solidly then. Sorry, let me correct that, she has voted with us on other occasions. She had gone home that night and was on her way back and missed the final vote which we lost by one by 30 seconds. I can't say she was there that night, but on the banking royal commission issue, she has solidly voted with us, solidly voted with us. So whether we can get that vote on the agenda or not, yes it is harder now, because I had gone out and done the right thing and said Labor won’t be playing games with the marriage equality vote. So the response the Government has had is okay, that's all we will do. To try to prevent us from dealing with any other issue at all. That means procedurally there's a whole lot of complexity there. Be in doubt about two things, if there is a vote on a royal commission into the banks, if everybody is there, we start with 74, the Government starts with 73, if George Christensen crosses the floor, we are at 75, the Government is 72. That's a strong majority that you would expect to be able to win if we can get a vote brought on. On penalty rates...

RICHARDSON: What is required to get these votes brought on?

BURKE: Dark procedural arts. 

RICHARDSON: This is the problem isn't it? You have got no guarantee of getting them on.

BURKE: That’s right. In the same way that if we can find a way to bring the penalty rates vote on, on penalty rates, we lose Cathy McGowan. But we get George Christensen on the right resolution. On penalty rights, we may well be able to win that by a majority of one and a whole lot of people who work on Sundays will start getting their penalty rates.

RICHARDSON: What about this Liberal who has talked to Andrew Bolt about switching sides?

BURKE: I don't know who it is. I really don't, but I have to say, Bolt is locked in enough with their people that I don't think he would go out unless it's true.

RICHARDSON: It would be unlikely, he's not stupid, Andrew, he's a very clever fellow. So if he says it, I'm inclined to agree with it.

BURKE: If you said something like that of one of ours, I'd be very worried. I’d be very, very worried. 

RICHARDSON: I haven’t. I’m certain there is no one in that category. Now, tax cuts. Out of the blue, let's say under enormous pressure, the Prime Minister announces tax cuts, there's no detail, so I don't know how big the cuts are. I don't know what it means for any of the rates. I have no idea who it would apply to, how much it will be or how we will pay for it. How much work have they really done on this? Because I've not heard once until two nights ago. 

BURKE: On the scale of desperation, that one I think rates, is about as high, maybe not as high as you can get but it’s not far. We have got legislation in the Parliament right now that puts income tax up on the Medicare levy. Right at the moment, the Government 's policy that is in the Parliament is for income tax to go up. That's one of the bills that has been stood aside by the cancellation of the week in Parliament, but as far as we know it is still Government policy that income tax to go up. Now we find out it is also Government policy for income tax to go down? But they can't tell us by how much or when. They promise it won't affect the budget bottom line. How you can give a tax cut without affecting the budget bottom line is beyond me.

RICHARDSON: Well there’s no such thing as a tax cut without involving billions. It’s not going to be a few hundred million here or there, this is billions. That means big cuts. This Government has shown no inclination for to go for big cuts, have they? 

BURKE:  Well, we would have a different view on some of that. Some of the cuts that they have certainly tried to do.

RICHARDSON: Oh you're talking about back? I'm talking about the Turnbull Government over the last couple of years. 

BURKE: They have moved from a number of those. That's true. 

RICHARDSON: They have moved away so it seems to me that if you look since the election, this mob have not looked like they have not got any heart for big cuts. 

BURKE: That’s true.

RICHARDSON: Or tax increases, you’ll recall the on the table, off the table, poor old Morrison goes out there and tries to sell us an increase in the GST. Then he's out there with changes to negative gearing and both times the Prime Minister just saws off the limb and allows him to fall to the ground.

BURKE: At the moment their policy is that income tax will go up and down. Make of that what you will but that's where they are at. They can't offer numbers for it and the truth is, this was about a media strategy, not an economic strategy. 

RICHARDSON: I don't think it was. It seems to me to be a desperate position taken by one bloke who went off and did it.

BURKE: I'm not saying it was a clever media strategy! I'm not saying that they got away with it or that it was smart.

RICHARDSON: Has Scott Morrison appeared yet to defend it?

BURKE: He did radio interviews that morning, but when he was interviewed, it was a normal thing that they have gone to. I remember moments when we tried it in Government, and it doesn't work, where no matter what you are asked, you talk about your opponents. I can see the frustration, because the opposition will spend a lot of time talking about the Government. But that is because they are the Government.  When you are in Government, and you're in the longest serving term Government our side has ever had, you have got to be explaining what you are doing. It's not good enough to spend your whole time just throwing mud. They have embarked on that strategy for probably the whole of this year.  Even some of their smarter ones like [Josh] Frydenberg, you can't get them to answer a question without them going straight to Labor. Ultimately if you don't explain, as a Government minister, the agenda for your Government no one else is going to. The public will work out there is nothing there. I think these income tax cuts, there is nothing there. 

RICHARDSON: It seems to me, just getting back on the baking inquiry, what I'm astounded about with the Liberals because it has now come out that they have been discussing a backflip on it. Why they don't backflip? I've not met anyone who doesn't think it's a good idea, outside of Parliament. Australia think this is a great idea, and for a Government that's unpopular, if I had one backflip in mind, I would have made this one already. I would have worked this out six months ago and said we are on the wrong tram here, let's just jump. 

BURKE: When every Australian can't understand why you are doing it, you have got to ask yourself why are we on this path? They’ll say ‘we have dealt with everything so far’, then something new will come out. When the problems keep coming with the banks, and some of them have been at the absolute outrageous end of the spectrum, you have to be able to say, is there something systemic here? None of the issues, none of the sorts of inquiries of following up with different things have been able to do what a full royal commission of inquiry can do. Which is to say, we are not going to just check if the rules have been broken, we are going to see if the rules are good enough and make those sorts of serious recommendations. That's what royal commissions are meant to be for. I can't think of how you could set a set of criteria, these are the boxes you need to tick before you go to a royal commission, without saying the banks have been there for a long time now.

RICHARDSON: What about a compromise, where you have a commission of inquiry but not a royal commission?

BURKE: The only difference between them is... a royal commission is easier to resource, that's effectively one of the key differences. A commission of inquiry is an act of the Parliament so the budget incomes from within Parliament and you can’t just keep adding to the resources of it as simply as you can with a royal commission. A commission of inquiry is second best. But you can only get a royal commission if the Cabinet is willing to do it. If the Cabinet is not willing to do it, then we will go for the second best option and we will try to get a commission of inquiry through the Parliament. Procedurally, we are not sure how everything will line up in the next fortnight, but if we get there, we will do it and we will have the majority.

RICHARDSON: Let's hope so. I mean I think a banking inquiry is long overdue. Long overdue. Now, the last question, can Labor win Bennelong? 

BURKE: Yeah, we can, but it is tough. It is very tough. People go to what's the average swing against the Government in a by-election, but it's the wrong question. Normally in a by-election, the incumbent is not in the ballot. When you have a by-election where the incumbent is contesting, there is ordinarily a swing to the incumbent. It's based on very few examples, there's not many but it's about 5 percent or 6 percent swing to the incumbent when they are contesting. 

RICHARDSON: That point has not been made to me. Very good point.

BURKE: That does mean it's harder than what people are saying. One of the things that I've been very involved with because obviously, I have got the citizenship and multicultural affairs portfolio. You've got thirty percent of the community from a non-English speaking background. The Government has just gone through a process of wanting to introduce a university-level English language test, telling a whole lot of people in that electorate, if we had had the choice, we don't think you should have got the vote. Now they are going to get to vote. I don’t think that point will be lost on anyone. 

RICHARDSON: I hope not. I’ve got to thank you very much for coming on. I might say, by the way, this bloke has become the best speaker in the Australian Parliament. No one gets up to that despatch box with more authority, more push, and more success than Tony Burke.  For that, I congratulate you because I have always valued oratory, and you are bloody good at it. And it's not because he used to work for me, this bloke is pretty good all on his own. Tony Burke, and I shall be back in just a moment and we shall review the week.

Tony Burke