TRANSCRIPT: TELEVISION INTERVIEW - ABC LATELINE
EMMA ALBERICI: Tony Burke good evening.
TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Good evening.
ALBERICI: It was nothing more than a stunt was it? In the house today given you knew there was a vulnerability there on the numbers?
BURKE: No the Senate had already passed a motion to take up New Zealand on the offer with respect to the people on Manus. And so the timing of it was actually just determined by the clerks and the speaker in terms of reading out the message. So it wasn't us coming in to set a trap for the Government or anything like that. The motion had to be before us because it had been carried by the Senate and you know we had a moment there where we had both houses of Parliament saying please take New Zealand up on the offer.
The debate itself had been very calm, very sober. It wasn't trying to blow the place up. It was a whole lot of passion across the Parliament about some people in a desperate situation. So there was a bit of optimism when we had that moment where there was a clear majority but unfortunately, the Government then got its people back to work and held the vote a second time so it didn't stay carried, so to speak.
ALBERICI: Does this indicate that Labor is softening its stance on asylum seekers?
BURKE: What it indicates is that we've said for a long time that the people there need to be resettled and New Zealand is one of the resettlement countries available. But today gave us an opportunity to actually get past the politics of blame on each side and just deal with specifically - here’s an opportunity we're asking the Government to take it. So the different speakers whether it be Cathy McGowan whether it be Adam Bandt from the Greens whether it be Shayne Neumann from the Labor Party or Anthony Albanese from the Labor Party who spoke, there was no blowing the place up. There was no, you know, throwing rockets at the Government or anything like that.
ALBERICI: Just to take you back to my question. Sorry for the interruption. I'm getting to the point of is the Labor softening its stance a little on asylum seekers potentially changing a little on your position?
BURKE: On the position, we were dealing with today it's actually a long-held position but the opportunity we had today was to simply express that clearly. What has often been the case is for one side, it often just becomes too heated a debate and the decency of the stance doesn't cut through. Today it was a tribute, I’ve got to say to everybody who was involved from the different parties to have an opportunity where we could just calmly talk about something we all did agree on. I think no doubt people will hear a compassionate message from Labor that a lot of people haven't been hearing. And I guess that's our fault in communication but it's not, in fact, a new policy for us to say the people there need to be resettled as soon as possible.
ALBERICI: The Prime Minister and the Immigration Minister today seemed to indicate that your candidate in Bennelong Kristina Keneally, in fact, Malcolm Turnbull called her a marketing tool for people smugglers that she was just another person in your party who would give the wrong message to people smugglers.
BURKE: Yeah it's pretty sad what Malcolm Turnbull's become. I think if we’d heard that sort of language from Tony Abbott people would’ve shrugged their shoulders and said that's who he is. When Malcolm Turnbull first became Prime Minister there was a lot of hope from people, including me, that that form of over the top crazy rhetoric would be a thing of the past. But that's where we're at now. It doesn't stack up, of course, it doesn't stack up but that doesn't matter.
Malcolm Turnbull has shifted side to side depending on where the pressure is. At the moment the pressure is from the right of his party so that's what he's saying.
ALBERICI: When you say it's not right, didn't Kristina Keneally say she thought asylum seekers should be processed onshore not offshore?
BURKE: And it's no surprise that there are people in the Labor Party with a range of views. There are people in the Coalition with a range of views. Look at Russell Broadbent who has made a number of comments which you could probably consider pretty similar to some of those that Kristina has made. But when someone's got a different view you don't run off and say - oh that means you're wanting people to drown or you're wanting everybody to come in a particular suburb. That's just hysterical and I'd like to say I'm shocked that the Prime Minister made comments like that but I no longer am. That's what he's become.
ALBERICI: So moving on. Labor Senator Katy Gallagher now looks like she's being referred to the High Court. I thought your systems and vetting processes were beyond reproach?
BURKE: Yeah well I've heard what you just referred to. Obviously, I've hardly been outside the big green room today. And the Senate I think will be dealing with resolutions tomorrow. So in terms of the facts of that, I've seen a couple of headlines. But I think the thing that we did that needed to be done was pushed that there be public disclosure process as the way to deal with it and then the cards fall where they do.
ALBERICI: Okay on the banking Royal Commission. Malcolm Turnbull's made it clear that he doesn't see the need for this kind of inquiry into the financial system. Does that make you concerned about what this commission will actually look like and what it might actually achieve?
BURKE: Oh it does. It really does. And the fact that he opposed it when the banks said no and once the banks said yes he supported it that day. I think means we've got to scrutinise this process pretty closely. The key groups that you need to consult with when you're dealing with the banking royal commission are the victim's groups. They're the ones that initially made the case as to why we need this sort of inquiry. Why you need to not only look at whether the laws are being broken but also look whether the laws are wrong and whether the culture is wrong.
From what I understand the consultation with the victim's groups simply hasn't happened and we're going to have to be scrutinising this really closely. Simply using the words ‘royal commission’ doesn't mean the job is done. But we want the job to be done and that's what Australia needs.
ALBERICI: The Prime Minister has indicated that he doesn't want this to go longer than 12 months. It seems to be a bit of an annoyance to him all round. Do you think one year is enough to get to the bottom of some of what's been going on? Especially given the fact that when Labor was in Government this stems right back to 2006/2007/2008 when you were in Government. Indeed the latest reforms to do with financial planning came out in 2012 after the first problems were discovered in 2006/2007.
BURKE: In terms of the 12-month timeline you can get through issues relatively quickly if you provide the resources. If you provide additional commissioners if you provide different additional possibilities for people to be able to tell their story so that you can then synthesise the information and work out what sort of recommendations need to be made. But you have to do one or the other.
Either you provide a lot of resources and you can get through it in a shorter timeframe or you provide the limited resources that the Government seems to be providing so far and inevitably you will end up with the commissioner asking for more time.
ALBERICI: Tony Burke on to Sam Dastyari can he survive in your party?
BURKE: Yeah absolutely and it's always been the case that when somebody holding public office in the Parliament has been under pressure whether it's a minister or someone in whatever position that once they lose the additional positions the debate has moved on. There's a series of ministers
ALBERICI: Pardon the interruption, what do you have to do to get sacked from the Labor Party? I mean ASIO was briefing you and the Government last year about their concerns around Chinese influence in politics. We now discover the most egregious example of it with one of your senior members actually taking money to have his bills paid by a very high profile Chinese businessman. You then discover his sort of watering down the Labor message around policy in a very public forum. I mean what do you have to do to get sacked.
BURKE: Well in terms of the same rules we applied to ministers that that has already happened that's already happened and the positions that he held he no longer holds.
ALBERICI: But last time he only lost the position for four or five months how long this time?
BURKE: Well I think Bill Shorten has made it clear that there's no fast path back. Bill has made that absolutely clear. There's a series of people on the backbench from the Government who've lost whatever ministerial titles they had and at that point, we haven't kept going because that is how the place has always worked. In terms of that's the appropriate penalty because the Australian people make the decision on who's actually there. The question that they won't deal with it at all though is the fact that with Sam Dastyari, he’s made clear for whatever conversations he had he didn't have intelligence information to be able to pass on. The Government did.
ALBERICI: With respect, he denied previously having done anything like what we since discovered he did actually do by listening to a leaked audio recording.
BURKE: I hear your point but I do intend to finish this sentence. Which is that the Government did have access to information from our security agencies and it was passed on. It was passed on. Now if you think about the first rule for these agencies it is always that you don't give up publicly the nature of the surveillance that the Government is undertaking. And yet the Government has decided it was more important to score a political hit than to preserve the integrity of the work the intelligence agencies were doing. That is an extraordinary thing that we've dealt with. And whereas the Sam Dastyari example that you refer to, no one can argue that that has actually had an impact on national security.
What the Government has done breaks all the rules about how these agencies are meant to be able to run in their relationship with Government.
ALBERICI: What are you referring to exactly?
BURKE: I’m referring to the fact that you have the reports that have been out there that have been confirmed by the Attorney-General of Australia that information collected from our intelligence agencies and surveillance was passed on to members of the media.
ALBERICI: With regard to Sam Dastyari do you mean?
BURKE: That’s right. And obviously, there is more than one person in the conversation
ALBERICI: But you have to understand that if that didn't happen Sam Dastyari would still be in a senior position.
BURKE: Well you've got somebody who’s…
ALBERICI: Having given counter intelligence advice to the Chinese.
BURKE: I’ve got to say if the question is should the intelligence information have been made publicly, go to the words of the Attorney-General who has said it should not have happened. That's what the Attorney-General has stated. Now if that's the case for the Prime Minister today in the Parliament to make no statement whatsoever about there being any need to investigate this, about there being any issue to be checked out at all I find extraordinary. This is somewhere within Government, some minister’s office, some staffer somewhere getting access to information that is carefully collected by our intelligence agencies and saying - here’s a way to hit the Labor Party, let’s pass it on to the media. Just like we saw Michaelia Cash with the Australian Federal Police. Just like a born to rule Government would behave and that is something that can't be swept under the carpet.
ALBERICI: If Labor is so worried about intelligence breaches and our intelligence community will you be investigating exactly what went on between Sam Dastyari and his Chinese friends? The donors?
BURKE: Well that's already public and he's lost his job over it.
ALBERICI: Well what else do you know went on? Do you know why he asked them to turn their phones off and leave them outside and gave them counterintelligence information? Do you actually know?
BURKE: Well hang on, let’s just think through what we're dealing with here. If it is true that the person he was talking to is an intelligence risk in some form and heavily connected to the Chinese Government in the ways that have been described in the media. If that is true, does anyone really believe that he discovered the possibility of his phone possibly being tapped because of a random comment from Sam Dastyari? I mean really?
ALBERICI: I don't know. And you don't know either but you're taking Senator Dastyari’s word for it.
BURKE: No no no. He has lost the positions he held. Given the way the Government has behaved, I don't believe for one minute that there's further information that they have decided to withhold. They have decided to give up the methods of surveillance that were going on because they wanted the political hit. If they had more they would have already used it. There's no doubt about that.
He has already paid the penalty that is paid in this building for that and that's done. There is one issue, one intelligence breach for which no penalty has yet been paid and that was a handing over of documents from our security agencies to the media when the Government decided that taking a hit against the Labor Party was their prime job. Not protecting the Australian people. And there has been no investigation into that.
ALBERICI: Tony Burke thank you very much.
BURKE: Great to be back.