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SUBJECTS:  Malcolm Turnbull’s unfair cuts to schools; the Government's ridiculous citizenship legislation changes; the Yarra three

BARRIE CASSIDY: Today it is the Manager for Opposition Business and the Shadow Minister for Citizenship, Tony Burke. I'll start outside your portfolio responsibilities just for a moment and go to yesterday's headlines on education. Education funding wars are over. If that's the case, a lot of people would be relieved, wouldn't they, that finally a model is in place?

TONY BURKE: It's certainly not over. And the clear reason why it's not over is this - it's not needs-based if you're talking about a $19 million increase over the decade for the Kings School and of the schools that get a cut. 150 of them are remote schools in the Northern Territory - some of the most disadvantaged schools in the country. What's happened over the last week is the negotiation back and forth with the Greens and the crossbench has only been about what the size of the cut would be. But no matter which way you look at it, for most local schools, you're talking about a cut.

CASSIDY: Nick Xenophon in the package we saw earlier argued that you don't allow the perfect to be the enemy off the good and there was a lot of good in this. That's the stuff of political compromise, isn't it?

BURKE: It's a compromise, that's true. But it's a compromise that will hurt students. Will put a real limitation on what resources are there for children. If I put it right down to the individual level, what this money is meant to do is meant to create a situation where if a student starts to fall behind, the principal has the flexibility to be able to get better resources to be able to bring that student with extra help back up to the stream where everyone else is. Because we all know that there are too many occasions when a student falls behind early on and they stay behind their entire schooling. When you still have a cut in this order, whether it is $22 billion or $17 billion, a cut of that order has a real impact on what will happen for children's education.

CASSIDY: You've been insisting on an extra $22 billion. Is that now discounted by the $5 billion that the Government threw in at the last minute?

BURKE: It may be, I haven't gone through the full ten year projections and that will make an impact on the size of the cut. No matter what way you look at it, it is still a cut and that cut will have a realimpact on the opportunities for children.

CASSIDY: We'll go to your portfolio now and the citizenship. The 4-year waiting time, why is that not unreasonable?

BURKE: There's already a 4-year waiting time. You only have to have one of those four years as a permanent resident. Now, a whole lot of people, particularly if you come here first as a temporary worker or as a student, will have a couple of 4-year visas, a couple of long-term visas, that are temporary before they end up with permanent residence. So you'll end up with people who have been here for 12 or 13 years before they're ever invited to take allegiance to Australia. Now, if somebody has shown that they're worth having here, the Government has determined that they should be here permanently, why would you then stand in the way of asking them to take allegiance to Australia?

CASSIDY: The Government talks about the national security implications around this, where this kicks in that authorities would then have more time to look at potential citizens?

BURKE: Can I just knock this one out straight up? The National Security Agencies have not recommended this. This has not come as a recommendation from any national security or intelligence agencies. It's come as a recommendation from a report from Connie Feravanti-Wells. And how can it be about national security if everybody we're talking about is already a permanent resident? If they're a national security problem, they shouldn't be here.

CASSIDY: English language test, there's no argument around the need for people to have skills in English language. It comes down, though, to how tough that test could be and that's where you part company with the Government?

BURKE: That's right. The Howard Government introduced a test which we supported when they introduced it. It's a test that is in English. You basically need to have conversational level English to be able to pass it and that is reasonable. What the Government is now demanding is university level English. Now, that's ridiculous. It send a message to two groups of people. It creates a situation if you're a prospective resident, for a whole lot of individuals, they'll live their entire working life here in Australia and will never be asked to pledge allegiance to the country, and that creates a permanent underclass that we have not had in this country before. But secondly, it send a message to any Australian who wouldn't reach university level English that if this Government had a choice, they'd rather you weren't here. And that is a form of snobbery that Labor will have no part of.

CASSIDY: What the Government insists on, and Malcolm Turnbull said this yesterday, that it's got to be more than an administrative exercise. Not just fill in a form and tick the boxes kind of exercise?

BURKE: And it hasn't been that since the Howard Government changes. That's why Labor left them in place and there is a test which the Government of the day can change the questions on that test whenever they want. They don't need special legislation. We updated them when we were in office. Since the change of Government, they haven't updated them. All of that is still available. But can I just give you an example of what a high threshold this test is? There's samples on the internet that you can get. I'll just read one of the sentences from the comprehension test. ‘Calisthenics enters the historical record at around 480 BC with Herodotus’ account of the battle’ There is not a single person in Australia who would have to say you would have to do a comprehension test like that before you can pledge allegiance to this country and that's exactly where Peter Dutton has taken us with a policy that was all about his idea of wedge politics and had nothing to do with Australia.

CASSIDY: I want to ask you about the case of the three Federal ministers who face contempt of court charges. No action will be taken against them after they apologised. Is that now the end of the matter?

BURKE: Well, it may be the end of the matter for the court. It's certainly not the end of the matter for Malcolm Turnbull's Code of Conduct. The court has specifically said that they've acknowledged and accepted the contempt of court. And contempt of court is a criminal offence. Under the ministerial Code of Conduct, they have to obey the law. The court has found that they've accepted that they didn't. Now, I don't see how, in the face of that, Malcolm Turnbull can keep them on as ministers. The court has said they've accepted that they committed a contempt. They've accepted that. They've acknowledged that. They even aggravated it with the delay. That's completely on the face of it against the Code of Conduct and I think that Malcolm Turnbull has nowhere to go. 

CASSIDY: But even, as you articulated there, that's a long way short of them actually being charged with an offence?

BURKE: That's right. And if you were to be charged and convicted, then that would be an issue for being a member of Parliament. But there is a higher standard if you are a minister. And if you're a minister, the obligation is that you obey the law. We've now had a court say that they have acknowledged and accepted that they didn't obey the law. Now, if that's what's happened, how can that be anything other than a breach of the Code of Conduct? And if Malcolm Turnbull won't even keep the part of the Code of Conduct that says his ministers have to obey the law, I'm not sure where that leaves it. 

CASSIDY: What are you saying? That he should sack them?

BURKE: Well, I don't see on the face of what I've seen from the court decision, that he has any option other than to do that.

CASSIDY: Alright, Tony Burke, thank you for your time this morning.

BURKE: Good to be back.


SUNDAY, 25 JUNE 2017

Tony Burke