TRANSCRIPT: Interview - ABC AM with Sabra Lane

SUBJECTS: Barnaby Joyce’s NZ Citizenship discovery


SABRA LANE: Good morning and welcome to the program.

TONY BURKE: Good morning Sabra.

LANE: There are questions of the citizenship status of Brendan O’Connor, Susan Lamb, Tony Zappia, Justine Keay, Maria Vamvakinou. How will Labor clear up those questions?

BURKE: We have a process before we allow anyone to nominate. Now, I don't know what the processes are in the other parties but I can explain the Labor process. Before anyone is allowed to nominate we have to find the country of birth of their parents and of their grandparents and whether the parents or their grandparents to their knowledge have any foreign citizenship. If the answer is yes yes to any of those then a team of lawyers work with the candidates to make sure that all the requirements of section 44 have been met. So, it's a cumbersome process but…

LANE: Why not release the documentation?

BURKE: No one is allowed to have their nomination even put in (before clearing Labor’s process). So for every example that we've had so far of people who've been referred to the court, they're all examples that would have been easily caught by our process. Now I think the other parties…

LANE: Why not release the documents?

BURKE: We are confident about the process, we've explained our process and it’s... what we don't know is what the other parties have in place.

LANE: Why not set the bar?

BURKE: We are in a situation where I’ve explained exactly what the Labor party does. We go through parents we go through grandparents and then a team of lawyers work with the candidates to make sure they have fulfilled the requirements of section 44. When Christopher Pyne yesterday in the Parliament started throwing accusations across the chamber, you could see sitting behind him in the camera shot the members for Gilmore and the member for Chisholm and the colour draining away from their faces. I presume that the process that I’ve just described for the Labor Party are not processes that the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Greens or One Nation have.

LANE: Okay we’ve got a lot of questions to get through. New Zealand Labor started asking questions about Mr Joyce’s citizenship. Was the party prompted by Australian Labor to do some digging?

BURKE: Absolutely not to my knowledge. Not to my knowledge at all.

LANE: Labor ferociously prosecuted this in Parliament yesterday. You're unhappy that Barnaby Joyce is not standing aside from cabinet until the court hearing. Is this the tempo that you're going to maintain until the court makes a ruling?

BURKE:  Well they set the standard with Matt Canavan. Now there are arguments of the time that they set the standard too low. But we're not going to see them take the standard to an even lower level. With Matt Canavan He stood aside and he hasn't been voting in the Senate. With Barnaby Joyce, his situation appears to be in fact worse that Matt Canavan’s on that on the face of it. He gets to keep his job and turn up to vote every day. That's not sustainable. Our position isn’t that he should immediately resign from Parliament. Our position is while we don't know, and at the moment the house has resolved unanimously, that we don't know whether or not he's a validly elected Member of Parliament. While that cloud is over him and while we're waiting for the court to make a decision, he should not be holding the office of Deputy Prime Minister and he should not be voting in the Parliament.

LANE: Why do you say the Government is without legitimacy?

BURKE: This is the first time a Government in Australia's history has ever had to go to the High Court to find out whether or not they have a majority. Christopher Pyne claimed after the last election they had a strong working majority. They don’t.

LANE: By saying that though aren't you falling into the same trap as the Prime Minister, signalling to the High Court, giving a directive to them of you?

BURKE: I don't think anyone could argue that I did what Malcolm Turnbull did yesterday. When he stood up and announced what conclusion the High Court would reach. This is a Government…

LANE: But you're perilously close to making the same error then?

BURKE: No not at all. Because what I'm saying is the House has unanimously resolved we don't know whether Barnaby Joyce is legitimate Member of Parliament and in that situation how can a Government say ‘well we don't know whether he's a member of Parliament, we're going to keep him on as Deputy Prime Minister anyway.”

LANE: The Government is displaying a high level of confidence on this. It is relying on the advice that’s been given to it by the solicitor general, that Mr Joyce can stay in Cabinet as a minister while this process happens. You doubt that the solicitor general knows what he's talking about?

BURKE: What the Government is doing here is… Deputy Prime Minister of Australia has a job in dealing with the rest of the world as well. The Government has decided that the credibility of this nation will be put in jeopardy because we’re willing, there are some countries in the world who will put people in public office…

LANE: They’re clinging on to the advice that they've got from the solicitor general.

BURKE: What they’re clinging onto is power. That’s what they’re clinging on to. They’re clinging on to power and it's nothing more than that. It's a secret deal between the Nats and Malcolm Turnbull that keeps him in office. It's secret legal advice they’re basing this on. This is a Government without legitimacy.

LANE: What if the High Court rules he is an Australian citizen? You will look a little silly, won’t you?

BURKE: No because we haven't said he should resign from his seat immediately. We’ve said he should stand down while the issue is being resolved and he should not be Deputy Prime Minister until the issue is resolved. If it's resolved in his favour then, by all means, he comes straight back. If it’s resolved against him, then for this entire term of Parliament he shouldn't have been there.

LANE: If the court rules that he was ineligible, what will Labor do? Are you talking to the crossbenchers now in the lower house the likes of Bob Katter, Cathy McGowan, Andrew Wilkie Adam Bandt and Rebekha Sharkie about supporting Labor?

BURKE: Well there are two issues which only in recent months have been decided by only one vote. One of them was the cut to penalty rates the other was the Royal Commission into the banks. On both of those, the Government is on the prevented the right outcome for the Australian people by relying on Barnaby Joyce’s vote. And if Barnaby Joyce wasn't there…

LANE: To my questions, are you talking to them now?

BURKE: We’re talking to them and they are the two issues that we've been focused on.

LANE:  All right, Tony Burke thank you very much for joining AM this morning. No doubt this will play out for the weeks and months ahead.

BURKE: Good to be back.

Tony Burke