TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop interview Canberra



TONY BURKE: Well it would have been reasonable to presume that over the two-week break the Government would have taken the opportunity to have Barnaby Joyce quietly stand aside so that when Parliament came back the only business that Parliament had to deal with was the policy of the day. The Government, for reasons that are beyond me, has decided to continue with the situation that they don't know whether or not it’s constitutional. We are in a situation as a nation right now where when the bells ring and the Parliament starts today the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia may or may not be constitutionally allowed to be there. Now Malcolm Turnbull this morning in an extraordinarily bizarre interview has decided to go one step further in his defence as to why Labor shouldn't be even raising or objecting to Barnaby Joyce still being there. His new argument is North Korea. Now North Korea is a sufficiently significant and grave international concern that it should be treated on its merits and should be treated specifically for the grave international concern that it is, for the challenge for the region that it is. But to have a Prime Minister wants to use that as a veil to say ‘please go easy on Barnaby Joyce’ is pathetic. Simply pathetic from this Prime Minister. In terms of melodrama, if there’s going to be a melodrama award for the week, Monday has only just started but Turnbull has already won it. That was an absurd claim. But Labor, of course, will not stop arguing that we should have a Government of Australia that acts constitutionally. It’s not a big ask, it’s not an unreasonable ask. It's extraordinary that it’s even a contested issue here in Australia at the moment. but when Parliament last sat we had a situation on the Monday morning where we discovered for the first time that the Deputy Prime Minister might not be eligible, the parliament unanimously voted to refer it to the High Court and the Government set the standard with Matt Canavan. When someone is in that circumstance they should stand aside and they should not vote until the issue has been resolved. 

JOURNALIST: What kind of tactics can we expect from Labor this week? Will they delay votes? Will there be a walk out?

BURKE: Well certainly we don’t stop fighting. We don't take backward steps and that means we don’t walk out. We don't stop fighting. We’re not going to let this Government have an empty parliament that they can do whatever they want with. We will continue to fight for the fact that the Constitution of Australia ought to be sufficiently respected that if we don’t know whether or not someone is legally allowed to be there, we don’t make them Deputy Prime Minister. And we don't at the end of this week do what Malcolm Turnbull is doing which is planning to make him acting Prime Minister. While constitutionally we’re not sure if legally he is even allowed to be a member of Parliament. That’s the situation we’re in. And what will flow from this will be litigation based on a series of decisions that Barnaby Joyce would have made as deputy Prime Minister as minister for AG, as minister for water, he’s got all of Matt Canavan’s portfolios as well. And at the end of the week, he’s going to have the entirety of the Prime Minister responsibility. Now that means either important decisions get delayed or it means important decisions get taken under Barnaby Joyce and we risk one decision after another being hauled through the courts if it turns out that Barnaby Joyce was in fact not eligible to be here. That is a ridiculous risk to take with the Government of Australia but Malcolm Turnbull is sufficiently oblivious to anything other than his own career that he seems to think it’s all okay. 

JOURNALIST: Barnaby Joyce says that he received strong advice from the Solicitor General and that’s why he is remaining in Parliament and he says that if he didn't receive this sort of advice he would have called a by-election in his seat. Isn’t that a fair point?

BURKE: Well here is the real question. If the advice was that there is no problem at all then why has it been referred to the high court? We can only have referred it to the High Court based on the fact that there is doubt. And if there is doubt, why subject every executive decision of this Government to that doubt? Why subject this parliament to decisions that have a real life impact on people in the rest of the country when a royal commission into the banks was stopped by one vote. When protecting people’s penalty rates was prevented by one vote. And then to say ‘oh but they’re going to keep taking that one vote anyway’. This is having a real impact on executive decisions from the Government this is having a real impact on decisions in the Parliament. If they were that confident of their legal advice, why on earth have they referred it to the High Court? It’s gone to the High Court because there is doubt and while there is doubt he should stand aside and he should not vote. If he ends up with a clean bill of health from the High Court then he is back. No argument and no arguments from Labor with that. but until we know, it’s simply reckless for the Prime Minister to be taking this sort of risk with the Government of Australia. 

JOURNALIST: The reason Adam Bandt was out here for so long before was that he had concerns that Labor would reach an agreement with the Government over the CET. Do you have concerns about ramping up the conditions of the CET, an agreed upon CET, once Labor comes into Government?

BURKE: We’ve been determined to make sure that we get serious action that deals with Climate Change and deals with energy security. We’ve been determined to do that. The Finkel Review came down with a recommendation that was not our preferred recommendation but we have said that we want to be able to work through to get a serious outcome here. Now the Government still doesn't have a proposal to put back to us and we’re not going to be prejudging a proposal that we haven't seen. Needless to say whenever the Government talks about new coal fired power stations industry will tell you the only way you get new coal fired power stations are by direct Government funding, by direct Government subsidy and we’ve made clear that something of that nature would be completely unacceptable. On the design of the CET we are waiting for the Government to have a proposal that they will bring forward. At the moment every time they start with any sort of position, the hard right of their party seems to get hold of it and we end up with something quite different so I'm not going to second guess where this will land. 

JOURNALIST: Just quickly regarding statues of Captain Cook the news poll this morning found that 58% of Australians don’t want any changes made to plaques or the statues, is that the end of the debate do you think? Or should there be some changes?

BURKE: Can I say on this one, it says everything about Malcolm Turnbull, really says everything about Malcolm Turnbull that even though this morning he said ‘oh we should be talking about North Korea and not about the constitutionality of the Deputy Prime Minister’, what has he spent his last few weeks talking about? In Question time they spend all their time talking about Bill Shorten, he interrupted Question time last time to talk about the Yarra Council and in the intervening two weeks, the big passionate issue that Malcolm Turnbull has wanted to talk about is statues.  A Prime Minister who is focussed on throwing mud at his political opponents, talking about statues and talking about a council in Melbourne I think says it all about this Prime Minister. 

JOURNALIST: Just on another point on the newspoll. You’ve been quite critical of Malcolm Turnbull but he has got a strong lead over Bill Shorten as preferred Prime Minister, is Bill Shorten the right person to lead your party?

BURKE: Yes Bill is. But I’ll also add to that. This early in a term, and we’re only just into the beginning of the second year of the term, there’s a reason why people are so focused on that particular poll. The Prime Minister himself has made clear that there is a yard stick in his view on when a Prime Minister continues to be viable, and it’s 30 news polls in a row. The only thing that really matters this early in a term about those numbers that have come out today, is that today its 19. Malcolm Turnbull is now on the home straight of the rules that he set for Tony Abbott and we’re down to 11 to go and if they stay on the same pathway by Malcolm Turnbull’s own measure he can no longer be Prime Minister of Australia. 

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on the North Korea, are sanctions alone enough? And is China doing enough here?

BURKE: China has the closest relationship with North Korea in both in trading and in terms of a direct relationship with North Korea. We welcome different actions that China is taking to assist. We want the situation to de-escalate. The recent actions by North Korea are a clear escalation from North Korea and Labor condemns them in the strongest terms. For more detail than that, you will have to go to the relevant shadows. 

JOURNALIST: Do you reckon the sanctions are working?

BURKE: For more detail than I have just given you, you’d have to go to the relevant shadows. Thank you. 


Tony Burke