TRANSCRIPT: Interview - Doorstop - Parliament House Canberra





SUBJECTS: Stuart Robert conflict of interest, Barnaby Joyce as acting Prime Minister

JOURNALIST: Stuart Robert, what is Labor planning to do on that scale?

BURKE: The issue for us is Barnaby Joyce standing aside. There are significant questions that have been raised with respect to Stuart Robert but that doesn't change our focus that the deputy Prime Minister of Australia is somebody who might not lawfully be even allowed to be a member of Parliament. Now what the Stuart Robert issue does show that was something similar to what we're looking at with Bruce Billson. Where this constant pattern with Members of the Coalition where there's not a clear line between private interest and private profit and their public duties as Members of Parliament.

JOURNALIST: But does it matter that this happened before the last election?

BURKE: It doesn't matter in terms of his eligibility to sit in the Parliament right now. It does matter in terms of the attitude that the Liberal Party seems to have to where you're allowed to make additional money while you're serving in a prime job as a Member of Parliament. 

JOURNALIST: Yesterday Bill Shorten decided to put out his statement saying that he has renounced his British citizenship before he entered Parliament in 2007 should other Labor Members that do have question marks over their eligibility also do the same?

BURKE: Well I think the question has to be a rule for all Members of Parliament, not a different rule for Labor Members of Parliament to everybody else. With respect to all Members of Parliament, our principle has been really clear. We think people should get legal advice and if the legal advice says they have a problem then they self-report to the Parliament. We have a system in place where you get the legal advice before you even nominate and if the legal advice says you've got a problem we don't let people nominate as Labor candidates. Not every party has a system so some people haven't sought legal advice until they are already here and that's why people like the deputy Prime Minister have run into trouble on this. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think you've got problems with Katy Gallagher over her British citizenship, potentially that wasn't renounce probably?

BURKE: Absolutely not. There are no problems for any of our Members of Parliament serving in the Parliament. 

JOURNALIST: Labor can set its own standards and surely Bill Shorten did do that yesterday?

BURKE: Bill made absolutely clear and I think just go back to the speech that Bill Shorten delivered yesterday where Bill made clear that there had been a crazy conspiracy theory, not run by internet trolls but run by the Prime Minister of Australia. Malcolm Turnbull decided to be the conspiracy theorist about Bill Shorten being some secret British agent and Bill said enough is enough he's the one who's putting himself forward to be Prime Minister of Australia, here’s his document, but let's not move to reverse onus of proof for every member of Parliament. Don’t forget how we handled Michael Keenan. Michael Keenan simply announced that he had in fact renounced his citizenship and at that point we just accepted it and moved on. The crazy conspiracy theories have been there from the Prime Minister but the issue is whether or not we have a deputy Prime Minister who might not even be allowed to be a member of Parliament and whether or not at the end of this week Malcolm Turnbull is planning to put him in charge of Australian. That Australia will be run by someone as of this Friday who might not even be lawfully allowed to be a member of Parliament.


JOURNALIST: But on that issue Barnaby Joyce and the Government is saying that until the High Court delivers its verdict on this issue of citizenship that Barnaby Joyce and the others can continue to be in Parliament, continue to vote and to carry out their executive duties.  


BURKE: Why on earth would you take that risk with the Government of Australia? They are rolling the dice, taking the risk that they might okay and the High Court might give them a tick. Now if that happens then it's all done and that's fine. But what if that's not the outcome. What if Malcolm Turnbull doesn't actually get to announce what the High Court will so hold? And we've all got to think through what that means. Because that then creates a legal doubt over every decision Barnaby Joyce has made in particular during the period where the Parliament had resolved I didn't know whether or not he was eligible. If the Government was so confident in the advice it received from the Solicitor General and don't forget Governments get advice from the Solicitor General all the time. It's very rare they get advice from the Solicitor General and then they feel obliged to refer it to the High Court anyway to check. It wouldn't have gone to the High Court if this was beyond doubt. I don't want us to be a nation where we are in a situation where either for the portfolios that Barnaby Joyce holds or heading into this weekend where he's in fact charge of the entire nation, that every decision has a risk and a question mark placed over it.

JOURNALIST: Now Labor says, you've said yesterday that you won't be walking out of Parliament if Barnaby Joyce still does remain the acting Prime Minister, so what will you be doing? How do you want this issue to be dealt with? It's unlikely that Barnaby Joyce won't be made the acting Prime Minister. 

BURKE: The presumption here is it's unlikely that the Government will act responsibly and we're going to put pressure on them to act responsibly. We should not have a situation where the Government of Australia is willing to be reckless with the Constitution and I loved hearing Malcolm Turnbull with his melodrama yesterday, saying ‘oh Labor is not talking about the big issues’. Abiding by the Australian Constitution, I reckon rates as a big issue. Abiding by the Australian Constitution and being careful to make sure that the person in charge of the nation doesn't have a constitutional question mark over their head I reckon that rights as a significant concern for the Government of Australia. Thanks for your time. 


Tony Burke