SUBJECT/S: Code of conduct, Murray-Darling Basin disallowance
PATRICIA KARVELAS: My first political guest tonight is the Manager of Opposition Business. Tony Burke welcome to National Wrap.


KARVELAS: Given that you’ve seen this all before, we all remember that vision of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd looking over maps very awkwardly. Is there really any way back form here for Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce?
BURKE: I don’t see how they ever, to use their own phrase, can get the band back together now. You’ve had the Government being described as inept, you’ve had the Government being described as having no judgement and thats all come from the two most senior members of the Government. They may well have a go at pretending everything is all roses again. I don’t know what they will do, I don’t think they know what they will do. Im pretty confident the Australian people won’t view it as credible that they have a working relationship.
KARVELAS: Do you support the ban on sexual relationships between ministers and staff?
BURKE: Before I answer this, and I know you hate someone dodging the question. I will answer the question quite directly. Before I do if i can just flag because there has been some misinformation about myself on this exact issue which I would just like to clarify first. I am very, very happily married to Skye, Skye and I did work together when I was a minister.

KARVELAS: She was your chief of staff?

BURKE: That’s right. Theres a two year gap between when Skye stopped working for me and when our relationship kicked off, two and a half years between. So the particular issues that are in the code there wouldn’t have affected us in any way. But given some of the misinformation that has been about I would rather just say that upfront at the start before twitter takes off in a different direction.
In terms of the ban itself, as a matter of principle I think most people presumed the ban was always in place. It was only when on Monday and Tuesday you had Government ministers trying to distinguish who someones partner was at a certain point in time that people started to think that a ban of that nature hasn’t been in place. What we need to have is a best practice workplace. Thats really important. It’s important for public confidence but its also important for the people who work there. Now we haven’t seen the wording of what the Prime Minister has put forward. We certainly haven’t rejected it out of hand. The only rejection out of hand I heard was about a week ago and it was from Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop. They are now saying they will do it. We want to see the words, we’ll get advice as to what makes a best practice workplace.

KARVELAS: Okay but given you did and you did talk about that two year break, but you did fall in love with someone who was once your Chief of Staff, do you have a personal view about whether this is perhaps too extreme, such a ban? I’ve read a few opinion pieces saying that many office romances start. Is it really a bad culture in Canberra? Do you think it needs to be dealt with in the way that the Prime Minister describes.

BURKE: A series of businesses at the moment have been going down a path fo working out how do we make sure that we have a best practice workplace. The Parliament of Australia needs to be in that conversation and we need to make sure that we get the best advice and we make the best decisions on how to do that. In terms of the Canberra culture because I've heard different comments on what the Canberra culture is. I think its probably fair to say there are many, many vastly different canberra cultures for different people who work there.
KARVELAS: So its not a boys club as the Prime Minister says?
BURKE: Well I think describing it in those terms is a symptom of having a front bench with so few women, consistently preselecting so few women. Arguing that quotas would be a disaster and then discovering a few years on that the representation of women in their party has gone backwards. There are other ways of dealing with the boys club issue but that doesn’t discount that we need to make sure we have a best practice workplace. We’ll have a look at what they are putting forward. But when Scott Morrison said this morning was saying that if Labor doesn’t agree to this immediately then we have the exact opposite view. Well, no. The only person who has argued the exact opposite of this was Malcolm Turnbull about a week ago.

KARVELAS: I understand news poll has just been published of course in the Australian newspaper, they’ve polled on whether Barnaby Joyce should resign and 65% polls say that he should. Are you surprised by that figure?

BURKE: Well not really. The last couple of days of Question Time the questions of Barnaby Joyce had nothing to do with the relationship. The principle issue for the second half of the week was very much the free rent he was getting from Mr McGuire and then whether or not  Mr Mcguire has been receiving payments at different points in time from Departments that Barnaby Joyce has been in charge of. You know, Barnaby Joyce made a big point in telling people that if you can’t afford a home you’re being a snob and you should move to Armidale where it’s so much cheaper, and to say that at the exact same time that he is receiving free rent?  I think whats in that poll goes much deeper than the issues that started this. I think it also goes to the sense that of all the members of the Government, Barnaby Joyce was probably the one that people said who didn’t have a born to rule attitude and I'm not sure that too many people have that view anymore.
KARVELAS: Let’s go to some portfolio issues. Has your support for the disallowance motion now put the entire Murray Darling Basin Plan in jeopardy?
BURKE: The Plan has been in jeopardy for a while. There were two major - 
KARVELAS: Your vote led to certainly it being in a much worse state though, you’ve got to conceded that. People want to pull out of it now.
BURKE: No. And the reason we had to vote that way is because there is a couple of issues that need to be resolved otherwise the plan itself has effectively collapsed. The first of those is the issues that have been first aired through the ABC with respect to water theft. The whole idea of the Murray Darling Basin Plan in terms to restoring the system to health, one of the principle parts of that is the Commonwealth tax payer pays for environmental water and that water gets used for environmental purposes. The whole thing falls apart if the environmental water is flowing down the river and it’s being pumped straight back up into irrigation channels. So the probity of compliance needs to be fixed. The other issue which without which I would never have been able to secure a deal in 2012 I would never have been able to get the agreement for the Murray Darling Basin Plan was the additional 450 gigalitres which just over a year ago the Minister who put all that in jeopardy was Barnaby Joyce.

KARVELAS: Ok. But by doing a deal you would have forced NSW and Victoria to stay. Haven’t you given them cover to leave?
BURKE: No. I don’t believe so. I believe we will get an agreement but what we must not do is pretend we have got an agreement when the compliance of the plan has fallen apart and pretend we have gotten an agreement where half the plan, in terms of the up water the extra 450 gigalitres is allowed to never take place. So what we need is for all these parts to move together. And I’ve got to say we came very close during the week to getting there.
KARVELAS: Of course there were reports that you were rolled actually. That you had done a deal with the Minister, that you were close to announcing it and then at the last moment Labor reneged. 
BURKE: That is not true and you won’t find the minister saying that.
KARVELAS: So could this issue of a reduced water recovery target in the Northern Basin be revisited as part of discussions on a second lot of changes for the Southern Basin plan? Is that your intention?

BURKE: The next lot of changes that are before the parliament, the Northern Basin can come back a second time. The second lot of changes we only get one go at. So once again if you don’t have the 450 gig, you don’t have compliance, you don’t have a plan, the plan would already be dead. I don’t want us to be in a situation where we are going down the disallowance path. What we did this week shows we are serious in this negotiation and we do intend to make sure the entire plan is delivered. But we nearly got there in negotiations last week, I’m pretty confident, very confident, that we will get there in the coming weeks — 
KARVELAS: But you know better than anyone, as the architect of this, that you need to give and take, that it does take compromise.

BURKE: Which is why I stood up within minutes of the disallowance in the House of Representatives making clear that this will only be possible if there is give and take. I’ve communicated directly with the Water Ministers as well, which ordinarily an Opposition Shadow Minister wouldn’t do but I’ve done that. I’ve had good faith conversations with the Minister. Everyone just has to know that you can’t deliver only half the plan. That effectively blows it all up. We’ve shown with the disallowance that if we get the full agreement we are willing, and said on the night, we are willing to step away from those sorts of actions but we need water theft addressed, the 450 gigalitres guaranteed. We want to make sure that the consultation with indigenous communities up and down the basin, that even the Authority acknowledges wasn’t as good as it needs to be is dealt with. We want to preserve the independence of the Authority but make sure that the genuine scientific questions that have been made over their work get answered. There’s a pathway there. I’m very confident we will get there but during the week we weren’t there yet so the disallowance happened.
KARVELAS: Tony Burke thank you so much for your time tonight.

BURKE: Great to be on the program.


Tony Burke