SUBJECT/S: Michaelia Cash’s disrespectful comments,  Adani
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Tony Burke is the Manager of Opposition Business in the House. Labor has been highly critical today of Michaelia Cash. Welcome to the program. 


KARVELAS: Is it true that Liberal MPs and staffers have been in touch with Bill Shorten's office disgusted with Senator Cash’s comments?

BURKE: Yes it is true. It would be unfair to brand the whole Liberal Party as mimicking the views that we just heard from Michael Sukkar. There are a very large number of people who were horrified by what was said by Michaelia Cash today.

KARVELAS: You heard what Michael Sukkar did say? That she was being provoked. That Senator Cameron was actually sexist towards her and it obviously fired her up.

BURKE: It's no surprise that we were asking questions about her staff. There is a very serious allegation about her staff having tipped off the media about an Australian Federal Police raid so that the media ended up arriving before the police did on the raid. Now given that that allegedly came directly from her office it means there will be a line of inquiry into her office that ordinarily wouldn't be there. But the line of inquiry goes does not go to the sort of matters that Michaelia Cash then jumped to and Doug Cameron's questions went nowhere near the sorts of issues that that Michaelia Cash just jumped to. A lot gets said about the Canberra culture here and there's one thing that everyone has a different work experience in the place than there can be one aspect of this place that is too common and that is that there can be gossip. 

Now I've got to say I've never heard the gossip or rumours that Michaelia Cash referred to I don't believe they even exist. But what I will say is this I've never before heard anyone take gossip and innuendo like that and decide to use Parliamentary privilege as a place to voice it. 

But the second thing I'll say, for all the gossip and rumours I've heard about staffers I've never heard anything ever levelled at a male member of staff. Never.

And I think that speaks volumes about the problem we need to fix. If this is going to be a decent workplace for people we have to accept that people working for the Liberal Party, for the National Party, for the Labor Party, for crossbenchers are good people working their heart out for things they passionately believe in and at the end of the day after a hard days work they go home and all they want is to be respected for the fact that they are coming to work. That today was jeopardised in a way that deserves an apology. A real apology.

KARVELAS: I want to move to another issue. Businessman and environmentalist Geoff Cousins was on 7:30 last night. He said that Bill Shorten has told him this about the Adani mine “when we are in Government if the evidence is as compelling as it appears now we will revoke their licence in accordance with the law…. he agreed to say that yes.” Will Labor revoke the license of the Adani mine if elected.

BURKE: Well in the first instance you'll know that if we if we form Government, I become the environment Minister and there's a couple of rules for an environment Minister. 

One is you have to make sure you take everything into account that legally the Act requires you to. And the second thing is you must never prejudge a decision. So if Geoff Cousins had presumed and I don't know if he had. But if he had presumed that we were going to make an election commitment that a Labor environment Minister would definitely revoke a particular approval. If that were to happen the end point would simply be that Adani would take the decision to court for it having been prejudged and they would win with massive compensation or the approval would still stand. 

KARVELAS: But he provided that it provided Bill Shorten with the legal advice and said he got an assurance from Bill Shorten that he would go and convince his colleagues that this is what he would announce. 

BURKE: And this is where at one point he says this was definitely going to happen at the other it was Bill had to speak to his colleagues. What I'm explaining is in the first instance what legally you can do under the EPBC and in the counterpoint even Josh Frydenberg today when he was asked about the capacity to review the decision he wouldn’t even say that he'd never review it. All he'd say was he doesn’t have information in front of him now that would justify that because he can't prejudge anything in the opposite direction. 

What I can say is this; the more we've looked at the project the more questions we've had and the more sceptical we've been about it. Our principle hasn't shifted. It would have to stack up economically and it would have to stack up environmentally. Economically it clearly hasn't yet stacked up. That's why the Government kept trying to throw a billion dollars at it because it wasn't stacking up economically on its own. 

KARVELAS: So then the question is environmentally do you think it stacks up?

BURKE: Well, they still haven't even been able to stack it up in terms of the demands that the Government have put on them. There is still outstanding a major piece of work on the impact on groundwater and the Great Artesian Basin. A development of the size that we are talking has an extraordinary impact on underground water and because of changes that were put into that Act when I was environment Minister there is now a direct water trigger where you have to take these issues into account. 

Now that work from Adani even on the Government's own modelling still hasn't been done. And then there's additional concerns that I've raised I think previously on your program about a spill of coal laden water where it went into the Caley Valley Wetlands which do have concerns under federal environmental law. There’s species that we've got to protect that that wetland is important for. Where not only did the spill occur but in a subsequent investigation there is an allegation that Adani have provided false samples and that goes to the whole integrity of the process. 

Now on that part of it we haven't even been able to get the Government to investigate what's happened. They've said ‘oh no nothing to do with us’. Well under their own approvals they're meant to be looking after this wetland and if they're dealing with a company that does provide false information to an arm of Government that has to be of concern.

KARVELAS: If the Adani mine has begun expansion of the Carmichael mine by the time that you're in Government. If it's fully funded with environmental checks in place, what will you do? 

BURKE: Well in the first instance the concept under environmental law of new information always applies. Even Josh Frydenberg acknowledged that this morning. But that has a very strict legal framework around it. 

Labor has said the whole way through we don't rip up contracts. We have said the whole way through in terms of our concern about sovereign risk as well. We don't know what stage this will be up to by the time of the next election. At the moment the Government can get them off the hook by it not stacking up economically by trying to give them a whole heap of cash and the Government wanted to do that and the Queensland Labor Government has effectively stopped them from doing that. In terms of environmental approvals we don't know what the Government will do when the work on groundwater is brought back to them….

KARVELAS: Do you think there's a basis for changing the environmental Act given this has passed a few hurdles now? Is it worth going back and revisiting the Act itself?

BURKE: It would be unusual to legislate in a way that changed approvals that had already gone down the pathway.

KARVELAS: Well for future cases as well given…

BURKE: In terms of future cases there are issues about environmental law reform that I do have an interest in that we're still working our way through that I expect we'll get more to say well before the election 

KARVELAS: But you are looking at making changes that would in future cases have an impact on mines like this? 

BURKE: The two changes we made when we were last in Government were to introduce water trigger and to change the law so that the Government had power to prevent super trawlers from operating. Both of those changes were clearly required at the time we put them in place. 

KARVELAS: But you think it needs further reform? 

BURKE: It's hard to find a piece of legislation that you ever view as settled forever and certainly you wouldn't apply that to environmental law. 

KARVELAS: And do you think it would be worth toughening it up to look at cases like this? Where it's passed in some environmental hurdles already? 

BURKE: I don't think it's in anyone's interests have a situation where environmental approvals are going back and forth and you never have certainty. That's a bad outcome for business and a bad outcome for the environment.

KARVELAS: Just finally, just a report that's just broken Julie Bishop says she is not obliged to disclose the financial interests of her long-time boyfriend because he is not her spouse or de facto. Yet she's claimed $32,000 in taxpayer funded family travel for him. Is that fair? Is that an inconsistency of the rules?

BURKE: I don't know how the rules interact between the spouse definition that you make to the Parliament and what the rules are for the Ministerial travel. The article that I've seen just before I came to this interview deals with the two different concepts as though it's the same. It might be I'm just not sure.

KARVELAS: Is it worth looking at? Because we've now this is the second case of it. I'm sure there's more where this issue around the definition of partner has been an issue. It was a huge issue in the Barnaby Joyce saga over whether Vicky Campion was considered his partner or not him. Him arguing she wasn't his official partner. Now Julie Bishop says he is not an official partner but yet that's only for the declarations. She's clearly still been able to claim travel allowance for him.

BURKE: I think there's no doubt that definitions of that type get updated over time. Certainly there would have been a very different 1950’s definition of spouse to how people view it now and these sorts of definitions get updated over time. But there's some specific pieces of information on this case that I just don't know the answer to. 

KARVELAS: But do you think it's worth looking at the definitions again? I mean more broadly than just the Julie Bishop story?

BURKE: More broadly I remember when I first arrived thinking what mattered was whether or not you were within the rules and it became very clear to me that the public expectation often has nothing to do with what the letter of the rules are. And so I have no doubt over time that those sorts of principles are going to be updated. I think the public will demand it.

KARVELAS: Tony Burke, thank you so much for your time.

BURKE: Great to be back on the program.

Tony Burke