Subjects: Pauline Hanson’s first speech; marriage equality plebiscite; standing order changes; superannuation

REPORTER: Do Australians have a right to be concerned about Pauline Hanson’s speech last night?

BURKE: Pauline Hanson’s speech was the 1996 speech with references to people from Asia deleted and references to people whose faith is Islam inserted instead. It was the speech everyone expected Pauline Hanson to deliver. No one should think Pauline Hanson is stupid. She’s not. This was an extremely calculated speech, designed to give a particular reaction. What we also need to remember though: 95% of Australians saw One Nation on the ballot paper, and voted for someone else. There is no rise in racism across Australia. What we have is somebody who, because of a very particular circumstance in the last election, has managed to get four senators over the line, even though their vote, compared to 2001, is lower.

REPORTER: Do you think her commentary could increase tensions within the Muslim community?

BURKE: I’m sure that’s what Pauline Hanson wants. I’m sure that this is a speech with eyes wide open trying to inflame tensions. The reality is, most Australians, the vast majority of Australians know diversity is our strength. Most Australians, the vast majority of Australians know that whenever we have a bit of a divisive debate around, most of us just want to get along with each other. And I think that will be the overwhelming outcome throughout Australia.

REPORTER: She has a right to say what she said though, does the parliament have a responsibility to listen? Was it inappropriate for the Greens to walk out?

BURKE:  Patrick Dodson I think is one of the most respected people in Parliament, and 20 years ago he was a target in terms of the references to Aboriginal Australians in Pauline Hanson’s first speech back then. Everyone will handle these speeches in their own way. I think Patrick Dodson’s way of handling it was pretty extraordinary.

REPORTER: Has Labor killed off any chance that gay marriage will be legalised within the next three years?

BURKE: I have never believed that Malcolm Turnbull is someone who keeps to his word. At the moment he’s saying that their won’t be any progress, but the only person standing in the way of that is Malcolm Turnbull. Members of Parliament are elected to do a job. And at a time when we’re hearing all these claims and there’s important work to be done and the Parliament did constructively yesterday in terms of dealing with the budget bottom line, to be throwing money away on this plebiscite that the parliament can then ignore, is an extraordinary waste of money.

REPORTER: George Christensen has tweeted praise for Pauline Hanson and her fellow Senators, saying that they speak the truth. Do you have concerns for some of the views on the Government’s front bench?

BURKE: That’s a matter for them. The most important thing from my perspective is that we don’t allow a speech like that to allow there to be a view that Australians are less than who we are. We are the most successful multicultural nation on earth. We are a nation that’s proud of its diversity. We are a nation that, other than people with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, the rest of us, part of our national story is a journey coming here from other places. That’s who Australians are, we are a good country, a good people, and I don’t want anyone to mistake a group that 95% of Australians voted against, as somehow representing a bigger part of society than they do.

REPORTER: But you’ve still got 5% of Australians who voted for her. Is she the symptom or is she the problem, that those five percent disagree with that particular sentiment?

BURKE: I suspect for those five percent there are a series of different policies, some of them relating to the issues that we’ve spoken about now, with respect to race or religion. But there would be a series of issues that have attracted people, that small group to that party, I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s only one of them.

REPORTER: How do you solve that disconnect though?  How do you make sure that those 5% of people don’t vote for Pauline Hanson in the future – isn’t it up to you and the Coalition to solve this?

BURKE: Make no mistake – in 2001, One Nation’s vote was higher than it was in the last election, and they had zero Senators returned. At the last election we had a double dissolution, and we had a new method of counting the Senate vote. It is a very unusual circumstance that has caused One Nation to end up with four Senators and it’s a result of a few decisions that Malcolm Turnbull made, that I suspect he won’t make them again.

REPORTER: Will you be keeping an eye on government benches this afternoon, hoping for another win in the lower house.

BURKE: Fascinatingly, the day before yesterday, on Tuesday, Christopher Pyne went into the Parliament and Malcolm Turnbull came into vote, and they changed the rules from requiring a majority at the end of the day on Thursday for the government. So rather than get their Members of Parliament from the Liberal and National parties have to stay at work, they’ve changed the rules to give them a guaranteed early mark. So Thursday afternoon, we won’t see the situation that happened a couple of weeks ago – not because there’s a new level of discipline from Liberal backbenchers, but because they’ve changed the rules, so that even if their members have gone home early, we’re not allowed to bring on a vote. It’s the most extraordinary example of a government managing to be arrogant, incompetent, and lazy all at once.

REPORTER: What’s your response to these reports that the Coalition is set to change its superannuation policy and lift that $500 000 cap on non-concessional contributions?

BURKE: This one’s just breathtaking. Let’s not forget, we were told during the election campaign that their commitment on each of these superannuation measures was iron-clad. Now we find out when Malcolm Turnbull says iron clad, he means being able to change at a minute’s notice. So we’ve been putting to the government for a long time that the retrospective nature of their superannuation policy needs to be changed. Bill Shorten’s even put forward a compromise way of handling it all that wasn’t our policy, wasn’t the government’s policy, but will return more money to the government’s bottom line and avoiding the problem of retrospectivity. What’s the government doing? Even the government doesn’t know where it stands on a policy that only a couple of months ago they claimed was iron-clad.


Tony Burke