SUBJECT/S: Port Botany Announcement; Comments by Peter Dutton; David Feeney; Negative Gearing; PEFO; Safe Schools.

TONY BURKE: Later today Bill Shorten will shortly be making an announcement about Port Botany. I know very well, as someone who's lived in Sydney all my life, the significance of Port Botany and the significance of heavy vehicles clogging up the M5, simply because we've had bottlenecks there, where we needed the rail line to be duplicated. Bill Shorten will be making the announcement later today. But be clear: investing in this sort of infrastructure creates jobs. It eases bottlenecks, and it puts Australia in a better position to be able to trade with the world.

This morning, as I've been watching the news. Over and over again I've been seeing the comments from Peter Dutton. I've got to say, every time I watch them, I learn nothing about refugees, but I learn a lot about the Turnbull Government.

There's been a conversation almost every day of this campaign about each leader being questioned about candidates they might have and about comments that might have been made. This bloke's just not some new candidate, he's a member of Malcolm Turnbull's Cabinet. He is the person who's meant to be responsible for this Government's attitude towards refugees.

Malcolm Turnbull can't get out of today without being very clear whether or not the Minister for Immigration speaks on behalf of the Turnbull Government on immigration policy. Whether or not the Minister for Immigration is the person who provides the views of the Government on immigrants. Malcolm Turnbull cannot dodge this.

What we saw last night, and what's been replaying this morning from Peter Dutton, is something which runs against the data, runs against the lived experience, plays into some sort of strange crazy political strategy the Liberal Party might think is clever. But ultimately on this, all roads lead back to Malcolm Turnbull.

Malcolm Turnbull decided Peter Dutton would be the person who would be in charge of enunciating to the Australian people and the world what the Turnbull Government thinks of refugees who make a home in Australia. Refugees who have a new life in Australia. Malcolm Turnbull needs to make clear today whether or not his own Immigration Minister speaks for him.

JOURNALIST: In regard to Peter Dutton's comment, he was talking and referring to cost of increasing Australia's humanitarian intake, saying it would put pressure on Medicare services and on Centrelink. Isn't that a fair comment to make, given the cost of increasing the intake to 12,000 Syrians – that would come with a cost figure wouldn’t it?

BURKE: Peter Dutton didn't only refer to the fact anybody who becomes an Australian citizen relies on Medicare. Of course anyone who becomes an Australian citizen relies on Medicare. I don't think the alarm that's been across the airwaves this morning has anything to do with a statement about Medicare. What it does have a lot to do with, is a statement about the education levels of refugees, statements that go completely against the grain of the data the Government would carry on its own figures.

An underlying attitude - If Malcolm Turnbull wants to back in Peter Dutton today, then let him do that. If this does reflect the attitude of the Turnbull Government, then Malcolm Turnbull should be upfront today and own last night's comments by Peter Dutton. Peter Dutton has made the comments, this isn't a time when he wasn't sure whether or not there was a boom mic overhead, this time he knew he was on air. He's made the comments in the full gaze of the national media. Malcolm Turnbull needs to answer the simple question: were those the views of the Turnbull Government?

JOURNALIST: Are you disappointed David Feeney couldn't remember the $2 million-odd house he bought?

BURKE: Everybody should declare anything that's meant to be put on the register within the timeframe, which is a month. That's what's meant to happen. That's what everybody should do. David Feeney didn't do that. It's been brought to his attention. He's acted immediately. David Feeney himself has said this is something that should've been put on the record immediately in terms of the Register of Members' Interests.

JOURNALIST: He also said he was negative gearing that $2.3 million property. That goes against what you guys have been talking about for a couple of months now about some of the excesses of negative gearing.

BURKE: The argument you put there is an argument put this morning by Mathias Cormann. I find Mathias Cormann putting that argument this morning extraordinary. Effectively, what he was arguing, was our negative gearing policy should be retrospective. Effectively this morning, Mathias Cormann was arguing, for Labor to be consistent, we should have a retrospective policy on negative gearing. We should do with negative gearing what they are doing with superannuation.

Note to Mathias Cormann, note to the Turnbull Government: we don't believe in retrospective taxes. We think when people set up their investments under the law of the day, then you don't change the rules from under them in that way. It's also the case people can negative gear into the future, but we want any of that in the future to be channelled towards the part of the housing industry that creates jobs. The part of the housing industry that delivers new supply. That is the part of the housing industry where negative gearing would still apply to, which is new build.

JOURNALIST: So why would David Feeney not declare this then? What would be not declare a $2.3 million house?

BURKE: It was an error, it was an omission.

JOURNALIST: I know it was an error, but why?

BURKE: David Feeney dealt with that this morning on the interview I heard, where he said he neglected to do it. It should've been done. The moment it's been brought to his attention, he's acted.

JOURNALIST: It’s a marginal seat as well. The Greens are snapping at his heels. This could play badly in that seat in Melbourne?

BURKE: He should've put it on the register. He says that, everybody says that. It should've happened. The moment it's been brought to his attention, he's acted.

JOURNALIST: Mathias Cormann conceded this morning no-one knows what the iron ore price will be in four years' time. Fair enough. But how can both sides of politics make promise expanding 10 years when you don't know what the Budget's going to be in four years?

BURKE: On the 10 year projections, the pre-election forecasts last [election], when they were released by Treasury and Finance, was the first time we'd started to have serious 10 year projections being included. You have to acknowledge, there is a limit to 10 year projections. Some of the fluctuations and some of the underlying assumptions of a Budget, like you have referred to in your question, go to that point. It's also the case if you don't do long-term planning, you would never deal with the structural deficit.

Negative gearing is a perfect example. If you do as Labor has done and you have a commitment, different to how the Liberals approach these issues, but you have a commitment we're not going to have retrospective taxation. That means, on the change, you don't make a whole lot of money for the Budget in the first four years. It's only as new properties come on-line you start to see the shift because you've grandfathered all existing properties. The change in Government revenue takes time to flow through. But over 10 years, you can see you've made a significant structural improvement to the Budget. Similarly, the superannuation changes Labor put forward, which have been out there for more than a year and which no one had laid a glove on. Over the first few years, not large amounts of revenue. But when you look at it over 10 years, you see you've made a structural improvement to the Budget.

So the significance of the 10 year forecasts always has to take into account and always has to be read with the knowledge underlying assumptions will change. But it's also the case, if you only ever take a short-term view, you won't have the courage to make the structural changes we need to have for the Budget.

Added to that, as a final part of that answer, if I may, it is also the case from the moment the Budget was brought down, Labor viewed a number of assumptions, including the iron ore assumption, as nothing short of heroic. Chris Bowen went into this in some detail at the National Press Club. The fact the Government is now dealing with this is only, and is having to come to terms with this, is only because of the Charter of Budget Honesty, not because they were being realistic in their assumptions in the Budget.

JOURNALIST: Just about that - you're saying Chris Bowen is taking that into account in terms of the promises the Federal Opposition is making? The iron ore price was projected to be around $40 it’s now around $30 a tonne. Has that been taken into account now in terms of the Federal Opposition's costings?

BURKE: We've said we would do two things: In the first instance, we will soon have, independent of Government, the assumptions brought down in the pre-election forecasts, where the Minister can't influence it. It comes down, brought down jointly by the secretaries of the departments of Treasury and Finance, that will come out on Friday we've been advised. So that will be when we see those numbers free from any interference of Government.

JOURNALIST: So that would mean you would be in a position to change some of those promises or change some of your own assumptions based on those figures?

BURKE: We’ve been very cautious in making sure we’ve done what no Opposition has done in living memory, that is we’ve been announcing the improvements to the Budget bottom line before we’ve been announcing the expenditure.

Normally, and you will remember previous elections where oppositions announce all their spending and then put their tax policy forward very late in the campaign. We’ve done the opposite. We started announcing our tax changes a full 12 months ago. We’ve been very responsible here in making sure we put in our improvements to the Budget bottom line well in advance of our expenditure. Anything, in terms of the assumptions on which to rely, will come down in the pre-election forecast

JOURNALIST: So you’ve got enough of a buffer? Just in case?

BURKE: I am very confident of the fiscal position we are in. Very confident. I’ve seen each day, Mathias Cormann, each day for about three years Mathias Cormann gives the same press conference where he says “jobs growth” “Labor bad” “black hole” “jobs growth” and he continues to give the media conference every day.

When he talks about the Budget “black hole”, he invents Labor promises. They’ve been making claims saying some measures have been blocked in the Senate, when some of those measures haven’t even been put before the Parliament. They’ve invented Labor policy, costed it and said “oh look at how expensive this is”. That’s been the approach of Mathias Cormann to this. In contrast, we’ve been very responsible as an Opposition, as an alternative Government, in making sure we announce our improvements to the Budget bottom line well in advance of announcing expenditure

JOURNALIST: On Safe Schools, will a future Labor Government reverse the changes we are seeing to that particular program by the Federal Government?

BURKE: This program started under Labor. Labor has always supported the program. We will be making our announcements on it later. But be in no doubt here, Labor has always supported this program.

JOURNALIST: So, you’re keeping it open to reverse some of those changes?

BURKE: I’m not going to make a policy announcement today because there’s a story in the paper. Labor’s record on this particular program is pretty clear.

Ok? Thanks very much.


Tony Burke