SUBJECT/S: Part-Time Prime Minister; Return of Parliament; Financial Services Industry Royal Commission; Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal; Government’s Attack on Household Budgets.

TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Can I first of all let you know, in the last hour or so, the Government has finally made a decision about when Parliament will meet. What they’ve decided, is they’ll settle on a Parliamentary program that means, most of the time, Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t have to turn up.

This decision today, you’ve got all the colours, it’s a fairly detailed program, but it actually says one thing: it says we’ve now got a Prime Minister who wants to work part-time. It’s not long ago the Prime Minister, in opposition, said this: “The feature that distinguishes the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy from so many others around the world is the accountability of the executive at Question Time. It is fundamental. It is the most important part of Parliament. For most members of the public it is when they see their government held to account.”

When we go back to Parliament, on the 18th, the House of Representatives will only sit for two days. Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, won’t turn up to Parliament for the rest of the week. The week after that, he won’t turn up for work at Parliament House at all. What the Government has effectively done, is cancel five sitting days in a row. When you get more than 20 questions each Question Time, that means as a result of today’s decision there will be 100 questions Malcolm Turnbull refuses to answer.

It’s no surprise the Prime Minister doesn’t want to turn up to Question Time. He doesn’t want to have to answer questions about his own members who have been caught up in the donation scandal. He doesn’t want to have to answer questions about what’s happened in the banking sector and the need for a Royal Commission. He doesn’t want to have to answer questions about his plan to only fund private schools and to have double taxation for the states. Malcolm Turnbull has decided to run a mile from all of these issues.

Only a few days ago, Christopher Pyne was saying they’re not afraid of having Question Time. Today they’ve run a million miles an hour away from turning up to Question Time. There will be seven Parliamentary days they’ve scheduled in additional weeks and they’re only turning up for two of them.

Labor’s position is clear: if the tax payers are going to fly us to Canberra, we should turn up for work for the entire week. There should be Question Time every day. Even though Malcolm Turnbull might feel he’s the smartest person in the room, and shouldn’t have to lower himself to indulgently answer questions from anybody else, this is Australia, he’s a Prime Minister not a king. He can turn up for work, he can turn up for Question Time.

What we have in the program they’ve announced today, is a Prime Minister wanting to work part-time and a Government that thinks it’s too good, too far above the rest of Australia, to be answerable to anybody.

REPORTER: What’s the point of keeping MPs in Canberra any longer than they need to be, when obviously the point of recalling Parliamentarians is to get this legislation passed by the Upper House?

BURKE: Let’s not forget the reference you made in that question. You referred to them as MPs, their prime job is to be Members of Parliament, that means you turn up to Parliament. If the taxpayers are going to fly us all the way there, we can do a week of work. We can turn up every day, we can have a Prime Minister that works full-time.

There’s been other occasions when there’s been talk of a Question Time not happening at a particular time, and governments have always backed down and said ‘no, if Parliament’s going to be on, Question Time will occur.’ That’s always been where these debates have ended up. What we have here is completely unprecedented, this has never happened before. This is a Government that decides mid-way through, not even three months into the Parliamentary year, to turn it all up on its end, claim there’s a great emergency, but only half of us need to turn up for work.

The Australian Parliament is not only there for the Government to perform political stunts, it’s also there for a Government to be held accountable. While Malcolm Turnbull might think the only reason we’re turning up is to perform tricks for him, because he’s got the Governor General to agree we perform a particular stunt, we’re actually meant to be accountable. That’s the whole purpose of Question Time. That’s something a few years ago Malcolm Turnbull himself used to believe. This is what he said. This is now what he does. It’s the exact opposite.

REPORTER: You’re not in Canberra today, no doubt you consider yourself being on the job. Isn’t it a bit rich to say he’s a part-time Prime Minister when he will no doubt be still working?

BURKE: I can tell you, the most intense part for any Prime Minister is when they are there, in the public gaze, answering questions on the floor of the Parliament. If you don’t believe that that’s the case, you wouldn’t have a Parliamentary democracy. For Malcolm Turnbull, he’s the one who set the standard by his own words. He runs a million miles from everything he used to believe in. The gap between what he says and what he does is on display for the Australian people every single day.

A few weeks ago, he was passionate about tax reform, that lasted three days. Every new idea he comes up with he’s passionate about it and then he dumps it; right through to the Republic. It’s an issue he used to want to champion and now he’ll run a mile away and actually get the representative of the Queen to organise the stunts for him. That’s where this man has come to.

He used to say the accountability of the Executive at Question Time was “fundamental”. That’s what he used to believe. We’re all being flown to Canberra, we will physically be there, and the moment he thinks we’ve performed the little trick he wanted, so he can have a fight over Tony Abbott’s legislation on industrial relations, he then wants to hop on a plane and get as far away from accountability as he can.

REPORTER: It will also cost money to keep people in Canberra though, to keep people beyond the initial cost of bringing them there. Doesn’t that need to be taken into consideration?

BURKE: If you didn’t believe we should stay in Canberra for work once we’re there, you would only ever have on day sittings. The expense of flying people there, of making sure people from all corners of Australia are in the one place, you may as well get some value out of us and have a full week of work, have a full week of accountability.

Make no mistake, the reason I refer to 100 questions Malcolm Turnbull won’t answer is because I’m including the questions from his own side. You don’t have to go far to find a member of Malcolm Turnbull’s so called ‘team’ who’s willing to challenge him on any of the issues he raises, from his tax ideas to him running away from a Royal Commission on the banks. I don’t know what questions his own side will ask, but I think no matter which side the questions come from Malcolm Turnbull should be turning up and answering them.

REPORTER: Any idea what the cost of bringing everyone to Canberra would be?

BURKE: I don’t know. I drive myself most times, but most people will fly. Depending on how far away you are from Canberra the cost is significantly more. It also depends on how many staff members people bring with them.

REPORTER: Just on another matter. The Government seems to be hinting there might be scope to increase funding to ASIC, both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister seem to be hinting at that. Would you welcome that?

BURKE: Well, let’s not forget the $120 million they’ve cut from these agencies. It’s a bit like the kid on the side of the road who pushes you forward, pulls you back and says ‘tell your mum I saved your life’. You cut from an agency and then you say ‘oh, now we care about it we’re going to add to it.’ These agencies, with the resources that have been cut, even if they were put back, could still not do the work of a Royal Commission.

A Royal Commission will also work out the extent to which the powers of the agencies are correct, and will also be able to have a look much more broadly than individual cases. They also have a series of powers not available to individual agencies. It’s simply not good enough to go around cutting organisations and then say ‘hey look, we’ll give some of the money back and that will fix the problem.’

Australians know we have a deep problem at the moment. It’s in the interests of the Australian people, and indeed I’d say of the banking sector itself, we get to the bottom of it, we clean it out and we get a situation where people can have the full level of confidence we want them to have in our entire system.

REPORTER: So, do you not think ASIC has enough power? Is that basically it? It’s hands are tied?

BURKE: I don’t believe it’s a Royal Commission. It’s as simple as that. The powers of a Royal Commission are what we need at this point in time.

REPORTER: The Government has floated the idea of a very fast train linking Brisbane and some of the other major capitals, do you think it will ever happen while you’re in Parliament?

BURKE: Well, can I say, I don’t accept the premise it’s the Government that’s floated it. Once again, this is something where money had been set aside for work to happen this term, and when they came to office they axed it. Now they’re saying ‘maybe we’ll do it anyway’ and we’re meant to be excited they’re looking again at something that would be much further down the track if they hadn’t made an active decision to do no more work after Anthony Albanese stopped being responsible for it. He was the one who really lead the charge on this in the previous Government.

This is a long term infrastructure project. Malcolm Turnbull floating today you can somehow do it for free, I think is highly ambitious and would end up coming unstuck. But there is significant work that needs to done right through to reserving the corridors. That’s work that should have been underway this term. But because we have a Government that’s been quite reckless in where they’ve decided to cut each time the Budget’s come around, we’ve ended up in a situation where two and a half years on, Malcolm Turnbull’s looked at it and said ‘oh, hang on.’ This is the price of having a Liberal government. There’s another way of fixing that.

REPORTER: You know how tight finances are though, do you think this idea of value capture or betterment taxes does have merit in the future when it comes to funding infrastructure?

BURKE: Well I do know how tight money is, I’ve got the finance portfolio and I look at these issues every day. The thing that astonishes me, is for this Government, money is tight, but not so tight it needs to close loopholes in high-end superannuation. Not so tight it needs to close loopholes in capital gains tax or a negative gearing system that in fact doesn’t help us with housing supply. Money’s not so tight they need to look at loopholes. Money’s not so tight they need to do anything serious on multinational tax avoidance. But money is so tight they need to constantly cut key services and not go ahead with key infrastructure projects.

What this government is doing, is not showing they can live within their means, they’ve doubled the deficit. That’s what they did between their first budget and their second. What this Government is doing, is showing their priorities and whenever there’s a loophole for the top-end of town, they’ll defend it to the hilt. Whenever it’s something that’s going to affect people in middle Australia, middle income and working families, they’ll go after them. That’s what they’ve done every time.

Ok? Thank for your time.

Tony Burke