SUBJECT/S: Polls; Election 2016; Budget Leak; Budget Advertising; Liberal Party Donation Scandals

FRAN KELLY: Tony Burke is the Shadow Finance Minister and Manager of Opposition Business in the House. He joins us in our Parliament House studios. Tony Burke, welcome back to RN Breakfast.

TONY  BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: Good morning Fran. I never expected intro music like that.

KELLY: Yes, well it’s not personal. But it is atmospheric and I think it says a lot. We’ll get to the Budget in a moment, but the opinion polls first. They may have tightened, but Labor still needs a swing of at least four per cent to win 19 seats you’d need to give you government. Can you do that?

BURKE: I don’t think anyone doubts we’re the underdogs in this, but what’s also the case, is people will have a very clear choice in this election. A very clear choice. For the policies that put people first, which is the choices we’re making, versus the policies defending the vested interests and leaving tax loopholes open and failing do anything about the situation with the banks at the moment. They’re the sorts of choices people will be facing at the election. 

KELLY: I’ll come back to the choices in a moment. But the memory of the Rudd-Gillard wars is still a very recent one, why should voters forgive Labor just three years on. Do you think you’ve convinced them that you’ve learnt a lesson?

BURKE: Not only have we learnt a lesson, the current Government has decided to replicate the instability that represented the problems that we had.

KELLY: Well I think it’s a pale imitation so far.

BURKE: I’ve got to say, I think Tony Abbott’s there in a pretty organised fashion. The Abbott forces out there have been full on. The main difference is, this time when there’s been a change of Prime Minister he felt no obligation at all to go back to the people and without being elected has been quite happy to sit in the chair, be Prime Minister of Australia, while not implementing an agenda at all.

KELLY: Hang on, ‘sitting in the chair’, he’s only been in the chair since September and there is a – voters don’t really love politicians rushing to the polls to early.

BURKE: Fran, today we’ve got the Parliament sitting and there is no legislation before the House of Representatives. It’s the first time I can remember ever having a situation where you come here and the Government of the day has not a single Bill for the Parliament to deal with. The program came out late last night and for the first time in living memory it is empty. It is bereft of ideas, bereft of policies and when you don’t change things, it means the policies Tony Abbott had in place remain in place.

KELLY: Let’s talk about the choices voters will face. Malcolm Turnbull out rates Bill Shorten 2:1 as preferred Prime Minister. He’s probably, almost certainly, the Government’s best asset at this stage. Certainly that’s what Barnaby Joyce was suggesting when he laid out the choices on AM earlier this morning.

BARNABY JOYCE: People are going to have a clear choice between someone who’s actually made a quid in their life, made a success in their life, which is Malcolm Turnbull, or the nation being run by Bill Shorten.

KELLY: Ok, so that’s the line from the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, on AM earlier. Elections are presidential in style these days. Does that mean trouble for Labor?

BURKE: What it means is: Malcolm Turnbull, when you hear what he says he sounds very impressive; when you see what he does, it’s a bitter disappointment. That has been the experience people have seen. You feel it in the community when you talk to people. The polls you refer to are replicating it. The more Malcolm Turnbull is seen by the Australian public, the more people realise the massive gap between what he says and what he does.

We’ve gone, in the lead-up to this Budget, through thought bubble after thought bubble on different policies where we find out what he believes: Increasing the GST; double taxation; only funding private schools not funding government schools in the future from the Commonwealth; the different policies he’s let us know he believes in and then stepped away from before the election. People are working out what this bloke’s about.

KELLY: If the Government goes hard and Malcolm Turnbull goes hard on Labor’s connections to the unions. I mean the trigger for this election is the defeat of the ABCC legislation, that’s the trigger. Is that going to be problematic for you when people start to really think about those though? Is it too late for Labor to put some distance between itself and the unions.

BURKE: What people will know in this election are how the different priorities will affect them. Even today, when they talk about these different tax policies they might adopt through that extraordinary leak that’s come out, what’s their reason for wanting to do something now, belatedly, about multinational tax? So they can deliver a company tax cut somewhere else. They’re not going back on the cuts to schools, they’re not going back on the slashing of Medicare. They’re not going back on the cuts to pensions and to family payments…

KELLY: But if this leak is right, if the Sky News leak is right and they have got hold of a script for post-Budget television ads, and the central message is: ‘changes to super and multinational tax changes in the Budget will save $16 billion over four years’, well that’s pretty close to what you’re saying. You’re talking about focusing on cuts to superannuation and multinational tax changes – it’s about fairness isn’t it? Have they just cut the rug out from under you?

BURKE: I think there’s some pretty extraordinary hypocrisy from the Government on this. Let’s not forget, we’ve been consistent on our policies on this. We’ve made clear about how the current laws weren’t making sure multinationals pay their fair share of tax. The response from the Government was saying our policies would be an attack on jobs. They were saying we would create uncertainty in the superannuation area. They went out and actively ridiculed policies that now, a few weeks before an election, they’re wanting to say they will support and then run an advertising campaign paid for by the taxpayer claiming they’ll support them. They know full well they’re going to stop the Parliament before the election, before any of these measures actually get implemented.

KELLY: What’s Labor’s position on this? We are not in caretaker mode, the election hasn’t been called yet. Promises that are made, ads that are run, is that a fair cop?

BURKE: Well, there’s a series of different areas of Government advertising that governments undertake. The one leaked last night, is purely an election strategy. The one leaked last night was about measures that will not have been implemented. We will have had an announcement of Government policy in the Budget, a response from the Opposition and then we go to an election. So none of what they’re talking about, in those ads, is information for the public about what’s going to happen. It’s simply what one side of politics is advocating for in an election campaign. If that’s all it is, it should be paid for by the Liberal Party not by the taxpayer.

KELLY: It’s 7:44 our guest is Tony Burke. He’s the Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives. Tony Burke, yesterday the Opposition went after Senator Arthur Sinodinos, effectively, in the House of Reps. It’s said you’re trying to setup a Parliamentary inquiry today into the Liberal fundraising foundations the Millennium Forum and the Free Enterprise Foundation. Scott Morrison and Arthur Sinodinos have some connection to both entities in their previous non-Parliamentary roles with the Liberal Party. Does this suggest this campaign, when we do get into the proper election campaign, is going to be quite a spiteful one?

BURKE: Well, this issue has arisen because of findings and investigations from the New South Wales Electoral Commission, they’ve been extraordinary, about these various organisations and various front organisations being used to funnel money, in some cases from prohibited donors but in each case to avoid money being disclosed. To avoid donations coming in under the disclosure laws.

Now, there’s different levels of involvement from different people in the Liberal Party in New South Wales over the years. Both Scott Morrison and Arthur Sinodinos have held positions of some seniority in that branch of the Party during that period and we’ve been pursuing it to ask the questions. It’s a legitimate line of enquiry. If there was going to be any indication there are questions to answer, it was Scott Morrison’s response yesterday when we asked for the first time. He didn’t answer at all, but exploded in the Parliament and threw mud in every direction he could see. I’ve got to say, if anyone thought ‘oh no, there’s probably nothing in this’ before the answer, you had a very different impression after.

KELLY: Tony Burke, thank you very much for joining us on breakfast,

BURKE: Good to be back.

Tony Burke