SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into the Financial Services Industry; Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal; Part-Time Prime Minister; Return of Parliament

LAURA JAYES: I spoke to the Shadow Finance Minister, Tony Burke, a little earlier today and began by asking him what he thinks a royal commission would achieve that the Murray Inquiry didn’t.

TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: My view is it’s absolutely right to be identifying some of the issues, as Chris Bowen and Bill Shorten have done, that would be covered, without putting out formal terms of reference and without the advantage of the formal advice you get from the public service when you’re in Government.

It’s not unknown for oppositions to flag, and quite common if an opposition is going to flag a royal commission, that they don’t go through the final process of terms of reference until they are in government. You’ve got the advantage of all the resources of the public service at that point and also, sometimes there have been occasions where the final terms have been something where the commissioner or commissioners themselves have had a view on how they should be varied in some way. You wouldn’t want a situation where an opposition or a government for that matter, without the benefit of all that additional advice, resolve something as final as terms of reference.

JAYES: I might say though, the timing is a little curious. We’re essentially in an election campaign now. I see you and your colleagues have been campaigning right around the country. Why was it not an imperative six months ago or even in 2010 when this very idea was rejected by Julia Gillard?

BURKE: It’s the issue of whether or not the threshold is reached. Things like parliamentary inquiries, it’s a much lower threshold -

JAYES: What’s the threshold though that you’re looking at?

BURKE: Well effectively, you need to get to the point where you believe the full scope of being able to look at an issue at the broadest possible level is what’s required, and the powers that go with a Royal Commission are what’s required there as well. Anything short of that, while it might have some value to public policy, isn’t going to provide the certainty and the confidence you want to be able to get out of it.

Where you’ve got an issue like this with the banking sector, at the end of it you don’t want people to be saying ‘oh no, we still haven’t looked at it properly.’ You don’t want people to be saying ‘oh no, we still don’t quite have the confidence we want to have.’ What you want out of a royal commission, is at the end of it to be able to say ‘here’s the structure, here’s the changes that we’ve taken at the most serious level of inquiry available in Australia.’ I think the confidence of our banking system deserves that we take the issue as seriously as that. But it’s not something you rush to.

You’ve reported here on Sky News scandal after scandal that has emerged from within this sector. It’s something where we want those stories to end because the system has been sorted out. That’s the outcome we want to be able to reach.

JAYES: Okay, let’s look at another issue now and perhaps this is one voters do want to be seen to be sorted out as soon as possible, and that is high speed rail. Proposed again, this time by Malcolm Turnbull. This is decades old, I can’t even remember which side of politics first proposed this. But I reckon it goes back more than 50 years. So for voters, frustrated voters, who keep on hearing about this time and time again from successive governments, isn’t it about time there be bipartisan support, a bipartisan plan to actually see this happen.

BURKE: Well, we thought we had exactly that. Don’t forget when we had the inquiry into the pathway for high-speech rail, we had Tim Fischer, former National Party Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, as one of the people who was formally part of the panel that did the work for us. We thought we had this to the point where it would be considered a bipartisan issue.

But the work that was meant to be done, the money that has been set aside for this term, was to identify the potential corridors that needed to be reserved. If you don’t reserve the corridors, ultimately it can never happen. There are particular corridors that need to be reserved and that was the work that was meant to happen this term. On the change of government that work stopped, it was all abandoned.

At the last minute now, in the lead up to the election, Malcolm Turnbull’s has said ‘oh, presto! Here we go, I’ve got an idea: How about we do something about a train.’ Now, if that work had been done for the last two and half years, we would be a good deal further along the path than we are now.

I am concerned as part of his idea he seems to think you can get this done for free, with respect to the Budget. I wait to see the modelling he’s got that justifies that decision.

This can only occur if we have the maturity of having a bipartisan approach to long-term infrastructure. What we saw last time at the change of government, is the work we had done on high-speech rail was abandoned the moment the change of government occurred. The other major infrastructure project being worked on, the National Broadband Network, Malcolm Turnbull himself as minister made the changes that mean now, for many Australians, you have a broadband system which is more expensive, slower and arriving later than it was meant to.

JAYES: Right, I don’t think our voters will be holding their breaths on high-speech rail anytime soon but we will continue to pursue the issue.

BURKE: I hope so.

JAYES: On another issue, Bill Shorten has indicated that Labor is willing to compromise on the new owner truck-driver rates. The Prime Minister wants to freeze it and eventually scrap the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. What will Labor give? And in that support, will you guarantee these drivers they won’t be ruined? That’s what they’re claiming at the moment.

BURKE: There’s a series of different views from owner drivers on this, but our starting and ending point is road safety. That’s why the tribunal was setup in the first place. That’s why we believe, and the evidence is pretty clear, if you allow a complete race to the bottom on the money paid to truck drivers, then you end up with a situation where safety on the roads is compromised.

I think any of us who have driven on major roads around Australia very late at night, when the number of cars to heavy vehicles is a much closer ratio, have seen occasions where you’ve been concerned about whether the driver of a heavy vehicle has had enough rest; whether they are in a position to be able to drive safely. It’s for their safety and the safety of everybody else on the road.

This concept you can just let the market run free is something we will have nothing to do with. But if there is a sensible approach that can be taken, that does not in any way compromise safety on the roads, then we’re there for that conversation. But the approach from the Prime Minister, I haven’t heard him talking about safety. I’ve only heard him bagging the TWU because the Transport Workers Union was on the side of road safety. That’s where he jumps to and that’s not a conversation that’s going to lead to a better outcome for anybody who uses our roads during the day or at night, in a small vehicle or a heavy one.

JAYES: One final question Tony Burke: you’ll only be sitting for two days next week when Parliament does resume. I see you’ve been very critical of the Government. But does the Government really need to be in Parliament? Do MPs really need to be in Parliament to be doing the Nation’s work?

BURKE: I’m gobsmacked by this one. The Government has decided we all need to fly to Canberra to participate in Malcolm Turnbull’s little stunt with the Governor General, but he doesn’t have to remain in Canberra for the week to answer questions.

They’ve got five unprecedented Parliamentary sitting days. Five days where you normally get more than 20 questions a day. That’s more than 100 questions Malcolm Turnbull has decided he is too privileged to have to turn up for, that he doesn’t have to lower himself to be there in the Parliament answering questions.

I say 100 questions because I include questions from his own side. There’s no shortage of issues on this one Laura, where he’s getting barbs thrown at him from his own side of politics, not just from us. I’m not surprised he wants to dodge Question Time, I just don’t think he should be allowed to get away with that short of arrogance. He might want to avoid having to answer questions about Liberal Party donations…

JAYES: Why is it arrogant Tony Burke? Aren’t you just playing the politics of envy here?

BURKE: It is completely arrogant to think everybody should come down to participate in your little stunt with the Governor General but you don’t turn up for the moment when you’re held accountable. Look, I don’t want to hold you up too long Laura, but in 2008, Malcolm Turnbull said: “The accountability of the executive at Question Time. It is fundamental. It is the most important part of Parliament.” That’s what he used to believe. What he does is the exact opposite.

What he’s doing now, is having everybody there, the moment his little media stunt’s over with the Governor General, he goes running so he doesn’t have to answer questions about Liberal Party donations, about only funding private schools, about his double taxation plans with the states. He runs a mile because he doesn’t want to have to answer questions about why we need a royal commission to deal with the banking sector.

He’s the one getting us all there and then saying ‘yep, now we’re all here, I’m off.’ That in itself is arrogant and those are the actions of someone who wants to act like being Prime Minister is a part-time job. He shouldn’t be a part-time Prime Minister. If we’re going to be in Canberra we should turn up for work the whole week.

JAYES: Alright Tony Burke, we’ll leave it there. We will see you next week. Thanks for that.

BURKE: See you next time.

Tony Burke