SUBJECT/S: Parliamentary pairing arrangements; Banking Royal Commission.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: I’m joined by Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business, live from the Nation’s Parliament. Thanks very much for your company.


VAN ONSELEN: Now, our own Tom Connell is saying your office told him even when it came to family arrangements or health arrangements, only if publically the Prime Minister’s side of Parliament, the Government, were prepared to admit they don’t have a stable working majority would pairs be granted. Is that your positon or was that a miscommunication?

BURKE: I’ll rephrase the way you’ve got that briefing if I can. In the first instance, if the Government came to us in those circumstances, it’s pretty clear they don’t have a working majority. The realty of the election we have, is the Government doesn’t have a working majority in the Parliament and the Prime Minister is continuing to maintain a lie to the Australian people they can deliver stability with 76 in the Parliament.

The circumstances you’ve described there, were somebody has some family problem or reason, clearly, in those situations, the Government, if they’re coming in and saying they’ve only got 74 members able to vote in a Parliament with 150 seats, they don’t have a working majority. What we’ve said, is they should acknowledge that, of course they should.

In those circumstances, I can’t imagine Malcolm Turnbull actually claiming 74 was a majority in a Parliament of 150 seats. At one level that becomes a bit academic. But Malcolm Turnbull certainly should fess up to the Australian people and be clear they don’t have a working majority. That’s why they’ve come to us wanting to talk about pairs.

What Christopher Pyne has described, is not true. 

VAN ONSELEN: Let me get to that Tony Burke. Before you respond to that, let me put the tweet up on the screen for our viewers. Christopher Pyne did a tweet, it reads: “Coalition only asked for pairs for health and family reasons. Burke said no. His own side didn’t back him #lameduck.” Is there any truth in that?

BURKE: Well it’s not the only one of Christopher Pyne’s tweets that’s been just plain wrong. He had to delete one last night where he claimed he was responsible for a change moved by Anthony Albanese in 2008. He’s been getting a lot of them wrong over the last 24-hours.

On that one, Christopher Pyne wasn’t in the meeting, nor was I, it was between the party’s whips. I’ve checked with our whip. The Liberal Party asked us for a general pairing arrangement and the answer was ‘no’. We made clear we’re not going to be silly about this. They keep claiming they’ve got a working majority. We don’t believe that’s true. Certainly if it were true, they wouldn’t be coming to us with requests for pairs.

But what Christopher Pyne’s put in that tweet, is not what they came to us with. They asked for a pairing arrangement. Last term we had no pairing arrangement. Last term, the reason we didn’t have a pairing arrangement, was because the Government had a working majority. This term, they claim they do, the truth is, they don’t.

VAN ONSELEN: It sounds like there’s a bit of a he said, she said, between the whips now. Nola Marino, the Government’s whip, is apparently claiming to colleagues she specifically asked for pairing around health and family emergencies. But whereas Chris Hayes, your whip, is saying they asked in general terms only. Nola Marino is saying, apparently internally, ‘no, she asked specifically for health reasons and family reasons, but that was rejected by your side.’ It’s a he said, she said at this stage isn’t it? That’s not what Labor is saying.

BURKE: And I must say, if that’s now the Government’s position, let’s move beyond the meeting, if that’s now the position of the Government, that’s a very interesting view for them with summit season coming up. They are effectively saying, even without a working majority, they’re not wanting any assistance for Julie Bishop, or the Prime Minister indeed, to attend any international meetings. If that’s where the Government’s at now, that’s a very interesting position for them to be at.

VAN ONSELEN: They must be very confident those crossbenchers aren’t going to create a scenario where the Prime Minister is compelled to call an election because he’s lost a no confidence motion in the Lower House. I’m not sure I’d be quite as trustworthy on that one myself.

Can I get your thoughts on another Parliamentary matter? Obviously you’re the Manager of Opposition Business; Parliament will be resuming soon enough. I wrote a piece yesterday in The Australian making the point Labor might have a pretty clever tactics you could run that would put some Coalition MPs in an awkward position over a Royal Commission into the banks. You could look to a Parliamentary motion on that front. I know the Executive determine Royal Commissions not the Parliament, but is that something you think Labor should consider? Stephen Conroy and Brendan O’Connor have both said they think it would be a good idea. You’re at the heart of the tactics, not them?

BURKE: Be in no doubt Peter, this time around no member of the Liberal or National Party will be able to get away with claiming in their electorate they support a Banking Royal Commission without being forced to front, at some point during this term, whether or not they would vote that way in the Parliament.

For too long they’ve got away with saying one thing to their electorates and something very different when they got to the Parliament. It’s not only on the Banking Royal Commission, they’ve done it on a range of different issues. This term, there will be nowhere to hide for those member of Parliament. What they do in Canberra will be known by their electorate, but not only that, it will determine the national outcome on a series of issues.

VAN ONSELEN: You’ve held the border protection policy. Last question before I let you go. I know you’ve got a plane to catch. In that space, that was the basis of a protest you undoubtedly would have seen. It interrupted the Prime Minister’s key economic speech. You’re thoughts on what unfolded?

BURKE: I haven’t actually seen it. I’ve come straight from another meeting to come and be interviewed with you now. I’m not across what you’re describing.

VAN ONSELEN: Fair enough. I will let you catch-up with it. Basically he was interrupted in his speech, and my criticism wasn’t necessarily the protest itself, but it was the security that looked like it was a real issue. They got up quite close and joined him up on stage.

It was a protest at the CEDA event and there was a lot more detail behind it, but we can talk about that another time. Tony Burke, I know you’ve been in back-to-back meetings now you’ve said so and I’ll let you catch that plane. Thanks for your company.


Tony Burke