SUBJECT/S: Liberal-Greens Senate Deal; Effects test; Tax debate.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me to discuss this and the other issues of the day, the Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Mr Burke thanks very much for your time. A lot of focus on the Senate of course today…


GILBERT: That would be remiss of you at least.

BURKE: Let’s start with the big issues.

GILBERT: That’s right. Now, let’s move on to the Senate issue. It’s going to be a marathon debate, but how long will Labor push this back before the inevitable? You know they’re going to get the numbers through. How long is Labor going to filibuster on it?

BURKE: Well, it’s a case of Labor senators will continue to make the case and continue to argue their point. If the Government and the Greens decide they don’t want to the Senate to be allowed to debate, then they may well crunch it through. But Labor will certainly continue to be making its case that we don’t believe millions of votes should effectively be thrown in the bin.

GILBERT: Do you feel you’re on the right side of history on this issue? Or is this just pragmatism from Labor because you know it might well benefit the Greens and Coalition votes more than it does your own?

BURKE: The people who are most harmed by this are the three million or so Australians who choose to vote for one of the non-major parties. Now, their votes, on a system that’s meant to be proportional - so that’s meant to not be a winner take all system - their votes effectively end up thrown in the bin under this system. There are issues that need to be dealt with with proper reform, but surely you can get a better answer to the challenge than to say for millions of Australians: ‘for your votes, even though it’s meant to be proportional, you’re going to get nothing.’

GILBERT: What is it specifically in this proposal that has made Labor baulk? Given your shadow minister supported the changes, given Labor and the cross-party parliamentary committee supported the changes all the way to the end, and now you’ve back flipped on it. What specifically in it are you worried about?

BURKE: Well it’s not unheard for a party to take a different position to what a parliamentary inquiry might have taken…

GILBERT: Or your spokesperson, or your shadow minister?

BURKE: It’s not unheard of for a party to end up choosing collectively a different position. The position we’ve taken, very simply, is you should not have a situation where millions of Australians will vote for a micro-party or a minor party and end up with zero representation.

GILBERT: That ends up happening in the lower House.

BURKE: For each seat in the lower house you only get one representative. By definition, in the lower house, whoever ends up winning less than 50 per cent of the vote can’t have the position. The Senate is meant to be proportional. You’re meant, in a half senate election, if you get 14 per cent of the vote you’re meant to get a representative.

GILBERT: But not if you get half a per cent, which is what Ricky Muir had.

BURKE: But you’ve got a situation where 20 per cent of Australians, 20 per cent or more than that, are voting for minor parties and this will effectively take away the capacity for any of those votes to end up being represented in the Parliament.

GILBERT: So you think this preference whispering should continue? These complex deals that are going on and getting the likes of Ricky Muir in the senate?

BURKE: You’ve got a number of people who have been ridiculed in this who got higher votes than people who might have been two or three on their own party’s senate ticket. But no one’s arguing that within a party you can’t pass preferences down. This makes it automatic, to be able to do that, when you vote above the line that they stop dead.

The nature of how the micro-parties have operated, yeah you shouldn’t have a situation, I think, where your preferences end up going to a cause that’s the opposite of what you voted for. I’m not pretending there aren’t problems to be deal with, but surely the answer can’t be that we take all those votes, effectively throw them in the bin and say to millions of Australians – I wish they’d all vote Labor, they won’t. For millions of Australians who choose to vote for these minor parties, I don’t think they should be told ‘you’ll get no representation at all.’

GILBERT: But isn’t it the case in a democracy, some people win and some people lose, that’s the bottom-line. This is about giving a better representation of the voters’ will, for the majority, than it is for individuals who might vote for a minority that don’t win.

BURKE: No, you’ll end up with some parties, as a result of this, getting more representation than the proportion of the vote they got, because for millions of Australians they get zero for where they voted. That’s not democratic.

GILBERT: Alright, let’s move on. I want to ask you about the effects test for small business. It’s gone down very well with the small business community and the Nationals are obviously very pleased about it, and Malcolm Turnbull. The competition commission said it will boost competition in the country. What’s your take on it?

BURKE: This will create a legal risk every time somebody lowers prices for consumers. Now, how this unfolds, you’ve only got to look at Barnaby Joyce’s comments where he immediately was critical of consumers being able to get a litre of milk for a dollar. And what example did he give for what’s a more proper price? He refers to milk being exported to China at $11 a litre. The losers here become the consumers.

Now that’s not to say the system’s been working perfectly. That’s why earlier in the week, Labor announced a system to make sure small businesses would be able to take actions against anti-competitive conduct and be able to do that without the full legal risk that can happen with cost orders and things like that where you empower the Federal Court to be able to deal with it.

Now, we announced that and it was welcomed as a pro-small business measure, welcomed as something that would enhance competition. But when you create a situation where it says: you’ve got an effects test, so it doesn’t matter whether people were in fact engaging in anti-competitive conduct; there doesn’t have to be any intention other than the intention might simply have been reducing prices for consumers; that could be enough to create a legal risk. The people who lose out of this are the people who are going shopping.

GILBERT: Let’s look at the broader tax debate in the lead-up to the Budget. Yesterday, the Government’s position on tax dominated Question Time. Isn’t it true though, you’ve been around for a long time, in the pre-Budget periods, they’re always a bit messy? There’s speculation all around the place until Budget day when the Government comes out with its blueprint.

BURKE: Well if as you say they’ve always been a bit messy, this one’s the full rubbish dump; that’s what we’ve got this time. Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison set tests for themselves. They set tests about tax reform and the key to it was they were going to do something about bracket creep because Scott Morrison said he was so “passionate” about bracket creep. That’s what he said. Now they’ve even abandoned that.

Everything they said they’d do, they’ve now abandoned and the things they said they wouldn’t do, like tobacco excise or superannuation tax concessions, they’re now going to do. Every test they’ve set for themselves has fallen apart.

We’ve got a situation where Barnaby Joyce might be able to win an argument internally, George Christensen and Cory Bernardi might be able to win some arguments internally, but when was the last time Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison won an argument within their own Government?

GILBERT: Mr Burke, thanks for your time.

BURKE: Good to be back.


Tony Burke