SUBJECT/S: Stuart Robert; Retirement of Andrew Robb and Warren Truss; Business Council GST Campaign.

KIEREN GILBERT: I’m joined by the Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Arthur Sinodinos says he doesn’t regard attending the signing ceremony as assisting because the deal had already been done.

TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: If he doesn’t regard that as assisting, what on earth does he regard the meeting with the Vice Minister as? Is there seriously -

GILBERT: The day after?

BURKE: Yeah. Is there seriously an argument that it does not help a company to have an Australian Government minister present when you’re meeting with the Chinese Government? If that’s what this Government has come to, if their spin has gone that far, then there’s nothing left of a rational argument here at all.

GILBERT: So what’s the difference between this and – you know as a former minister governments do trade delegations with dozens of Australian companies to help boost the companies. What’s the difference between that and this?

BURKE: You do it in an official capacity, as you should. Trade Ministers do it, when I was Agriculture Minister I’d help Australian farmers and exporters into different markets, and we did so officially. It was our job. It’s entirely different to be on leave and think you can somehow smuggle your ministerial hat into the room and pretend you’re doing it as a private citizen, and do it to help a Liberal Party donor. It’s a completely different situation, and that’s why there’s a blanket ban on this. There’s a blanket ban on ministers helping companies, assisting companies, other than in an official capacity. You can’t, around the world, pretend you’re not really a minister at the moment. That’s why the company would have wanted him there, that would be why he was there.

GILBERT: This is being handled by Martin Parkinson, the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. That report is expected back today. This has been handled appropriately by the Prime Minister in that sense hasn’t it? By getting that investigation done by the most senior public servant, as to whether or not standards have been breached, and he can act accordingly?

BURKE: Under the code the Prime Minister has the authority to make the decision himself. It’s not like there’s been any doubt here about whether or not there’s a breach. There’s no doubt attending there, for both the signing ceremony and the meeting with the Vice Minister, was assisting the company. There’s no doubt that helps the company. Secondly, there’s no doubt he was there, by his own admission or confession, whatever you want to call it, in a private capacity. You’re not allowed as a minister to help a company in anything other than an official capacity. It’s in the code for a good reason. If you’re a backbench Member of Parliament -

GILBERT: Due process, does that not allow the Prime Minister to say to his most senior respected public servant, I’m sure you’d agree with that with Dr Parkinson, that he should have a look at this and then he should make a judgment? Sure you might be questioning the behaviour of Mr Robert, but the PM, he’s handled this appropriately hasn’t he?

BURKE: No. The Prime Minister already had a confession from the Minister that he had gone in a personal capacity. He’s had all the information he needed from the beginning of this week to know that a breach of the code has taken place. We have a Prime Minister who is incapable of making a decision.

GILBERT: So you’re not allowed to meet with a business figure overseas even if you are there in a private capacity? Under no circumstances to be seen alongside a business person?

BURKE: Not allowed to do anything that would be assisting their business. You’re not allowed to.

GILBERT: Alright, let’s look at a few of the other stories around just quickly before we wrap up. Andrew Robb has confirmed to Sky News he’s not going to recontest the next election. Warren Truss to step down mid-March. Robb for his part you’d have to think one of the most successful Trade Ministers in Australian history?

BURKE: And this is where – presuming this announcement is made today, it’s important to get beyond the politics. Obviously the trade agreements he reached in terms of protections for jobs and things like that, are different to what Labor would have sought. But for what he believes as a Liberal minister, his achievements are something he will always be proud of and we wish him well.

GILBERT: And finally, the Business Council of Australia, one last ditch effort to secure big transformational tax reform, this is David Crowe reporting this in the Australian today. Your thoughts on that? It sounds, a $9 billion boost, it’s not insignificant if the Government does embrace the GST change?

BURKE: It’s not a $9 billion boost to the household budget, it’s a hit to the household budget if you do something like that. They wouldn’t be running a campaign like this if they really thought the GST was finished within Government circles. The reason this campaign is being run is because they know full well the Government has not ruled out the GST increase, they’ve kept it on the table for a reason.

GILBERT: Mr Burke, thanks for your time.

BURKE: Good to be back.

Tony Burke