TRANSCRIPT: RADIO INTERVIEW ABC RN BREAKFAST MONDAY, 10 SEPTEMBER 2018
ABC RN BREAKFAST
MONDAY, 10 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECT/S: The week ahead in Parliament, Peter Dutton’s eligibility.
FRAN KELLY (HOST): Tony Burke, welcome back to RN Breakfast.
TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Welcome back to Parliament.
KELLY: Malcolm Turnbull’s removal has robbed the Government of its majority. How keen will Labor be to test the Governments numbers this week?
BURKE: Well you can't have Parliament without there being a series of votes. Obviously the Wentworth by- election means if all the crossbenchers voted the same way as Labor then the votes would be even and it would go to the casting of the speaker. But that presumes everyone from the Government turns up. They have a history of not. They're in a mess at the moment. I think anyone who wants to predict how this week's going to go is being very brave.
KELLY: As one of your first test of the numbers will Labor seek to refer Peter Dutton to the High Court? You've got fresh legal advice I understand, on thousands of ministerial decisions. What is that advice telling you?
BURKE: Our preference is always that the self-referral occurs. Peter Dutton should refer himself that's what he should do. The new advice says this is not just one vote in Parliament. The new advice goes to whether or not any of the legal decisions he's made can subsequently be challenged. Now, he's made important decisions in a series of decisions that do have broad support across the Parliament, across the Australian community that we don't want overturned. Why on earth they are taking a risk with this is beyond me.
KELLY: But we already know that some refugee lawyers are reviewing these decisions. By raising this so publicly are you encouraging refugee groups to challenge the ministerial decisions?
BURKE: No what we are doing is we are encouraging Peter Dutton to refer himself to the High Court. That's what he should do. That's how this gets fixed.
KELLY: If Peter Dutton doesn’t do that are you saying Scott Morrison should move him out of that portfolio?
BURKE: Well would it matter what portfolio area was in a similar challenge would be there but obviously there's a particular gravity to the decisions that the immigration minister makes particularly when issues like Visa cancellations for people who no one wants to have in Australia. So there are serious issues, they shouldn’t be taking a chance and if their defence is that they've got advice from the solicitor general, that advice wasn't that strong. Bear in mind this, Barnaby Joyce also had advice from the Solicitor General saying that he was okay. He did the right thing in referring himself to the High Court anyway. Having been referred, the High Court disagreed with the Solicitor General’s advice and a by-election was held.
KELLY: Peter Dutton is also likely to face a no confidence motion at some point over the granting of those visas to two European au pairs we've all heard so much about. Now the Minister has consistently denied any wrongdoing. Labor keeps pushing on this. How did Peter Dutton derive any personal benefit by exercising his discretionary powers in this way? Why are you taking issue with it?
BURKE: If we go to a point of a no confidence motion the critical question for the Parliament is this; the one rule that a minister has to keep is you don't mislead the Parliament. On the facts that we've got available at the moment Peter Dutton clearly did. He said he didn't know who the individuals concerned were…
KELLY: He went on to say that they didn't work for me or my wife, wasn't he talking about au pairs?
BURKE: No if you go back to the question, the question asked whether he knew the people supporting the application or the individuals themselves and his answer was I don't know them. The answer was clear. Now that's what he said. He's had a long time since he gave that answer to correct the record and he hasn't done so. In Parliament there's a lot of behaviour that people will look at from afar and say I don't think that should be allowed.
KELLY: So it’s not the granting of the visas, it’s not the process you're upset about? It’s the misleading the house?
BURKE: There's a whole series of issues around the process that the party has been pursuing. But if you get to the point of saying a minister has to go the critical question always under the Westminster system is have they misled the House? And if it was an inadvertent mistake did they get back up at the first opportunity and correct the record? On both of those counts from what we've seen so far Peter Dutton has failed.
KELLY: Okay but what about the process itself? You were an immigration minister once, you know how it works and we've learned today that Labor granted for instance a tourist visa to the nanny employed by the soccer star Alessandro Del Piero. And when you yourself were Immigration Minister you fast tracked the case of a Lebanese man who's entry to Australia was supported by a Labor donor. If the Libs had been gaming the system is Labor just as guilty?
BURKE: The articles today are obviously put there by Peter Dutton in regards to the information that has been provided.
KELLY: Well no wonder really given the pursuit of his decisions.
BURKE: He's throwing mud into a gale force wind and it's landing all over him. The two examples that are there on both occasions the minister had the power, Chris Bowen and myself, we each had the power to issue a visa immediately. On neither occasion we did that. On neither occasion. Chris Bowen; the issue was dealt with by the department. My one it never got to the to the visa stage. I could have intervened and issued a visa. I initiated a formal process within the department and the visa ultimately wasn't issued. Compare that with a phone call on a Sunday afternoon.
KELLY: It wasn’t issued because there was a change of government.
BURKE: But I could have at any point. I had the same power. I didn't because I wanted to make sure that every possible check was followed through and completed. Now with Peter Dutton you compare it to someone who gets a call on a Sunday afternoon and within a matter of hours it's all been turned around and the visa has been fixed. That's completely different. And so if Peter Dutton saying this is the best comparison he can find he's actually making the case that what he did was unprecedented.
KELLY: So Parliament is going to come back. Labor at some point is going to try to refer Peter Dutton to the High Court. The Greens might try this no confidence motion or the immigration decisions and now Labor's going to go after the seven ministers who pledge their support to Malcolm Turnbull to only then sign a petition calling for the ballot to remove him in the leadership. Why are you bothering with this? What's this going to prove?
BURKE: Well they were all asked, the five concerned, in that seven that includes Peter Dutton as well. But the different ministers were asked on the Wednesday did they support Malcolm Turnbull? They all said they did. They walked straight out of the House and within hours, certainly the following day, they were all signed up supporters to Peter Dutton. If their argument is that on the Monday they supported Malcolm Turnbull, the Tuesday they supported Peter Dutton, the Wednesday they supported Malcolm Turnbull, the Thursday they supported Peter Dutton and now they're declaring undying loyalty to Scott Morrison. I don't think anyone has any reason to trust them again.
KELLY: What is the point of going for a misleading the Parliament? As you say that's a serious thing. Is this serious? Shouldn't we be getting all the things in our Parliament?
BURKE: This went to whether or not the Prime Minister of Australia would be changed and it stretches the bounds of credulity to believe that they were telling the truth to Parliament when they gave those answers. Why does it matter? Let's get all the way back to first principles as to what happened when the Parliament last met. The last thing they did was shut down the Parliament itself because they couldn't govern. They’ve changed Prime Minister and the Prime Minister can't tell us why he is now in the job, why they made the change. He describes his own Government with reference to the Muppet Show. We have a Government here now and it goes right back to the answers they gave Wednesday that is divided, that that is illegitimate, that doesn't know why it's there and you bet we will pursue that.
KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast, it’s sixteen to seven. Our guest is Tony Burke he's the manager of Opposition business in the House of Representatives. In terms of the numbers on the floor the Coalition looks to be safe because the independents like Cathy McGowan, for one, has guaranteed confidence at least while the Government is down due to the seat of Wentworth. So if Labor does unleash chaos and confusion isn't it just going to annoy the voters? Because you're not going to achieve anything. Isn't this one of the messages from the Wagga Wagga by-election on the weekend?
BURKE: When it comes to chaos and confusion, I'll raise my hand here. I can't compete. There is no level of chaos and confusion that Labor can deliver…
KELLY: But seriously did you take that as one of the messages of the Wagga Wagga by-elections? That the people are going to prefer an independent because it's like a pox on both your houses?
BURKE: People want to have calm, professional, stable government that's delivering for them and it's the Shorten Labor team that's the only team here that is in fact delivering that. You look at the mess and the chaos and the division in this place the last time this Parliament sat, all of it was from people who thought they were born to rule, that they could treat the Parliament like a game. We've ended up at the end of that with a Prime Minister who took Australia to half a trillion dollars of debt, a Treasurer who gave away half a billion dollars to a small private foundation who described it like winning lotto and a finance minister who can't count to 43. That's where this Government is now at.
KELLY: Let's talk about the Parliament just generally. The Liberal Party has been awry with these allegations of bullying and intimidation by some of their female members. But the claims from some of those women are not restricted to Libs. Julia Banks, Sarah Henderson and others have said they've been bullied by Labor people. We’ve had the controversy surrounding Labor MP Emma Husar. Is it time that all political parties improve their treatment of women? Do you accept that women do feel bullied and intimidated in this place?
BURKE: Well you've had women say that. And so I believe them.
KELLY: By Labor people as well?
BURKE: Well Claire O'Neil made comments similar to that on ABC Insiders and bullying is something that whenever you get an allegation of it you can't be flippant about it.
KELLY: Well we've got some allegations. What should be done about this? Should some kind of inquiry be looking at this? What should happen? Except people putting their hand on their heart and saying that they will do better.
BURKE: Well certainly the Emma Husar allegations that you refer to, an inquiry did take place on those. The allegations that some people have made saying that there was Labor bullying then we need to hear the detail of what those are. We've had some both junior and senior people on the Coalition side say that what happened the last time this Parliament sat was like nothing they have seen before. Cultural change can't be dismissed. We can't just say it's just the nature of the Parliament. This needs to be a good workplace. It will be a passionate workplace, there'll be robust debate that's all fine but anything about bullying needs to be dealt with seriously, we need to know what the allegations are and then we need to proceed.
KELLY: So will Labor internally do anything more generally? It’s about culture. It's about not just individuals. Saying let's call out the names, that’s stupid isn't it? You know what goes on in Question Time.
BURKE: I think it's fair to say the biggest shift to culture is to make sure that you don't have a dominance of male voices in this place. Now Labor decided 20 years ago, it was controversial at the time, to do that with quotas. We now have nearly 50 per cent of women in this place in the Labor Party. The Parliament as a whole has a terrible record on women's representation and it's almost entirely because of the failure to do the same from the Liberal and National parties.
KELLY: Tony Burke, thank you very much for joining us.
BURKE: Great to be back on the program.