TONY BURKE - TRANSCRIPT - TV INTERVIEW: ABC NEWS BREAKFAST - WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5 2018
ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Returning Great Barrier Reef Money; Peter Dutton au pair
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's go now to Labor's environment spokesman, Tony Burke, who joins us from Sydney. Tony Burke good morning to you. Just picking up from that, practically, given the money has already been transferred to the Foundation, how can a future Labor government claw it back?
TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Clause 25 of the Agreement Michael, says that if there’s a change in government policy, the funds that haven’t been spent have to be returned. So, what we’re making clear today and what I’ve written to the Foundation about is to say - if Labor wins we're changing the policy straight away and we’re going to expect every dollar that hasn't been spent to be returned, but we’re also putting the Foundation on notice. It won't be good enough to say ‘oh quick, let's get as much money spent as they can between now and the election. The Australian people were never given a choice and were never told one day there would be a meeting of three people in a room and a small private foundation would suddenly be offered half a billion dollars. The first chance the Australian people get to say whether or not that’s ok will be the election, and the Foundation should be holding back spending money until the people have a chance to decide.
ROWLAND: Do you have any idea how much of that money has been spent so far?
BURKE: No, that's part of the problem. If this had been directed through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, through the CSIRO, through the Environment Department, then the government would have a daily check of knowing how much money had been spent, knowing where it was going, and making sure the right advice was followed. Because this has gone to a small private foundation that happens to have some mates in the government, it's a big black hole. No-one knows how much money they're spending on a day-to-day basis. They were just given in a single transfer, not a little bit each year, a single transfer, and half a billion dollars leaves the Australian tax-payer and goes to what used to be a small private foundation that described getting this sort of money as ‘winning Lotto’. And Michael, the worst thing about it isn't just the probity and the lack of process around it. This is money meant to be used to protect the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's most precious and fragile assets that the government’s neglected at every turn and now it's not even government agencies that are responsible for our own World Heritage site.
ROWLAND: Ok and just picking up on that point, if Labor wins and you claw back most of that money, will a future Labor government commit itself to giving that money to say the CSIRO, which has said very publically that it would have liked to get a large slab of that cash?
BURKE: Every single cent will be spent on the Great Barrier Reef. At the moment, the CSIRO - if they want to get additional taxpayers' money for reef projects they can't get taxpayer’s money as a government organisation directly; they have to ask permission off this small private foundation to be able to get a cent. Instead, we would get advice from the Department like they never did, we’d weigh up the advice, consider it properly. CSIRO, Institute of Marine Science, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Department of the Environment, the proper government agencies will be responsible for spending every cent of it.
ROWLAND: To another issue, as we prepare to see this au pair inquiry start in Canberra today, the Australian is reporting this morning, Tony Burke, that you personally lobbied the Australian Government to get a business visa for what the paper is describing as an Islamic hate preacher who advocated the execution of homosexuals. Did you do that?
BURKE: This is one that has completely blown up in Peter Dutton's face. I wrote to the government referring to his history and asking specifically if they had information about his case to let me know. My office had already contacted the department saying - are there concerns about this application? because the radio station has turned up at my office asking for my support. The Department never told my office, I put in writing that I wanted to know if there was additional information and Peter Dutton, to this day, has never advised me of any of this until it turns up in the paper today. Peter Dutton is their chief mud thrower but the problem that he’s got is that he keeps throwing mud into a gale-force wind and at the moment it is all over him. A Member of Parliament writing, asking directly, if there are additional problems with a visa applicant and there to be a complete silence says everything about Peter Dutton, the way he drives his portfolio and how desperate he has now become because he knows he is in trouble on the au pair saga.
ROWLAND: We’ll leave it there, Tony Burke at Sydney Airport. Thank you so much for joining us on news breakfast.
BURKE: Thanks Michael.