SUBJECT/S: Government dysfunction and chaos; Government losing a vote on the floor of Parliament; Medical transfer legislation and ensuring sick people get the help they require.

FRAN KELLY (HOST): Tony Burke is the Manager of Opposition Business he joins me in the Parliament House studio. Tony Burke, welcome back to breakfast.


KELLY: Tony Burke, before we get to the bill itself and the consequences for the election in May, will this bill actually pass the Senate today? Because we understand that Senator Derryn Hinch is having second thoughts.

BURKE: I'll never second guess what happens in the Senate and each Member of Parliament makes up their own mind. Certainly my understanding is that Senator Hinche has raised two areas of concern. One is to be fully briefed on the constitutional issues that were raised at the last minute by the Government yesterday. Now, they were completely covered by amendments that were made so I'm very confident on that. The other is I'm told he's asked to get across the change in the security test. Now the security tests that went through yesterday is actually stricter than what Senator Hinch voted for last year. So he'll be briefed on that and it'll be up to him where he lands.

KELLY: He's getting security briefings this morning we understand if he switches his vote this amended bill would fall at the last hurdle and that would mean the world of pain for Labor without any benefit wouldn't it? You'd lose the politics and the vote.

BURKE: We've looked at this issue the whole way through in terms of the merits of the case and in terms of making sure that sick people are able to get medical care and that's the only focus that we'll have today. We had that focus yesterday in the House of Reps and it will be the same in the Senate today.

KELLY: Let's step ahead to the future for just a moment. The Prime Minister says that if the boats start up again it will be on your head, Labor's head. If you did win government, if there is an influx of asylum seeker boats would Labor scrap the law?

BURKE: Well I first of all say if we had a Prime Minister with a bit of maturity he'd be telling the truth about the law. He'd be making a very calm comment to the world to say if you get on a boat and nothing changes as a result of the law that's before the Parliament right now. Because it is ring-fence to only apply to the people who are on Nauru and Manus now. Not one person who might be thinking of risking their life on the high seas would have their circumstance changed and there remains a bipartisan turn back policy that I would be surprised , deeply surprised if the Government decided to not implement.

KELLY: Well the government is saying quite the opposite. I mean its giving a completely different message

BURKE: And that means in giving an inaccurate and irresponsible message Scott Morrison is sending an invitation out to people to get on boats. Because he's saying there is a benefit and there is not.

KELLY: Okay here's your chance to spell out what Labor's policy is because Labor's already promised to abolish temporary protection visas. Now you’ve cleared the way for offshore asylum seekers to come to Australia. Is this the end of bipartisanship when it comes to boarder security?

BURKE: Well, temporary protection visas were never part of stopping the deaths at sea. By the time temporary protection visas were introduced by this Parliament the deaths at sea and the boats had been long stopped. The real shift was when a way was found to be able to conduct turn backs again. Once that happened it was bipartisan to support that. And that means that if someone puts lives at risk on the high seas they are turned back and sent back to Jakarta.

KELLY: So again if Labor won government what would be the policy? Would you formally end offshore processing? Would you abandon boat turn backs? Are you committed to those things?

BURKE: The offshore processing is still there. What is not there and what no one used to say was somehow part of offshore processing was a principle that as part of this we will deny you health treatment.

KELLY: Well there is health treatment just to be clear. Not wanting to make the Government's case for it but there is health treatment. The Government is out about saying there are 60 health professionals on Manus and Nauru so it's not like there's not health treatment

BURKE: But there is a standard of health treatment. The only circumstance where this change in the law could be accessed is if the health treatment required is not available in that country. That's the only circumstance where that law could be accessed. We were never told that denial of healthcare as somehow a critical part of Australia's border protection regime. That's a new argument that has been concocted to try to generate a political fight in the last few months. The only reason the Parliament has decided the law needs to be changed in this area is that the Government has been dragged through the courts eventually finding that they had to send people to Australia for medical treatment and people are getting medical care months and months later than they should.

KELLY: This change will mean that there are people on Manus and Nauru who will need almost immediate transfer because we do know there are people there struggling with psychiatric illnesses. We do know there are people in ill health who haven't been able to permission for transfer. So there will be an influx of people arriving here. Do you agree with that?

BURKE: There are already more people in Australia as a result largely in part of court decisions from Manus and Nauru. There are more people who have been transferred to Australia than remain in either Manus or Nauru and that hasn't started an influx of boats.

KELLY: In taking the stance you have you have allowed or set the scene for border security be elevated to the front line election issue I think it's fair to say. You're up against Scott Morrison. He was the Minister who stopped the boats. Are you worried this will backfire on Labor at the ballot box?

BURKE: The moment Scott Morrison became Prime Minister of Australia, no matter what he was going to want to run a campaign on this. No matter what that was what he was going to talk about during the election campaign. At the same time the Australian people aren't going to be conned when they know that this change in the law doesn't apply to anyone who gets on a boat now. But they also know that everything's going up except their wages. They also want to see proper funding of their schools and hospitals. Those issues don't disappear simply because we've got a Prime Minister who wants to provide inaccurate information on this policy.

KELLY: So you don't worry that the Government constantly reminding voters the 800 boats that arrived in the Rudd-Gillard years? I mean for a few months of that you were Immigration Minister. In fact 50,000 people on-board, 8000 children, you're not worried that the deaths at sea is going to scare people against Labor?

BURKE: Half of those deaths at sea occurred after Scott Morrison got his party to vote against the Malaysia arrangement. Half of those lives could have been saved. And Scott Morrison doesn't like owning up to that. Tony Abbott has said they made a mistake when they voted against that change. Scott Morrison is still too arrogant to come to terms with the responsibility that he took for not coming to the table to fix that problem during those years.

KELLY: It's quarter to eight on breakfast my guest is Tony Burke the Manager of Opposition Business in the lower house. Tony Burke, the amended bill has changed the security grounds that could be used by the Immigration Minister to reject to transfer. The threshold hold is no longer substantial criminal record. The Government says there's examples of asylum seekers who could be eligible under the new rules for transfer which include and I'm quoting the Government list now, ‘person on Manus Island allegedly charged with murder in Iran, another man arrested for raping a minor on Manus and a person accused of conducting a sexual relationship with a 14 year old girl.’ Could these people be brought to Australia under the amended rules as you understand it?

BURKE: The rules deal with serious crime and when people have been sentenced it's the same test that is in the Migration Act already and the other point that…

KELLY: So are you saying that these people needs with those crimes could be here?

BURKE: I don't know the individual cases you're talking about but I'm explaining what was passed yesterday and the extra point that often gets forgotten here is if someone is transferred for medical treatment when they arrive in Australia they are still in detention. They are still detained while they receive their medical treatment.

KELLY: So they're not in the community?

BURKE: The only reason they would be put into the community is if there is an active decision by the Minister to put them there.

KELLY: And that can happen and does happen.

BURKE: If the Minister makes that decision, yes. And if the Minister would make the decision in the instances that you've just described I think the Minister would have a lot of explaining to do.

KELLY: Just finally, the Government lost control of the Parliament they lost a vote. The first time in nearly 80 years that's happened. The Prime Minister effectively invited you to move a motion of no confidence against the Government and you didn't do it. Why didn't you do that?

BURKE: I gave a commitment to the crossbench and effectively we gave a commitment to the Australian people as well. The work with the crossbench, I should mention Kerryn Phelps in particular but all the crossbench on this wouldn’t have happened otherwise and certainly we couldn't have got this outcome back when Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister.

KELLY: Because there wouldn't have been Kerryn Phelps or anyone else?

BURKE: That’s right. But it's also the case that the commitment to deal with this issue on its merits dealt with the importance of the issue. People were always wanting to say Labor's just playing a political game here. And if we'd gone straight to a no confidence motion it would have given rise to that. My view was making sure that sick people are able to get healthcare is an important enough issue to stand on its own right without having an extra political layer to it.

KELLY: Tony Burke thanks very much for joining us.

BURKE: Great to be back.

Tony Burke