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Budget 2018: transcript of interview with Virginia Trioli: ABC News Breakfast: 10 May 2018: Budget reply; tax cuts; High Court decision

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SUBJECT/S: Budget reply, Tax Cuts, High Court decision

VIRGINIA TRIOLI (HOST): We're pleased to be joined by Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business. He joins us now from Canberra. Tony Burke good morning.


TRIOLI: What a morning to meet on. I want to go back in time, if I can, just reflecting on this - why were your assurances so definitive that the MPs were fine?

BURKE: We're relying on what used to be called the reasonable steps test. It's the same test that the Australian Electoral Commission has continued to advise candidates of as recently as the Batman by-election. But the High Court's now decided, as is completely it’s right, that test doesn't apply in the way that people thought it did and so even though that case had only dealt with one Senator, once that came out, it was very clear that the principles we had been relying on for 20 - 25 years were no longer accurate and that's why within a couple of hours the resignations were all announced.

TRIOLI: It's a tiny bit cute, I'd suggest this morning, Tony Burke because it was clear by then at the time of these strong and repeated assurances from all members of the opposition that this was an incredibly complex area. The High Court had already looked at it, those who work in this field could not be definitive about it which is why referrals to the High Court, early referrals, were so important. So I ask you again given that all of

that was swirling around at the time - why was there this arrogance perhaps that your side knew better than the High Court?

BURKE: Well, I don't accept that part of it, Virginia, in the sense that I did move for these cases to be sent to the High Court last year. The Government voted against them going to the High Court. It was a drawn vote and the speaker used his casting vote, as he should when it's a drawn vote, in calling it lost.

TRIOLI: I'm going to jump in there, not to be unfair, we need to remember an important part of history as well, it was always open for those MPs to refer themselves at any time. Your MPs at any time.

BURKE: I moved a motion that included them being referred to the High Court last year that was defeated by the Government’s numbers.

TRIOLI: Nothing prevented them doing it anyway.

BURKE: Well, no. To go before the High Court, you get a reference from the House of Representatives or the Senate, that's how every one of these cases happened. We tried to take a - not a citizenship case, but a section 44 case against David Gillespie without a reference from the House of Representatives under a different Act, and that was ruled out by the High Court that we weren't allowed to do that.

TRIOLI: As Paul Kelly notes this morning, your MPs who have resigned, they have been sitting in Parliament, been drawing salaries and claiming entitlements. Are they going to pay those back?

BURKE: They're in the same situation as Barnaby Joyce who had his entire ministerial and Parliamentary career apparently in breach of the law. And so it will be the same situation for ours as it has been for Government members of Parliament. I don't think anyone would expect the opposition to be treated differently to the Government on that.

TRIOLI: Your demeanour this morning is rather calm, if not semi-amused. So I guess you're feeling pretty confident about all these by-elections today?

BURKE: I do have to say, obviously we're really sorry that it has turned out this way. We didn't want there to be the inconvenience to the public or the costs that are involved in by-elections and if we had had any way of knowing that what had been thought to be a settled approach was wrong, then we would have had different systems in place before the election and we'll have different systems in place now. In terms of the by-elections themselves though, we are there absolutely for a fight, focusing on a Government that keeps wanting to deliver for the top end of town.

Yesterday in Question Time, I think said it all. They won't even tell us how much the big business tax cut now costs. They won't tell us how much the income tax cut beyond the

first part of the announcement which is the bit everybody supports, they won't tell us how much the rest of it costs, but year-by-year they want us to vote for it anyway.

TRIOLI: I just want to go back to my question about success in those important seats. Braddon, Longman, Fremantle and Perth. How confident are you, particularly like a seat like Longman which is holding on by a thread?

BURKE: We taking nothing for granted. We are confident of the case that we are making but we take nothing for granted. We’re in there with good candidates who are known with a good track record in their seats.

TRIOLI: I just want to stick to that topic for a moment then we'll get to some of the issues in tax and budget in reply tonight, but the prospect of Georgina Downer in the seat of Mayo which will be the fourth generation of Downer there. Do you like the idea of another Downer looking at you across the table?

BURKE: When I arrived, Alexander Downer was in his final term as Foreign Minister. So, certainly I will say I'll support the Labor candidate who is there, but things like the Banking Royal Commission never would have happened had it not been for the support that Rebekha Sharkie offered on the floor of the House. So we'll see how that one unfolds.

TRIOLI: The Government is saying all or nothing on the tax package. Do you think you can persuade people that blocking the changes is not standing in the way of lower income earners getting their tax cuts?

BURKE: I think the public must be looking at this one aghast. For all the time people say ‘why can't politicians agree on anything’, we got a tax cut that's meant to start in a few weeks' time, both sides of politics agree and the Government is saying, ‘oh, no, but that's not enough. Unless Labor as agrees to these other bits we won't tell them how many it costs, none of it will happen.’ I think it's all bluster from the Government on that. I don't believe for a minute that the Government will continue to hold this ridiculous line that unless you vote for something that doesn't start for years, no-one is going to be allowed to get a tax cut, that we all agree with on 1 July. And if they want to run that argument during these by-elections, I think they'll get a big message back from the public.

TRIOLI: Are you suggesting there that they will be open to negotiation? That's how you interpret their attitude towards this?

BURKE: They'd be stupid if they're not.

TRIOLI: A comprehensive tax reform is something that key crossbencher Tim Storer wants to see. Will that be part of what Bill Shorten will talk about in his budget in reply?

BURKE: There'll be plenty said about tax tonight. But importantly...

TRIOLI: Let me just draw you to that if I can get your attention on that for a bit. Comprehensive tax reform, there's an element of this, you could argue, in what we are seeing from the Government in flattening those tax rates, that is something that many in the community, high to low, have called for. Is the opposition prepared to go there?

BURKE: Look, in terms of tax reform, I think what we have already put on the table has to amount to comprehensive tax reform in terms of the changes to negative gearing, the changes to trusts, the changes to payments of some of the dividend imputation refunds. These are big judgement calls that governments have steered away from for a long time. Unless we act on these areas, we do end up with an unsustainable tax. So I think we're already at the table for what you're asking there, Virginia, but in terms of what the Government is doing, one income tax policy that they can't tell us how many the different elements of it costs? If their starting point of the argument is, ‘the numbers aren't reliable’, it can't be a good argument.

TRIOLI: I want to ask you on your comment that Pauline Hanson might be the key of that entire tax package getting through but apparently in exchange for her support for it, she wants to see cuts to immigration. Your view?

BURKE: My view is I have seen too many times since she arrived back in this Parliament the Liberal Party walk in lock-step with Pauline Hanson. And I wish Malcolm Turnbull would do at least what John Howard did and commit to putting One Nation last on all their ballot-papers and stop treating them like they are some normalised, everyday political party. They're not. We are a multicultural nation and they shouldn't be trading the nature of our country with Pauline Hanson.

TRIOLI: Good to talk with you this morning, thanks so much.

BURKE: Great to be back.



Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra