Title Transcript of interview with Barrie Cassidy: Insiders, ABC: 17 November 2013: Asylum seekers; regional resettlement arrangements; debt limit; Parliament
Database Press Releases
Date 17-11-2013
Author BURKE, Tony, MP
Citation Id 2848537
Cover date 17 November, 2013
In Government no
MP yes
Pages 6p.
Speech No
System Id media/pressrel/2848537

Transcript of interview with Barrie Cassidy: Insiders, ABC: 17 November 2013: Asylum seekers; regional resettlement arrangements; debt limit; Parliament





SUBJECT/S: Asylum seekers, regional resettlement arrangements, debt limit, Parliament

BARRIE CASSIDY: Tony Burke, good morning, welcome.


BARRIE CASSIDY: Have the Minister and the General got a point there that it's better to deny people smugglers this information?

TONY BURKE: Well the information still comes out, it just comes out at the end of the week at the moment. What we've had is a situation where Scott Morrison, for the first time ever, has been a Minister who'll go into the Parliament and say 'I won't tell you, but I'll say something about it on Friday', even though the information's already known.

And what the General was saying in the piece you just showed referred to information like ‘on water’ information. Scott Morrison wouldn't even answer questions about a vessel that had arrived in Darwin - physically in Australia.

And I think the reason that this secrecy is going on is in large part they don't want to admit that the policies they took to the election in this area, they're not implementing. They’re not dragging boats back to Indonesia, they’re not buying boats in fishing villages. What they're doing is implementing the regional arrangements with Papua New Guinea and Nauru that we put in place.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But you say the information would come out anyway, but it’s the real-time information that they point to, and they imply that you in government were, you were

a bit of a mug in this sense, that you gave locations of interceptions, you gave successful arrivals. This is all useful propaganda material for people smugglers.

TONY BURKE: Well I think the people smugglers already know where their boats have gone. I think if anyone knows, they know. And the truth is a whole lot of the information back and forth gets sent through a whole lot of social media pathways. If the argument was 'We can't let any information out', then I'm not sure why you'd have a Friday briefing at all.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But delayed information though might be better than the real-time information?

TONY BURKE: Well, it's, you know, delayed; if it happened the day before, then it gets announced on the Friday. It’s an argument which Scott Morrison actually flagged before the election at the National Press Club debate, right towards the end he let this bit out. And the General's giving - I'm not going to argue with what the General said about the reasons that he’s following through on it. But ultimately we've got a culture of secrecy that the Government's wanting to insert here.

All they are actually implementing is the same policy that we had. And the policies that they took to the election, they have abandoned it but they don't want to admit that they’re not dragging boats back to Indonesia and they’re not buying boats in fishing villages.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But what they can say is that on the figures available, there’s been a 75 per cent reduction in the number of boats in the eight weeks since Operation Sovereign Borders was set up.

TONY BURKE: From when? And that's the question. If you take –

BARRIE CASSIDY: Compared with the previous eight weeks.

TONY BURKE: The previous eight weeks, that's right, because if you go all the way to eight weeks back, you go to the peak at the very beginning of when the regional resettlement arrangements were brought in.

But go to the final two weeks before the election - the numbers by the final fortnight were almost exactly the same as what's happening now. And that's because the policy as it was being implemented, you had a massive drop week on week on week on the number of people putting their lives at risk on the high seas, until you ended up in the final fortnight before the election with numbers that are almost identical to what they are now. But that's a comparison figure that you’ll never hear Scott Morrison want to refer to.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Because; you say because of the PNG solution, but is that sustainable over time?

TONY BURKE: I believe so. I believe so. I mean the Government has got to make sure that they keep good relationships with Papua New Guinea, with Nauru and with Indonesia. And it's in their hands about making sure that those relationships stay good.

BARRIE CASSIDY: These rumours, such as they are at the moment, about the people swap with Indonesia, I presume given the policy you put forward on the Malaysian solution that you would be right behind that?

TONY BURKE: Let's just see what levels of hypocrisy they go to. They’ve already, in the Parliament with debt and in their handling of this issue, gone to levels of hypocrisy that we hadn't quite anticipated. If they end up in that territory as well, well we’ll deal with that there.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Put that to one side. If it works, it works and it will be a good idea.

TONY BURKE: I am not arguing with that. But we’re talking about a proposal that they actually haven't admitted is theirs yet.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Alright, the other point they make about the stricken boats; and they go to the aid of these boats in Indonesian waters and yet the Indonesians expect that those asylum seekers be taken to Australia. Is that fair?

TONY BURKE: Cooperation with Indonesia is something that always needs to be done carefully. The truth is the biggest and the most significant change in the number of people who've put their lives at risk on the high seas coming out of Indonesia came when Indonesia made the decision to take away visa on arrival for people coming from Iran. That was a very significant change.

These other issues are significant as well, but you don't want to go so hard on one that you undermine the cooperation on the other.

BARRIE CASSIDY: No, but if people smugglers know that if they’re rescued by an Australian vessel in Indonesian waters they'll end up on Christmas Island, then they would scuttle their boats?

TONY BURKE: The key thing, and my view on this when I was Minister for Immigration, is you need to have a situation where the pathway for someone to come to live in Australia is safely through the United Nations, through the UNHCR offices. And the key to that is making sure the people smugglers don't have a product to sell. That's what the Papua New Guinea arrangement was about.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And this initiative now to gift Sri Lanka a couple of patrol boats, do you think that will help the effort?

TONY BURKE: I'm not sure – there is a lot of questions about what they've announced. We will hopefully hear more about that. I'm not sure what the conditions are on how those vessels can and can't be used. I'm not sure how it works with the discussion you were having earlier, because you are not dealing with a transit country, you're arguably dealing with, there may be some people who claim to be directly seeking asylum.

Certainly on many of the vessels that we had come through when I was there, a lot of people weren't seeking asylum at all and we had arrangements for them to go straight back. So there’s questions around this that I presume the Government - well, you'd like to think the Government will answer during the course of the day, whether they do or not, we'll see.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Alright. You are Shadow Finance Minister, we’ll move on to some economic matters now, and the deadlock over the debt ceiling. Is your position so intransigent that you would allow the Government to run out of money?

TONY BURKE: Absolutely not. There’s already, there’s already a situation where the Senate has passed the legislation that would allow the debt ceiling to go up from $300 billion to $400 billion. So that's already there. That's waiting. Joe Hockey can pick that up at any moment.

More than that, if he wants to go the full way to half a trillion – which compared to what he was saying before the election is an extraordinary shift – but if that's what he wants, then he's got to produce the economic paperwork, the updates, that would justify that, and that's the mid-year forecasts.

We've been saying from the moment he flagged this 'Bring out your mid-year forecasts.' He’s saying 'Well I'm not willing to do that until December'. Well that's his call.

But if he thinks he needs to get to half a trillion dollars in the next couple of weeks - which is an odd claim - but if that's what he thinks, then all he has to do is bring down the documents to justify it.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But what they do say it will go to $440 billion no matter what they do. And that's basically because they haven't had any time to reverse any of the Labor government's policies.

TONY BURKE: I'm not sure how they make that claim. And maybe they've documents that will justify that, but they should release them. Certainly the last documents that came out were the pre-election forecasts. They had debt peaking at the 370 figure, but that wasn't until 2016-17 – so not something that needed to be handled in the next couple of weeks.

BARRIE CASSIDY: We might have answers to that on Wednesday when Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson fronts the Senate estimates. If he was to make a compelling case for a $500 billion limit, would that persuade you?

TONY BURKE: Our position is the documents should be released. Now if Martin Parkinson is authorised to release the full budget updates, we'll wait and see. But up until now it’s been, ‘Oh can a public servant just talk or can we give somebody a secret briefing.’

To release the full budget update is something completely within the hands of the Treasurer. He's sitting on those figures. He's got that information. And I don't know what the reason is why he wants to keep that information secret, but it doesn't, it doesn’t auger well for his actual rationale in wanting to get permission to take debt to half a trillion dollars.

BARRIE CASSIDY: What is the problem anyway with - it's a ceiling, not a target as the Government often points out - what is the problem with setting a ceiling that just takes the politics out of this so they don't have to keep coming back and making it an issue in the Parliament?

TONY BURKE: Well that effectively would be a political and media strategy rather than a policy strategy, because the Parliament has been willing to provide the room, we've never had the Tea Party politics style here. The room required to make sure the Government never defaults has always been provided. And that's on the table already through the Senate.

If all they've got is 'We'd prefer the media strategy of not having to make things public', then that's not a good way to manage the economy. And certainly if we are about delivering

confidence for the economy, the only person talking about government services shutting down is Joe Hockey. Now, I don't know of any other circumstance where the people threatening to shut down government services are the Government themselves. But that's where Joe Hockey is wanting to take the extremes of this debate.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Kevin Rudd has left the Parliament. Will there be a by-election in Griffith before Christmas, or will it be some time in the new year?

TONY BURKE: Well it won't be our call as to when it’s held. I've heard the month of February speculated on. But that won’t be a decision that we take. Certainly you never take anything for granted in anything of this. And so it will be a hard-fought campaign. And wish Kevin well with the next stage of his life.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Is there a leading candidate for Labor in the seat?

TONY BURKE: Not that I'm aware of. I haven't engaged with that part of it.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And given that you're also Manager of Opposition Business in the Parliament, how’s the relationship going with the Speaker?

TONY BURKE: Look it's; I don't think the Speaker would expect anything less than for us to make sure that we’re holding the Government to account. And if anybody thought that the Labor Opposition was going to walk sheepishly into Parliament, apologising for a government legacy and economic record that we're very proud of, well they've got another thing coming. We have been elected there to fight for the policies that we believe in, that we took to the last election, and we’re there to do that.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So you're saying you're determined to give as good as you got in government?

TONY BURKE: I'm determined to make sure that I'm standing there, holding them absolutely to account. And if they think they can get away with saying a whole lot of things before the election, talking about how adult they'll be, and then immediately engaging in the most immature, puerile games and delivering policies the opposite of what they said, they've got another thing coming.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But the public surely would want a far more orderly Parliament than what we've just had and there's a responsibility on both sides to try and deliver that?

TONY BURKE: I don't have an intention of blowing up the Parliament every day or anything like that. I actually think Question Time is really important now. They used to always just try to cut Question Time off. Given that we have got ministers hiding from the media, Question Time is one of the only chances we’ve got where they actually have to stand up in front of a microphone and answer a question.

So there's a lot of tactical positions the previous Opposition took where I've got a different approach to it. Although as we saw with Scott Morrison, the fact that they come up to the despatch box doesn't mean you still get an answer out of them.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.

TONY BURKE: Great to be here.