TUESDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 2015
SUBJECT/S: Liberal leadership change; Coalition deal with the National Party; China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
EMMA ALBERICI: The ousting of Tony Abbott creates some challenges for Labor. The election of Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal Leader is already delivering a bounce for the Coalition in the opinion polls.
Tony Burke is the Shadow Finance Minister and the Manager of Opposition Business and he joins me now in the studio.
Thanks very much for being here.
TONY BURKE, SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER AND MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Hi, Emma.
ALBERICI: What was it, in your view, that cruelled Tony Abbott's chances of taking the party to the next election?
BURKE: I think of most of what's happened this week was determined before the election. I think the days where you can say a whole lot of things before an election and think it won't catch up with you; or where the game of bringing in a really tough first Budget and thinking people will have forgotten about it by the time you get to the next election; those days are over.
And while people lament, you know, 24-hour media cycles and things like that - yes, the media environment's changed but politics needs to change with that. And if that means the public's going to be more onto Members of Parliament if they mislead, if they provide false information, if they create false expectations, then there's a responsibility on us to have a different sort of conversation as well.
ALBERICI: In the Caucus today Bill Shorten boasted of toppling one prime minister. He said, "One down, one to go." Do you think Bill Shorten can beat Malcolm Turnbull?
BURKE: Yeah, I do. I do. And interestingly, while the personalities of the House of Representatives – you know, you look across from where we were sitting today - there's someone different in the chair, there's someone different in the Prime Minister's seat. But the issues we're debating haven't changed one bit. And Malcolm Turnbull even confirmed that where he confirmed his support for the policies dating all the way back to that first Budget.
And ultimately the political debate and the next election will be about those issues of substance. And whether it's $100,000 degrees or whether it's the cuts to health and education or whether it's what they want to do to the pension, those issues will ultimately be what people look at when they come to vote.
ALBERICI: And yet a snap poll taken today by Galaxy shows Malcolm Turnbull at 70 per cent, Bill Shorten on 24.
BURKE: I think it would be a highly optimistic member of the Liberal Party who would take too much stock in the first poll out within 24 hours -
ALBERICI: Okay. Well, if we look at -
BURKE: You always expect with a leadership change. And there would be a series of issues mixed up in that. But ultimately, at the next election, when we get there, the issues that we'll be fighting on as of now are no different to what we would have been fighting on a week ago.
ALBERICI: Sure. But there is precedent for this. And when Kevin Rudd was installed as Prime Minister, he was enormously popular – and 10 or 11 months late he was still enormously popular. I think it was something like 54 versus 24 he was still at, 10 or 11 months later. In 10 or 11 months' time you're going to be at an election.
BURKE: Well, for each of the two leadership changes that happened during our terms of government, neither were followed by a majority win for the Government, for ourselves. So, you know, we've learned our lesson from this. That's why we changed our party rules. That's why we made sure that we would make a decision after an election and that would be that.
ALBERICI: Yeah, but when you changed leaders from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard, the population kind of scratched their head. This one was done, you'd have to admit, in a way that made people understand why.
BURKE: I think it's true that people know why Malcolm Turnbull did this. But what they also thought was they were getting the Malcolm they knew. What they've found out – and, you know, the first we saw it was in Question Time today and as it starts to unravel – that he's pursuing the exact same agenda that Tony Abbott pursued.
You know, you look at the answers we were getting today. It was a nicer suit but basically it was Tony Abbott with elocution. That's what we were watching today. The issues, the argument, hurting the same middle and lower-income families that Tony Abbott was going after.
And the fall for Tony Abbott, when people realised, ‘Hang on, what he told us isn't what's happening,’ wasn't some speech or some personality moment: it was the Budget. It was when the Government put out, ‘This is what we actually believe in.’ And Malcolm Turnbull's made clear he believes in the exact same things.
ALBERICI: But it's safe to say Labor would have preferred to go to the election with Tony Abbott as leader, not Malcolm Turnbull?
BURKE: I think we remember where Malcolm Turnbull was at, midway through his first time as Leader of the Opposition. We've been against Malcolm Turnbull before. Last time we were against Malcolm Turnbull, the Liberal Party ended up deciding they needed to change the leader. So we'll watch as this unfolds, but ultimately it's the same policies. It's the same agenda that brought Tony Abbott down that Malcolm Turnbull wants to take to the next election.
ALBERICI: What do you make of the deal Malcolm Turnbull's done with the Nationals to deliver responsibility for water to the Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, rather than the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt?
BURKE: It's probably not too dramatic to say I'm horrified by it.
ALBERICI: You were obviously former Environment Minister?
BURKE: I was Water Minister, yeah. So I had Environment and Water. When John Howard took Water off the Agriculture portfolio and gave it to the Environment portfolio, he did it largely because of the Murray-Darling Basin. And it was understood that you needed somebody who would put the environmental interests and make sure that they weren't going beyond critical stages.
Now, Malcolm Turnbull should know that because the Environment Minister who was given that Water responsibility was Malcolm Turnbull. When I brought down the Murray-Darling plan: yes, I got broad bipartisan support but a disallowance was still moved by a member of the National Party.
The state that's most affected in terms of the over-allocation from the river is South Australia, the one state where the National Party holds no representatives. This is a big call and could only be done with an agenda to undermine the bipartisanship we've seen in trying to bring the Murray-Darling back to health.
ALBERICI: We're almost out of time. You do have a shared history with Malcolm Turnbull as his campaign manager in the Australian Republican Movement. What was he like to work with?
BURKE: Now, that was a campaign we won, I might add that. That wasn't the referendum one, that was for the constitutional convention.
Malcolm and I - you know, we don't obviously socialise these days. We got along very well. He was great to work with. I was very happy to have him in charge of the Republican movement. I wouldn't put him in charge of Australia.
ALBERICI: Okay. So just one more issue. Obviously, the Free Trade Agreement, George Brandis has called your economic policy xenophobic. Tony Abbott has said it's filled with racist lies and Andrew Robb reckons you're just trying to scare people. We're talking, of course, about the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement?
BURKE: Extraordinary claims, because when we say we just want to make sure there's an opportunity for Australians to get work first, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, that's covered by the agreement.’ So the policy objection that we're wanting legislated - they claim it can already be done.
And there's a test here for Malcolm Turnbull, because John Howard wanted the US Free Trade Agreement to get through. He sat down sensibly, negotiated with the Opposition and made sure there was an agreement that could get through.
Labor wants to see a successful agreement with China. We want to see a Free Trade Agreement - we want to make sure that it's not at the cost of Australian jobs.
If Tony Abbott - not Tony Abbott. Well, Tony Abbott obviously didn’t. He wanted to play the political game - but if Malcolm Turnbull cares as much about this Free Trade Agreement as John Howard cared about the US Free Trade Agreement, he'll sit down with the Opposition, make this work.
ALBERICI: Tony Burke, we're out of time. Thank you very much.
BURKE: Good to be back.