GREG JENNETT: Now republican sentiment of course cuts across party divides but it’s fair to say the public condemnation of the revival of these old titles is flowing more freely from the Labor side. Its Leader of Opposition Business is Tony Burke, we spoke to him before Bill Shorten’s appearance at the Press Club. Tony does Labor have a settled position on the restoration of these titles?
TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: You can’t make this stuff up. You know if we were to have tried to ridicule the Government or come up with something as an example to say they’re so out of touch they might do something like this, that would have been an extreme example.
We never thought they’d actually do it and it’s like if we were trying to build the case for is Tony Abbott out of touch? He’s closed the case for us. If he was wanting to send a message to Australia about whether or not he’s dealing with the big priorities, he’s left Australians in no doubt what so ever.
JENNETT: At the time at which we speak all your leader has had to say is in this written statement – “It’s good to see the Government has a plan for Knights and Dames, where’s their plan for jobs?” – That’s nothing like the views being expressed by you and others. Why is that?
BURKE: Well I think you’ve got a situation where Bill quite rightly is wanting the moment he’s asked about something that is not one of the major issues, to get back to the major issues as quickly as possible. You know if the Government wants to talk about issues that don’t affect the rest of the nation in any significant way then I don’t think the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten needs to jump to the Government’s tune and spend a whole lot of time talking about something that’s irrelevant to the day-to-day concerns of Australians.
JENNETT: But is he constrained by the fact that the first Dame in 33 years is in fact his mother-in-law?
JENNETT: Labor can quickly and easily adopt a policy position because nothing changes on this between now and the next election. Will you revoke this in office?
BURKE: Labor has, Labor has never been the party of Knighthoods and we thought, even John Howard didn’t try to reintroduce these.
JENNETT: So can we lock that in as a policy commitment, this would go under Labor?
BURKE: Labor has a long tradition, a very long tradition way back to, you know, before Hawke back to Whitlam; we’ve never been the party of Knighthoods and roundtables.
JENNETT: Now on free speech, we won’t have time unfortunately to go through the ins and outs of the Anti-Discrimination Act changes, but you appear personally very frustrated that you’re not getting what you would believe is free speech or a fair go in the Chamber. What’s your problem with the Speaker?
BURKE: Well I think there’s no doubt that for any objective observer, the Parliament at the moment just has a level of chaos about it. If you have a look at question time now, when we were dealing with the Arthur Sinodinos matter and I know you don’t want to deal with the issue itself in detail today, but when we were dealing with that we just kept wanting to ask the Prime Minister what he knew and when he knew it, and all his answer would ever be is isn’t Arthur a wonderful person. That’s all he’d do. If you have a situation where time after time, Minister’s and the Prime Minister have no intention of answering questions asked by us and in that way answering questions to the Australian people, it leads to a contempt in providing information and when the Parliament gets like that, that doesn’t reflect well on the place or on the Government.
JENNETT: But what’s new about that? Multiple Speakers over many years have said they don’t direct the content of answers and can’t.
BURKE: I’ve got to say that anyone who is observing the Parliament right now is observing a very different place to what’s been seen previously. The, and you know as you would appreciate there are some limits outside of the Chamber about what I can say specifically about the Speaker so I’m answering in terms of the Parliament , but the Parliament at the moment has effectively become a protection racket for the Prime Minister to not give information about anything.
JENNETT: Well you raise the Prime Minister, he says today “If the Coalition was a vicious to a female Speaker as Labor is to Bronwyn Bishop we’d have charges of misogyny echoing around the Parliament” is your problem with Bronwyn Bishop that she’s a woman?
BURKE: That’s not my, that’s not, even Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker would not agree with what Tony Abbott’s just said. She wouldn’t agree with that for a minute and you know I respect that Bronwyn Bishop has for a very long time been a tough warrior for her party and to try to set her up as some sort of victim in some way is something that I don’t think passes the, any test.
JENNETT: Alright, well given the numbers in the Parliament do you except that there’s absolutely nothing you can do about this?
BURKE: I have never accepted for a minute that in Opposition because you don’t have a majority that means somehow you can just put your feet up and say ah well, that’s just bad luck. Everyday it’s our job to make sure that even though the Government will want to hide a whole lot of issues, and even though the Government will want to fudge answering a whole lot of questions that we continue to hold them accountable because it’s not the vote that happens each day in the Parliament that an Opposition has to focus on, we have to make sure that the Australian people when they next vote know exactly how Tony Abbott and his government behaved.
JENNETT: Alright Tony Burke, we’ll let you go and do that, thank you.