SUBJECT/S: Parliamentary Tactics; Labor’s Plan for a sustainable Budget; Malcolm Turnbull’s 15 per cent GST on everything; ABCC Legislation.

GREG JENNET: Here we are at the start of political year 2016 where as you’ve alluded to ‘Turnbull’, ‘trade unions’ and ‘tax’ are among the buzzwords and whichever way you look at it as Opposition Finance Spokesman, as Manager of Labor’s Business in the House of Representatives, Tony Burke, will intersect with all of those issues this political year. Welcome back for the year Mr Burke. Last year, tactics in the Parliament, you only had five or six weeks to try and size-up the Turnbull Government. Reflecting on it over summer, how are we going to see Labor refine and renew its attack on the Government?

TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS AND SHADOW FINANCE MINISTER: Well we’re in an unusual situation now in that you’ve got, with Malcolm Turnbull, we're here arguing with Malcolm Turnbull; Tony Abbott and his crew are here arguing with Malcolm Turnbull, and everything Malcolm Turnbull used to believe in is now also an argument against Malcolm Turnbull. 

JENNET: Division or perceived division is the extent of your attack?

BURKE: Well it’s pretty extraordinary, only a couple of days ago, even yesterday when I arrived, I said we were going to see division in Liberal Party ranks. This morning their talking points have been leaked; I don’t think we can play down the extent of the civil war that’s going on there. Now, obviously that’s not going to be the only issue, but it’s a big thing when you topple a Prime Minister. I know better than many people how these things can unfold and we are at the very beginnings of seeing the full tragedy of that unfold. 

JENNET: And if these things are damaging, they don’t seem to be picked up in the polls yet. As things currently stand, Labor faces the prospect of doing as badly as 2013 at this point. What is it that charts a turnaround?

BURKE: What we are starting to see now is the gap between what Malcolm Turnbull says and what Malcolm Turnbull does. Last year, understandably, you saw the Australian people quite liking some of the things Malcolm Turnbull was saying. The problem is, they bear very little or no relationship between that and what he in fact does. 

He might talk about technology but he’s not willing to fund investment in education; he might talk about wanting to treat people fairly but he’s wanting to attack the household budget with a hike in the GST; he might talk about comparisons with the John Howard years but the truth is what he’s looking at is far more inflationary and a much bigger attack on the household budget than anything that was ever contemplated by John Howard. 

JENNET: Alright, well before we get to some of those individual issues, GST being among them, just looking at Labor’s standing it’s inescapable that Labor used an argument in 2013 about the polls and saving some furniture to change leader. Why wouldn’t that apply now?

BURKE: I think we’ve well and truly learned our lesson about what happens with instability, and I think Malcolm Turnbull is at the beginnings now of realising what instability, what the price of that is. So, I think thats - me of all people, there are lessons learned and I think for the Liberal Party now they’re starting to realise exactly what was unleashed. Tony Abbott is not wanting a second term because he wants to be a cheer squad for Malcolm Turnbull, the level of instability there is going to continue to fester. We’re only seeing the very beginnings of it.

JENNET: Ok, well let’s look at the issues. GST, you’re going to fight and fight hard on it. Indeed you have been since it was first floated in September and yet there’s been no headway going back to the issue of polls. What makes you think that this could be a game changer?

BURKE: In the first instance, we do need to deal with the revenue problem. Now, Scott Morrison claims there’s not a revenue problem there’s only an expenditure problem. The numbers, when you look at revenue versus expenditure as a percentage of GDP, make the case that you have to deal with both. There’s no doubt you have to deal with both. 

So, 'how do you do that?’ becomes a political questions that each side of politics needs to grapple with. Now, our perspective is that you deal with the loopholes that are out there, and that’s why we’ve already announced our policies on multinational tax avoidance; our polices on superannuation tax concessions; our policies on tobacco excise; we’ve announced those. None of those attack the household budget in the way that a GST hike would. 

The moment they talk about a GST hike they’re straight into a conversation about compensation. Why? Because they know when you move it from 10 per cent to 15 per cent you attack the household budget, and whatever compensation you might offer through income tax shifts is temporary; it gets eaten away through bracket creep. The hit to household budget every year with inflation gets worse and worse and worse.  

JENNET: But the point is that you can compensate for it and they would? 

BURKE: Not in any permanent way. If you give people a tax cut through the income tax system, through bracket creep that gets eaten away over time. So as inflation goes through year after year, the compensation disappears. What happens with the GST through inflation, the tax hike keeps going up and up and up. So you get this situation with what they’re talking about, where the tax hike and the attack on the household budget is permanent, the compensation is temporary.

JENNET: So what do you have left in your armoury as far as fixing the revenue side of things? Obviously there’s some excise that you’ve spoke about, there’s superannuation tax concessions; is that the end of the story?

BURKE: No there's more we need to work through on that. What we’ve spoken about is already, over the decade, in the order, in fact it’s more than, $70 billion worth of improvements to the Budget bottom-line. They’re not only revenue measures, you’ve also got-

JENNET: They’re 10 year figures, notoriously unreliable because of that.

BURKE: It’s important to have the long term figures and it’s important to have the rigour of the Parliamentary Budget Office in providing those numbers, which we’ve done, which is the right thing to do. 

You also need to deal with expenditure, and that’s why we’re not supporting the reintroduction of the Baby Bonus where the Government thinks it can just throw more money around; we don’t support their Emissions Reduction Fund where they pay polluters to continue to pollute; we don’t support them wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a plebiscite. There’s a series of expenditure issues where those sorts of cuts needs to be made as well, but yes we’ll have more to say and we’ll have more to announce.

JENNET: Just finally and briefly I suppose, the ABCC, the construction industry watchdog, will Labor be making an opportunity to read this redacted version of the first report from the Royal Commission. 

BURKE: Well there’s different versions of what’s been offered in terms of some differences I’ve heard in interviews from the minister today. But, put it this way, what the Government is asking us to agree to is that this information would be even more restrictive than what we are provided on the intelligence committee where you’re dealing with issues of national security. 

I think that really gives the game away. They’re wanting to say that this is more secretive than national security information which is shared with the Opposition. What it makes clear is the Government is playing a political game, and what the Government is doing here is wanting to be anti-union rather than anti-corruption. 

JENNET: Alright, Tony Burke let’s see how that plays out in Parliament and indeed across the year. But for your time today, thank you.

BURKE: Good to be back.