PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2016
SUBJECT/S: Turnbull Government voting to explain its own failures; Secret Government chat groups.
BURKE: Parliament has had 10 days since the election. In that time we've had one afternoon where the Government lost control of the floor of the House. We've had the Treasurer introduce their largest Bill so far and contained a $100 million black hole in the middle of it. We had the Senate run out of legislation and just start chatting to each other across the chamber, and yesterday we had the Government effectively vote to condemn itself. This was, you know, a few weeks ago they were losing votes on the floor of the chamber because they'd gone home, this time they were losing votes on the floor of the chamber when they had stayed.
It's no small thing, it's not a little administrative mistake, it's not a little procedural error; this is something that has never happened before in the history of Federation, never. We've had lots of governments in that time losing control of the floor of the House, we're able to say well it's the first time since Menzies. This was the first time ever. And no matter which way you look at it you have extraordinary incompetence from this Government.
Now there's sort of a cage fight going on at the moment between Christopher Pyne and George Brandis over who is the more incompetent, and right and the moment the House of Representatives with Christopher Pyne, I think is ahead on points. What happened yesterday was the Labor motion demanding that the Government explain why it is that they failed to shut down tax loopholes, failed to deal with tax transparency. It's an important substantive issue. Now they voted for it, it was carried unanimously by the House, and even though later on last night some procedural leave was given to allow the Bill the still pass that motion stands. No one in the Parliament has stood against the principle that this government needs to explain its failures on tax transparency and on tax loopholes. They voted for it, they need to do it.
And let's not forget the two Ministers who were in the room at the time. Kelly O'Dwyer as Minister for Revenue is in charge of tax, she ought to know. And Michael Keenan as Minister for Justice is in charge of dealing with international crime. He's got direct responsibility linked to this as well. The two people with responsibility for this amendment were the ones who quite happy to see it go through, and if they didn't know what was happening, if their defence is they weren't paying attention, what sort of Parliament have we got? If Ministers actually rise to their own defence by saying they weren't paying attention, they rise to their own defence by saying they had no idea what was happening at their work place. You look at the workplace rules that this Liberal Government advocates and not one of them would still have a job if they had to live by the rules that they want to put on working Australians.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the argument that it was just a human error, just a mistake on the Minister's part?
BURKE: Well in the first instance, it's a revolving door in mistakes for this mob, a revolving door of mistakes. But when we say well what’s the gravity of the mistake, in Parliament votes matter. You're meant to pay attention when something is being put to the vote, and for minister's to say oh look I just wasn't paying attention, it was just an honest mistake, I didn't know what I was voting on, I can't imagine why they want to be ministers or why they bother turning up to Parliament at all if they don't think the votes matter. The votes do matter and yesterday the Parliament unanimously resolved in the House of Representatives that this Government has to explain its failures on shutting down tax loopholes and has to explain its failures on dealing with tax transparency. That went through unanimously without any opposition and in terms of honest mistake, Michael Keenan who was one of those two ministers I mentioned, he's been involved both times when we won control of the floor of the House of Representatives, he was one of the one's who had gone home early. This time he was there in the room and that didn't help the Government either. He's meant to have a serious job. These people are meant to be running Australia and instead they're just chatting to each other, no idea what's going on and thinking they can live by rules that under what they want to put into the workplaces of Australia, no other employee would survive. They reckon they can knock off early, they reckon they can turn up and not pay attention; they think they cannot do their jobs. The Turnbull Government is not going to last a full term, they are incompetent, they are lazy, what happened yesterday makes a joke of everything this Government says.
JOURNALIST: Are you working on something else to sneak through, perhaps marriage equality?
BURKE: Well, it's hardly sneaking through when dealing with things that happen as votes of the Parliament. But be in no doubt on marriage equality, our view is there should be a vote on the floor of the Parliament and we will be using every mechanism available to us to see that that happens. And that's why when Malcolm Turnbull says something will never happen, I’ve got to say the evidence so far is that Malcolm Turnbull is not able to deliver on those sorts of guarantees.
JOURNALIST: Just back to what happened yesterday; the Government says you're just making a mountain out of a molehill really.
BURKE: Well let's just piece through again what happened yesterday. If the Governments defence is votes in the Parliament don't matter, I don't know what sort of democracy they think we've got. If the Governments defence is ministers don't have to pay attention to legislation that's their own legislation, in their own portfolio then the Government has become a joke. They really have become a joke. And this race to the bottom on who can be the more incompetent between Christopher Pyne and George Brandis is just a breathtaking battle to watch. So as I say, the only defence the Government can possibly has is they don't think their jobs are important, well, shutting down on multinational tax avoidance is important. The Parliament now, and there is nothing the Government can do about this, the Parliament has resolved that they have got to explain their failures on this and the ball is now in the Governments court to explain that.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor use Whatsapp or any other messaging service to discuss things and if so, do you think it's appropriate for the Government to be doing things like that?
BURKE: There's a series of different apps that people will use to have conversations with friends and things like that. But for anything that is secure or anything that is a conversation between Cabinet Ministers who are running the Government, I just find it beyond belief the stories that they had been using Whatsapp for those sorts of communications, including something that's about providing information on Defence. There is a different role in security between when you're in Government and when you're in Opposition and anyone who has been in both knows that. You know the different briefings you have when you're in Australia; you know the different briefings you get if you travel overseas. The security of information matters, the other question is who owns the data, who owns the information, where in the world is the information being stored and located. And has there been a security check by the Government on whether or not this is appropriate, and if it hasn't been found to be appropriate, why on earth are they doing it. If they haven't bothered to check, it just adds to the layers of incompetence and the recklessness from those people.