Tony Burke

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The Honourable
Tony Burke
Tony Burke Portrait 2008.jpg
Manager of Opposition Business in the House
Assumed office
18 October 2013
Leader Bill Shorten
Preceded by Christopher Pyne
Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship
In office
1 July 2013 – 18 September 2013
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
Preceded by Brendan O'Connor
Succeeded by Scott Morrison
Minister for the Arts
In office
25 March 2013 – 18 September 2013
Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Kevin Rudd
Preceded by Simon Crean
Succeeded by George Brandis
Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
In office
14 September 2010 – 1 July 2013
Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Kevin Rudd
Preceded by Peter Garrett
Succeeded by Mark Butler
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
In office
3 December 2007 – 14 September 2010
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
Julia Gillard
Preceded by Peter McGauran
Succeeded by Joe Ludwig
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Watson
Assumed office
9 October 2004
Preceded by Leo McLeay
Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council
In office
22 March 2003 – 24 June 2004
Succeeded by Eric Roozendaal
Personal details
Born Anthony Stephen Burke
(1969-11-04) 4 November 1969 (age 48)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Political party Labor
Children 3
Alma mater University of Sydney

Anthony Stephen Burke (born 4 November 1969) is an Australian politician who has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2004, representing the Division of Watson for the Labor Party. He was a member of cabinet under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Burke is a graduate of the University of Sydney, and worked as a political staffer, company director, and union organiser before entering politics. He was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council in 2003, but resigned the following year to enter federal politics. He was included in the shadow ministry immediately after winning a seat at the 2004 election. In the Labor governments between 2007 and 2013, Burke served for periods as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (2007–2010), Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water and Population (2010–2013), Minister for the Arts (2013), and Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship (2013). He has been Manager of Opposition Business since Bill Shorten was elected Labor leader in 2013, and has also held various positions in the shadow cabinet.

Early life[edit]

Burke was raised in a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent.[1] He attended Catholic schools, Regina Coeli (Beverly Hills, NSW) and St Patrick's College (Strathfield, NSW), where he was Vice-Captain.[2] He attended the University of Sydney where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws. He was also awarded the Martin Sorensen Trophy for Best Speaker at the 1994 Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championships.[3]

From 1993 to 1995, Burke worked as a staffer to Labor senators Graham Richardson and Michael Forshaw.[4] In 1996, he and two friends from his university debating society established Atticus Pty Ltd., a business that provides training for "clients from the corporate and education sectors in advocacy and communication skills". It was named after the iconic fictional character Atticus Finch from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.[5] He resigned his directorship of the company the following year to join the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) as a union organiser.[4] He left the SDA in 2003 to run for the New South Wales Legislative Council.[6]

State politics[edit]

At the 2003 state election, Burke was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council. He chaired the NSW State Development Committee, conducting inquiries into ports infrastructure and science commercialisation.[6] A view formed that Burke's talents were wasted[according to whom?] in the NSW Legislative Council and he resigned from state parliament on 24 June 2004 to campaign for the New South Wales division of Watson. He won the seat at the 2004 federal election.[4]

Federal politics[edit]

Burke was elected to the House of Representatives at the 2004 federal election, replacing the retiring Leo McLeay in the safe Labor seat of Watson. He was immediately promoted to the shadow ministry under Mark Latham, as Shadow Minister for Small Business. He was promoted to Shadow Minister for Immigration in June 2005, by which time Kim Beazley had replaced Latham as leader. After the 2006 leadership spill, the new leader Kevin Rudd expanded Burke's portfolio to Immigration, Integration and Citizenship.[4]

While in opposition, Burke led an unsuccessful bipartisan appeal for clemency to the Singapore High Commissioner to stop the execution of convicted Australian drug smuggler, Van Tuong Nguyen.[5] Seven years after Nguyen was executed Burke spoke at the launch of the SBS Better Man miniseries about Nguyen’s case. At the launch, Burke referred to the meeting with the Singapore High Commissioner as “the worst day” of his political career and “potentially the most troubling day” of his life.[7]

Rudd and Gillard Governments[edit]

Burke at a 2005 protest against the Howard Government's industrial relations policy

After the 2007 federal election, Burke was appointed Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in the new Rudd Government. He was sworn in by the Governor-General on 3 December 2007.[4] Burke oversaw the abolition of the Australian bulk wheat export monopoly after the AWB oil-for-wheat scandal.[8] He oversaw the eradication of the horse flu in Australia after the 2007 equine influenza outbreak.[9]

On 2 April 2010, Rudd appointed Burke as Minister for Population.[4] The appointment came after Rudd stated he was in favour of a "big Australia" in response to demographic projections in the Government's Intergenerational Report showing the population of Australia would increase from 22 million in 2010 to 35 million in 2050.[10] Burke’s responsibilities included planning for the growth in Australia’s population and coordinating the provision of services accordingly.

Following the 2010 federal election, Burke was appointed Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. In March 2012, following the ALP leadership spill, Burke was also appointed Vice-President of the Executive Council.[4]

As Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Burke established the Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network, the largest network of marine protected areas anywhere in the World and the world’s second largest conservation determination after the preservation of Antarctica.[11]

Burke acted as a mediator in the long-running dispute between environmental groups and the Tasmanian forestry industry, culminating in the signing of the historic Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement in 2011.[12]

Burke often cites Labor’s environmental credentials and the campaign to protect the Daintree Rainforest as the reason he got involved in politics.[5] In government, Burke pushed to protect large areas of the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Ningaloo Reef by having them listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In 2014, the Abbott Government’s application to undo Burke’s Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage listing was rejected by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.[13] The Portuguese delegation called the delisting attempt “feeble”.[13]

In early 2011, Burke gave approval for the 100 per cent plantation timber Bell Bay Pulp Mill in the Tamar Valley after imposing stricter environmental conditions on the applicant Gunns Limited.[14] Burke said many of the demands made by environmental groups opposed to the development had been addressed.[15]

Burke in a 2014 protest against the Abbott Government's proposed changes to section 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act

On 22 November 2012, Burke signed off on the Murray Darling Basin Plan, a process more than 100 years in the making, after extensive consultation with irrigators, environmental groups and state governments.[16]

On 25 March 2013, Burke was appointed Minister for the Arts in the Second Gillard Ministry, in addition to his existing responsibilities.[4] Burke took over the implementation of the Gillard Government’s Creative Australia policy after the former Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean, was sacked for his involvement in a failed attempt to return Kevin Rudd to the prime ministership.[17] Following the June 2013 Labor leadership spill, which saw Gillard lose the Labor leadership, Rudd rejected Burke’s offer to resign from the ministry.[18] Burke, a Gillard supporter, had been critical of Rudd's performance during his previous tenure.[18] Rudd subsequently appointed Burke as Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship in the Second Rudd Ministry. He remained Minister for the Arts and Vice-President of the Executive Council.[4]

Opposition (2013–present)[edit]

Following Labor’s 2013 election loss, Burke was appointed Shadow Finance Minister and Manager of Opposition Business.[4] From opposition Burke has been a vocal opponent of the Liberal National Government’s fiscal and economic policies, and its attempts to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.[19][20] In May 2014, Burke held a march against the changes to Section 18C in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba. The event was attended by more than 1,000 people protesting against the changes, which were subsequently dropped by the Abbott Government.[19]

The “Walk for Respect” was held again in 2017 in Lakemba when the Turnbull Government again sought to remove certain protections against speech potentially considered to be racially offensive. The Walk was held on the same day the senate rejected the government amendments, this time with 3000 in attendance.[1]

After the 2016 federal election, Burke was appointed Shadow Minister for Environment and Water, Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Australia, Shadow Minister for the Arts and Manager of Opposition Business.[4]

Political positions[edit]


Burke is opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide. He has said his opposition stems from the case of a friend who was incorrectly diagnosed with a terminal illness.[21] In the 1990s, Burke served as the executive director of Euthanasia No!, a group that lobbied state and federal governments against altering the status quo on euthanasia. In 1996, he and a pro-euthanasia campaigner, Peter Baume, were invited to address the New South Wales Legislative Assembly prior to a debate on the subject, one of only a handful of occasions on which non-MPs have been invited to speak in parliament.[22][23] He was later tasked with lobbying Labor senators to vote for what became the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which voided the Northern Territory's euthanasia laws.[24][25]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

Burke publicly announced his support of same-sex marriage in May 2015,[26] and voted in favour of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017.[27] He had previously voted against the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012, citing opposition within his constituency.[28] His division had the second-highest percentage of "No" responses in the 2017 Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, with 69.64% of the electorate's respondents to the survey responding "No".[29]

Personal life[edit]

Burke married Cathy Bresnan in 1994; she subsequently took the surname "Bresnan-Burke". The couple had three daughters together, but separated 30/12/2012. Burke continued to reside at the family home throughout 2013. Burke moved out of the family residence in December 2013 following the Federal Election loss. [30] In February 2014, The Australian reported that Burke was in a relationship with Skye Laris, who had previously been his chief of staff.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Davis, Mark (30 December 2006). "The fine art of persuasion". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  2. ^ "St Pat's old boys making their mark". 11 December 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  3. ^ "Tony Burke likely to be next Labor PM". 30 December 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Hon Tony Burke MP". Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c "The fine art of persuasion". 30 December 2006. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  6. ^ a b "Hon. Anthony (Tony) Burke MP". Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  7. ^ "Burke recalls failed plea as 'worst day' of his career". 7 July 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  8. ^ "Taking apart Australia". Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  9. ^ "Horse flu crackdown easing". 4 February 2008. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  10. ^ "Rudd welcomes 'big Australia'". 23 October 2009. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  11. ^ "Gillard government creates the world's biggest marine reserves network". 14 June 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  12. ^ "Landmark conservation agreement signed to protect Tasmania's native forests". 13 January 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  13. ^ a b "UNESCO rejects 'feeble' Abbott government bid to wind back protection of Tasmanian forests". 24 June 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  14. ^ "Gunns Bell Bay Pulp Mill". Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  15. ^ "Tasmanian pulp mill gets green light". 10 March 2011. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  16. ^ "Murray-Darling Basin Plan signed into law at last". 22 November 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  17. ^ "Meet the New Arts Minister Tony Burke". 17 April 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  18. ^ a b "Tony Burke's resignation rejected by Rudd". 27 June 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2016. 
  19. ^ a b "Racial Discrimination Act: Protesters march in Lakemba against changes to Section 18c". 8 July 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  20. ^ "Interview: Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke". 11 May 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  21. ^ Patricia Karvelas (19 August 2016). "Euthanasia debate: Tony Burke cites friend's HIV as reason against laws, rejects 'Catholic force' claims". ABC News. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  22. ^ NSW PARLIAMENT: VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA (1996). Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  23. ^ Address of Mr Tony Burke, Executive Director of Euthanasia No! to the NSW Legislative Assembly, ACT Right to Life. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  24. ^ Jodie Brough (29 March 1997). "The last rights". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 March 2018. 
  25. ^ Michael Edwards (10 August 2016). "Andrew Denton lashes out at 'subterranean Catholic force' blocking voluntary euthanasia laws". ABC News. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  26. ^ Tony Burke (25 May 2015). "Tony Burke: why I will now vote for gay marriage". ABC News. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  27. ^ "Labor MP won't change gay marriage view". SBS News. 15 November 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  28. ^ Dan Harrison (24 May 2015). "Labor's Tony Burke becomes latest MP to back same sex marriage". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  29. ^ "Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey 2017 Response Final". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 15 November 2017. 
  30. ^ Paul Cleary; Ean Higgins (7 February 2015). "Burke's world tour with staffer who became his partner". The Australian. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 
  31. ^ Sharri Markson; David Davidson (24 February 2014). "Burke makes big move to Skye". The Australian. Retrieved 4 March 2018. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Leo McLeay
Member of Parliament for

Political offices
Preceded by
Peter McGauran
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Succeeded by
Joe Ludwig
Preceded by
Peter Garrett
Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Succeeded by
Mark Butler
Preceded by
Robert McClelland
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
George Brandis
Preceded by
Simon Crean
Minister for Arts
Preceded by
Brendan O'Connor
Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship
Succeeded by
Scott Morrison
as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection