Tony Burke

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Tony Burke
Burke in 2022
Leader of the House
Assumed office
1 June 2022
Prime MinisterAnthony Albanese
DeputyMark Butler
Preceded byPeter Dutton
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Assumed office
1 June 2022
Prime MinisterAnthony Albanese
Preceded byRichard Marles
Minister for the Arts
Assumed office
1 June 2022
Prime MinisterAnthony Albanese
Preceded byPaul Fletcher
Manager of Opposition Business
In office
18 October 2013 – 23 May 2022
LeaderBill Shorten
Anthony Albanese
Preceded byChristopher Pyne
Succeeded byPaul Fletcher
Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship
In office
1 July 2013 – 18 September 2013
Prime MinisterKevin Rudd
Preceded byBrendan O'Connor
Succeeded byScott Morrison
Vice-President of the Executive Council
In office
5 March 2012 – 18 September 2013
Preceded byRob McClelland
Succeeded byGeorge Brandis
Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
In office
14 September 2010 – 1 July 2013
Prime MinisterJulia Gillard
Kevin Rudd
Preceded byPeter Garrett
Succeeded byMark Butler
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
In office
3 December 2007 – 14 September 2010
Prime MinisterKevin Rudd
Julia Gillard
Preceded byPeter McGauran
Succeeded byJoe Ludwig
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Watson
Assumed office
9 October 2004
Preceded byLeo McLeay
Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council
In office
22 March 2003 – 24 June 2004
Succeeded byEric Roozendaal
Personal details
Anthony Stephen Burke

(1969-11-04) 4 November 1969 (age 54)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Political partyLabor
Alma materUniversity of Sydney

Anthony Stephen Burke (born 4 November 1969) is an Australian politician serving as Leader of the House, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for the Arts since 2022. He is a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and has served as member of parliament (MP) for Watson since 2004. He held cabinet positions in the governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard from 2007 to 2013.

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. During the first Rudd government, Burke held the position of Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, before being given the role of Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water and Population in the Gillard government, after Gillard replaced Rudd as prime minister. In June 2013, Rudd would in turn replace Gillard as prime minister, and appointed Burke as the Minister for the Arts and Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship in his subsequent government. He held these positions for less than three months, as Labor was defeated in the 2013 federal election.

In opposition, Burke served as the Manager of Opposition Business under Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese, and held various positions in the shadow cabinet. After Labor's victory in the 2022 election, Burke would become Leader of the House, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for the Arts in the Albanese government.

Early life[edit]

Burke was raised in a 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.[1] 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.[5]

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.[5] A view gradually formed that Burke's talents were wasted 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]

A member of Labor Right,[6] 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 and fellow Labor MP Linda Burney are the only members of the Federal Parliament to have always served as a minister or shadow minister. 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]

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.[7] He oversaw the eradication of the horse flu in Australia after the 2007 equine influenza outbreak.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]

Burke also added koalas to the threatened species list in Queensland, NSW and the ACT.[11] He also placed a ban on a controversial Dutch "super trawler" fishing vessel operating in waters off Tasmania.[12]

He 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.[13]

Burke often cites Labor's environmental credentials and the campaign to protect the Daintree Rainforest as the reason he got involved in politics.[1] 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.[14] The Portuguese delegation called the delisting attempt "feeble".[14]

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.[15] Burke said many of the demands made by environmental groups opposed to the development had been addressed.[16]

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 developed, negotiated and signed into law the Murray Darling Basin Plan, a process more than 100 years in the making, after extensive consultation with irrigators, environmental groups and state governments.[17]

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.[18] Following the June 2013 Labor leadership spill, which saw Gillard lose the Labor leadership, Rudd rejected Burke's offer to resign from the ministry.[19] Burke, a Gillard supporter, had been critical of Rudd's performance during his previous tenure.[19]

Rudd subsequently appointed Burke as Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship in the Second Rudd Ministry. In this role he oversaw Rudd's resettlement plans with Papua New Guinea and Nauru, which saw an immediate and dramatic reduction in the number of people arriving by boat. During his short time as Minister for Immigration he also sought to release every unaccompanied minor who was in immigration detention.[20]

Opposition (2013–2022)[edit]

Following Labor's 2013 election loss, Burke was appointed Shadow Finance Minister and Manager of Opposition Business.[4]

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, in addition to his duties as the Manager of Opposition Business.[4]

In 2019, he became Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, ending his roles in Environment and Water, and Citizenship and Multicultural Australia, but retaining the Arts.[21]

Albanese government (2022–present)[edit]

Following the 2022 federal election, Burke was appointed Leader of the House, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for the Arts in the Albanese ministry.[4]

Other political issues[edit]

Death penalty[edit]

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.[1] 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.[22]

Racial Discrimination Act[edit]

Burke has been a vocal opponent of the Liberal National government's attempts to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.[23][24] 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.[23]

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]


Burke is opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia. He has said his opposition stems from the case of a friend who was incorrectly diagnosed with a terminal illness.[25] 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 before a debate on the subject, one of only a handful of occasions on which non-MPs have been invited to speak in parliament.[26][27] 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.[28][29]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

Burke publicly announced his support of marriage equality in May 2015,[30] and voted in favour of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017.[31] He had previously voted against the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012, citing opposition within his constituency.[32] 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".[33]

Personal life[edit]

Burke married Cathy Bresnan in 1994; after commencing their relationship in 1989. She subsequently took the surname "Bresnan-Burke". The couple had three daughters together, but separated at the end of December 2012, the separation was not disclosed until the completion of the Federal Election in September 2013. In February 2014, The Australian reported that Burke had recently commenced a relationship with Skye Laris, his former chief of staff.[34] Burke and Laris married in December 2015.[citation needed]

He is also known for his love of music and keeps musical instruments in his Parliament House office.[35]

Burke has coeliac disease.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Davis, Mark (30 December 2006). "The fine art of persuasion". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
  2. ^ "St Pat's old boys making their mark". The Sydney Morning Herald. 11 December 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  3. ^ "Tony Burke likely to be next Labor PM". The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 December 2013. Archived from the original on 11 November 2020. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Hon Tony Burke MP". Senators and Members of the Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  5. ^ a b "The Hon. (Tony) Anthony Stephen Burke (1969– )". Former members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  6. ^ "Labor's new-look shadow ministry". SBS News. Special Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  7. ^ "Taking apart Australia". Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  8. ^ "Horse flu crackdown easing". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 4 February 2008. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  9. ^ "Rudd welcomes 'big Australia'". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 23 October 2009. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  10. ^ "Gillard government creates the world's biggest marine reserves network". 14 June 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  11. ^ "Koalas added to threatened species list - ABC News". ABC News. 30 April 2012.
  12. ^ "Super trawler banned for two years | Observer". Archived from the original on 18 October 2020.
  13. ^ "Landmark conservation agreement signed to protect Tasmania's native forests". 13 January 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  14. ^ a b "UNESCO rejects 'feeble' Abbott government bid to wind back protection of Tasmanian forests". The Sydney Morning Herald. 24 June 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  15. ^ "Gunns Bell Bay Pulp Mill". Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  16. ^ "Tasmanian pulp mill gets green light". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 10 March 2011. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Murray-Darling Basin Plan signed into law at last". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 22 November 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  18. ^ "Meet the New Arts Minister Tony Burke". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 17 April 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  19. ^ a b "Tony Burke's resignation rejected by Rudd". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 27 June 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  20. ^ "Minister Tony Burke's sneaky stance on asylum seekers". Mamamia. 11 September 2013. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  21. ^ "Hon Tony Burke MP". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  22. ^ "Burke recalls failed plea as 'worst day' of his career". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 July 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  23. ^ a b "Racial Discrimination Act: Protesters march in Lakemba against changes to Section 18c". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 8 July 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  24. ^ "Interview: Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 11 May 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ NSW PARLIAMENT: VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA (1996). Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  27. ^ Address of Mr Tony Burke, Executive Director of Euthanasia No! to the NSW Legislative Assembly, ACT Right to Life. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  28. ^ Jodie Brough (29 March 1997). "The last rights". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  29. ^ Michael Edwards (10 August 2016). "Andrew Denton lashes out at 'subterranean Catholic force' blocking voluntary euthanasia laws". ABC News. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  30. ^ Tony Burke (25 May 2015). "Tony Burke: why I will now vote for gay marriage". ABC News. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  31. ^ "Labor MP won't change gay marriage view". SBS News. 15 November 2017. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ "Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey 2017 Response Final". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 15 November 2017.
  34. ^ Sharri Markson; David Davidson (24 February 2014). "Burke makes big move to Skye". The Australian. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  35. ^ Alex, ABC News; Beech, ra (5 May 2017). "Tony Burke keeps a collection of guitars in his office at Parliament House. (April 2017)". ABC News. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
  36. ^ Savva, Niki (2 March 2022). "Albanese's eclectic entourage could make or break him at the polls". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 28 March 2022.

External links[edit]


Parliament of Australia
Preceded by Member of Parliament for

Political offices
Preceded by Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Succeeded by
Preceded by Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Arts
Preceded by Minister for Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship
Succeeded byas Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
Preceded by Leader of the House
Preceded by Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Preceded by Minister for the Arts