Labor frontbencher Tony Burke has banned himself from any shadow cabinet discussion on energy policy to avoid a conflict of interest with his wife’s job at energy giant AGL.
Skye Laris, his wife, is a senior manager public advocacy for AGL energy. She helped advise former AGL chief Andy Vesey over his fight with the Turnbull government.
Bill Shorten’s office has confirmed to The New Daily that Mr Burke wrote to the Labor leader asking to “recuse himself from decision-making processes on energy policy” when her job became permanent with the energy company.
“On every discussion of energy policy in shadow cabinet I simply excuse myself and leave the room,” Mr Burke told The New Daily.
The decision neatly sidesteps controversy, but is unusual given that Mr Burke’s environment policy includes crossover with energy policy as it relates to climate change.
It means that Mr Burke played no role in the development of the energy policy announced this week by Bill Shorten, which is designed to explain how the ALP plans to increase renewables and deliver cheaper power prices while reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The couple first met when Ms Laris worked in a senior role for the Labor Party in Mr Burke’s ministerial office and was later promoted to chief of staff.
After Mr Burke led the charge to attack Bronwyn Bishop’s travel expenses, the Liberal Party targeted his relationship and travel with Ms Laris.
But the couple said they were not in a relationship at the time of the official travel, which included a $48,000 trip to Spain.
The backlash prompted Ms Laris to defend the relationship and attack the “whispering campaign” that she said plagued women in politics.
“We are capable and we are damn good at our jobs and sometimes someone even acknowledges that by hiring us or promoting us. Yes, I ultimately fell in love with someone who did that,” she said.
As his wife, Ms Laris is eligible to be registered as Mr Burke’s spouse and their children are registered as dependants – allowing Mr Burke to claim their travel costs.
However, Mr Burke has made a personal decision not to do so after his family was targeted over a trip he took to Uluru while on government business.
“I made a commitment years ago that my kids would never again travel on the government purse,” he said.