Browsing articles in "Shadow Ministerial Hansard"
Jun 23, 2015

Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Indexation) Bill 2015, Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Indexation) Bill 2015, Fuel Indexation (Road Funding) Special Account Bill 2015, Fuel Indexation (Road Funding) Bill 2015 Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:05): I rise to support this legislation—the Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Indexation) Bill 2015, the Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Indexation) Bill 2015, the Fuel Indexation (Road Funding) Special Account Bill 2015 and the Fuel Indexation (Road Funding) Bill 2015—on the basis of the proposition that was put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Treasurer and me this morning, which was adopted by the Labor caucus and then agreed to by the government. This was a difficult decision. It was a pragmatic decision, but it is the right decision. It is a compromise under which Labor is agreeing to support the government’s move to reintroduce indexation of fuel excise on the basis of the investment of the first two years of the proceeds, some $1.1 billion, into Roads to Recovery. In circumstances under which the Abbott government has doubled the deficit since its election, Labor accepts the need to undertake measures which are difficult, in order to come to a better budgetary position. However, in ensuring the boost for Roads to Recovery we have ensured that this increase can have an immediate positive effect where it is needed—primarily on jobs, on local economies and on economic productivity.

Roads to Recovery, in particular, drives jobs right around the nation by its very nature, because it is distributed to each and every local council and because the formula for the allocation is not subject to politics but on the basis of a proper analysis, including the length of road in a particular municipality in accordance with disadvantage. It will ensure that the overwhelming majority of the funds from the fuel excise increase over the next two years will go to outer suburban areas and to regional areas. These are precisely the areas where people drive more than in an electorate, such as mine, that has access to public transport.

We do need to have this additional infrastructure investment. ABS figures show that public sector infrastructure investment fell by some 17.3 per cent in the December 2014 quarter compared with the December 2013 quarter. Private investment over that one-year period fell by 12.4 per cent. At a time where what the economy needs is investment in infrastructure to help assist the fact that there is a slowdown from investment in resources sector infrastructure as it moves to the production phase, this investment will be very much welcomed by local government and will also ensure that additional people are able to secure employment.

In the 2013-14 budget, the government proposed the change that is being given effect today. Labor had concerns because of the effect it would have on consumers. In the same budget, the government froze indexation of financial assistance grants. This cost councils some $925 million over four years and represented a particular blow to the fiscal position of those councils who could least afford it—those in rural and regional areas. The local government community have been impacted by that. Indeed, mayors such as the Mayor of the City of Greater Geraldton, Ian Carpenter, said about small local government areas:

They’ll become unsustainable. It’s a very, very serious problem and I can’t stress that enough. To take away the indexation is just crazy. It is just crazy.

He is right, and we certainly would not have taken away that indexation from the financial assistance grants. But with this measure we have managed to secure, from opposition, more money to be put back into local government than that which was taken away at that time.

We believe this is particularly important because of the nature of the Roads to Recovery program. We looked, to be frank, at what options there were for additional infrastructure investment. If you had the allocation to a large road project then it would be difficult, I think, for us to justify, as a parliament, charging every motorist in Australia while only some benefitted. What Roads to Recovery does is ensure that every community will receive something back, and that is why, in particular, we chose to put forward this proposition. We also know that, because there is a $15 billion shortfall in local government infrastructure, every council will have a list of where maintenance is ready to be done—the widening of a road, a roundabout or a safety measure. They all have a list that will be larger than the funding increase that will result from this agreement today.

It is also the case that Roads to Recovery is very labour intensive. It will maximise the employment outcome as a result of the additional investment. It is not surprising that the Australian Local Government Association welcomed Labor’s initiative this morning. The president, Troy Pickard, from Western Australia, had this to say:

We applaud the Opposition’s focus on local government and their recognition in this policy initiative of local government’s important role in developing local economies and creating jobs through projects funded through the Roads to recovery program. This initiative is particularly welcome at a time when local government is under financial pressure following the decision to freeze the indexation of Financial Assistance Grants, costing councils an estimated $925 million in the period to 2017-18. Local Government faces a huge task in managing our local roads infrastructure, which is more than 670,000 km in length and valued at more than $165 billion. This infrastructure plays an essential role in sustaining local economies by connecting freight networks across regions. The proposal underlines the continued commitment of the ALP and, in particular, of Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and transport, and Julie Collins, Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Local Government, to the Local Government sector.

There is also, of course, a very important road safety outcome. In May, the NRMA warned of the need for urgent action to help New South Wales councils clear a $3.2 billion backlog on road repairs. The report said that, in the six years between 2008 and 2013, 1,480 people were killed and 100,413 injured on roads managed by NSW regional councils. The NRMA called for a greater contribution from the fuel excise to help regional and local councils fund roads. It noted that last year the fuel excise raised $15 billion yet only some $6 billion of the amount collected was spent on the nation’s roads. NRMA President Kyle Loades said ‘upgrading dangerous roads made a huge difference to the road toll’.

After the government failed to win support last year to boost fuel excise through legislation, it made the change via regulation. But this was a short-term fix. If this decision were not put into effect by legislation in the next couple of months all the extra revenue would have had to have been paid back not to motorists but to the big fuel companies. That was a position that I think was untenable. It would simply be unacceptable that money that had been collected from motorists was paid back directly to fuel companies, which is why this proposition that has now been agreed to of putting money back into local roads is so important. I am pleased that the government has agreed to this proposal.

Australians can always rely upon Labor to invest in the nation’s roads. We doubled the road budget during our period in office. We also believe it is important to invest in public transport. Infrastructure Australia’s updated national infrastructure audit released last month said that, without action, traffic congestion will cost the nation some $53 billion a year by 2031. That is a huge cost. Those opposite refuse to invest a cent in urban public transport.

On taking office the government dumped billions of dollars that had been allocated to projects like the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s cross river rail project. I was reminded how absurd that was two weeks ago when I attended the launch and on Sunday when commuters gained access to the new regional rail link in Victoria—a project that has added 54,000 new seats a day to the Victorian rail network and that employed 15,000 people in construction. This is the first new rail line built in Victoria in 80 years and it will add some $300 million a year of productivity benefit to the Victorian economy. It is a game changer of a project. It is a stark example of one of the great differences between Labor and the coalition. When Tony Abbott as the Leader of the Opposition said in Victoria prior to the last election that the federal government does not invest in public transport he was unaware that the regional rail link project even existed. If we are returned to government we will invest in public transport, not just roads. We make that commitment again. We put more money into public transport between 2007 and 2013 than all previous governments combined between Federation and 2007. I think that is evidence that we are very strong in this area.

With regard to the so-called hypothecation in general of the fuel excise in a fund, we think that is basically a bit of smoke and mirrors. You can put money into a fund and say it is going to roads but that is only legitimate if the amount that is in that fund or allocated from fuel excise is greater than the amount that is actually spent on roads. If that is not the case then it is not additional investment, because you can just say, ‘We will put $2 billion here,’ but $2 billion comes out the other end in terms of expenditure. That is why we put forward a specific commitment for Roads to Recovery over a specific period of time. That is a real commitment that will make a real difference, not the so-called hypothecation. We are serious about infrastructure investment, which is why we are concerned that the government has cut infrastructure investment by 11.2 per cent over the forward estimates.

This is a proposal that I believe is worthy of support on balance when you look at all of the circumstances that are there with regard to the doubling of the budget deficit and the way that the government has introduced this change by regulation. I commend the legislation to the House. We will continue to play a constructive role, unlike the former opposition. (Time expired)

Jun 17, 2015

Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2015 Measures No. 3) Bill 2015 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:28): There is something tragic about watching people lose their sense of reality as they succumb to fanaticism. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said:

There is no place in a fanatic’s head where reason can enter.

This is what has happened to this government when it comes to anything to do with Australian based shipping. There is one element of this legislation that is about removing the seafarer’s tax offset. Once again, this is yet another proposition by the government to increase the taxation that workers have to pay.

I notice that in his second reading speech, the Assistant Treasurer offered the view that abolishing the offset represented a step towards to ‘simplifying coastal shipping regulation in Australia’. Now, that is an extraordinary statement from the Assistant Treasurer, because the seafarers offset has absolutely nothing to do with coastal shipping—with domestic shipping taking freight from one Australian port to another around our coast.

The seafarers tax offset was introduced by the former Labor government in 2012 as part of a package of reforms aimed at revitalising Australian shipping. These reforms included changes to taxation regimes to allow Australian based international shippers to compete with their international rivals on a level playing field. We did that in a very practical way. We did not do it in a protectionist way or in a regulatory way; we did it through micro-economic reform. We did it by introducing two tax changes: by having a zero rate in the form of company taxation for Australian ships that were registered on the Australian International Shipping Register and by having effectively a zero rate on Australian seafarers who worked on those ships.

What is interesting about the government’s approach is that they are not trying to repeal, through this legislation, the zero rate of taxation for the companies; they are just trying to change it for the workforce. That is consistent with the government’s very narrow approach.

This measure provided a rebate to employers of Australian staff for part of the income tax withheld while those staff undertake international voyages. It was a very effective measure indeed, which effectively would assist the companies, as well, which hire Australian seafarers to work on international voyages. The intent in creating the rebate was simple. We wanted to encourage the employment of Australian seafarers on ships. We wanted to see Australians involved in the international maritime industry. We wanted to see jobs for Australians.

What was the logic of this in terms of the debate that we had with Treasury and Finance? I must say that, when initially the proposition was put forward at the extensive consultative process that I established as the minister, Treasury and Finance’s starting instinct was not to support zero rates of taxation. But they did because they acknowledged the logic that was there, because, if Australian ships are going to compete with ships that are based in places like Singapore and other competitor nations—let alone some that are registered under flags of convenience in Third World countries—they have to have competitive rates of taxation. Similarly, if you are a seafarer who works in international waters for a lot of the time, you can very easily simply base yourself in a country such as Singapore that provides for essentially a similar regime to that of the seafarers tax offset—effectively, a zero rate of taxation.

It actually is a false cost to government because, unless you have this sort of policy, you will not have Australian-flagged vessels in international trade and you will not have Australian seafarers based in Australia engaged in that trade. And yet this government is attempting to repeal this, which is certainly not in the national interest.

The Assistant Treasurer in his second reading speech chose to conflate the offset with the ongoing debate about this government’s attempts to introduce Work Choices on water by dismantling Labor’s domestic shipping reforms. What we have here is a case of ideology overtaking reason. Last month, the Deputy Prime Minister and transport minister confirmed his intention to dismantle Labor’s 2012 Revitalising Australian Shipping package, which sought to use tax breaks and other benefits to strengthen the Australian industry. Part of his plan is to allow foreign-flagged vessels paying Third World wages to undercut Australian-flagged vessels operating between Australian domestic ports.

A rational person would accept that, if you work in Australia, whether you are moving freight by sea, air, rail or road, you ought to be paid in accordance with Australian law. But those opposite are not rational when it comes to the maritime sector. So obsessed are they with the Maritime Union of Australia that they are prepared to wreck an Australian industry to ensure that there are not Australian jobs in the maritime sector, because therefore you will not have Maritime Union members. It is an extraordinary proposition that they have.

The particular measure that is in this bill, though, is specifically about international shipping. But it is worth saying that, if you were carrying goods by road down the Hume Highway from Sydney to Melbourne, it would be an extraordinary proposition that Toll or Linfox should have to compete with someone who could bring in a Filipino based truck with Filipino based safety standards and therefore costs and overheads and employ a Filipino based driver with Filipino wages and conditions to drive down the Hume Highway. And yet what this government wants to do is this: if you go from Sydney to Melbourne on the blue highway off the coast, on a ship, you can do precisely that—a foreign ship with foreign standards, employing foreign workers, paying foreign wages and conditions. That is an extraordinary proposition. There is no difference between road or rail or air or shipping in terms of these issues.

The government has also tried to do this through the trade minister, who is still pushing to allow this to happen with foreign airlines in the northern part of Australia. He wants them to be able to come in and compete, and undermine the services that are provided by Qantas and Virgin and Airnorth and all of those operators in Australia’s north. This is nothing more than unilateral economic disarmament. This is saying, ‘Come in, take our jobs, take our economic activity, and we will get nothing in return’. There is no industrialised country in the world that allows a free-for-all around its domestic coast like this government is proposing. The junior minister, the Assistant Treasurer, did not seem to understand that the seafarer tax offset was not a part of that attack. That is a separate attack, I say to the Assistant Treasurer. It must be confusing for him—as he sits in meetings where there is wave after wave of attacks on the rights of the workforce in the maritime sector.

The ignorance of the Assistant Treasurer does not make him a lone soldier. The Deputy Prime Minister and transport minister—the person just a heartbeat away, the person who from time to time is acting Prime Minister of this country—spoke at a Shipping Australia function on 20 May. He surprised his audience when he indicated, in response to a question, that this seafarer tax offset had already been repealed. He did not know! The Deputy Prime Minister was asked if the government would do anything with tax incentives for Australian business, like those in Europe where there is accelerated depreciation in tax rebates for seafarers. And he said in his answer: ‘Of course, there were some taxation measures in the previous government’s framework that have not been used, and I think they were actually repealed in the last budget.’ What an extraordinary statement from the Deputy Prime Minister. The truth is: the government has tried before to abolish this offset, and it was rejected by the Senate for good reason.

So this legislation represents the second time in two years that the government has sought to abolish this seafarer tax offset. Labor opposed this change the first time around and we will do it again. The former government introduced this as a part of wanting to see Australia as an island continent with a strong shipping industry. It is in our economic interest and our environmental interest—and it is in the interests of our national security—to have the Australian flag have a strong presence, not just around our coastline but around the seas, oceans and waterways of the world. We want to see the Australian flag flying on the backs of ships working our coastal trading routes and around the world.

The way the rebate works here is not really targeted just at employees; it is a payment provided to employers to encourage them to employ Australians. Once again, that is something the Assistant Treasurer just did not seem to get at all. The government sees the shipping sector not as an industry but just as an input cost to every other industry. Maritime Industry Australia, known previously as the Australian Shipowners Association, and Shipping Australia both support this offset. They are both industry bodies—the Australian based industries and indeed the foreign shippers that engage in Australia both support this offset, which came after an extensive process.

We will oppose this, as we will oppose the government’s ‘Work Choices on water’ agenda. We believe it is in the national interest to have this proposition opposed. I do say that the major players in the shipping industry, including CSL and ANL, have told the government that the so-called red-tape burden under the post-2012 system is no different to that which preceded it. In a submission to the departmental review of coastal trading last year, CSL said this:

The cost impost on Australian shippers of engaging coastal vessels on coastal trades since the introduction of the Coastal Trading Act in July 2012, as a standalone piece of legislation, is minimal.

ANL also supported the current regime.

We will oppose the abolition of the seafarer tax offset because it is not in the national interest. (Time expired)

Jun 16, 2015

Airports Amendment Bill 2015 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:16): I am pleased to be able to speak to the Airports Amendment Bill 2015 on behalf of the Labor opposition. I am pleased to do so because it clears the way to progress the plan to build a second Sydney airport. The bill seeks to clear up deficiencies in aspects of the Airports Act 1996, which create uncertainty and confusion about the process for establishing a second Sydney airport. I make it clear that the inadequacies of the existing legislation I do not blame the current government for but former governments, I think, deserve some legitimate criticism for the fact that that this bill was necessary to clean up, frankly, what was very bad legislation in a couple of aspects.

In that context, Labor will support this bill that is before the parliament. That is because we believe Sydney needs a second airport sooner rather than later. It is inconceivable that the economic development of Australia’s largest city should be held back by inadequate aviation facilities. That makes it critical that this parliament ensures that existing airport related legislation be fit for purpose.

We must ensure that the processes surrounding the development of a second airport are rigorous and comprehensive. In particular, we need to ensure that there is proper consultation with affected communities and that there be proper assessment of environmental impacts. This bill seeks to remove obstacles to the completion of these essential processes. It will help to ensure that the government gets the planning right, something vital for a piece of infrastructure as big and as important as a new airport. A new airport can drive employment and economic activity in Western Sydney. Indeed, the airport needs to be an airtropolis—something that is not just about planes going in and out but something that drives economic activity in job creation through the logistics sector, through the tourism sector and through the business sector for people in Western Sydney.

The Airports Act 1996 relates to existing federally leased airports. It is focused on regulating ownership, planning and development of those airports. Currently there are 21 federally leased airports including all of the main capital city airports around Australia. The act was put in place to manage the ongoing ownership and operation of our major airports following a process of privatisation of operations that occurred from the early 1990s through for more than a decade. One of those privatisations was the release of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, a transaction that occurred in 2002 during the period of the Howard government. I have had cause to speak of the Kingsford Smith Airport privatisation in this place before. I have been critical of the process surrounding that transaction because I do not believe that the deal represented the best possible outcome for taxpayers. That is why it is not surprising that the legislation before us today seeks to deal with some of the unintended consequences of that flawed transaction.

This bill also addresses the fact that Sydney’s airport is a greenfields development, something not contemplated by the regulatory structure of the current act. It also envisages the mandatory adoption of environmental conditions in any airport approval. The opposition welcomes this move because we believe that Sydney’s second airport must be developed in accordance with environmental best practice. We strongly believe that our national infrastructure—roads, railway lines, ports and intermodal facilities—must have the capacity to handle the requirements of the 21st century.

But we also believe that when we deliver this infrastructure we should do so with the utmost consideration of the environment as well as the legitimate interests of residents living in the vicinity of such facilities. Our community needs top-quality infrastructure to maintain community expectations and to underpin the economic growth that will provide jobs for this and future generations. But we also need top-quality processes surrounding the delivery of that infrastructure. With a project of this size and scale, there is little margin for error in planning. This bill will improve the government’s ability to get the planning right.

There is absolutely no doubt that the City of Sydney requires a second airport sooner rather than later. Those who believe otherwise are kidding themselves. Sydney is a global city. Its efficient operation is central to the economic productivity not just of New South Wales but of the entire nation. It is our major aviation hub. A delay at Sydney Airport has a knock-on impact around the nation because four out of every 10 aircraft pass through Sydney. When Sydney sneezes, aviation across the nation catches a cold.

The site of the existing airport is also problematic. Limited space and bottlenecks in the traffic networks surrounding the facility reduce the city’s economic productivity. In terms of space, it is less than either a half or one-third the size of Brisbane and Melbourne airports. Its geography, surrounded by the most heavily densely populated area of Australia with a bay to the south, means that there is a problem with capacity at the airport.

To those who say that Sydney Airport can take more flights, I suggest that they talk to people who have regularly landed at Sydney Airport late but have still been unable to get access to a gate, simply because of its size and the constraints due to the land that Sydney Airport has been built on. These inordinate delays are a handbrake on national infrastructure, and when there is a delay in Sydney it impacts right around the network. Indeed, there are many Sydney based parliamentarians, colleagues, who drive to Canberra rather than fly, simply because they can be certain of what time they will get to their destination. Many business travellers complain about missing interstate meetings due to delays, and many families have had their interstate or international holiday plans disrupted by delays.

Several studies have shown that a second Sydney Airport is needed and that what you need is good evidence based policy. The evidence that Sydney needs a second airport is in. The policy response is to get on with the business of building it, and this legislation will facilitate just that. As minister I commissioned an aviation green paper and white paper process. Arising out of that, one of the recommendations was that there be a study into Sydney’s aviation needs. This was funded as a joint New South Wales and federal study, commenced and completed under the former government.

The joint study reported on 2 March 2012. It was headed by the Secretary of the federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport, Mike Mrdak, and the head of New South Wales Planning, Sam Haddad. The study team also included the former Howard government minister Warwick Smith and Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia. The study found that air passenger demand in the Sydney region was forecast to more than double by 2035 to 87,000,000 passengers, and then double again by 2060. It recommended the adoption of a long-term strategy to meet this growth. It warned that the economic consequences of inaction would be dire, including a $6 billion loss in national GDP by 2035. New South Wales would be the hardest hit, with a loss of $2.3 billion in gross state product over the same period.

The 3,000-page comprehensive report made a range of recommendations and the key one was to support a second Sydney Airport. Sydney is full at peak hours now but the peak period is lengthening; pretty soon it will exist from between 7 am in the morning right through to 7 pm in the evening, with just a short period in between. This has an impact; because Sydney Airport is at peak for most of the day, a delay that occurs anywhere in the network takes longer and longer to get back into an on-time performance schedule. It is why, in terms of a response to this report, as transport minister I did everything possible to advance planning for a second Sydney Airport, including looking carefully at the options for the location of a second airport. It is also why, since a change of government in 2013, Labor has strongly supported the current government’s actions to progress the proposal. A second airport for Sydney did not just require government action; it also required opposition support to make it a reality. If not, the impasse that has existed for far too long would have continued.

I make it clear today that my constructive approach to these issues will continue. The truth about major infrastructure projects is that sometimes a decision by the government of the day is not enough to achieve what is required. When it comes to nation-building infrastructure I believe that this parliament has a responsibility to take decisions that will benefit this generation and future generations. It requires political parties to put aside politics and work together in the national interest. It is about our economy, our productivity and our ability to grow as a nation.

Handled properly, a second airport can provide opportunity—jobs for tens of thousands of people in Western Sydney. Airports are job generators. The joint study found that, in the absence of a second airport in Sydney, the total number of jobs that will not be created is estimated to grow over time as unmet demand increases. This is averaged to be 12,700 in New South Wales and 17,300 nationally over the period from 2011. In 2060 alone the annual estimate of forgone jobs is approximately 57,000 in New South Wales and 77,900 nationally. Further, the jobs around airports are well-paid jobs.

The Grattan Institute undertook detailed research across Australia’s capital cities last year looking at where the high-paying, high-productivity jobs are located. It found that CBDs were by far the largest centres of high-paying jobs. But it also noted that inner-city areas and secondary commercial hubs, such as those around large cities’ airports, also tend to be more productive than other locations. A new airport not only brings jobs; it has the potential over time to bring higher paying, productivity-driving jobs to a location other than a CBD.

Airports, like universities, are one of the key attractors of related industries to their precincts. The importance of this cannot be overstated at this stage of Australia’s economic development. As the 2013 State of Australian cities report—the last one that was actually published—made clear, our nation is undergoing a shift under which jobs growth is moving from the suburbs to the inner city. At the same time, housing remains affordable in suburban areas. This means that many Australians have to commute from homes in the outer suburbs to the inner city. This has given rise to the phenomenon of drive-in drive-out suburbs, where housing is affordable but jobs are scarce.

The social consequences of this trend are significant. It is indeed a tragedy that many Australian parents spend more time commuting in their cars than they spend at home playing with their children. There is also a risk that a lack of jobs close to where people live will entrench social disadvantage. One way that governments can address this trend is to invest in public transport. Regrettably, of course, the current government have cut public transport spending and do not believe in investing in it, although I note that they are very happy to come to openings of projects that have been funded by previous governments.

Another remedy is to focus on job creation closer to where people live. The construction of a second airport in Western Sydney will bring thousands of well-paid jobs to the region, not just in aviation but also in associated industries. A properly developed second Sydney airport will not only spark economic growth but also literally improve life for tens of thousands of people who will be able to live much closer to their workplaces. That means less time on the road, more time for family and friends and a better quality of life. The case for a second Sydney airport is therefore compelling, but, with the Commonwealth having chosen the site and already working on associated road infrastructure, it is important that we get the detailed planning right. We also need to ensure that the community has its say on the concept plan and that there is a proper and transparent analysis of environmental impacts.

Considerations like jobs and economic development, not to mention the meeting of economic need, do make the case for a second Sydney airport compelling. Still, there are those in parliament whose rigid ideology blinds them to the needs of a growing nation. I am somewhat disappointed, if not surprised, that the Greens political party in New South Wales have a formal policy that Sydney should not have a second airport. What is more, they also have a position that says they do not support Sydney’s first airport, Kingsford Smith—that is, the Greens political party argue that a global city such as Sydney should not have an aviation facility. It is an absurd proposition, in which people could get into Sydney by parachuting out of planes as they fly over, but it is unclear how they could actually leave Sydney. It is an absurd proposition that goes to their irresponsible behaviour in economic policy, where they are prepared to say to any particular group what that group wants to hear.

The truth is that nation-building infrastructure, including airports, is vital for our quality of life and our standard of living. Constituents in my electorate are adversely affected by Kingsford Smith airport, but I accept that that is a by-product of a piece of infrastructure that is vital for not just Sydney but New South Wales and Australia, as a generator of economic activity and jobs. The Greens political party, of course, say that you can have no airport in Sydney or in Western Sydney but a high-speed rail line to a mythical location somewhere else. The problem with that is, of course, that a high-speed rail line would include 67 kilometres of tunnel through Sydney, which the study that I commissioned as minister showed would also in practice be likely to be opposed by the Greens political party, just like the Greens in the UK opposed the high-speed rail proposals that had the support at the last election in Britain of the UK Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. The fact is that they should not be allowed to have this absurd proposition whereby in inner Sydney they argue that they want to close Kingsford Smith, but they also argue against any location for a second airport.

The Labor Party will adopt a constructive approach to this. We understand that construction of a major project like a new airport is difficult to handle politically. We also realise that the imperative for action requires us to work in a constructive way with the government, and I believe I have done that. I do think, though, that part of building that community confidence is making sure that the environmental protections are very much there, and that is why we very much welcome the strengthening that is in this legislation.

One problem with the existing Airports Act is that it was designed to deal with existing federally leased airports, including in our other capital cities. The bill before us seeks to address the development of an airport on a greenfield site. It brings two existing processes together to address the initial development of a brand-new airport: the development of a master plan, which is more strategic and conceptual in nature, and the initial major development plans, which are in effect development applications that require Commonwealth consent. After the initial development is complete, the new airport will revert to the regular five-year approval arrangements that exist for all other federally leased airports.

Labor welcomes the bill’s proposed strengthened role for the environment minister in making mandatory environmental conditions rather than, as is currently the case for other airports, making non-binding recommendations to the infrastructure and transport minister. Labor emphasises that the EIS process, which is being conducted under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, needs to be thorough, evidence based and transparent, with conditions that address environmental amenity as required.

We note that the minister has committed to allowing a full process of concurrent community input into both the airport plan and the EIS later this year. This is important. It is inevitable that not everyone will be pleased about the construction of a second Sydney airport. That is the nature of development. But it is essential that the community have its input, that community views are taken into account and that the government considers the community views in a responsible way.

The fact that this legislation is required now to address drafting issues highlights the inadequacy of the original legislation. For example, a condition on the sale of the Kingsford Smith airport was that the existing owner be given first right of refusal for the development of any second airport. In retrospect, it is clear that this condition included no additional revenue benefit for the Commonwealth and has reduced potential for competition in the sector. It is not a proposal that I believe is ideal.

This bill moves to emphasise that changed options for operation of the two Sydney airports continue to protect the lessee from exposure to the application of National Competition Law. It does so by exempting possible Sydney Airport Corporation Limited operation of both Kingsford Smith airport and the second airport from the ‘substantial lessening of competition’ rule in Competition Law.

We may well wonder what the ACCC would actually think about an arrangement for construction of a second airport that gives the inside running to the operator of the existing airport. There are competing views perhaps, but an open tender that included Sydney airport as an equal bidder would almost certainly have allowed more innovation, interest and, dare I say, sale proceeds to the Commonwealth than the closed process that begins in the first stage of this process.

We know that the ACCC is wary of the lack of regulation surrounding current port sales, as are many shippers and port lessees. At first glance, airports are not dissimilar. Sydney airport is one of four airports currently monitored by the ACCC in terms of service levels and prices.

The Howard government had a record of lazy privatisations. Look at the mess that followed the unreconstructed sale of Telstra, both the monopoly and contestable elements, with little regard to the consequences for Australian consumers and businesses. The coming into existence of the NBN was in part related to the legacy left to a future Labor government arising from that lazy sell-off process. The inclusion of the right of first refusal to the buyer of Kingsford Smith airport by the Howard government was done late in the process, and with little apparent regard to the interests of future users of airport facilities in Sydney.

This bill does not take away the contracted right of first refusal, but it clears the way for real contestability should Sydney airport not take up the government’s offer. It is important to recognise that Sydney airport has the right of first refusal, not the right of veto—as I continually put to the former chairman of the Sydney airport, the now departed Max Moore-Wilton; I made clear my views about the conflicts that occurred with Mr Moore-Wilton. Specifically, this is done by providing for the possibility of unrelated owners operating Kingsford Smith and the second airport.

At the moment, it is extraordinary: if you had someone other than Kingsford Smith airport operating the second Sydney airport in terms of owning it then Kingsford Smith would still have to have the right to operate the second Sydney airport; therefore, completely vetoing in practice the ability of anyone other than Sydney airport to bid. That is just outrageous legislation that occurred. The former government that presided over that in 2002 should really stand condemned for the fact that this government is having to fix up that absurd proposition.

Of course, it also had in the legislation caps on cross-ownership of Sydney’s second airport by the owners of Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth airports. Under the existing legislation, not only did you have that Sydney’s second airport had to be operated by Kingsford Smith airport whether it owned it or not; you had ownership restrictions on what would be natural bidders for a second Sydney airport—that is, airports in other capital cities that are well run and with the experience of operating airports. This legislation fixes that up. It improves the negotiating position of the Commonwealth with the Sydney Airport Corporation, implementing what common sense tells you should have been the case from the very beginning.

While the opposition will be supporting this legislation as a means to ensure that we get the planning right, I do want to raise the fact that the rail connection needs to be built just as the roads need to be built. It makes no sense to go back after an airport is built and a runway is in place to build a railway line.

As much as an airport is a piece of economic infrastructure, it is also a public asset. To facilitate its efficient use, it should be connected to the existing public transport network. A rail link that connects the existing south-west line—that has been extended thanks to the decision of the former Rees government in New South Wales—to the western line should be part of the initial development. That would ensure it was built into the price when the airport is leased as well.

This would mean benefit for the people of Western and south-western Sydney regardless of whether they are going to airport or not. That is an example of what can drive public support for this proposal. I think very strongly that this should occur. During the New South Wales election, I did a press conference with the New South Wales Labor leader Luke Foley to express our view there. I would urge the government to have a close look at the propositions that we have put forward in a constructive way and get on with ensuring that this occurs.

The fact is that no airport, without public transport access, operates as well as an airport once it has that public transport access. Look at Melbourne: decades after the new airport was opened, they still do not have rail access, and it is still an issue. It is far harder once the airport has been built to go back and deal with those issues.

In conclusion, one of the key responsibilities of elected office is to think about the future. One of the reasons I am attracted to the infrastructure portfolio is that you can make a difference, not for a year or a political term but for generations to come. Western Sydney has a population now of over two million people. Think of Adelaide not having any airport at all. That is a relevant factor here. This is about provision of infrastructure, provision of highly paid jobs and driving that economic reform.

After working in government to lay the groundwork for a decision about the second airport, Labor will continue to play a constructive role in making the project a reality, but in doing so we insist on proper process. I acknowledge the fact that the minister and Assistant Minister Briggs have been available for consultation and have ensured that this project has moved forward in a way that is above politics. That is necessary. We also need though to bring the public with the government on this proposition. That is why a proper assessment of the environmental impact, ensuring that there is value for public money in this process and ensuring that we maximise the job creation and the public benefit that can come out of a second airport are so important. I commend this bill to the House.

Jun 16, 2015

Statements by Members – Regional Rail Link

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:42): I was very proud to attend Sunday’s opening of the new Regional Rail Link, which untangles the lines used by Melbourne’s suburban railway lines from those used by regional services to and from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong. This project created 15,000 jobs. It will add 54,000 passenger seats a day to the train system and save the Victorian economy $300 million a year. There are new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, upgrades of four stations, grade separations, removal of level crossings—this was a fantastic project.

That is why it was so surprising that it was in Melbourne that the Prime Minister made his famous dictum that the federal government does not invest in public transport. All he had to do was to go and have a look at this project—the largest ever federal investment in an urban public transport project in Australia’s history. It is consistent with the funding that we put into the Gold Coast rapid transit system and the Noarlunga to Seaford railway line, which are also open.

But on Sunday the Deputy Prime Minister, who is not prepared to fund public transport, was prepared to be there to cut the ribbon. He said there that the Victorian government should submit the Melbourne Metro to IA—it has already been approved by Infrastructure Australia; we already committed $40 million for the planning, which has been done.

Jun 3, 2015

Condolence motion – Hon. Leslie Royston Johnson, AM

Federation Chamber 

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:54): I rise to pay tribute to the late Les Johnson, who passed away last week. Les Johnson was a minister in the Whitlam Labor government. I knew Les and his family, and I last saw him at Tom Uren’s funeral earlier this year. Like many in the broader Labor family, there was a connection between my family and Les’s family. Les’s daughter Jenny worked for my wife, Carmel Tebbutt, when she was a minister in the New South Wales Labor government. Carmel will be at the state funeral service that is being held today.

The grand old Labor giants of the former Whitlam government era are leaving us. Gough, Tom, Kep Enderby, Arthur Gietzelt and others have departed in recent times. They were men—and they were all men—who were committed to public service. Like many in the Labor Party of that era, Les Johnson was an anti-Vietnam War campaigner, joining his friends like Tom Uren and Arthur Gietzelt in that campaign.

Les was the member for Hughes from 1955 right through to 1983, with a short break in between when he was defeated for one term by Don Dobie, who went on to be, at a later time, the member for Cook. Les Johnson, indeed, is one of the people who made the Sutherland Shire such an attractive place to live. Les—along with the likes of Arthur Gietzelt as the shire president and Maurie Keane as his local state member—was a great advocate for the local community. They took the beauty that is there in the Sutherland Shire—with those magnificent beaches, the magnificent bays and, of course, located on the edge of the Royal National Park—and ensured that, for families growing up in the shire, such as my wife’s, it was a fantastic place to raise a family.

Les Johnson deserves enormous respect and credit for standing up as a local member first and foremost. Les was much more than that. Les had a vision for the nation. On many issues, Les was way ahead of the general public opinion. One of those issues was the area of Aboriginal affairs. Les Johnson not only went on to become the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and was minister when Gough Whitlam returned the land of the Gurindji people in 1975 by pouring that red dirt into Vincent Lingiari’s hands; he also did things very much on the local level as well. Les would hold fundraising events in his own home to raise funds to set up the Kirinari Hostel for Aboriginal high school boys. He was someone who would do things at that grassroots level without any fuss, without seeking any credit, just to make a real difference to people’s lives. Les Johnson understood the importance of education as that generation did, providing that opportunity for people, no matter how disadvantaged their background, to do the best that they could in life.

Les Johnson was the Mnister for Housing in 1972 when the Whitlam government came into office and then the Minister for Works. These ministries were combined when he became the Minister for Housing and Construction. Together, the work that Les Johnson did, along with Tom Uren, with Gough Whitlam’s leadership, transformed the role of the national government in cities. Les Johnson understood that a national government that was not engaged in our cities was not one that truly represented the nation that is Australia. In terms of the work he did, that is a lasting legacy of which his family continues to be proud. When Labor lost government in 1975, he went on to be the opposition whip. Les was a character. You need to be a bit of a character to be in that job of corralling the disparate forces in our political parties. Les Johnson performed that role admirably.

After leaving parliament in 1984, he was made the High Commissioner to New Zealand—an appointment that received the overwhelming support of the parliament. Whatever their ideological persuasion, people who came into contact with Les knew him as a good bloke and a great Australian. In 1990 he was made a member of the Order of Australia for his public service, particularly for his service to the Aboriginal community.

When Les retired in 1983, I went down and worked on the campaign for his replacement in the seat of Hughes, Robert Tickner. One of the things that struck me about that campaign was very much that Robert Tickner promised to work with the same dedication and commitment as Les Johnson. People knew exactly what that meant. Of course, Robert Tickner himself went on to have a distinguished career in the parliament as well.

In his personal life, Les was married to Gladys, known as ‘Peg’. They had three children—Grant, Sally and Jenny, who is well known to me. Unfortunately, their second child, Sally, died from breast cancer in 1988. Peg passed away in 2002, and Les later married Marion Sharkey. So I pass on my condolences to Marion and to Les’s surviving children, Grant and Jenny. May he rest in peace.

Jun 3, 2015

Condolence motion – Ms Joan Elizabeth Kirner, AC

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:06): I rise to pay tribute to my friend Joan Kirner, a passionate advocate for social justice. Joan was born Joan Elizabeth Hood in 1938. Her father was a fitter and turner, and her mother was a music teacher. Joan took her principles of social justice from her parents. She went on to have opportunities in life, graduating from the University of Melbourne and working as a teacher in state schools. She married Ron Kirner and had three children: Michael, David and Kate. Dave Kirner was a good mate of mine when we were in student politics together. The first time I met Joan was not a great experience, because we had a debate over whether I was leading David astray or he was leading me astray. I think it was probably a bit of both. She was always good fun and great company. She had no malice towards anyone on either side of politics or in society. She uplifted any meeting, group or gathering where she was present. She was an absolute delight to be around.

She came up through the community. She was the President of the Victorian Federation of State School Parents’ Clubs—P&C, basically. When she went into the Victorian parliament in 1982, she was still a pioneer. It was still very much a male dominated sphere. She first entered the Legislative Council, and she went on to move into the lower house. She became the Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands and was instrumental in forming the first Landcare groups. Landcare is now accepted throughout the nation as an organisation that has done magnificent work to conserve the extraordinary natural environment that we enjoy here in this great land of Australia.

It was as Minister for Education that she then made an even larger mark. Because of her passion as a parent, she brought, I think, a perspective different from some of the technocratic ways in which education had been dealt with. She was passionate about involving the local community in the way schools were run and was very successful in achieving that. That is why she was promoted to Deputy Premier in John Cain’s government and then became, historically, the first woman Premier of Victoria, a position she held from 1990 through to 1992.

She had to cop a fair bit of criticism as the first woman Premier. I went down from New South Wales to work on the 1992 election campaign, assisting the Victorian ALP in what was a difficult campaign after a long-term Labor government. The focus on what Joan wore is something I have never seen, before or since, with any male leader of any political persuasion, but it was very much there. She took it in good humour. In that campaign I remember T-shirts and tea towels being produced—with a bit of irony—that said, ‘Spot on Joan’. I remember going to the show in Melbourne and handing out bags with insignia saying ‘Spot on Joan’ as well. She kept her sense of humour in what were very difficult times and took Labor through to the election knowing that it was highly likely that Labor would not be re-elected.

Even though she left parliament in 1994, she certainly understood that politics was about more than parliament. She continued to engage in the community and the Australian Labor Party. She was absolutely committed to the promotion and mentoring of young women coming through the Australian Labor Party and more broadly. As one of the driving forces behind EMILY’s List, I know she was particularly proud of the rise of her friend Julia Gillard to become the first female Prime Minister of Australia. But Joan, regardless of where people lined up factionally in the Labor Party or where they stood on particular issues, supported women across the spectrum with consistency and with absolute commitment.

During my leadership campaign, when I was running against Bill Shorten after the 2013 election, I attended an EMILY’s List function organised in Melbourne. Joan Kirner was there sitting at the front—despite the fact that she had serious health issues at the time. She wanted to play her role and she was very supportive of democratisation and giving rank and file members more say in the Australian Labor Party. I continued to have contact with Joan. She would send me messages—indeed I received my last messages from her only last week. She was still emailing me, from hospital, as late as last Friday. She was still putting forward ideas and suggestions in a constructive way. We will miss her. We as a party will miss her, but I think she is also a great loss to the community.

In 2012, when she received the Companion of the Order of Australia, her citation said:

…for eminent service to the Parliament of Victoria and to the community through conservation initiatives, contributions to gender equality, the development of education and training programs and the pursuit of civil rights and social inclusion.

That is an appropriate tribute to the public contribution of Joan Kirner. But today I particularly want to pay tribute to her private contribution as a thoroughly decent, committed human being as well. She will be missed. May she rest in peace.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Griggs ): A lovely contribution.

Jun 3, 2015

Matters of public importance – Budget

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:41): I must say that it is pretty hard to respond to thin air. What we have had from the parliamentary secretary there is a complete failure to defend the government’s position at all. This is a political movement opposite us that have never seen a working condition that they did not seek to undermine. They know that they cannot bring back Work Choices through the front door, through industrial relations reform. But Transport is just one example of where they are bringing back Work Choices through the back door. In the maritime sector they have a policy of Work Choices on water. They have an aviation proposal of Work Choices in the sky. It comes from the ideological position outlined in the Harper review. The Harper review said that ‘consistent with the approach the panel recommends for other regulatory reviews, the panel considers that restrictions on cabotage for shipping and aviation should be removed’.

What does this not very well known idea of cabotage mean? It means that nation states understand that industries that are engaged in the global industries of shipping and aviation defend their national interests by having a preference for industries within their own borders. That is what it means. It is as simple as that. It is a national interest test. But what are we seeing from them? In aviation, we have a proposal to allow foreign airlines to fly on domestic routes. There is not a single country in the world that allows that to happen—not one. It is unprecedented. But they would allow foreign airlines to come in and undercut Australian wages and conditions, to operate in northern Australia.

This proposal is the thin end of the wedge. When they attack workers, they also attack Australian industries. So this proposal is opposed by Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Airnorth and Tiger. All of them employ Australians, with Australian wages and conditions—and, importantly, Australian safety standards.

We heard a lot this week about the cabinet split amid—to quote the Prime Minister—the ‘come to Jesus moment’. Cabinet solidarity again has gone to hell in a handbasket. Andrew Robb is out there in the paper today bagging any suggestion that this proposal should not go forward

He speaks about vested interests. When he says vested interests, those vested interests are Australian interests, Australian jobs, Australian wages, Australian conditions and Australian industry.

In the maritime industry, they have an extraordinary proposition. If you wanted to take goods from Sydney to Melbourne on the Hume Highway, you could not bring in a Filipino truck with Filipino safety standards, employ a Filipino worker, pay them Filipino wages and have them travel from Sydney to Melbourne down the Hume Highway. It would not be allowed. But what they want is a situation where, if that journey takes place carrying Australian domestic freight on the blue highway from Sydney to Melbourne, you can have a foreign flagged vessel paying foreign wages with foreign conditions and foreign safety standards.

We saw some examples of exactly why that is inappropriate just this week on the Four Corners program. Australian ships are not the ones that have hit the Great Barrier Reef. Australian ships are not the ones that do not have the same controls over the security cards that the aviation and maritime industries have. For a government that talks a lot about borders, they want a free-for-all on our coast. They want a free-for-all where there is absolutely no protection for Australian maritime interests—none whatsoever—as well as in the skies. They are showing that they are putting their ideology before the national interest.

Jun 2, 2015

Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:02): The glaciers are retreating, and so is the Abbott government when it comes to supporting renewable energy. Just as the dinosaurs were wiped out by the ice age, by rejecting renewables this government risks wiping itself out politically. Until the election of this government Australia was emerging once again as a world leader in renewable energy, but this Prime Minister is frozen in time while the world warms around him. It is having real consequences already. Jobs are being lost and investment is plummeting, with a decline in investment in renewables of 88 per cent since this government came to office.

What is the context of this? Renewable energy in Australia is a no-brainer: we have abundant solar, wind and wave resources and the world-class skills and expertise to turn those resources into reliable energy. Renewable energy creates jobs, including jobs in manufacturing; it attracts investment; it drives down household energy prices and it reduces Australia’s carbon pollution. But uncertainty has been killing jobs and investment.

In spite of the fact that the Abbott opposition campaigned saying that the renewable energy target was a bipartisan target, they sought to undermine it when they came into office. There are more than 20,000 renewable energy jobs—with some already lost—around Australia, including more than 4,000 in my home state of New South Wales; there are jobs in wind, solar, hydro and bio energy. It is not just the technical jobs; it is the manufacturing and the retail, maintenance and administration staff. There is a multiplier effect. But, since the election of this government, investors have been abandoning us. In 2013 Australia was ranked alongside Germany, China and the United States in the top four most attractive places to invest in renewable energy. Under this government we have plummeted to 10th place and we have seen that extraordinary drop-off of 88 per cent in investment in the renewable energy sector since the change of government.

The fight against climate change, of course, is not just economic. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it best. He said this:

Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth … these are one and the same fight.

We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.

On this side of the House we do see the big picture. We aim to connect the dots. We are not in this just for ourselves, but for the future. We believe in appropriately charging polluters for their emissions—not paying them more using taxpayer funds. We take a whole-of-government approach; this government refuses to.

We know the Australian community gets it as well—more than one million Australian homes now have solar panels; when we came into office in 2007, only 7,000 did. That is a remarkable transformation. Latest research shows that Australians back renewables. Some new research, conducted by IPSOS on behalf of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, has come out in the last week or so. The report shows strong community support for solar across Australia: 87 per cent of Australians are in favour of home solar panels; more than three-quarters of people are in favour of large-scale solar facilities, and there is also strong support for hydro energy and wind farms—72 per cent—even if we have a Treasurer now who finds wind farms somehow offensive.

Labor has been doing the hard policy yards on climate change for a long time. As shadow environment minister in 2006 I attended the Walk Against Warming with then Labor leader Kim Beazley. I said that day:

We can’t afford to wait any longer.

The only way we will tackle climate change in Australia is with a change of government.

…   …   …

Australia needs a whole of Government approach to avoid dangerous climate change.

Labor’s systematic climate change plan offers Australia a way to avoid dangerous climate change.

We must take action not just to protect the environment, but to protect jobs and the economy.

On that day, Labor committed to a comprehensive policy: pursuing a target of a 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050, joining the global community and ratifying the Kyoto protocol, which we went on to do. It was the first action of the Rudd Labor government on the day that we were sworn in. We committed to giving a price signal by having a national emissions trading scheme. Of course, that would have come into place in 2009 if more than the two Liberals who crossed the floor had voted for it in the Senate. Most significantly, I think, if the Greens political party had voted for a price on carbon in 2009, it would still be in place today. We committed at that time to support renewables, including the ’20 by 2020′ target, and to introduce a climate change trigger in Commonwealth environmental legislation. We supported effective action on climate change once we came into government. In government, we have a record that I am certainly proud of, in spite of opposition from those opposite and, of course, from time to time, from the Greens political party in the Senate, who lost the opportunity that they had back in 2009.

The fact is that Labor’s renewable energy target has been a success. I have mentioned before solar panels—with numbers going from 7,000 up to 1.2 million—but wind power in Australia tripled. The number of jobs in the renewable energy sector tripled. There was more than $18 billion invested in wind and solar farms, hydro plants and renewable energy technology development. On top of these major economic benefits, the explosion in renewable energy in Australia saw carbon pollution from the electricity sector come down. Between June 2012 and June 2013, emissions from the electricity sector fell by more than seven per cent. Renewables are an essential component of cities policy—for making them more productive, sustainable and liveable. Labor’s cities agenda has a strong energy and environmental focus. New housing developments are using tri-generation technology to power water, heating and cooling. An example is in my electorate, where I went along to the opening at Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL of a system, funded by the former Labor government, that will save the club $800,000 a year. That is a good investment supporting a community based organisation, making an enormous difference. The whole-of-government approach comes through when it comes to our policy of being prepared to support public transport as well as roads, which is one of the distinctions between the two sides of politics.

Of course, when the Abbott government came to office, in spite of the promise that it made—that it would not make the renewable energy target an issue of partisan politics—we saw the opposite occur. We had the review conducted by Dick Warburton into the renewable energy target. What was remarkable about that was that the review found that the RET that then existed would put downward pressure on household power prices. It found that it was creating jobs in Australia. It found that it was reducing Australia’s carbon pollution. It found that it was driving investment in Australia’s renewable energy industry. So what did the government do with that report? It said, ‘The renewable energy target is too successful, so we need to undermine it.’ From that point on, it attempted to drive down the target as low as possible, or possibly to make it disappear altogether.

That is why Labor was in a position of having to compromise its preferred position in order to save the renewable energy target, at the urging of the Clean Energy Council. The Clean Energy Council predicts that the revised target of 33,000 gigawatts will drive around $40.4 billion in investment and create more than 15,000 jobs. The agreement will see projects start to be built again and businesses enjoy certainty that will allow them to assure their staff’s job security. Despite the government’s best efforts, we are proud to have achieved the following outcomes: no change to the small-scale solar scheme, full exemption for emissions intensive trade industries and removal of the two-yearly reviews that they attempted to put back on the table at the end of this process. Again, that measure would have created absolute uncertainty and ensured that that investment would not occur.

They also proposed another last-minute change, which was to insert into the proposal the idea that native wood waste should be included in the scheme. We do not support this last-minute thought bubble based upon ideology rather than common sense. This proposal was never raised during negotiations of more than 12 months; it was only put on the table at the last minute. Native wood waste is neither clean nor renewable. The way the government have worded it makes it sound like it would just be the little offcuts which would be burnt, but the fact is that nothing is further from the truth. The definition of native wood waste under their proposal is the whole of any tree that is harvested and not ultimately saw-lopped. So, if you cut down a whole lot of trees but decide not to saw-lop them or to saw-lop only some of them, you can still burn the whole tree. That is the proposition before us today, and we are simply not willing to see the renewable energy scheme used to provide an alternative to the hard work being done by all those who have negotiated the Tasmanian forestry agreement, which focuses on employment, value adding and making sure that that resource contributes the maximum benefit to the economy, rather than this opportunistic, last-minute inclusion that the government have attempted. We will be supporting this legislation, with the exception of the element that we will seek to amend in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. We do so from a position of principle, but one that recognises that if we were the government of the day we would have a different approach. We believe the renewable energy target is too important, in terms of its practical survival, to not listen to the Clean Energy Council and others in the environmental movement who have urged us to have a pragmatic approach to ensure that the industry can continue, whilst committing to further change to improve the scheme, should we come into government. So I commend the amendment to the House, and I suggest that the last two amendments have been put on the table by the government as an attempt to distract from the real position, which seems to be that they simply do not support renewables. They have dropped off one of them; they should drop off the second as well.

Jun 2, 2015

Matters of public importance – Infrastructure

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (15:13): ‘For an “infrastructure prime minister”, Tony Abbott’s efforts have been pathetic.'” They are not my words; they are the words of the business commentator Alan Kholer in a piece written immediately after this year’s budget. In another piece he said:

… the detail of the budget papers show a real decline in spending in the Infrastructure and Regional Development portfolio of 11.2 per cent between 2014-15 and 2018-19.

This budget has blown the lid on Tony Abbott’s big infrastructure con. After more than 18 months of broken promises, dodgy process and the magical infrastructure re-announcement tour, the figures are in. Infrastructure funding in this budget has been cut by $2 billion over this year and next, with a funding decline by 11.2 per cent over the forwards.

Let’s have a look at the real impact here: Victoria, $812 million cut; Queensland, $613 million cut; South Australia, $318 million cut, Tasmania, $31 million cut; ACT, $12 million cut—big iconic projects cut. The Pacific Highway was cut by $129 million in 2015-16, in what was previously promised in their own budget last year. The Bruce Highway: because they elected a Labor government, what was the response? Cut Bruce Highway funding by $93 million from what was previously promised last year.

There is nothing for public transport, nothing for high-speed rail and nothing for freight rail beyond the $300 million that we put in the 2013 budget for the inland rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne. The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program—cut, with only $1 million of last year’s $48 million budget actually spent.

This is even with their own programs. They did come up with something new last year: the Bridges Renewal Program. But this year they cut it by $60 million! And if you want an example of mean-spirited stupidity that is dangerous, they cut the Seatbelts on Regional School Buses program by $1 million a year—cut! Talk about risk management! What a stupid decision for any government to make!

Last Friday, they decided that because Victoria had just eight per cent of infrastructure spending in the budget they would make an announcement. They pretended it was new. They were going to put $150 million into the Western Ring Road, known as the M80. The problem is that last year they cut it by $500 million. It is a great way to get new announcements: you cut $500 million in the 2014 budget, you put $150 million back and you say, ‘We are investing in infrastructure.’ Genius! Why didn’t we think of that? Absolutely extraordinary!

Today, the Prime Minister and other ministers stood up and spoke about the Midland Highway in Tasmania. They said, ‘We’re putting $400 million in.’ But there was $500 million in the budget before! That is less. They said they were funding irrigation, except they took that from rail freight in Tasmania in order to fund the irrigation program. There is nothing that they do that is not taking more, giving less and then claiming it is new. It is an extraordinary performance.

This is the same mob—

Mr Fletcher: What about the money you took off the F3 to M2? You never funded it Albo! You did nothing about it!

Mr ALBANESE: This moron raises the F3 to M2! Thank you—come in spinner! There was $405 million in the 2013 budget. The MOU was signed between myself and Minister Gay in June 2013. They changed the name to NorthConnex. It is not a new project; it is just a new name, son! It is the same project, begun and signed under us.

When we took office we were 20th in the OECD for investment in infrastructure. When we left office we were first. We doubled the roads budget, we increased the rail budget by more than 10 times and we committed more to urban public transport than all governments combined from Federation right through to 2007. What have those opposite done? In spite of the fact that Infrastructure Australia under them actually produced something at last—they produced something spooky about urban congestion and the cost to the national economy of not dealing with urban congestion—what did we see from the government? A complete refusal to invest in any urban public transport and a complete refusal to engage in our cities.

We actually embarrassed them into producing the State of Australian cities report for 2014. It had been produced in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It had been downloaded—the minister at the table knows what is coming!—three million times. So they put out a tender on AusTender. We found that on the website. It said it was going to be published just in time for Christmas—for the stockings!—on 15 December. It was printed—I have seen the cover of it. And yet what happened in Senate estimates?

Mr Briggs: If you had better leaks you would have got it!

Mr ALBANESE: You don’t think we’ve got it? It’s all about the timing, sunshine! They printed the State of Australian cities 2014 report, paid $11,000 for the printing of it and produced it. But it is now June, and where is it? At Senate estimates, the secretary of his department said that it was ‘collecting dust’ and that the minister has advised them not to release it. That is new research. Why? Because it probably mentions that they have to do something about urban congestion, they have to do something about public transport and they have to do something about planning in our cities, and that they should be funding the Cross River Rail, they should be funding the Melbourne Metro and that they should be making sure that Infrastructure Australia guides where the investment goes.

And yet what we have also seen in this budget—in spite of their promises—is that they have not listened to Infrastructure Australia. They funded the East West Link to the tune of $3 billion, with an advance payment of $1½ billion and with a cost-benefit analysis of 0.45. I will explain it: you pay a dollar and you get 45c back. It is not that complex. That is what the analysis showed—a dud project. They took money from projects like the Western Ring Road and from projects like the managed motorways program, that had a cost-benefit ratio of greater than five, and from the Melbourne Metro and put it into a dud project. Then they made an advance payment to the Victorian Napthine government to make their budget look better at a time when those opposite were cutting pensions, cutting education and cutting health and essential services. That is what they were responsible for.

So, they have learnt the lesson on Infrastructure Australia. They have finally produced a report that they have not released.

But now, in this budget, they have cut Infrastructure Australia’s funding in half from $15 million a year to $8 million a year across the forward estimates. That is why the Leader of the Opposition announced a proposal in the budget reply to restore Infrastructure Australia to the centre of government, to fund projects in the Infrastructure Australia priority list. Like the former Treasurer did, like the former Labor government did, look at where it is going to produce the best investment and that is what should be directed. And we even promise to consult with the opposition on Infrastructure Australia appointments.

This nation needs a government that not only talks about infrastructure but that actually builds infrastructure, that builds roads, that builds rail lines—not just reannounce old projects and pretend it is doing something while it is actually cutting funding.

 

 

Jun 1, 2015

Private Members’ Business – Shipping

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:00): I am pleased to support this resolution that has been moved by the member for Newcastle. I do so as someone who understands that, as an island continent, Australia depends upon Australian shipping. More than 99 per cent of our exports and imports are moved by sea. Our starting point is that it is in Australia’s national interest to have an Australian shipping industry. It is in our economic interest, in our environmental interest and in our national security interest. That is why we brought in a comprehensive plan of reforms—not a protectionist model that occurs in a place like the United States, where ships not only have to be US owned and operated to operate around their coast but have to be built in the United States as well. We did not go down that sea. What we did was make sure that there could be competition in terms of accessing the blue highway.

We should allow these reforms to have an opportunity to work, because they were comprehensive. They went to employment and training, they went to providing tax breaks and they went to ensuring that people moving domestic freight around our coast seek an Australian flagged vessel in the first instance. But there would be a permit system to allow foreign flagged vessels around our coast if an Australian operator was not able to undertake that task. So it is a flexible system but one that operates in the interests of the nation.

Those opposite simply want to introduce Work Choices on water. They are so obsessed by the Maritime Union of Australia they never mentioned the Australian companies that run the shipping industry here. It is all about the workers. If you move freight by road, the truck driver must be paid Australian wages and conditions and the truck must satisfy Australian standards. If you move freight by rail, the people who work in the rail network are paid under Australian wages and conditions. There is no reason whatsoever for any different arrangements to operate on the blue highway. For those who speak about border security, the idea that people on a Liberian flagged carrier can operate, not complying with environmental conditions, certainly renders us vulnerable compared with the control that is there in the Australian system.

When it comes to Tasmania, the Tory state Premier of Tasmania got elected on a promise of funding an international ship from Tasmania to take exports to Asia. That is what they said they would do and they have now dropped that and instead made changes to TFES at a cost to the taxpayer. That is the reality. They committed a fraud upon the voters of Tasmania by pretending that government, not the market, could determine the operation of shipping from Tasmania. What they know, and operators know, is that the increase in costs for Tasmanian shipping is due to the increase in port charges that occurred in the Port of Melbourne under the Napthine government. That was the big increase in costs.

When it comes to an Australian ship, there is a total staff of 15 that operate a container ship. The difference in labour costs is minimal. The member for Lyons says it was a minuscule charge. That was before the businesses who operate out of the Port of Melbourne recently saw an 800 per cent increase proposed. And they say it is miniscule!

A government member interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE: And he says ‘one stevedore’. How many stevedores do you think they have? When you look at the detail of their proposal, you see they have not done any work. It comes down to ideology; it comes down to Work Choices on water. Like their crazy proposal for open skies in northern Australia, it should be rejected.

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