Browsing articles in "Shadow Ministerial Hansard"
Oct 20, 2016

Bills – Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:54): I want to take the opportunity to raise the issue of cities. Of course, I am somewhat concerned that whilst the new Prime Minister has said that he is concerned about the urban agenda and cities, he has in fact downgraded the role to the role of a parliamentary secretary and has not reversed any of the significant changes that were made by the Abbott government. Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, explicitly said there was no role for the Commonwealth in our cities. The Major Cities Unit remains disbanded, as does the Urban Policy Forum. Infrastructure Australia has been marginalised, and the State of Australian Cities reports have failed to be produced under this government.

Indeed, when you look at cities policy, urban congestion and support for public transport needs to be at the forefront. The budget papers show that in 2019-20—that is, the last year of the forward estimates—public transport funding and funding for rail transport will fall to a very round number that the assistant minister should be able to remember, because it is zero. Not a single dollar is allocated in 2019-20 for public transport by this government. That is because the public transport projects that were funded by the previous government—like the Redcliffe rail line, Gold Coast Light Rail, and the Regional Rail Link in Victoria—have of course all been opened, same as the Noarlunga to Seaford line in Adelaide and the Perth City Link. That is of considerable concern.

I am also concerned about the government’s support for what it calls City Deals, which really look to me as though they are just matching Labor government commitments. Certainly, in Townsville and in Launceston, that is all it did, including the former member for Herbert—it might explain why he is the former member for Herbert. It held out and opposed the funding of the Townsville stadium, which would be a part of revitalising Townsville as a city. The government belatedly matched that, missed out on the euphoria of the Cowboys’ win in last year’s grand final and could not even pick up on the importance of that for that city.

In Tasmania it simply matched the funding for the University of Tasmania that had been announced many months before by Labor. I would be interested in which councils will be involved in the proposed City Deal for Western Sydney. A City Deal is supposed to encourage economic growth across a region. What is the actual budget for City Deals beyond that which have been announced in the guise of City Deals by this government across the forward estimates? If it is going to be real—certainly, I think there is some prospect of some success here—it needs to be more than a political exercise, matching Labor’s funding commitments.

Finally, I would ask: why is it that the Australian government is not participating in Habitat III, which is taking place as we speak in Quito in Ecuador? This is a once-in-20-years conference that is as significant as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or other major conferences. The UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development is critical. The new urban agenda was proposed as part of the Paris conference that the Australian government participated in. This is a very significant conference indeed. There are 50,000 participants in this conference—governments from all around the world acknowledging that how cities function will be critical to sustainability and dealing with the challenge of climate change. The Australian government has chosen not to be represented at this conference. I just wonder if there is a reason?

Oct 20, 2016

Bills – Infrastructure and Regional Development Portfolio

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:31): We certainly will need to have some discussion, because the nature of the matter under consideration that is before the House is to approve an appropriation for infrastructure. The context for this is that the previous two years appropriations for infrastructure have certainly not been delivered. Last year there was a gap of some $1 billion between what was anticipated to be spent in the 2014 budget and what actually happened. But that looks pretty good compared with the performance in the last financial year, 2015-16, which shows that, in spite of the fact that the government committed, with all of its rhetoric, to spend some $8 billion on infrastructure, the actual figure—the final budget outcome for 2015-16—is just $5.5 billion. The $5.5 billion of course includes the one-off payment, in rounded figures, of $500 million to WA as compensation for the GST. What we are left with, essentially, is a $3 billion gap between what the government said it would spend and what the government has actually invested. That is because this is a government that simply has no idea when it comes to nation building.

When the government came into office, they cut funds from projects that were ready to go in order to fund projects that had no prospect, in some cases, of going anywhere. There is a gap between rhetoric and reality. To be fair to the cabinet minister, his junior minister this week—his errand boy, if you like—made a statement about the $50 billion of expenditure, once again, that was expected. Whereas, year on year, up to the end of the decade, the figure is $30 billion, not $50 billion. When the government uses these big figures, they are talking about the never-never. When we look at what is actually happening, we see three categories: the first is projects that were stopped but that were ready to go and that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, that were in the budget—projects like the Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro Rail Project.

The second category are those that were delayed because of government incompetence—projects like the latest section of the M80, which began just this month. The funding was actually in the budget in 2013 but was cut in 2014. Another project is the South Road in Adelaide, where the government said, ‘No, we’re not going to do Torrens to Torrens; we’ll do Darlington first’—except Darlington was not ready and Torrens to Torrens was underway. So they stopped work on that South Road. Then there is the Perth Airport road link. There was $500 million in the budget in 2013 for public transport projects in Perth. That was cut in 2014 and then put in. More remarkably, projects have simply been slowed. Estimates show the Pacific Highway cut by $129 million; the Bruce Highway cut by $94 million; Gateway North cut by $54 million; Perth Freight Link cut by $88 million; Adelaide South Road cut by $92 million; Goodwood and Torrens Junction rail project cut by $232 million—cut from an IA approved project that was underway and stopped by this government; Black Spots cut by $34 million; bridge renewal cut by $24 million; and heavy vehicle cut by $26 million.

This is a government that does not actually have a plan for jobs and growth. If it did, infrastructure would be at the centre of it—but that is not what we see.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:56): I wish to raise three issues with this contribution. One is: how is it that, during the election campaign that we have just had, the coalition committed to 78 road projects—76 of which were in coalition electorates? How does that fit with a fair analysis and distribution of funds for projects? They added up to about $800 million. Most of them were very small projects which would have been suited to local or state government, but they were clearly political commitments that were made.

Secondly, I refer to the 2016-17 budget and Budget Paper No. 1, page 538 and table 15, which goes to the projected expenditures. I note that, when it comes to rail transport, the projected expenditure for 2019-20 is a very round figure. Indeed, it is the most round figure the minister would be aware of—zero. How does the complete withdrawal of the Commonwealth from public transport projects fit with the government being so very good at turning up to those projects after their completion? Just weeks ago I was with the minister for major projects at the Redcliffe rail opening, which was funded by the federal Labor government when we were in office and the Queensland Labor government, and which received a funding cut for a portion of it back in 2014. I was there for the Regional Rail Link opening of the new stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, in the electorate of Lalor, and the government was quite happy to go to that opening as well. The government, who opposed the Gold Coast Light Rail project, was happy to go to the opening of that, of course. How is it that the government, despite its change in rhetoric—and I acknowledge the difference in rhetoric between Prime Minister Turnbull and former Prime Minister Abbott—has made no change to funding of projects like the Cross River Rail, Adelaide light rail, Perth Metronet and other significant urban infrastructure projects which require Commonwealth support?

The third issue I go to is that of planning. The member for Shortland has outlined the audit office finding with regard to the East West Link. As to the Perth Freight Link, I am wondering where the minister is up to with funding of that project because in the past he has said that the whole project has to proceed, otherwise it will not be eligible for Commonwealth funding, and yet the Liberal state government has wound that back to essentially the Roe 8 project. That is a project that has previously been rejected because it goes through a wetland and does not really lead anywhere. What we need is funding of the outer harbour.

The third project is WestConnex. The minister would be aware that the scope and nature of that project has changed almost on a weekly basis. Lucy Turnbull, the person in charge of planning in Sydney and who gave an oration last night about planning in Sydney, was unaware that acquisitions were occurring in Haberfield, where whole blocks of heritage listed homes have been demolished. We have a tunnel there, but it is unclear where it is going to come out. A tunnel has begun. It is always a good idea to know where it is going to end before you start digging, but that is not the case here. How will the government ensure that planning is done right? Blackmore Oval in Leichhardt is under threat. There is a range of uncertainty when it comes to this project that is leading to legitimate community concern about this issue. How will the government ensure that in future it gets the planning done before the funding comes to make sure that we get the right outcomes?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:12): I wish to raise issues of aviation and also of the Australian Rail Track Corporation. As the minister would be aware, Airservices Australia is largely funded by revenue from industry by charging airlines and aircraft operators for use of its en route terminal navigation and for its aviation rescue and firefighting services. The level of charges is based upon five-year forecasts prepared by Airservices on what it believes the activity levels will be. Airservices Australia does have its own board, of course, but the minister oversees and indeed recommends the appointment of that board.

Airservices Australia has announced a restructure program called Accelerate. Under that program, it is proposing to eliminate 900 jobs across the organisation. One in five people are being essentially eliminated from the workforce. More than 500 positions have been already gone and other staff are being moved to individual contracts.

From time to time, organisations should look to make efficiencies, but I seek an assurance from the minister that he is satisfied that the number of redundancies, which are particularly large at Airservices, will not have an impact on the fundamental job of Airservices, which is to look after aviation safety. Is the minister confident that Airservices have undertaken a proper risk management analysis of the impact of these significant cuts? Included in this, particularly, is an issue that the minister knows I raised with him personally after he took over the portfolio. The issue of the closure of firefighting services at some regional airports is certainly of concern to me because of the role that those firefighting services play not just at the airport but as an important part of the emergency services response in some of those regional communities. I ask the minister to rule out, essentially, the closure of these firefighting services.

Something else that concerns me when I see an organisation making such drastic cuts is whether it is being set up for privatisation. I ask the minister to rule out any proposal to privatise Airservices Australia—a proposal which is being supported by some in the commentariat who I think are not aware of the important role of Airservices Australia. If you move to a for-profit system with something like Airservices then you change the nature of the organisation, by its very definition, because it would be looking at different criteria. Essentially, it would be looking at producing a return, which I would find quite reprehensible and which we on this side of the chamber would not consider.

While he is at it, the minister might like also to rule out privatisation of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which was considered in the last term of government. The ARTC, of course, provides the track, and then you have competition and private sector input on top of that. Where privatisation of rail services has occurred in places like the UK, there have been disastrous consequences for ongoing maintenance and provision. The ARTC is something that has enjoyed bipartisan support as a public entity, and I ask the minister to confirm that that is his — (Time expired)

Oct 19, 2016

Questions without notice – Infrastructure

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (14:43): My question is also to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. I refer to the gap between the government’s infrastructure rhetoric and its action. In the 2014 budget the government promised to invest over $8 billion on transport infrastructure in the 2015-16 financial year. Is the final outcome for this investment not $8 billion, but $5.5 billion? Was this cut of more than 30 per cent achieved by cutting the Pacific Highway, the Bruce Highway, Gateway North, South Road, black spots, heavy vehicles— (Time expired)

Oct 17, 2016

Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, Superannuation (Departing Australia Superannuation Payments Tax) Amendment Bill 2016, Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:10): I rise to support the amendment that has been moved by the shadow Treasurer in debate on the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, which is the next step in the farce that has been the government’s handling of this issue. I give the member opposite, the member for Hinkler, a bit of credit for chutzpah—standing in here in October 2016 with legislation arising from the May 2015 budget and saying, ‘Why don’t we get on with it?’

There has been 18 months of uncertainty under this government’s policy, because on budget night 2015 they made the announcement of the new backpacker tax without any consultation, without any economic modelling, without any idea of what the impact would be. Then in the so-called solution, raised just a couple of weeks ago, we had a repeat of the same flawed process, with an increase in the passenger movement charge without any consultation with the tourism sector, without any modelling whatsoever, and they expect us to just wave it through. Well, we will not be doing that. We will be providing proper scrutiny of this legislation through a Senate inquiry and we will be making sure that the government are held to account for their extraordinary incompetence and for the consequences of their own legislation.

It does appear that they have the solution wrong, because the so-called solution, which includes the $5 increase in the passenger movement charge, comes in direct contravention of the commitment that they gave that there would not be any increase in the passenger movement charge. This has been a shambolic mess from a mob who had a plan to get into government but no plan to actually govern. It began with the 2015 budget from Joe Hockey, the then Treasurer. There he announced the government’s decision to treat working holiday-makers as non-residents for tax purposes, taxing them at 32.5 per cent from their very first dollar of income.

It does not take a genius to work out the serious flaws in this decision. This impacted particularly on the tourism and agriculture sectors. Backpackers, of course, come to Australia and in the short term assist farmers with the seasonal work, including the picking of fruit and harvesting of crops, that farmers cannot get a regular workforce located in their local communities to do. They also particularly help in the tourism sector, which is very seasonal. Places like Broome, Darwin and Cairns in northern Australia have particular on-seasons. At the same time, when it is their off season, of course, it is the on season in places like Tasmania in southern Australia. These sectors rely upon backpackers to do the work.

Previously, backpackers were able to work tax-free. That was part of the conditions attracting them here compared with other potential destinations like Canada and New Zealand.

As to the impact to the government’s bottom line, we know from analysis that backpackers spend far more than they earn. That is, they come here with a portion of money; they supplement the money that they have. But there is something in common between the money they earn and the money they bring here: they spend it in the local communities, particularly in regional Australia, providing a boost to job creation in those local communities—something that those opposite, when they came up with this appalling plan, did not seem to get. It is something that the government, through this legislation, is admitting they got wrong in the 2015 budget, because less income for backpackers means less income for local economies.

Despite those facts, the coalition pushed on. First, they delayed any commencement of the tax for six months. Then they announced they had launched a review, creating even more uncertainty—particularly across the agriculture sector, with some farmers saying they would not plant crops because they were not sure that they would be able to have them picked at the end of the process. The review spanned the recent election campaign, during which the coalition did not provide the electorate with any idea of its position, creating even more uncertainty.

Finally, today, this messy process culminates in legislation which includes, amongst a number of measures, a lower rate of 19 per cent from the first dollar of income up to $37,000. Above this level, marginal tax rates will apply.

But they did something more with this semi-backflip. The Treasurer devised a new plan to raise the passenger movement charge by five dollars—proposed without any consultation whatsoever. When we met with the officials from Treasury and from the Treasurer’s office, we asked, ‘Have you done any modelling of what the impact of this would be?’ And we had declared at the beginning of the meeting that we would disclose the outcomes, so I am not breaching confidences here. The modelling that they did was zero—nothing whatsoever. Indeed, in the backpacker tax changes, they assumed that it would stay the same in terms of the impact on backpackers.

So we are supporting an amendment to the legislation. And we are acknowledging that the Senate inquiry will be an opportunity for the sector to actually get some scrutiny—an opportunity to get some rigour into the policy process that the coalition government seemed to think should be thought about when problems are raised.

The most recent International Visitor Survey showed that Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory have experienced a decline in the number of backpacker visitors. All three of these, in addition to New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT, have also shown a serious decline in the number of backpacker visitor nights. This should not come as news to the coalition. The World Economic Forum’s travel and tourism competitiveness index in 2015 ranked Australia 127th on taxes and charges and 49th for visa requirements.

We know that, over 2014 and 2015, the number of working holiday-maker visa applications had already started to fall. The government need to pay for the compromise that they have put up—this deal behind closed doors with the courageous people from the National Farmers Federation, who said this was all bad and then completely rolled over. And we will bear that roll-over in mind the next time the National Farmers Federation say, ‘We want to have a strong campaign.’ You would not want to be in a trench with the NFF, I tell you! They folded their tent, having said that it should go back to the original proposition. But that is a matter for them to justify to their members, frankly, because their members are still complaining about the proposition that was put forward in this legislation.

The government is also increasing the tax on the departing Australia superannuation payment to 95 per cent. They think no-one will notice that this little measure has slipped in.

When you put it all together, the government is actually gaining more revenue than they would have originally. This is just another grab—the so-called washing your face nonsense, that the Treasurer said does not stack up at all. Indeed, the Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond had this to say on 27 September, as to the increase in the passenger movement charge:

At no point was it flagged in any discussions in which we took part …

Indeed, the new minister for tourism—they have finally got one—said, in his first Dorothy Dixer in this House in this parliament, just weeks ago, that previous increases in the passenger movement charge were:

… choking the golden goose that is Australia’s tourism industry.

Well, I say that poor old Minister Ciobo made a goose of himself in making that statement. But of course not even he was consulted. He was on a plane to the Middle East. He was in Doha when this went through the cabinet process. He was not even consulted about the increase—he was treated with contempt. And he expects us to take him seriously!

The TTF said this about it:

Prime Minister Turnbull has said during the election campaign ‘If you want less of something, tax it more’, and that is exactly what the Government’s current policy of viewing tourism as a ‘cash cow’ is going to deliver.

We know that, from August to August, the latest figures showed that there were eight million international visitors, a 10.9 per cent increase year on year. And yet what the government is doing here is trying to chuck more tax on, without any justification. What is the link with the backpacker tax fiasco that the government has presided over? There is none whatsoever. And Scott Morrison has form on this as well. This is what he had to say about increases in the Passenger Movement Charge in this parliament in 2008:

This tax is a pernicious impost on our aviation and tourism sectors, which are already under pressure. Tax increases are designed to discourage consumption, so placing a tax on travel is, I therefore assume, designed to discourage business activity in the travel sector.

That is what he had to say.

We have, with the exception of the UK on business travel, the highest charges in the world. When we talk about $60 on a ticket, it is not just $60 on a first-class ticket to Europe; it is $60 on a ticket to New Zealand, which you can get online for about $120, or a ticket to Bali. This tax can be to 50 per cent of the actual price of a ticket—and they are saying they will increase it. That is why in the election campaign Labor—as well as, it must be said, the coalition—said we would not increase the Passenger Movement Charge. We released a tourism policy in the election campaign. That is more than the government did; it did not get through; they did not have a tourism policy. But what they did very clearly do was say they would oppose an increase in the Passenger Movement Charge. That is why there is such anger in the tourism sector when it comes to these changes.

Labor set out a comprehensive plan for tourism in the election campaign: protecting our natural assets; building skills and career pathways; using government to attract more major events and exhibitions; and re-engaging the federal government with the tourism sector both domestically and internationally. The tourism sector delivers some $94.5 billion in economic activity every year. It employs, directly and indirectly, one million Australians. Those one million Australians rely on tourism, particularly in rural Australia. That is why Labor will not rush to failure like the coalition seems eager to do. The government needs to satisfy the sector that it has done any modelling whatsoever—or else Minister Ciobo’s comments about the golden goose certainly apply to this government.

(Time expired)

Oct 13, 2016

Adjournment – Shipping

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:18): I take this opportunity to talk about shipping and the potential impact on our environment of shipping in two areas: firstly, the Great Barrier Reef, and secondly, in my electorate of Grayndler. On 20 September, when asked about calls from the environmental movement for more protection of the Great Barrier Reef from coal freighters, the Deputy Prime Minister said that shipping accidents on the reef were inevitable. He said:

…but that’s life. If you have ships at sea you’re going to have them run into things and sink from time to time.

As the person who was the transport minister in the previous government, responsible for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, I say thank goodness that is not the approach of AMSA or the regulatory authorities. The comment was reckless in the extreme. The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking after the government reached a $39.3 million out-of-court damages settlement with the operators of Shen Neng 1, a coal freighter that ran aground at Douglas Shoal about 100 kilometres east of Rockhampton in 2010. When the Shen Neng 1 hit the reef it was 10 kilometres outside the shipping lanes. The mariner in charge was operating on little sleep because the vessel did not observe Australian workplace health and safety requirements—that is why he was jailed for 18 months for negligence. While accidents certainly have happened, they are more likely to happen if ships passing through the reef are being steered by sleepy overseas operators who have no idea where they are. It is up to governments to maintain high safety standards and that is why an Australian shipping industry is vital—not optional but vital. Governments through appropriate regulation can certainly have an impact. What the Deputy Prime Minister has said is ignorant in the extreme and puts under threat the overwhelming support that there is for safe passage of ships to Australia’s north and around our coastline.

I want to talk about another issue which is of concern, particularly in my electorate. In June I contacted the transport minister, Darren Chester, to offer bipartisan support for action to ensure that cruise ships on Sydney Harbour use low-sulphur fuel. There has been concern because the New South Wales government carried legislation at the same time as the federal government was considering anti-pollution legislation, which had the unintended consequence of rendering inoperable the state government’s new requirements on the use of low-sulphur fuel, 0.1 per cent or less, on Sydney Harbour.

Residents of Balmain have expressed legitimate concern about fuel fumes from cruise ships in White Bay. It is important that the Commonwealth act and address this problem. Since the election I have repeatedly asked Minister Chester to fulfil his commitment to resolve this issue either through legislation or other means but it needs to be required in a way which is better than just voluntary compliance. Cruise ships do provide significant economic activity for Australia but it is important that they operate within environmental best practice. I am pleased that the cruise ship industry has agreed to voluntarily implement this New South Wales government policy of using low-sulphur fuel but Commonwealth action is required. If the Commonwealth makes legislation that has unintended consequences then it is its responsibility to fix it. Minister Chester understands that there is a problem but he needs to fix it. This government seems incapable of being able to legislate in the national interest. This is an issue which is not ideological, which has bipartisan support. I say to the minister: get on board; introduce the legislation. We on this side will ensure its quick passage through both houses of parliament and fix this problem.

Oct 13, 2016

Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:29): I oppose the plebiscite because it is costly. I oppose the plebiscite because it is divisive. Most importantly, I oppose the plebiscite because it is ineffective. A plebiscite will, just as the previous speaker indicated, lead to a parliamentary bill and parliamentary motion. The previous speaker also indicated what we all know: a majority of the Australian people support marriage equality. We know that is the case. It is acknowledged that that is the case. It is overwhelming. And it is now the case that a majority of House of Representatives members and senators, including the current Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, support marriage equality. We should get on with it and do our job.

The previous speaker also spoke about the conscience votes that we have had in parliament on this side of the House, even though no conscience vote was allowed by those opposite. A few years ago a majority of the parliament did not support marriage equality. When I was elected in 1996, the priority of same-sex couples was certainly not having the right to marry; there were a range of other reforms that had a practical impact on their lives that were much higher up the agenda. Those issues were dealt with by the former Labor government when we amended some 84 pieces of legislation—on superannuation, on health, on migration, on social security. All of those pieces of legislation passed this parliament without rancour, without opposition and without creating division in the community.

When they were first raised, they were controversial. When I first raised the Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill in my first term of parliament, that was a controversial issue. There was not even unanimous support within my own party. When you spoke about sexuality in this place, people shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Now there is far greater total tolerance, and far greater respect for the fact that we are a diverse community. This campaign for marriage equality is about unfinished business. ‘Equality’ is a really important term here. That is why the plebiscite is so wrong. We decide in this House social security, taxation arrangements, infrastructure policy, health policy, education policy and defence policy. We determine that.

Why is this one issue being singled out? We know that it is all an attempt by the opponents of marriage equality, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, to stop marriage equality. That is why this was put up within the coalition party room. When it was put up, it was opposed within their party room by the current Prime Minister and many of those opposite. Are we on this side of the House supposed to be bound somehow by the fact that Malcolm Turnbull rolled over on his own principles in order to secure the prime ministership by guaranteeing that he would adopt the same policy as his predecessor, Tony Abbott? I actually thought Malcolm Turnbull was better than that. He has a proud record of marching in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in his electorate, and of standing up genuinely on these issues. I know that he is an opponent of discrimination on the basis of sexuality. It makes it even sadder that he is prepared to take the position that he has, knowing the consequences that it will have for division in the community, for same-sex couples and for their families. They know the consequences, which is why they are so strident in their opposition to this.

I believe very strongly that we should have a vote and a determination in this parliament, and we should do it sooner rather than later. Some of the best debates I have been involved with in parliament have been conscience votes on controversial issues like voluntary euthanasia and stem cell research. They have been respectful debates. They have been the parliament at its finest, where people have thought about each and every word that they were going to contribute to the debate. I have been in a minority—it must be said—in those debates, but they have been respectful. I actually think those debates taking place have raised the standing of this parliament as a result.

That is the way forward. In the 20 years I have had the honour of sitting as a member of the House of Representatives, extraordinary advances have been made towards removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Marriage equality will be not the final step, but a significant step. The debate about removing discrimination is not just about laws; it is about the way that people conduct themselves in our community. If you engage with young people now—certainly, the ones that I speak to—then they wonder what the big deal is here. What is the issue? Marriage equality will not affect anyone’s existing right; it simply extends an existing right to some people who have previously been denied that right.

It will not affect anyone’s marriage; indeed, it will strengthen the institution of marriage by allowing more people to participate in it. It will not require churches to do anything against their will. It will simply provide equality for everyone before the law. And, when it is all over, just like as happened in most of the industrialised world now—in the United Kingdom under the conservatives, in New Zealand under the conservatives, in many of the states of United States, in Canada and in many of the countries of Europe—people will wonder what all the fuss was about and people will just get on with their lives. That is why the Prime Minister really should show leadership on this.

Marriage equality does come down to issues of tolerance and respect. I believe that tolerance and respect needs to be held by all people who participate in this debate, both the supporters and the opponents of marriage equality. I have been very much on the record for a very long time as a supporter of marriage equality but also as a supporter of the conscience vote. I understand that some people of faith who regard marriage not as a civil institution that is governed by laws and legislation but as something that is a sacred institution handed down from God have a different view, and I respect their right to hold their view. That is why any of the legislation that has been drawn up by people such as my colleague, the now member for Whitlam and then member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, included religious exemptions, and that is something that is supported by the gay and lesbian community. A conscience vote of this parliament would allow people who have religious convictions and do not want to choose between that position and the position of civil lawmaking to vote accordingly. It would ensure that the parliament is able to be respectful.

But it does go both ways. The truth is that the families that I have met with through organisations such as Rainbow Families are genuinely and legitimately concerned about the implications of a divisive debate. The member previously quoted the member for Barton in her contribution last night. Due to boundary changes by the Electoral Commission, I now live in the electorate of Barton. During the election campaign, in a marginal seat, I got material in my letterbox which can only be described as targeting Linda Burney because of her Aboriginality and her religion in a way that was offensive and divisive—and it backfired on those people who distributed that material. The concerns that those families have are absolutely legitimate concerns.

I am yet to have a same-sex family in my electorate—not one—ask me to vote for this legislation that is before the parliament. I have my own views that happen to accord with that view. My gut instinct was always to oppose the plebiscite, because we as parliamentarians have a job to do and we should do it. But we do have to be very cognisant of the fact that, as The Smiths said in that great song What Difference Does it Make?, ‘Heavy words are so lightly thrown.’ One of my concerns reflects the view of that great songwriter Morrissey when he said those words. Words are thrown around in a debate which we know, from some of the comments that have been made already in this debate, will be very hurtful and will create needless division. The fact that the government intends to publicly fund this debate is, I think, even more reason to oppose this legislation.

The fact is that we could knock this over this afternoon by having a vote of this parliament. It could go to the Senate tonight and they could deal with it. Then, next week, we could just get on with business. This is an enormous roadblock to the government getting on with other business. Its insistence on this divisive plebiscite is standing in the way of the promotion of harmony and unity, which this parliament has an obligation to pursue. We can see that there is a great deal of distrust of elected representatives playing out in areas such as the US presidential election. We need to lift standards of public discourse and lead the community in promoting respect and inclusion. Have marriage equality and have it through this parliament.

Oct 12, 2016

Questions without notice – Tourism

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (14:29): My question is addressed to the Minister for Tourism. I refer to the minister’s comments of 31 August 2016 when he told the House that the increases in the passenger movement charge were … choking the golden goose that is Australia’s tourism industry.

Given that just 28 days later the government increased the charge by $5, does the minister stand by his comments? And if he does, doesn’t that make him look like a golden goose?

Oct 11, 2016

Private Members’ Business – Bruce Highway

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:34): It is indeed always gratifying when a political opponent is happy to acknowledge your work, and that happened on 5 March 2011, when the former Liberal member for Herbert, Ewen Jones, told the Townsville Bulletin: ‘I’ll give Labor a pat on the back and say that they have spent more in their four to five years on the Bruce Highway than we did before.’ And, of course, that is the case. The Howard government, in office for almost 12 long years of infrastructure neglect, invested $1.3 billion on the Bruce Highway. We were in office for six years and we invested $5.7 billion so four times the amount in half the time. It is not hard to work out why Ewen Jones and other people who have actually examined the Bruce Highway acknowledge the fact that, before the election of the Labor government, there simply was not delivery.

I note that this motion asks us to accept that the government is investing $6.7 billion on upgrading the Bruce Highway. The budget figures show that more than $3 billion of that is not being spent this decade. So why say $6.7 billion? Why not say $50 billion, $100 billion, in 2030? You know, it is just quite farcical. Indeed in this year’s budget, the government cut the Bruce Highway spending by $118 million for this financial year over what it said in last year’s budget papers it would spend. If you look at the coalition government’s last year’s papers and then you look at the budget papers for this year, there is $118 million less. Of course that is not surprising given that infrastructure investment tumbled by 20 per cent under this government in its first two years. But of course that has not stopped the government pretending somehow that they have been responsible for a lot of the work that is being done including of course the Cooroy to Curra upgrade that was in the electorate of the minister for transport and Deputy Prime Minister at the time. It took us to fix it up.

The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport issued a media release in April this year where he listed 24 projects that he claimed to have been delivered or commenced by the coalition government. Unfortunately for him, 23 of them were begun under the former Labor government—23 or 24, I will give some credit. The Arnot Creek Bridge near Ingham announced in February—$10 million—was a part of the pot of funds that we put into the budget that was not allocated. It had not specifically had its funding cut.

The member for Fairfax is new and has got the new wheels on, on the new roads that Labor built. But I say to him what he should do is examine the facts on this matter and should truly advocate for additional funding because that has not happened under this government. Under this government, what we have had is essentially a magical infrastructure announcement tour in places like Rockhampton, the member for Capricornia’s electorate. For projects that were well underway, the member for Capricornia has pretended that somehow there is something new to them.

This is a vital road not only for the interests of productivity for the nation but also for the interests of road safety. I have driven on parts of the Bruce Highway that have been quite clearly unsafe and that is why, for a number of the projects that are being done, road safety is absolutely critical.

I wish the member for Fairfax and other members well in getting additional money. But getting money off into the never never is not a win. The fact is, of the $5.7 billion we had in six years, $4.1 billion was additional investment that we promised moving forward under nation building 2 and the total there for this decade is the commitment that we had. I am very proud of our record on both the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Highway and it is a pity that it has gone back to go-slow since the change of office in 2013.

Oct 10, 2016

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2016-2017, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:55): I am pleased to take the opportunity to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2016-2017 and cognate legislation because it gives me the opportunity to speak about the failure of this government when it comes to long-term investment in the infrastructure which Australia needs for future economic growth and future jobs creation.

The fact is that when we came to office in 2007 Australia was ranked 20th in the OECD for infrastructure investment; when we left, Australia was first. In the first two years since the change of government, there was a 20 per cent decline in public sector infrastructure investment. That has a short-term impact on jobs, and we see that youth unemployment is higher today than it was during the global financial crisis. It has an impact on the living standards of people in the short-term. More importantly, it has a long-term economic impact. What we will see is a handbrake on future economic growth, as shown by this government’s lack of vision when it comes to infrastructure and nation-building.

Quite extraordinarily, during the last election campaign—during the entirety of the longest campaign since the Second World War—we saw not a single new major infrastructure investment announced by this government. Not one. There was Labor out there announcing support for the Metronet in Perth; announcing support for Cross River Rail in Brisbane; announcing support for AdeLINK, the light rail expansion in Adelaide; announcing support for the Melbourne Metro; and announcing support for Western Sydney Rail, including a connection to Badgerys Creek airport so that public transport is open from day one and those employment lands in Western Sydney are opened up for opportunity. Yet we have seen nothing from the government—nothing whatsoever.

They had, indeed, 78 small announcements during the election campaign—the sorts of projects that you normally see in local government or maybe even state government. They added up to less than a $1 billion. Of the 78 projects, extraordinarily, 76 of them were in coalition held seats prior to the election—76 out of 78! An extraordinary proposition! We will wait to see what the National Audit Office has to say about the government having their infrastructure policy determined not by Infrastructure Australia but by the electoral map. That is precisely what we see happening, including in the upper Hunter with a $1 million road upgrade for something that is used for a billycart race! I know that billycarts can be good fun, but in the 21st century—when high speed broadband, public transport and efficient roads are the key to economic growth—it says it all about the government that one of their priorities was a billycart road for a billycart race that is held once a year in a community. I am not saying it is not good fun—I am sure it is. I am sure it is worthwhile. But the fact that it came out of the nation-building budget says it all about the government.

Of course, Deputy Speaker Irons, you would know that, because you have in your electorate of Swan the largest road project that has ever been held conducted in Perth—the Gateway WA project. You were there when I turned the first sod on that project. You were there when that project began, and you were there also when, while we were still in government, parts of it were being opened. Yet, during the Senate special election and during the by-election for the electorate of Canning, we saw the government pretend that it was somehow new!

I had a repeat of that last Monday when I was in Redcliffe. The Redcliffe rail line extension was first discussed in 1884 and first promised in the Queensland state parliament in 1895, but it took a federal Labor government in 2010 to commit, with the Bligh government and the Moreton Bay Regional Council, to making that vision a reality. I was able to visit the new stations that have been built as part of that project. Indeed, it is an incredibly exciting project. Of course, the Prime Minister was there. The Prime Minister will never miss an opportunity to be at a ribbon cutting. The problem is that he is never there when a project begins. Under his watch not a single new rail project has begun anywhere in the country.

I quite like the fact that the Prime Minister likes riding on trains. I just want him to fund some or to fund one—that will do; fund one project. Fund AdeLINK, fund the Perth Metronet or fund the Cross River Rail. He does not even have to find new money; he can just put back the money that was cut in the 2014 budget from projects like the Cross River Rail project. At the press conference after the opening of the Redcliffe rail line the Prime Minister was asked, ‘What about some funding for Cross River Rail? We know that it will reach capacity within five years and that will have an impact not just on residents of Brisbane but on residents of the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast as well.’ The Prime Minister said, ‘We are waiting for more information.’ Well I have got news for him. It was approved as the No. 1 priority project by Infrastructure Australia in 2012 and was subsequently funded by federal Labor in the 2013 budget.

This is a project that stacks up. This is a project that is vital. This is a project that would be under construction today had Tony Abbott not cut the budget in 2014 because he had, quite frankly, the mad ideological view, as he outlined in Battlelines, that public transport was not the responsibility of the Commonwealth. He said that the federal government should ‘stick to its knitting’ and that we could be engaged in cities without having any public transport. Of course, that saw a distortion of the market into roads. We saw the money change to the East West Link in Melbourne, which had a benefit-cost ratio of 45c for every $1 returned. As I have said to various coalition members over the years, if they are happy to give me $100 I will give them $45 back next time I see them. If they think that is a good deal, I am up for it. I am absolutely up for that arrangement.

Mr Pitt: I’ve only got a $50 note on me.

Mr ALBANESE: The member opposite says he has only got $50. Well I will give you $22.50 back next time I see you. That would be a good deal, according to you. That is the economics of those opposite with their funding of the East West Link.

They took money not just off rail projects but off the M80. On the M80 last Sunday they had a sod turn on this new section of investment. The problem is that it was funded in 2013. Had they not cut it in 2014 they could have been there at the opening of the project, not at the sod turning. Infrastructure Australia, which now seems to just adopt things after the government and tick them off as a good little obedient servant of the government rather than actually being proactive, has said that the M80 is on the priority list. It was on the priority list five years ago. That is why it was funded. This is the last bit of the sections.

The Moorebank Intermodal project has been underway for years. It was put in a budget well before the 2013 budget. It has been underway. An Infrastructure Australia board member—Kerry Schott, who is a fine member—is the Chair of the Moorebank Intermodal Company and yet a press release came out today from Minister Fletcher saying that somehow this is new and is now on the infrastructure priority list. It is an absolutely extraordinary position taken by those opposite.

What we saw in the budget was a $1 billion cut in infrastructure and investment over what had been allocated by the coalition government previously. There has been a $1 billion cut, including $853 million cut from the Asset Recycling Fund as well as a $162 million cut. Since then we have seen the backpacker tax debacle that impacts on the tourism sector. Now out of nowhere there has been a $5 increase in the passenger movement charge. It is exactly the same process that led to the backpacker tax debacle—no consultation and no economic analysis of what the impact would be.

This is a government that is simply not competent when it comes to infrastructure. In the WestConnex project we have seen a complete debacle. We see a road tunnel begun without knowing where it is going to pop up. We have seen more than a dozen design and scope changes to the project. This is the sort of thing that is going on in my electorate. I note that the person in charge of planning responsibility in New South Wales, Lucy Turnbull, did not even know that there had been more than 100 heritage homes demolished in one suburb—Haberfield—in my electorate. She was completely oblivious to it.

No wonder they are angry. I got this letter from a constituent in Northcote Street, Haberfield, just over the weekend. It is a copy of a letter to the WestConnex authority complaining about the works that are occurring. The writer said:

‘On 7 October my work was disturbed midmorning—as you know from our face-to-face meetings I work from home—by the noise from tree cutting and mulching in the street. I went out to find a WestConnex team destroying the trees on the verge of the street as well as cutting the 100-year-old frangipani in my garden, without any permission being given on my part. I could have given them a lecture on the garden suburb planning principles behind Haberfield’s inception and why that is still important in today’s environmentally fragile world, but I would have been wasting my breath. This tree destruction work was all without notice, as the WestConnex team leader smugly advised me. To add insult to injury, a note was put in our letterboxes later that day stating that our trees were to be cut that day.’

That is this mob’s idea of communication. It is what is occurring. Blackmore Park in Leichhardt is under threat. A whole series of decisions are being made without proper planning and without proper consultation with residents. That is why there is such a backlash, in particular against the Baird government but also because of this government’s failure, when it comes to infrastructure, to undertake proper planning and make sure that it occurs. The funding came first, and then the planning and the approvals came much later. They have got it the wrong way up, and it stands in stark contrast to what they said they would do prior to the election. They said they would have proper analysis for all projects above $100 million in value.

This government has changed some of its rhetoric on public transport and cities and urban policy, but it has not changed any of the policies, and it certainly is not changing any of the outcomes. That is why this government’s infrastructure agenda has been treated with such contempt not just by communities around Australia but also by the business community, which understands that this is a government that has simply failed to deliver.

Sep 14, 2016

Transcript of radio interview – FIVEaa Adelaide, Two Tribes segment

Subjects: Submarines, Omnibus legislation, marriage equality

INTERVIEWER: Anthony Albanese and Christopher Pyne join us – good morning to you both.

PYNE: Good morning Will, good morning Albo, and David.

INTERVIEWER: Now can we start with you Chris Pyne? We just conducted a pretty extraordinary interview with Dick Smith following on from that full page advertisement he took out yesterday in The Australian with regard to the awarding of the future submarines contract to DCNS; in which he raised a whole host of concerns about the capacity for Australian industry to change a nuclear model into a conventional submarine; in which he questioned whether we should in fact build something of this sophistication in Australia at all. But he also made some other pretty extraordinary accusations on our program, and I’d just like you to listen and perhaps respond to this:

DICK SMITH: It was to get two seats for the Federal Government, but in fact it only got one seat.

INTERVIEWER: That’s a pretty serious allegation though that’s being levelled then at the heads of Defence (inaudible) to say they can be so easily browbeaten to put lives at risk for the sake of two seats.

SMITH: Well they’re told they don’t have a career unless they do what they’re told and if you’re telling me that the heads of Defence would want to convert a nuclear submarine that doesn’t yet exist into a piston engine powered submarine, that’s ridiculous. I can’t believe, once we pointed that out, that that was a nuclear submarine they were going to base the design on, everyone just laughs.

INTERVIEWER: It’s your portfolio area Christopher Pyne, what do you make of that?

PYNE: Well look, Dick Smith and the four businessmen who are taking out these advertisements, they’re entitled to their opinion, but they’re misguided. They’re wrong, they’re misinformed, and they simply don’t have all the facts at their disposal, and I can’t tell much more than that. I mean, they’re just not right.

INTERVIEWER: What do you make of it Albo? I mean the suggestion that it’s some sort of seat buying exercise?

ALBANESE: Look this has bipartisan support I think Dick Smith, I had a bit to do with him as Transport Minister, he’s a good person but he does like getting his name in the paper.

INTERVIEWER: We mentioned that to him, about his perennial…

ALBANESE: He does like getting his name in the paper, and we’re talking about him now, so his KPI has been met. Every election he is going to run for a seat. And every election he gets a front page splash. And every election he doesn’t run.

INTERVIEWER: I’ll change tack – I want to talk to you about the Baby Bonus, because it sounds like an agreement has been reached between the Government and the Opposition about some of the budget saving measures, over which the Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen have been crunching the numbers.

Now one of the things that looks like it’s going to fall by the wayside is the Baby Bonus, which currently gives new parents two grand for baby number one and $1000 for every child thereafter. To you Chris, as the relevant Government Minister, do you think it’s fair that new parents are being enlisted to the cause of budget repair?

PYNE: I think we have to clear that up. According to Matthias Cormann, who is the Finance Minister, the Baby Bonus that you’re talking about is not what is being removed here. This was an extra bonus as part of the child care reforms the Government proposed in 2015 that the Labor Party in the Senate never supported. So in fact it’s a spending measure that’s never been implemented, so it’s not actually taking anything away from young couples as you’ve suggested.

INTERVIEWER: So it was scheduled to come in, was it?

PYNE: Yes, it’s never actually been implemented, according to Matthias on Steve Price. So I think what’s happened is that there’s been a conflating of the two phrases – Baby Bonus. This was a proposed spending measure that the Government wanted to go forward with, but the Senate didn’t support, and we’re simply now not going to go ahead with that and Labor agrees with that. So no one is actually losing any money.
And the wider issue of course of spending measures. I mean there’s a difference between spending money when you have surplus budgets and growing revenue, as we had under the Howard-Costello period, and then implementing spending measures in a time when you have budget deficit and debt, and we’ve had since the Rudd-Gillard period.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think of the thrust of these savings, Albo? A lot of people who are sort of stuck in the middle of about the $80,000 combined family income. Do you think people on that level of income, should be expected, or be regarded as being in a higher income bracket and should be expected to make some of the higher sacrifices?

ALBANESE: No, that’s not the case. But the truth is that if you’re on $80,000 you’re not wealthy, but you’re more wealthy relative to if you’re on a Disability Support Pension, or an Aged Pension, or on NewStart and these people would have been hit by the cut. The deal that has been done is a good one, it is a compromise deal, it makes savings for the Budget. But it also in terms of the Baby Bonuses is a good example; you can’t ask people to tighten belts at the same time as you’re introducing a new payment, which is what the Government proposed.

We got rid of the Baby Bonus as part of bringing in Paid Parental Leave and the Coalition promised to get it back. It hadn’t gone through the processes, Chris is right there, it hadn’t been implemented, but Malcolm Turnbull promised, as part of the deal, with the Nats after he became the Prime Minister a year ago to bring it back. It is good that the Government has recognised that it is not a sensible proposition. And I think Matthias Cormann and Chris Bowen deserve credit for coming up with some common sense solutions.

PYNE: I agree.

INTERVIEWER: Well that’s tremendous.

ALBANESE: There you go, that’s just stuffed up your program.

INTERVIEWER: It had to happen eventually. It’s a pleasant change from last week after the Sam Dastyari stink.

ALBANESE: We’ll get on the Swans and the Crows.

PYNE: I thought you were a Hawthorn supporter?

ALBANESE: I am mate, but I’m cheering for the Swans on Saturday. See that just proves I don’t just say what people want to hear. It’s a very brave thing to do, but I’m doing it from the distance of Canberra.

INTERVIEWER: You are a typical Sydney bandwagon jumper, mate.

PYNE: Exactly.

ALBANESE: I think the Hawks have got a good chance, the Bulldogs, and the GWS.

PYNE: GWS is going to be hard to beat.

INTERVIEWER: You’re the type of Sydney AFL fan that would stand at the footy shouting ‘knock-on’.

ALBANESE: Mate, how many Sydney teams are in the top four again? Two. So we do know something about this sport.

PYNE: It’s a nice change, it’s a good thing.

ALBANESE: Poor old Port Adelaide.

INTERVIEWER: As much as I’ve enjoyed this sort of you know, match segue into football that we’ve somehow managed to achieve, we might drag it back to Canberra just for a brief moment…

PYNE: We’re all in shock that we agreed with each other about something.

INTERVIEWER: I know, it totally blew things out of the water.

PYNE: Someone has fallen off their couch at home in the suburbs.

INTERVIEWER: Chris Pyne, could you just explain to our listeners how it’s going to come to pass that this 10 member committee that will oversee the advertising that will accompany the plebiscite debate on both sides. How are they going to possibly assure that it’s not going to become hateful, or it’s not going to become beyond the pale.

PYNE: Well it’s two reasons; one the people who will be put on the yes and no committees will obviously be sensible people. We won’t be putting people on who want to say hateful things about anybody on either side of the debate. Secondly, the advertisement that they want to run will need to be approved through the Government Service Delivery and Coordination Committee, which is called the SDCC, it’s the government advertising committee.

So that’s made up of members of the Government, of course, and various public servants and others and that will not be approving advertisements that denigrate people or discriminate against people. So I think that they are important valves to ensure there is a reasonable debate and I, quite frankly, trust the Australian people to be able to conduct this debate in a sensible way and I’m a bit shocked that Bill Shorten who used to support the plebiscite now doesn’t trust the Australian people.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think Albo; can it be done without rancour and hate speech and abuse?

ALBANESE: I think if people have a look at the sort of material that was put around during the Federal Election campaign in seats like Barton and Banks and I’m sure in seats in South Australia, then unfortunately it is difficult to see how it can be done without some rancour and without hurt.

I think the big issue here that people are missing out on is it’s the term ‘marriage equality’, the key here is equality. Why is it that this issue is being singled out for a plebiscite unlike issues that frankly are more important to most people: jobs, the economy, the subs, education, health. None of that goes to a plebiscite, none of that goes to a debate.

And what we’ll end up having is a debate about the value and relative merit of people’s relationships and that, to me, is not appropriate. The Parliament should do its job, we should have a vote, like we had a vote to change the Act, we can have a vote to change the Act back. That essentially is what our job is to do – we’re legislators. And the plebiscite won’t avoid a parliamentary debate and a vote; it’s just a step in between. Why is this issue being singled out for a step in between when other issues aren’t?

INTERVIEWER: Chris and Albo, thanks for joining us. And before we let you go, Albo, we’ve got to say, or we would say, good luck at the SCG on Saturday but honesty forbids and if you do get up you’ll be defying history because the Crows have won 11 out of the last 17 at the so called home of football there in Moore Park.

ALBANESE: I’ve been to quite a few actually. I don’t think I’ve seen the Crows not win at the SCG.

INTERVIEWER: Well the last one wasn’t so good, we won’t talk about it.

INTERVIEWER: No the last one was forgettable but the rest were excellent.

ALBANESE: That was in Adelaide wasn’t it?

INTERVIEWER: No that was where we won, but the one before that in Sydney we got absolutely smashed by your …

PYNE: Albo follows any team, it doesn’t matter.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you guys.
[ENDS]

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(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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