Subject/s: Westconnex, Pacific Highway, Infrastructure Australia, Moorebank, Clive Palmer
STEVE PRICE: This time last year we were in the closing stages, can you believe it, of the election campaign. I know it seems like a hell of a lot longer. Kevin Rudd was still Prime Minister. Western Sydney, as we know particularly here on 2GB – we were out there for so much of that election campaign – was one of the biggest battle grounds, if not the biggest political battleground in the country. And of course in Sydney that meant promises about jobs and it meant promises about transport especially for commuters from western Sydney who have to come into the city to work. The Westconnex project was central to those promises and at the time (and I was reminded of this today when I saw a piece written by Anthony Albanese) Tony Abbott promised bulldozers would be at work within a year. Well, with three weeks to go it does not seem that that is going to happen. Back then as I said Anthony Albanese was Transport Minister. He’s still the Opposition’s transport spokesman. He’s on the line. Good to talk to you again.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you Steve.
PRICE: Do you think that the public are going to remember that promise?
ALBANESE: Well, we’re going to remind them of it because Tony Abbott made it very clear. He said there’d be bulldozers and cranes in the sky within 12 months of an election in Sydney, in Melbourne and in Brisbane. There’s no bulldozers. There’s just clouds of bulldust remaining from Tony Abbott’s promise.
PRICE: So nothing has happened on Westconnex?
ALBANESE: Nothing has happened on any single project anywhere in the country that wasn’t commenced by the former Labor Government and we’ll hold Tony Abbott to account. Part of that is Westconnex. Part of that is that is that the planning just isn’t being got right. I don’t mind a delay if they get it right but I was very disturbed to read an article by Tony Shepherd just last week about extending the M4 to Haberfield and the M5 to St Peters. Well, that is extending a road to a traffic jam. That doesn’t solve the problems of getting people in to the city or freight to the port.
PRICE: I’m a little confused on Westconnex. I’ve lost my way on whether you were supportive of it in government or not.
ALBANESE: We were supportive of the principle. We said we would make funding available but it was conditional upon making sure that the project had a proper cost-benefit analysis. So we put money aside and said that’s for infrastructure, for roads in Sydney. But we said you’ve got to get the planning right. I mean, I’ve got a constituent in Haberfield who in June got two letters on the same day signed by the same person from the Westconnex authority. One said we’re going to purchase your house, the other one said we’re not going to purchase your house. That just says to me that they don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t know where Westconnex is going to start, they don’t know where it’s going to end and extending it from the existing end of the M4 to Haberfield does not solve the problem, it just moves the traffic jam and makes the traffic jam even worse.
PRICE: I’ll get on to the specifics in a second but do you see the irony in the comment you made about cost-benefit analysis? The audience are going to be screaming (as you know they will be) tonight back at you saying: Well hang on, they were the government who introduced a National Broadband Scheme without a cost-benefit analysis.
ALBANESE: No the National Broadband Network did have economic analysis and it showed …
PRICE: On the back of an envelope!
ALBANESE: No that is not right, Steve. That is not right. It showed that it would have a positive economic return. It showed that it would benefit the nation. It was indeed, when we established Infrastructure Australia, that a national broadband scheme was the first of its priority themes that it identified as providing a boost to productivity and a boost to the nation
PRICE: So if you’d won the election last year where would Westconnex be today?
ALBANESE: What we would have insisted was that we worked with the state government to make sure that they got first of all the planning right. I’m very concerned. Anyone who knows anything about Sydney knows the idea that a freeway – the M5 – will stop as St Peters is the extension. I don’t know here the traffic then is supposed to go Steve.
PRICE: Well, we’ve been though those nightmares. I mean, that’s the whole problem of the M4.
ALBANESE: Exactly. You’ve got King Street, Newtown, which is basically a car park at the best of times, and then you’ve got the idea that you would get traffic to the port and boost freight productivity which was the whole idea of the M5 – that was part of the objective that you’ve got to solve – by dumping traffic on the western side of Sydney airport. It will add to congestion around the airport. I want to work with Tony Shepherd, I want to work with the State Government to make sure that it’s got right. We said this when we were in government. We said we were concerned to make sure that you get it right, we’re prepared to provide funding. It is absurd that the M4 stops where it does and it’s absurd that the M5 wasn’t made wider in the first place.
PRICE: It seems like we’ve been talking about the M4 extension or whatever tag you want to put on it for about as long as we’ve been talking about Badgerys Creek. Nothing ever happens. I’ve got people listening to me who are probably now, late tonight, still on their way home from work because bloody traffic jams in Sydney are a nightmare.
ALBANESE: Absolutely and all that’s going to happen after four years of the O’Farrell and Baird Government is that work will have commenced by next March maybe on adding two lanes to the existing M4 and for that privilege they are going to put a toll on the existing road. That’s all that will have happened in four years. Nothing for any other major road project in Sydney and that is of real concern. I worked closely with Duncan Gay on the F3 to M2 and we got a good outcome there with co-operation with federal and state governments. We signed on with Transurban in June of last year and that project will go ahead. It was got right. We need to make sure that we get this project right because the worst thing that could happen is that in ten years’ time if people actually realise that the M4 problem around Concord and Strathfield has simply been extended a few kilometres down the road to Haberfield and the M5 is dumping traffic out at St Peters, then I think people will find that unacceptable. People are prepared to accept I think the disruption that comes with major infrastructure projects but only if they can see that there’s a positive outcome. Now at the moment a road to a traffic jam isn’t that.
PRICE: Road construction has such a long lead time. I was lucky enough over the summer to drive on one of the road projects you oversaw north of Coffs Harbour and when you drive on one of those brand new roads you think thank god it’s actually been done. Surely road transport, road building, major roads – M5, M4, Pacific Highway it doesn’t matter where – why’s there a need for politics in that? Surely it should be bi-partisan.
ALBANESE: There shouldn’t be.
PRICE: We all want the road, it doesn’t matter if you vote Calathumpian, you want the road.
ALBANESE: Well that’s why we established Infrastructure Australia to get those priorities right. I’m very proud of what we did in government. We built or rebuilt 7500 km of road; the Hunter Expressway – promised built and opened. It’s a fantastic road. The Pacific Highway work that we did that you would have travelled on. Before you got to Coffs you would have travelled on the Kempsey bypass, the longest bridge in Australia, you would have travelled on that area up to the north of Coffs, Woolgoolga, Arrawarra.
PRICE: Woolgoolga and Coffs to Grafton is done now pretty much.
ALBANESE: It’s amazing and it’s saving lives. That’s the thing. It actually reduces travel times but most important it saves lives. I’m very proud of the work we did there and we did similar work up in Queensland on the Bruce, the Ipswich Motorway in Brisbane. We did major work. But here in Sydney it just seems that there is a problem getting the planning right. The money is available. I’ve been constructive about it. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t happen. I’m saying it should happen and it should be got right.
PRICE: What was your attitude to the Moorebank Freight Terminal construction?
ALBANESE: Well, I was supportive of that.
PRICE: I just want to play you an ad. This has been running on 2GB now for a couple of weeks. Let me play this for you:
Sitting in traffic? Think this is bad?, If you’re on the M5, Hume Highway, Moorebank Avenue or anywhere near the south-west, things are going to get a whole lot worse. Freight terminals planned for Moorebank will add 10,000 truck movements to your road every day. That’s an extra truck every eight seconds so don’t just sit there, speak up. Find out more and have your say online at Liverpool listens. Google Liverpool listens. Do it when you get home. Do it now.
PRICE: Seems Liverpool council aren’t happy about it.
ALBANESE: Well they are wrong. What Moorebank Intermodal terminal will do is take trucks off the road and make sure that freight from the Port of Botany can travel to the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal on rail.
PRICE: That’s the opposite of what they say in that ad.
ALBANESE: That’s correct. That is exactly what it is about. This is a vital project for Sydney. Intermodal projects are critical in terms of boosting the amount of freight that travels on rail rather than road. That’s the key to getting trucks off our roads. I am absolutely convinced that this is a vital project. We established the Moorebank Intermodal Authority. It is now bipartisan – similar to the way that support for a second airport for Sydney is now a bipartisan project. We’ve got to get these things done and it will mean massive jobs for south western Sydney, jobs during the construction phases but ongoing thousands of jobs for south-west Sydney.
PRICE: A couple of quick things before you go. The Roads to Recovery scheme: someone tells me that the funding for that has run out and that you’re actually going to have to implement a Private Member’s Bill to get that funding rebooted.
ALBANESE: Well the Government has just been asleep at the wheel here. We extended the funding in the 2013 Budget. But in terms of the legislation, the program exists until June, 2014. Now that’s run out. The government has had ten months to get a pretty simple Bill done that just extends that timeframe. There’s bi-partisan support for it.
PRICE: So they haven’t cut the funding?
ALBANESE: They just haven’t done it. They just haven’t legislated for it. They have cut Financial Assistance Grants to local government. Almost $1 billion has been ripped out and a lot of that will mean reductions in local road maintenance particularly in regional and rural communities. But the Roads to Recovery program is also vital. They haven’t got it done so I’ve got a Private Members Bill I’ve given notice of and I’ll be pursuing that next week when Parliament resumes. I hope to get bipartisan support. If they are prepared as the Government to actually front up and move simple legislation, we’ll back that as well. But they need to make sure that this vital program continues so that local government doesn’t get a double whammy – a hit on financial assistance grants and then a hit on Roads to Recovery.
PRICE: Would you have been able to have remained as calm as your colleague Penny Wong did on Q&A on Monday night if you’d been sitting next to Clive Palmer when he called the Chinese mongrels?
ALBANESE: I was watching at the time and I admire her patience. It was such an over-the-top comment, I’m sure that there was an element of shock there. I was shocked by just how crude the statement was. It clearly was not in the national interest. When you are elected to public office you have a responsibility to represent the national interest. Penny Wong represents the national interest each and every day. It’s a pity that Clive Palmer undermined that interest the other night
PRICE: Should he apologise properly?
ALBANESE: Of course he should.
PRICE: Always a pleasure to catch up. Thank you very much Anthony Albanese.
ALBANESE: Great to talk to you Steve.