Subjects: Labor’s infrastructure plan, Badgerys Creek airport rail; Infrastructure Australia, public transport, High Speed Rail
DAVID SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time. Let me start with what appears to be a bit of a contradiction in what you announced. You want an independent Infrastructure Australia at arm’s length to decide the projects to go ahead, but you are also saying, here are 10 priority projects Labor wants you to build. Who is making the decision?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: If you look at the projects, they’re ones which by and large have been through the processes. Take the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail Project in Brisbane. Both of those have been through the Infrastructure Australia process, both of those had proper funding from the former Federal Labor government to make sure they were brought up to scratch.
Cross River Rail was the number one project on the Infrastructure Australia priority list in 2012; funded in 2013. All of that funding was cut in 2014. Projects like the Pacific Highway and the Bruce Highway were supported by Infrastructure Australia. Once again, they are projects that were going ahead that have been slowed down under the current government. The Gawler Line in in Adelaide is half done. They came in and cut the funding from that project.
SPEERS: What about the Badgerys Creek rail line that you are talking about as one of these 10 priorities?
ALBANESE: Well, if anyone suggests that you’re going to build a new airport in southwest transport Sydney and not have public transport access, that is ridiculous. It is an absolute no-brainer.
SPEERS: This is the point, isn’t it? You could make a good argument for all these projects, but if you want Infrastructure Australia to make these decisions independently, why should the government, be it a Labor government, be surfing in over the top?
ALBANESE: We’re very confident in this project. The airport didn’t appear from nowhere. There were extensive studies when we were in government that showed that an airport would produce a positive cost benefit analysis and part of that, and the work that we did in government showed that you needed to have a connection with public transport.
So once again, a proper analysis was done by us in government. I think it’s very difficult for anyone who wants to argue that the second Sydney Airport has been rushed through. Good luck with that argument. It’s not the case. It’s the best site and it’s the best site in part because of the access to transport links.
By extending the rail line from Leppington, in the southwest, to the western line near St Marys, what you do also is produce a massive productivity benefit because you produce a loop line to the rail system which connects southwestern Sydney, Western Sydney with the city through the existing airport.
So it’s an absolute no-brainer. It will have a very positive economic outcome. It’s a good example of why decisions need to be made sooner rather than later is because by doing it sooner, prior to the leasing arrangements being made for the operators of the second airport, you can factor that in to the lease price.
SPEERS: Okay, but ultimately what I’m getting at is, it would still have to be the decision of Infrastructure Australia, not a Labor government.
ALBANESE: We’ve made it clear that Infrastructure Australia will be required to have all the assessments, but what I’m saying to you is that the cost benefit analysis for the second Sydney Airport and related infrastructure was done by us in government, is being progressed by the current government. It is only ideology – they’re spending over $3 billion on roads….
SPEERS: I appreciate the case for it.
ALBANESE: … around the airport, but nothing on rail.
SPEERS: All I’m asking is about the new mechanism you are setting up here. Is it going to be a Labor government or Infrastructure Australia that makes the final decision on any of these projects?
ALBANESE: Infrastructure Australia will have to provide support. Without Infrastructure Australia’s support, under this mechanism, then it won’t happen.
SPEERS: But the government makes the ultimate decision.
ALBANESE: Governments are are elected, so there’s nothing new in that. The difference of what we’re doing here though…
SPEERS: You are talking about a Reserve Bank type arm’s length body here but ultimately it would still be the elected politicians making the decision.
ALBANESE: No. At the moment the problem is that elected politicians can make decisions about projects that don’t stack up. Projects like the East West Link, WestConnex and the Perth Freight Link have all received funding without having any transparent process or cost benefit analysis. What we’re saying is that will have to occur.
The projects that were named today were to give examples of exactly where we know projects exist that do stack up. Each and every one of them stacks up.
SPEERS: But who makes the final decision?
ALBANESE: Final decisions are always made in government budgets. But in terms of the use of this fund, they will be under the control of Infrastructure Australia.
SPEERS: Will public transport be commercially viable, because quite often it’s not and State Governments largely have to do it for social reasons, but it doesn’t return commercially to investors?
ALBANESE: There are a range of methods that you can use. For example, in Cross River Rail, and this was mentioned in Mr Shorten’s speech today, what we had was $715 million included in the budget from the former Labor Federal Government and $715 million from the State Government.
But there was to be an availability payment made on that project on the basis of the patronage on that line and therefore an ability to mobilise private capital, particularly from superannuation funds.
So one of the things that we’ve said is that within six months of government an independent advisory committee will advise on the practical ways in which this can be rolled out, but we know that there are models there, including that one, where you can mobilise superannuation funds, just like from the F3 to M2.
A small contribution from Federal and State Government has meant a 10-fold investment as a result of that and the F3 to M2 now known as the NorthConnex, which was just a good idea for decades, is now finally under construction.
SPEERS: Finally, amongst these priority projects, I didn’t see one of your favourites, one of your pet projects for many years. High speed rail, Anthony Albanese. Will that happen should Labor be elected?
ALBANESE: I’ll be a reintroducing the Bill to establish a High Speed Rail Authority next Monday into the Parliament and I will be very happy to come on the show next Monday and talk about it.
There’s another cost benefit analysis that’s been done. $2.15 benefit for every dollar between Sydney and Melbourne. A very viable project that requires cooperation across State and Territory governments and local government. It requires that for the project to be progressed.
That’s why we support the establishment of a High Speed Rail Authority which was recommended by people like Tim Fischer and Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia, who were part of the interim advisory group that I established and that was abolished by the incoming government.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us this afternoon.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you, David.