Oct 15, 2020







SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; Budget reply; ICAC; Gladys Berejiklian; Labor’s National Rail Manufacturing Strategy; rail; Hunter economy; coal; gas.


DAN COX, HOST: How will our region recover from the economic hit that we’ve taken this year? Everyone seems to agree; job creation will be at the heart.


JENNY MARCHANT, HOST: The Federal Labor Party thinks rail manufacturing here is at least part of the answer. That brings Anthony Albanese to town today. He is the Federal Opposition Leader. Good morning, Mr Albanese.




MARCHANT: We’ll talk manufacturing in a moment. But the story that’s consumed New South Wales this week is the relationship between Gladys Berejiklian and Daryl Maguire. Labor’s position on the New South Wales Liberal Premier is that she should resign. Where do you stand on that?


ALBANESE: Well, I can understand where they’re coming from. We’ll see further revelations, no doubt, today from Mr Maguire’s evidence. I’ve drawn a very big distinction between Gladys Berejiklian’s personal life, that I think is her business. But there are public issues here with regard to a member who was appointed to a frontbench position, not by one, not by two, but by three separate Liberal premiers, who clearly abused his position, he was using the office to make money on a personal level, was getting fees for a range of things, everything from meetings and introductions. Just, quite frankly, I find it just almost unbelievable. If someone came to you with these revelations as a rumour, you would essentially ask them what they had been drinking, I think, or if they needed a good sleep. This is quite extraordinary that anyone would use a Member of Parliament’s office in Parliament House for these purposes.


COX: Anthony Albanese, rail manufacturing was a big part of what Labor had to offer the Hunter in the Budget Reply last week. A local advocate from the industry told us on Breakfast that a big challenge for the industry is the continuity of contracts from different states. How would you make sure any investment here was sustainable?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s why you need a National Rail Manufacturing Strategy. And that’s what the Australasian Rail Association, that’s the peak body made up of companies that build trains, that renovate trains, the full sector is all involved in that peak organisation. And they’ve been calling for this for a period of time, a number of years now. So that, for example, you had New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria all in the market for new rail carriages at the same time a few years ago. What that does, obviously, is it pushes up price. Now, if you had a national coordinated plan, and that would be the role of the Commonwealth, it is state governments that run the public transport systems. The Federal Government has a role in the freight network through the Australian Rail Track Corporation. But you could actually smooth out the manufacturing timetable. And companies I’ve spoken to certainly all support that. Yesterday, we had a major announcement by Premier Palaszczuk in Queensland, that all of Queensland’s rail carriages will be building Maryborough by Downer EDI, creating jobs in regional Queensland. There’s no reason whatsoever why train carriages shouldn’t be made right there in Newcastle. The Tangara was made there. We know that the trains that are made here actually are actually fit for purpose. Every train that has been purchased overseas has been too tall for the tunnels or too long for the stations or the wrong gauge. Let’s do it here.


MARCHANT: Yes. Mr Albanese, I’m aware that we don’t have a lot of time with you here before the news. And I do want to ask you how you’re feeling about Labor’s presence in the Hunter with last year’s election showing that One Nation and other parties have eroded some of your margins here. Do you still consider this safe Labor area?


ALBANESE: It is Labor heartland but it’s one that we’ve never taken for granted. And I know when I was the minister there, I’m very proud of not just the upgrades to the Pacific Highway north and south. But the Hunter Expressway was promised by the Howard Government, they didn’t do anything. It was largely a Federal Labor investment, $1.5 billion for that $1.7 billion project. And we worked with local government. We invested there around the waterfront. We invested in industry and in the university there in Newcastle. And we certainly don’t take it for granted.


COX: Anthony Albanese, we have to get to the news. But would you stay on the line for us and record something? We’d love to ask a few more questions. Thank you.


MARCHANT: Anthony Albanese is in Newcastle today. He’s the Federal Opposition Leader. He was with us just before eight o’clock this morning to cover some local issues. But the clock was against us.


COX: And we still had some questions to ask, as you can imagine. So, we had him hold on, so we could get a little bit more time with him. We recorded this conversation with Anthony Albanese about coal gas jobs just a short time ago.


MARCHANT: Mr Albanese, it was the issue of coal uncertainty around jobs in our region that did cost Labor a lot of votes in the last election. What is your position on the future, or maybe even lack thereof, of coal jobs in the Hunter?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll continue to export coal from the Hunter Valley, as long as the demand is there for it. And you can see that over period of time, what’s happening in Australia is we’re transitioning to cleaner energy. That’s why the Government used to say that Liddell would continue as a coal fired power station. They’re not saying that anymore. But a majority of the Hunter Valley coal, of course, is for export. And that demand is still there. And that’s where an overwhelming majority of the mining jobs come from.


COX: On the issue of coal, we’ve been hearing for a little while now that Chinese customers might start asking for deferrals of their coal orders. BHP has now confirmed that is the case that it’s starting to happen. How much of a concern is that to you?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s a real concern that the Australian Government doesn’t seem to be able to have basic human relationships with their Chinese counterparts given that 48 per cent of our total exports go to China. And at the moment, you have a Trade Minister who says that he hasn’t had a discussion with his counterpart for a considerable period of time.


MARCHANT: What is your plan, and Federal Labor’s plan then, for when the international market changes? Maybe there’s not much of a demand for our exported coal? Maybe the domestic market isn’t there anymore? What’s your plan for people of the Hunter Valley who rely on it?


ALBANESE: Look, I am not going to deal with hypotheticals well into the future. It’s very clear that those jobs in terms of mines are secure for a period of time. These issues need to be worked through. The Hunter is a resilient community. When BHP shut down in the Hunter, what we saw was a revitalisation of Newcastle, and a diversification of its economy. And I’m very confident that the Hunter has a very strong future.


MARCHANT: It may seem hypothetical, but these are issues that we need to plan for, don’t we?


ALBANESE: Of course. And in terms of diversification of the economy, we’re seeing that happen in the Hunter right now. And one of the things I’ll be talking about today is manufacturing in the Hunter, high-value manufacturing. You have such an advantage in the Hunter in terms of you have an extraordinary port with great capacity there. One of the things I’ve been concerned about is the fact that the port has forced constraints on it. I mean, it is quite absurd that we take product that’s produced at Tomago and take it all the way through the City of Sydney, to Port Botany, right near my electorate, rather than to the Newcastle Port.


COX: Anthony Albanese, there was big disappointment in the region regarding some shovel-ready projects, as they are known as. They missed out again in this year’s Budget. Do you share the disappointment of your local Labor MPs? Or is that just the reality of your region being represented by Opposition members?


ALBANESE: No, this is appalling in terms of the Government’s approach. And what we have is $100 billion of new investment, new spending, but not much to show for it. Frankly, I think it was a very disappointing Budget. A budget that created a trillion dollars of debt, rising to 1.7 trillion. $100 billion dollars of new investment, and barely anything to show for it at all. There was a Singleton Bypass, but that was promised by Labor and campaigned for by Joel Fitzgibbon for a long period of time.


COX: The Prime Minister is excited about the gas industry. Do you share his excitement?


ALBANESE: Well, what the Prime Minister needs to do is explain what immediate jobs will be created. The issue of the shutdown of Liddell, of course, this is the Prime Minister who was saying that it needed to be kept open as a coal fired power plant a little while ago. And he seamlessly segued as if everyone’s forgotten the history of what he was saying about that plant, not for a week or a month, but for year after year after year threatening AGL. The fact is that AGL have a plan in terms of replacement that they’ve put in place. And part of that replacement is gas. Part of it is renewables with batteries. It’s a good plan that they have put together in cooperation, it must be said as well, with their workforce.


MARCHANT: That’s Anthony Albanese, the Federal Opposition Leader speaking to us a short time ago.