Subjects: Foreign airlines in Australia; northern Australia aviation proposal; proposed citizenship penalties for foreign fighters; Workchoices on Water; maritime security; marriage equality
DAVID SPEERS: Should foreign airlines be allowed to fly domestic routes in Australia? Cabinet is expected to consider this so-called open skies policy possibly as early as this week. It would allow foreign carriers to operate between towns and cities in northern Australia, only though above the Tropic of Capricorn so Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Broome, Port Headland et cetera.
Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb is said to be the strongest proponent of this move as part of a push to open up northern Australia to more tourism and business opportunities. Not surprisingly, Qantas and Virgin are vehemently opposed to opening up their routes to other players and more competition. They warn this added competition on certainly the more viable routes would force them to cut back on the less viable routes.
Others in Cabinet, most notably the Transport Minister and Nationals Leader Warren Truss are strongly opposed as well. So whether this is actually going to happen or not, we’ll see coming out of the Cabinet meeting. Labor is also strongly opposed. I spoke a little earlier to the Shadow Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese. Anthony Albanese, thank you for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, David.
SPEERS: You’ve called this plan unilateral economic disarmament. Why?
ALBANESE: It is just that, David. The way that international aviation works is that no nation state gives up the right to conduct domestic aviation in its country to a foreign carrier. Qantas can’t operate from Rome to Berlin or Los Angeles to San Francisco.
SPEERS: Even though it does fly to both?
ALBANESE: It does certainly fly to both. But it can’t operate in the domestic aviation network and that’s the same with every other country in the world. What we’re talking about here is without getting anything back, Australia would give up essentially our sovereignty in terms of over our skies, to a foreign carrier to compete with domestic carriers which would undermine the whole of the network, not just Qantas and Virgin, but importantly smaller airlines like Air North, that service Australia’s north.
SPEERS: Sure, but is the difference with LA and San Francisco, Rome, London, that the north of Australia is underserviced when it comes to aviation at the moment? That there is more potential for tourism, for mining workers, everyone else who wants to go there to have more services available?
ALBANESE: Well, this is nonsense. The fact is that those ports are served very well and what we’ve seen is increased access in terms of aviation. The fact that we have two strong major airlines here in Australia; Qantas and Virgin, each with a subsidiary in terms of Jetstar and Tiger respectively. But also with relationships like Qantas have a relationship with Air North, for example, which means that not just the major ports like Darwin and Cairns, but places like Mount Isa and Cloncurry and Bundaberg and those areas are serviced as well.
SPEERS: And cross subsidised.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. The fact is that some of those routes are more profitable than others. The other thing is that due to the nature of our tropical north is that they’re seasonal. So during the busy tourist season Darwin and Broome and Cairns are a lot busier than they are during the cyclone and wet season. Common sense tells you that what would happen if you open it up would be cherry picking, and that would undermine the services that those communities rely on year round as well as undermining Australian jobs.
SPEERS: It would mean cheaper tickets available on those more viable routes, wouldn’t it?
ALBANESE: It might, in the short term – until such time as the Australian airlines were driven out, because it’s hard to compete with foreign wages being paid in Australia, and therefore you would see a retreat of our national carriers, and that space potentially then being filled by foreign carriers who over a period of time once the competition went, would increase their prices.
SPEERS: Speaking of foreign wages, you’re also very concerned about the government’s plans on shipping, which would mean that vessel owners no longer have to have collective agreements with their crews and in particular that only ships that spend more than 183 days a year in Australia would have to pay Australian wages. What’s going to be the impact of that, do you fear?
ALBANESE: This is just ideology before common sense. If a truck carries goods from Sydney to Melbourne, they have to comply with Australian standards in terms of safety. They’ve got to pay Australian wages and conditions. Similarly if a train carries those goods, so do the people who are involved in the rail sector. But if they’re on the blue highway going from Sydney to Melbourne undertaking the domestic freight task doing work in Australia, for Australia, they’re going to be paid foreign wages with the threat that undermines not just Australian jobs but those companies of course that have based themselves here in Australia, that have the Australian flag on the back of Australian ships, will simply disappear. Because they won’t be able to compete with the third world flagged carriers, like Liberia and these places that don’t have the same standards that we have.
SPEERS: But do you accept Minister Warren Truss’ argument that freight costs aren’t sustainable as they are when they are in, in his words, a downward spiral in shipping for the last few years?
ALBANESE: We are in a downward spiral, which is why we introduced positive reforms that weren’t about protection. If you’re in the United States and you want to take goods from San Francisco to LA on a ship, you have to have a US flagged ship; it has to be built in the United States as well.
These people live in a fairy land where there’s this free market out there. Nation states protect their national interests in shipping and aviation for reasons not just of economic interest but also the environment. It is not Australian flagged ships that have hit the Great Barrier Reef in recent times.
And there’s also the issue of national security. For a government that speaks a lot about protecting our borders, to open up essentially a system whereby Australian flagged ships with Australians working on board will be replaced by foreign flagged ships paying foreign wages with people who haven’t been through the same scrutiny that occurs in Australia, is quite extraordinary.
SPEERS: What are you suggesting there with national security? What risk could that pose?
ALBANESE: It’s very simple, David. We have a system of ASIC cards and MSIC cards, Aviation Security Identity Cards and Maritime Security Identity Cards, Australians who work in the industry go through a whole process.
If there’s a free-for-all around our coast without that proper scrutiny there are potential issues there that aren’t there in terms of Australian ships. Just the same as in terms of safety and the environmental standards that are there, the Australian ships have not presented a problem some of the foreign ships have.
SPEERS: Are you suggesting here that terrorists would be on these ships?
ALBANESE: No, I’m not suggesting that at all. I’m suggesting that there is not the same scrutiny that occurs on Australian ships. I’m also suggesting, very much so, which is why we had the Navy represented on the shipping reform groups that underwent two years of proper consultation.
There is a real link between the skills base that you need in the merchant fleet and the Navy. There’s a real transition and many people who work in one or serve in one cross over. Just the same as if we lose that skills base as an island continent, they’re the people who run our harbours, who run our ports. That stands to lose our economic capacity and our national interest.
SPEERS: Just before we leave this area, how do you make domestic shipping between Sydney and Melbourne for example more viable, more sustainable?
ALBANESE: Well what you do is to make sure that there’s a proper mix. At the moment if an Australian ship isn’t available, foreign ships have an important role around our coast. But the big increases in charges have been because of what’s happened at our ports. It’s not the difference between labour here.
A big container ship will be run by about 15 people, to run an entire ship from the captain right through to the people who are cleaning the ship. Now, that’s not a huge amount in terms of the wages bill compared to other cost structures that are there, in particular port charges. In recent times, the reason why there’s been an increase in shipping costs.
SPEERS: Let me just ask you, a couple of other issues; the citizenship debate. Do you have a problem with stripping citizenship from dual nationals, at least, who have been involved in terrorism?
ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see the legislation. I certainly have no sympathy for people who’ve been involved in something like IS or Daesh as it’s called. I have no sympathy for them whatsoever and the Australian Government should implement the full force of the law.
SPEERS: Including stripping their citizenship?
ALBANESE: We will wait to see legislation. Prima facie, I don’t have a problem with really strong action – as strong as possible. But it’s a matter of what’s practical and making sure that we fulfil the obligations that we have internationally as well including to not make people stateless. I think that’s a problem.
SPEERS: The Government’s given an assurance that won’t happen.
ALBANESE: Well, there’s a bit of a debate going on in the Government, David, which is why I can’t be expected to give a final view about legislation that frankly, you or I haven’t seen.
SPEERS: Now, same-sex marriage. Bill Shorten’s Private Members’ Bill introduced today, I think it’s the fifth or sixth time we’ve had legislation on this before the Parliament. You’ve seen these debates come and go before. What is it going to take do you believe from here for an actual Bill to succeed?
ALBANESE: Well I think it’s pretty close to succeeding. I’m pretty confident that there’s a majority now in the House of Representatives and the Senate. There just needs to be a free vote. Bill Shorten, in introducing the legislation today, made it clear when he said we care about the outcome, not who owns it.
What’s important here is the outcome. It is important that marriage equality occur. I suspect that then people will wonder what the fuss was about. It won’t be an ongoing debate and the Parliament should determine that. It should be done in my view as soon as possible. There’s a Bill before the House. Had Bill Shorten not presented that Bill, I think we would have still be talking and talking. What that will do is get things moving.
SPEERS: Will it, though? As you point out, the free vote is crucial in the Liberal Party. Is this going to actually bring about a free vote in the Liberal Party?
ALBANESE: Well, I think it will facilitate one. There’ll be a debate in the Liberal Party about what form of Bill takes place, whether it’s Bill Shorten’s Bill, or another one, we’ll wait and see. But the important thing is that this change occur because Australia is now, falling way behind the rest of the world.
We have a proud record in terms of the rights of women in terms of our democratic system. We were ahead of the rest of the world. South Australia and here, we have a proud record on social reform. On this one, I’m afraid we’re way, way back in the field. The rest of the world’s moved on. It’s time Australia got this done and then we can move on as well.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, thanks for talking to us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Subjects: Shipping, open skies aviation policy, marriage equality, Newspoll
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for joining us. I am here today with Dean Summers, who is the International Transport Federation National Coordinator. And I’m here in response to the revelations that were shown on the Four Corners program last night. These revelations show the need for us to have a proper examination of what is going on with foreign flagged vessels around our coasts.
In the past there has been of course the famous Ships of Shame report, which was conducted and led to Peter Morris taking action when it comes to revitalising Australian shipping. The last government, of which I was the Minister, also took action to revitalise Australian shipping, but the current government seems determined to stop the Australian flag’s existence on ships around our coast and in international waters.
They say that it doesn’t matter whether there’s an Australian-flagged vessel or a foreign-flagged vessel around our coast – that there’s no difference in terms of Australia’s economic, environmental and national security interests.
I say that is not the case. I say there are real issues regarding foreign-flagged ships and there’s a need, indeed, as a sovereign nation, there’s a responsibility upon us to investigate the circumstances around that.
Now we know as a result of these incidents on the ship the Sage Sagittarius, a coal freighter operating between Australia and Japan – interestingly not flagged with either the Australian flag or the Japanese flag but flagged with the Panama flag – that these incidents last night are of real concern.
Now, I don’t prejudge what happened on that vessel. This issue is the subject of an ongoing Coronial Inquiry and that is the appropriate place for these particular incidents to be investigated. But what I do know is that it is time for a close look at the operation of foreign flagged vessels in Australian waters.
The questions that are out there include what checks, if any, are made into the backgrounds of the crew of these vessels. If you are someone working in the Australian maritime sector, either on sea or on land, you have to have a Maritime Security Identity Card.
You have to have a whole range of checks done on your character. What checks, what scrutiny is there of people who are working on foreign vessels who operate in our ports and around our coasts? It is reasonable that that be examined. Have there been any other incidents such as what is alleged to have happened with the Sage Sagittarius in Australian waters? And do Australian authorities have adequate powers to investigate such events?
Now the government has said that it will be introducing a range of reforms. They flagged that at a lunch hosted by the foreign shipping industry just a couple of weeks ago. I of course, like other Australians, haven’t had an opportunity to scrutinise that legislation.
But what we do know is that in the Budget Paper Number 2 they have stated that one of the objectives of coastal shipping is to bring standards on Australian-based ships in line with international standards.
Now that is of real concern as a written objective because we know when it comes to international labour standards on ships, particularly those flagged with flags of convenience, is that there are real issues around the wages and conditions, around occupational health and safety, around security issues relating to these ships.
And that is why, before there’s a consideration of any legislation that says we don’t need an Australian shipping industry – that’s essentially the government’s positon – or if there is one, we want a ship that operates between Sydney and Melbourne to be able to pay Third World wages, to have Third World standards and to have Third World occupational health and safety conditions, there should be a proper examination.
Now this comes down to a pretty simple principle that will be debated out before the Parliament. The principle is this: If I want to have, instead of taking a Sydney-based truck from Sydney to Melbourne; if I want to move freight and compete with a Filipino-based truck, with Filipino standards rather than Australian standards in terms of safety on that truck; employ a Filipino truck driver; pay them Filipino wages; have Filipino occupational health and safety conditions in order to take my goods from Sydney to Melbourne, people would say that is absurd.
That is not the Australian way. You need to have Australian wages and conditions when you are performing an Australian domestic freight task. What the government wants though is no different – whether it’s the Hume Highway from Sydney to Melbourne should also apply to the blue highway from Sydney to Melbourne.
But they want a Filipino ship, flagged with a country of a flag of convenience, done with Filipino wages, Filipino occupational health and safety conditions to be able to that route and take those goods from Sydney to Melbourne. Now that is in my view, just an absurd proposition.
And similarly, in terms of the cabotage arrangements that are also to be considered I understand at a meeting tonight of the government, which would free up the northern part of Australia for foreign airlines to compete on domestic routes with Australian airlines, again paying those foreign workers foreign wages and conditions and undercutting the Australian system and therefore undermining the very effective Australian aviation system that we have.
This is a government that is putting ideology before common sense. I might ask Dean Summers to make some comments as well.
DEAN SUMMERS, INTERNATIONAL TRANSPORT FEDERATION NATIONAL CO-ORDINATOR: Thank you. The International Transport Workers Federation is calling on a Senate inquiry to expose the high cost of cheap shipping.
We have seen through the Sage Sagittarius coronial inquest the extremes that can be inflicted on vulnerable international seafarers trading Australian cargoes to international markets.
The Sage Sagittarius is a terrible example, an extreme example of what crews have to put up with in taking our cargoes to international markets.
On the Sage Sagittarius, a fully owned Japanese ship, every bit of that ship is Japanese except its register.
Japanese owners NYK choose to use Panama as the country to register that vessel because Panama prostitutes its flag, ready for cheap gains so that they don’t have to have any regulatory obligation back to the real owners NYK.
The manning goes out to the cheapest alternative. In this case it was the Filipino manning company NYK Philippines, set up by NYK under another dodgy deal so that they can separate themselves from the parent company.
So a Filipino crew trading Australia cargoes on Japanese-owned vessel to Japanese profits on the back of a Panamanian flag of convenience. What does this mean to the crew? Well, to three crew it was a death sentence.
The first crewman, the chief cook, head of the catering department, was killed, was killed, because all of the evidence says he was about contact me as head of the ITF in Australia and complain about the rough conditions the captain was treating the mess man with.
Two weeks later after the chief cook disappeared over the side without any trace – two weeks after – in an Australian port coming through the headlands of Newcastle the chief engineer was apparently coshed on the back of the head and falling 12m to his death on the engine room plates because he had information and he had told other people that he was frightened for his life, he was frightened for his family’s lives and this is the sort of situation and environment that the FOC engenders.
Two weeks after that the vessel sails to its destination port in Japan where the head superintendent, a man in charge of a fleet of vessels was mysteriously given the job of seeing the rollers, a squeaky roller on deck at three o’clock in the morning.
And he was left inside those rollers for up to three hours crushed to death – a grisly, horrible, gruesome death that according to the ABC interviews on Four Corners last night his parents were frightened to talk about for fear of repercussions. Such is the flag of convenience. Such is the high cost of cheap shipping. And if Australia is prepared to open up our coasts to cheap shipping then we should understand what that really means. It’s not cutting red tape, it’s not clearing a level playing field for efficient shipping in and out of Australian ports. It means opening our coast, our ports, and our cargoes up to the worst, cheapest, nastiest shipping.
Cheap and nasty shipping isn’t cheap but it sure is nasty and we have seen that on the Sage Sagittarius. But it’s not an isolated case. Certainly triple murder, triple deaths, unexplained deaths, are isolated thank God. But they are becoming more and more common. More and more seafarers are going missing over the side of ships coming to Australia or leaving Australia with Australian cargoes unexplained and we don’t have the capacity, the ability or even the political appetite to investigate these grisly happenings.
If we are going to open up our coast, if this federal government wants to lay bare our coast we have to understand the true costs to our environment. We have to understand the true costs to our national security because, as Anthony has just said, every Australian maritime worker has to go through an extreme high level of background – the highest level of background and security checks – for any Australian worker – through ASIO, through the Fed Police, through the state police, through Immigration and Customs. Every one of our workers must be background security checked to the highest level.
But is that that same on flag of convenience? Certainly not, certainly not. Theirs is the lowest. Theirs is a mere cursory check, an electronic check on a maritime crew visa which lets whole fleets and whole crews of ships come through under cursory almost immediate bounce back giving of a maritime crew visa. These are the dynamics and we have to understand what that means. In an environment of heightened security alert we are prepared to open our borders up for a few cheap political shots from this federal government.
It’s not on, it’s going to be a high cost and I don’t want to be the one standing by and saying we’ve done nothing to support an Australian industry over a cheap and nasty replacement.
ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Firstly, isn’t linking these three deaths to these economic reforms just cheap political opportunism?
ALBANESE: What we have here is a proposal in writing – Budget Paper No 2. Go and have a look at it, it is there. I was stunned on Budget night that it was there in black and white in the most political of Budget papers that has been seen in this country – a clear statement saying that Australian-based ships should better align their labour standards with international standards. Now it is appropriate under those circumstances to draw out exactly what those international standards are. I make that point completely. We need to go into this issue with eyes wide open. If the government’s position is that there is no preference at all for Australian shipping, ahead of foreign-flagged vessels, then it’s appropriate that the Senate examine exactly what is occurring in terms of foreign-flagged vessels, what the circumstances are, that would seem to me to be a reasonable response.
Anyone who has a look at the Four Corners program last night I think would be shocked. I await the Coronial Inquiry. I’ve made it very clear I don’t pre-empt that inquiry. It is appropriate it be allowed to run its course. But it’s also appropriate at a time when the government is saying Australian shipping should basically be run aground, which is what this policy would do – in favour of foreign ships, what we are seeing here is an Australian shipping industry that worked through a reform process with the Australian shipping industry, with the unions involved, with Treasury, with Finance, with the National Farmers Federation, with Rio Tinto, with all of these bodies, on a reform process to have a comprehensive system of reform to revitalise Australian shipping. The government seems to not think that that it’s important as well and is going on an ideological crusade, not just on shipping, but also on aviation.
REPORTER: Can I just ask quickly on same sex marriage, do you welcome that people like Josh Frydenberg and Sarah Henderson have come out in support of it?
ALBANESE: I do absolutely. Look, this is a reform whose time has come. Josh Frydenberg and Sarah Henderson have thought through these issues. I was on Q and A with Josh last night. We talked off camera as well about how he had changed his mind. Politicians should be open to ideas and what has occurred is that over a period of time, in part because of the respectful way that this reform is being pursued, more and more Members of Parliament are declaring their support for marriage equality.
I welcome anyone of any political persuasion who is declaring their support. I’d be happy to talk to anyone and try and convince anyone who hasn’t yet declared their support for this reform. But that’s why in the Parliament last week I said I know of others who as their private position, say they will support it if there’s a vote in the Parliament. That’s why, last week I declared that it was my view and my judgement that there was a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The time for marriage equality has come. Let’s get it done.
REPORTER: Just on today’s Newspoll, it seems to suggest that the Government’s Budget is resonating. The Coalition’s primary vote is up and Tony Abbott is now preferred Prime Minister over Bill Shorten. Is there some cause for concern in Labor’s messaging?
ALBANESE: Look, in terms of the polls I am yet to see a poll that has anything other than a Labor victory at the next election. Let’s be clear here. Polls do come and go but they have been pretty consistent and consistently what the polls show is that if there’s an election this Saturday then Labor would be elected and Bill Shorten would be elected Prime Minister.
Now there is of course not an election this Saturday. This is a three-year term of which we are halfway into it. But what’s very clear, what’s very clear is that this is a government that half way through its term is a shambles. The ongoing brawling within their Cabinet, with unprecedented leaks, shows that they are a dysfunctional, disunited government and it is no wonder that, I think 39 was the figure of members of the Liberal Party who voted for an empty chair rather than Tony Abbott.
REPORTER: Just on the leaks out of Cabinet if we can quickly? The Prime Minister apparently described his rebuke, his admonishment of Cabinet last night as a come to Jesus moment. Your thoughts on this?
ALBANESE: I will leave it to Tony Abbott to do his own rather strange analogies. From time to time you know Tony Abbott, you sit there and you scratch your head and you wonder how this guy ever got to The Lodge with his three-word slogans. When he’s off the leash, anything can happen. And it’s not surprising that the minders of the Prime Minister get very concerned, which is why press conferences are held in Queanbeyan, rather than here where members of the Press Gallery can turn up and question him.
Which is why the Prime Minister takes his own taxpayer-funded photographer around to take his photo, so that they are in the right position. And from time to time be it that or yesterday in Question Time where in a question about housing affordability he said that was about his house and the price of his own home on the Lower North Shore of Sydney.
I mean for goodness sake, how out of touch is a Prime Minister who when asked about housing affordability, when Australians are worried about whether their kids and their grandkids will ever be able to afford a home, answers: I’m glad that prices are going up because I own my own home on the Lower North Shore of Sydney? This is a Prime Minister who is out of touch, who has lost control of his own Cabinet, and it’s no wonder that a majority of his colleagues who weren’t bound by Cabinet solidarity voted for an empty chair rather than him. Thanks very much.
Subjects: Foreign airlines in Australia; northern Australia aviation proposal
ALAN JONES: A major battle is looming between the Federal Government and Australian airlines. In what I regard as an almost unbelievable plan which surely the Federal Government won’t implement, based on ideological theory, not commercial practice, there’s talk that foreign airlines will be allowed to fly domestic routes in northern Australia.
That is, foreign airlines would be able to compete against Australian airlines like Virgin and Qantas to carry passengers and freight between airports in northern Australia. Now above the Tropic of Capricorn initially, which would include Cairns, Townsville, Broome and Port Headland but of course once this open door policy takes root it’ll finish up anywhere. It’s like the free trade agreement. No way in the world this would be allowed in America.
Can you imagine a Qantas plan landing in Los Angeles, deplaning, god I hate that word, but it means dumping passengers, dumping 250 passengers, in Los Angeles, that was as far as they were going, say there was 250 empty seats. But the Qantas plane is en route to New York so it picks up 250 American passengers who want to travel LA to New York. It would never be contemplated.
Well the Virgin boss John Borghetti warned that they would have to reconsider flying routes in Australia if this plan was put in place. I mean the areas we’re talking about there’s a lot of leisure travel. Cairns, Townsville, Darwin, Broome, Port Headland, they’re holiday destinations as well as commercial destinations, but as John Borghetti the Virgin boss said, and he’s very able, the price-conscious leisure market is very soft. So it’s variable is what he’s saying. It’s not guaranteed.
He said opening the door to foreign airlines would put pressure on existing players, that’s Qantas and Virgin, who have invested tens of millions of dollars in flying to these destinations. And they’re Australian.
This is the petrol argument, isn’t it. Allow Coles and Woolworths to take charge of petrol supplies and when they get total control, then there will be a whole range of areas that they won’t service for commercial reasons.
That’s what John Borghetti is saying when he expressed a doubt that foreign airlines would retain services on some of these routes in northern Australia but they will have already forced Virgin and Qantas out of the market. Many of these routes are loss making.
The former Qantas boss Geoff Dixon, who knows more about this than most people in Canberra, said the proposal was quote ‘a step too far even for northern Australia’. And a form of dumping that would seriously undermine local airlines. Now dumping basically means that you’re allowing product into Australia below the cost of production.
So what would happen here of course is they’d dump a few passengers at Townsville and say well, if you’re going to Cairns, thirty bucks will do. Well of course everyone will climb on for thirty bucks, and Virgin and Qantas will be left whistling.
Well somehow or other the Trade Minister Andrew Robb and the Treasurer Joe Hockey are quoted as saying ‘this will help boost economic development’. Cabinet is apparently going to consider the plan – forget it. Put it in the bin.
The Australian and International Pilots Association said the proposal threatens the local aviation industry and jobs. Virgin for example began services about a month ago, between Darwin and Alice Springs. Now given that we’re talking about international aircraft being given access to these markets, as John Borghetti said, do you think 777s or 747s or A380s are going to be flying to Broome and Townsville or these secondary ports?
He said, if all of a sudden the plane fill changes, you’d have to reconsider those positions, because you can’t sustain them. So these outfits will finish up having no services. How dumb’s that? One further concern has been raised by the Virgin Independent Pilots Association about whether the government would be able to make overseas airlines adhere to the same strict safety and licensing requirements as local airlines.
So if you open up domestic routes to overseas carriers, are they going to be able to ensure the safety of the Australian travelling public? Then of course the wages and working conditions of local pilots and cabin crew could be undermined by overseas carriers, sourcing a cheaper labour force and thousands of Australian jobs – I can’t believe we’re talking about this. There’s so much going on in Canberra I can’t believe the Government would waste their time even talking about this nonsense let alone planning to do something about it.
The Shadow Federal Transport Minister and the former Deputy Prime Minister and former Infrastructure Minister in the Labor Government Anthony Albanese, has called all this unilateral economic disarmament. Well in my opinion, he’s not far off the mark. Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Alan.
JONES: Thank you for your time. I mean it’s axiomatic isn’t it that this will undermine local wages, threaten Australian airlines, potentially jeopardise safety, I mean, what are we on about?
ALBANESE: Well, this is a mad proposal. What happens throughout the world is that aviation is regulated by agreements between nations, ie, Australia says we’ll allow Singapore Airlines or Etihad or some other airline to fly to Australia and we will get reciprocal rights in return. This however, is unilateral economic disarmament.
There isn’t a single country in the world that allows foreign airlines to fly on its domestic routes. It is against the national interest, it’s against our economic interest.
In terms of Virgin and Qantas, they’ve made investment decisions. When you buy a plane, it’s not for a month or a year. It’s for a decade or more. They’ve made those investments. They’ve invested in the terminals. They’ve invested in their gates and their lounges and all the things that make up aviation.
And the government is saying ‘we’ll just change the rules on you’. They’ll allow foreign airlines and it would only be budget airlines, and they would only fly routes that were profitable in the short term. You would then have the potential of no one flying to some of the smaller routes like Cloncurry and Rockhampton. These are not places where you make a lot of money but our Australian airlines do fly there.
We have the best, most open domestic aviation system in the world that allows for foreign investment to come in. If you want to see the head of Rex Airlines you’ve got to fly to Singapore, because they’re owned and operated from Singapore. We have a very open system. But what we don’t do is say, we’ll have a free-for-all. Who’s going to fly to Darwin in the wet season? In the dry season you can make money. But in the wet season you don’t.
JONES: So they’ll get no services, I mean, I can’t believe we’re talking about this. Can you imagine America, as I said before, allowing Qantas or Virgin to top up their planes in Los Angeles on the way to New York?
ALBANESE: They’d be laughing at us, Alan. It is the logic that this Government has put towards shipping where they want to open up the coast, no preference at all for Australian ships. I mean, around the world when it comes to transport, nation states understand that it’s an important part of their national security, protecting their environment, protecting their national economic interests.
So in the US, if you want to operate in terms of domestic aviation, they don’t allow foreign investment in their domestic carriers. They’re all very much cross subsidised and protected. When it comes to a ship in America –
JONES: Well you’ve got some control over it Anthony, haven’t you, I mean when you say protected everyone’s says, oh, there he goes again. But you’re protecting it because we’re dealing with people’s safety here. And we can control those aspects of it. We’ve got no control over that in relation to international carriers.
ALBANESE: Oh, absolutely. And issues like training; there is a real national security issue when it comes to our transport sector, as well as a national economic interest. Everyone knows, what’s the problem they’re trying to solve here?
JONES: That’s a good question.
ALBANESE: Aviation is five times more affordable than it was 20 years ago. Five times more affordable. My son goes to the local high school. His friends have all been on planes and it has transformed the way that Australia functions.
JONES: It’s the thin edge of the wedge, isn’t it here? They say, oh, no, no, no, it’s only north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It’s only Cairns, Townsville, Darwin, Broome, Port Headland – hello! In the longer term this open door policy would then be applying to routes elsewhere in Australia and goodbye Qantas and goodbye Virgin!
ALBANESE: Of course. Step one would be to bring them in. Step two is for them to say, well we’re flying between Cairns and Darwin but in order to keep that route and to make it profitable we really need to also go down to Adelaide. And then the next step would be unless it goes through Sydney, it doesn’t work. That is precisely what would happen here.
JONES: And then they’d cherry pick. They’d cherry pick the routes. So then they’d say oh, well it’s not profitable, we’ll close it. So Qantas and Virgin are gone, so here are these people with no airline service.
ALBANESE: Absolutely and there’d be absolutely nothing to your Tamworths and to your Bundabergs, and to the Cloncurrys, to these smaller routes. Aviation is so vital for an island continent such as ours with such vast distances and relatively small populations. And Qantas and Virgin have both done a fantastic job of servicing the need in Australia. Smaller airlines as well, like Air North, would simply go out of business.
JONES: And you’ve made a very valid point there, because after the war they used to joke about John McEwen because they’d say, oh, I can feel an election coming on, he would be promising an airstrip at Moree or Quirindi or Cloncurry or whatever because aviation was the civilising factor then, the roads were bad, and it was the way of getting the pregnant mother from the outback Australia to the capital cities. Now, that’s still the truth today and if we have those closed down, these people are second class citizens.
ALBANESE: It is absolutely. When I was the Minister one of the great pleasures, and a privilege I had was going to places like Karumba, in the Gulf country, opening up a renovated strip that improves safety and improved access for those communities.
If you have a health crisis there’s no hospital in many of these communities. You need an airstrip. You need aviation. That’s why we have and the present Government’s continued a remote aviation service program.
Now if you don’t have a commercial basis for aviation in the north of Australia, then those smaller operators that fly between the islands like Bathurst and Melville, those indigenous communities in the Tiwis rely upon aviation. They’re the link between those smaller operators and the major players.
JONES: Exactly. And this is where ideological theory is miles removed from reality, isn’t it? I see the TWU has said ‘it’s declaring war on the Australian aviation industry’. Now it might sound exaggerated, but it’s not far from the truth.
ALBANESE: Well, it’s absurd. And that’s why I’ve said it’s unilateral economic disarmament because no other country in the world does it. And they’re trying to do it with shipping, now they’ve extended the logic to aviation. And it makes no sense. Just have a look at what our partners do. Our competitors, they certainly don’t do this.
JONES: But you’ve seen all of this, I mean when you were the Minister, I mean the argument is, oh, and people swallow this argument, sounds good doesn’t it, it’ll open up northern Australia to more tourism opportunities. How on earth can you open up northern Australia to more tourism opportunities? How on earth can you open up northern Australia to more tourism opportunities beyond what Qantas and Virgin are already doing?
ALBANESE: Well that’s exactly right. If you want to bring in international aviation, Darwin’s an international airport. Cairns is an international airport. They fly to Asian destinations in our region. That’s a great thing. We have that access now and in terms of budget airlines like Jetstar. Virgin have taken over Tiger.
We now have quite a good structure for a country of our size. Two major airlines offering full service with each of them having a Jetstar and a Tiger respectively to offer those budget services –
JONES: – correct. Put it within the pocket of everybody to be able to fly.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. As well as airlines like Air North.
JONES: But this is virtually allowing a foreign airline to operate as a de facto domestic airline. It wouldn’t happen anywhere else in the world.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. People will, if you said this at an international aviation conference they would laugh at you. They would say, what are you talking about? You would actually have to explain that this was a proposition. Because it’s completely against every single way that aviation operates in every country in the world.
JONES: Yeah, as if these foreign airlines are going to fly to destinations with low populations. Suddenly thousands of people will be wanting to fly to these destinations according to the proposal here, it’s absolute rubbish. I mean I see one aviation executive, Anthony saying it won’t kill the local industry overnight, but sure as hell it will kill it over time.
ALBANESE: Of course it will. And someone needs to tell Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey and all these people to go to Broome or some of these places in the off season. No one goes there.
JONES: We’ve got to go to the news, Anthony, good to talk to you. I’ll be talking to those people and I’m sure you will as well. Thank you for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to talk to you Alan.
JONES: There we are, talking to Anthony Albanese. I mean, it’s just ridiculous isn’t it? But it’s a very, very big issue. I don’t know where these ideas come from other than ideological theory.
Subjects: Open skies aviation policy, shipping, conscience votes, marriage equality
ALBANESE: Thanks for being here. Cabinet will soon consider a proposal to allow foreign airlines to operate in the domestic aviation market. This is unilateral economic disarmament. No nation in the world allows a foreign airline to operate in its domestic market. Qantas or Virgin Australia can’t operate domestic flights in Europe or in the United States or in our region. Australia has the most open aviation market in the world. Aviation is now, in terms of travel, five times more affordable than it was 20 years ago. So you’ve got to ask yourself what is driving this change. This is pure ideology over common sense.
It’s just like their shipping reforms, which would open up the coast and destroy Australian shipping by having no preference arrangements at all for the Australian flag on the back of Australian ships carrying Australian goods on the domestic freight task.
What’s worse they would allow for foreign wages to be paid during a domestic freight task. You can’t use foreign wages if you are on a truck or a train between Sydney and Brisbane or between Townsville and Cairns. Nor should you be able to pay foreign wages and foreign conditions on domestic routes whether they be aviation in our skies or shipping around our coasts. I’m happy to take questions.
REPORTER: If the changes are brought in theoretically some of these planes are flying around instead of repositioning. It could mean improvement for climate change and consumer prices perhaps?
ALBANESE: What it will mean is an attack on the viability of our own domestic aviation market. What you will see is foreign airlines cherry picking particular routes. Darwin, for example, during the dry season, planes tend to be full. It’s a good market. But during wet season it’s a different story. Similarly, Cairns and Broome have very much on seasons and off seasons. If you open it up to cherry picking, what you do also is destroy the cross-subsidisation that occurs including on very many smaller routes. Places like Bundaberg, places like Cloncurry.
These places need aviation services and that’s why Australia is well served by our existing aviation market. In addition to the big players, they have subsidiaries in terms of Jetstar for Qantas and Tiger for Virgin.
In terms of smaller airways such as Air North, these provide vital services and facilities. Airlines have invested big dollars in planes, in aviation services such as lounges, such as gates at airports. They have also, of course, trained Australians up for Australian jobs. These are important jobs. These are important jobs for those markets. People who live in those markets and work in the aviation sector spend their wages in their local economy.
This is a really silly proposal. No country in the world would allow it. But here in Australia, I think that what has happened is they’ve had this discussion about shipping that’s all about foreign ships being allowed to pay foreign wages doing Australian jobs around the coast and they’ve said, well, the logic of that is let’s move it to aviation as well.
As I said, no other country in the world does it. Aviation occurs on the basis of governments making arrangements with each other for access. What the government is proposing – Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey and others within its ranks; the secretary of the Department of Treasury – is that we give up our domestic aviation sector and get nothing at all in return.
REPORTER: I’m interest in your thoughts on the Labor Party and the conscience vote. Should it be reserved for life and death matters?
ALBANESE: It never has been. If you examine the system of conscience votes very clearly they tend to have been where there’s a view that people hold due to their particular religious beliefs and the official position of those religions and in order to preserve the unity of the party and to accept that people who in good conscience can’t vote a particular way, then that is why you’ve had conscience votes. You’ve had conscience votes including over the location of this Parliament House. Now, as important as it is, I don’t think it’s a life or death matter.
REPORTER: Looking forward though if the (inaudible) legislation precludes any compulsory religious involvement in these, should that appease those people in the party who are concerned on a religious basis?
ALBANESE: I have consistently supported a conscience vote on these and other matters that have come before the ALP National Executive. That has been my position. The whole point here is that it is up to individuals to determine their views and I’m not about trying to impose my view on others. There’s also a pragmatic issue which is that how does this reform get done this way? The only way that it gets done this year is you need more than Labor’s 55 members in the House of Representatives. That’s not 75. That’s a long way from it. You need to ensure that there is a conscience vote across the Parliament and then it can be carried and this reform can be done. We’ve had conscience votes on issues like liquor licensing, over what time pubs will close, over marijuana law reform, over a whole host of issues.
REPORTER Just on the binding (inaudible) did Tanya Plibersek overreach with her push (inaudible).
ALBANESE: No. Tanya Plibersek is absolutely entitled to put forward her view. We’ll have a debate about that at the conference. I’ve put forward my view. It happens to be the same view I put forward at the last conference and at the national executive in past years and at the national executive over a whole range of issues. In terms of where people have said we cannot vote for this due to our conscience and my view is that it is very hard for me to tell you what your conscience is. That is something that is very personal for people and it is very hard to impose it on others. There happens to be in this circumstance a confluence of interests whereby my position that I take as a matter of principle – and I think there’s a real argument within the Labor Party there should be more free votes rather than less in terms of representing the diversity that’s out there in the community. But I certainly think it’s that case that the only way that this can be carried during this in this term of Parliament is if there’s a conscience vote across the Parliament. It’s as simple as that.
REPORTER: You say you want more free votes, a system such as the Liberal Party has that doesn’t result in expulsion if you do decide to go against the party line, is that the sort of (inaudible).
ALBANESE: No, well they are matters for the party to determine. It is the case though, that if you have a binding vote and people vote against it, then people have got to be prepared to expel those people who vote against it. Otherwise you undermine the whole principle of the binding of the platform. Thanks very much.
Subjects: Marriage equality; returning foreign fighters; maths and science in schools; State of Origin
BEN FORDHAM: Oh, the Odd Couple, Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Pyne and Anthony Albanese – a shorter version this afternoon because we need to get into State of Origin countdown. It’s State of Origin countdown time and I’m guessing that Christopher Pyne, the South Australian, would just be absolutely firing up at the moment getting ready for NSW and Queensland tonight, State of Origin Number 1. Christopher Pyne, how pumped are you?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well, apart from being an AFL man, this a competition which kind of leaves me slightly bewildered because there’s only two competitors in it. So it’s kind of the same game over and over and over and over again.
FORDHAM: You do realise that most team sports have two teams playing?
PYNE: Yes, but they have a competition amongst many teams which makes it kind of very interesting to see who is on the top of the table and who’s not. I’ve got nothing against the State of Origin, but I can tell you I’ve got a sock drawer that needs re-arranging this evening, I can tell you that much.
FORDHAM: Anthony Albanese, it sounds to me like we’ve got someone who does not like State of Origin.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHAFDOW MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT, INFRASTRUCTURE, CITIES AND TOURISM: He’s just uneducated – the uneducated Education Minister. Who do you think plays in the Ashes Series every time?
PYNE: Yes but that’s different. That’s the national game. It’s the national game.
ALBANESE: Australia and England, that’s two teams.
PYNE: It’s the national game.
ALBANESE: Oh, for goodness sake. It’s a cracking night and NSW and Queensland stop and here in Canberra there’s a cross-party event tonight hosted by the Brewers Association.
ALBANESE: Which sounds pretty good to me.
FORDHAM: Canberra’s an AFL town. Let’s face it. I realised that when I moved there. It’s not far from Sydney but you quickly realise, particularly working in Parliament House where you’ve got orphans who’ve been shipped in from all around the country, AFL’s the main game.
ALBANESE: There’s a few Raiders supporters around here.
FORDHAM: Could you name one State of Origin player in the history of State of Origin, Christopher?
PYNE: Mal Meninga.
FORDHAM: Yes. Well done. Well done. Now listen. The wife and children of …
ALBANESE: Come along tonight Christopher. Educate yourself.
PYNE: I might, especially since you’ve asked me.
ALBANESE: I’m speaking at half time.
PYNE: Oh God! If you are speaking, I’m not coming. God help us. I thought this was going to be fun.
ALBANESE: It will be more like: “Smash ‘em’’.
FORDHAM: Let me ask you gentlemen about a couple of quick ones if I can. The wife and children of notorious Islamic State fighter Khaled Sharrouf apparently want to come home to Australia. There are five children. We’ve see the images of one of these children holding a severed head, another one posing with guns. This guy is clearly a complete animal, Khaled Sharrouf, but what about the wife and children? Should they be able to come home, Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well, this guy is a complete scumbag. In terms of the kids, what damage has he done to his own children by subjecting them to that? And with regard to his wife, I reckon she’s got a real problem too because she’s not innocent here. I mean she took the kids, it would appear, out of Australia, evaded authorities (I’ve only read the reports) by booking a return ticket and took her kids into this zone. So, …
FORDHAM: All right, so no sympathy for him. No sympathy for the mother. Christopher Pyne, let me ask you about the children. Are the children victims in this or not?
PYNE: Well of course they are victims of this. They are very young and they have a monstrous father, which must be very sad for them and very traumatic. Their mother did take them into an area – Syria and Iraq – where they had been warned by the government not to go. If they wish to return, we will welcome them back and then the full force of the law will be brought to bear on anyone returning from that part of the world. If Mrs Sharouff is arrested and prosecuted and found to be guilty of a crime, the children will go to the normal processes that happen right now in Australia when no parents are available to look after the children in a family. We don’t hold the children guilty of crime because they could hardly have made these decisions for themselves. But if Mrs Sharouff wants to return there’ll be no sweetheart deals to bring her back. If she comes back she will face the full force of the law.
FORDHAM: Let’s move to gay marriage. The Greens indicated they were ready to bring on a debate about gay marriage and then Bill Shorten the Labor Leader thought, I’m going to sneak in before them and he announced that Labor will move a Bill to legalise same-sex marriage on Monday. Christopher Pyne, is the government going to embrace this?
PYNE: No, we won’t embrace it. I think it’s a pity that Bill Shorten is politicising an issue that is very important to a lot of Australians. I think it’s far too important to be a political football. I think the Parliament should own this debate down the track and I think that while Mr Shorten’s Bill can be introduced on Monday, it’ll go through the normal processes of dealing with Private Members’ Bills, and I think it’s a great shame that he has tried to make it a party political issue, because it transcends party politics.
FORDHAM: I don’t know how you make it a political issue just by introducing it to Parliament.
PYNE: Because if it’s going to be debated in the House of Representatives, it shouldn’t be from one political party nominated and seconded by the Leader and Deputy Leader of one political party.
FORDHAM: Will you support it, Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: I certainly will. I agree with Christopher on one thing, which is this should be a matter for the Parliament. The way for that to happen it to make it a conscience vote. The Parliament’s been at its best in my view when members during debates, whether I’ve been on the winning side or the losing side have been able to say what they think, make up their own mind, and of course it’s preferable, I don’t care particularly who moves a Bill, if we get this reform done that I think Australians are now ready for.
FORDHAM: Ok, let me move onto compulsory maths and science. Christopher Pyne, you want to make maths and science compulsory subjects for all Year 11 and Year 12 students, you’re apparently going to call for the changes on Friday at an Education Council meeting with state education ministers. I think this is stark raving mad. Why would you want to force year 11 or 12 kids to do maths or science when they’ve already worked out by the age of 17 what they’re interested in and hopefully they’re doing subjects in their final two years of school that are going to lead them on a path to a job?
PYNE: Well it’s maths or science, it’s not maths and science. And maths or science used to be compulsory in the schooling system until recent times. We must deal with the issue in Australia as the Chief Scientist has said today and yesterday of a lack of science technology engineering and a maths focus at school and at university, and in the workforce. We are falling well and truly behind the OECD countries.
FORDHAM: Is the answer to that forcing kids who don’t have an interest in maths or don’t have an interest in science into one of those subjects and they then have to be in that class, annoying and frustrating kids who’ve actually got a reason for being there?
PYNE: At the moment there are so many choices Ben for students that bail out of maths or science far too early at school and we should not allow that to happen. Now I want to work with the state and territory education ministers. Of course there will be exceptions. Of course some people won’t be able to do maths or science. But I want the general rule to be that maths or science be a subject in year 11 or 12. It would take some time to transition to this, because as you point out, for so many years children have not been encouraged into maths or science that they couldn’t possibly suddenly do it next year. And no one is suggesting that. But over the coming years this is the goal that I think most parents and most universities and most employers would support.
FORDHAM: Ok, Albo, tip for tonight, score tip for tonight, New South Wales and Queensland.
ALBANESE: The Blues by eight.
PYNE: What’s on tonight?
ALBANESE: [Laughs] You know this is broadcasting out into New South Wales?
PYNE: I’m sure they’ll appreciate my honesty. They’ll appreciate my honesty, Anthony.
ALBANESE: I’ll give you that.
FORDHAM: Good to talk to you gentlemen. Thank you very much.
Subjects: Infrastructure Australia audit; urban congestion, the need for Tony Abbott to fund public transport; refugees; polls
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning and thanks for joining us. Today the Government has briefed newspapers on the updated National Audit of Infrastructure done by Infrastructure Australia. It follows the first National Audit of Australia’s Infrastructure that was published in 2008.
What this report does is show a worrying picture for the nation, a worrying picture, particularly for Australia’s cities. Our cities are where 4 out of every 5 Australians live and where 80 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product, our economic activity, is produced. And yet the Federal Government under Tony Abbott sees there no role for the national government or national leadership in cities or urban policy.
That’s why they abolished the Major Cities Unit and that’s why Tony Abbott has made the absurd position clear that there’ll be no investment in urban public transport under a government in which he leads.
This report shows that traffic congestion will cost the economy $53 billion by the year 2031. Demand for public transport will almost double over the next 20 years. And yet Tony Abbott cut the funding for the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, cut the funding for the Melbourne Metro project in Melbourne cut funding for the Perth Rail Link to the airport and Perth Light Rail, and cut funding for a study for Hobart Light Rail in Tasmania.
Tony Abbott’s position is simply untenable and he should use this report, this evidence, to change his policy so that the Commonwealth engages with the states and territories in addressing urban congestion.
What the report makes clear is that to deal with urban congestion you need investment in rail and investment in road. Not only have you had cuts to public transport, but you’ve had cuts to road projects, including the M80 in Melbourne that was identified by Infrastructure Australia as producing a positive economic return, unlike the East West Link that Mr Abbott seems obsessed by that produces 45 cents return for every taxpayer dollar that is expended on it.
Mr Abbott today is in Tasmania and he got a question about the Midland Highway and his $400 million investment that he claims over ten years. Of course he has not put an additional dollar beyond that which was in the 2013 budget for the Midland Highway. Indeed he’s cut $100 million from the allocation that was made by the former Labor Government in the 2013 budget.
And of course if you go back and look at what Tony Abbott said repeatedly in Tasmania, in the Parliament and beyond he said $400 million is all you need to fully duplicate the Midland Highway.
We know that the real cost was over $1 billion dollars if you wanted to fully duplicate the Midland Highway. Just like his East West Link promise it was done without evidence, without making sure that he could actually deliver an outcome that he said he stood for.
Mr Abbott does not understand infrastructure; no investment in public transport, not dealing with road investment on the basis of proper analysis from Infrastructure Australia and, in the Budget from last week, he flagged a cut to Infrastructure Australia from $15 million per year funding to $8 million per year funding – cutting it essentially in half over the forward estimates so they won’t be able to give the same level of advice.
But what’s worse is that there were $2 billion dollars of cuts to Mr Abbott’s infrastructure budget from his own Budget last year over just a two year period. Cuts to the Heavy Vehicle Safety Program, cuts to the Bridges Renewal Program, cuts to road and rail projects right around the country.
Mr Abbott needs to use this report to change direction on infrastructure and he needs to do it quickly because the clock is ticking on lost productivity and lost time. That means a lot for the national economy but, importantly, it means increasingly working parents will spend more time travelling to and from work than they do at home with their kids. That’s why urban congestion is a social issue, not just an economic issue and that’s why it requires national leadership. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: One of the projects that at least in Sydney has been suggested as a way of alleviating congestion, Westconnex, that is a project that has received federal funding but that your Party has, in the last state election campaigned against, so how do you explain that?
ALBANESE: No, what we’ve said is they need to get it right. At the moment if you can tell me where Westconnex comes out in the M4 or the M5 I’d be happy to answer a specific question about it. Anyone?
REPORTER: How do you propose to fund all the infrastructure that the country needs?
ALBANESE: Well what we’ve done is take it upon ourselves to invest in terms of public funding but also to promote private funding of infrastructure. We supported very strongly and, indeed I signed along with the NSW Government the agreement on the F3 to M2 that’s been renamed Northconnex, but the agreement was signed. $405 million from each level of government with private sector investment from TransUrban to make sure that that important project for Sydney can go ahead.
That’s a critical project. On Badgerys Creek airport, during the state election that we proposed, myself and Luke Foley promoted a plan, which would have seen value capture in terms of the railway line extension from Leppington up to the main Western Line so you have a rail loop around Sydney. You can capture that value that will occur with the building of an airport, with the jobs and economic activity that occurs there and that’s the sort of move that should happen.
Cross River Rail, the agreement with the Queensland Government had in it a private sector component. We had superannuation funds that were very interested in investing in infrastructure there. So there’s no doubt that it’s not going to be just public sector investment. There’s the need to mobilise private sector investment, in particular superannuation funds to make sure that we get good outcomes and there’s a natural fit between superannuation and investment in infrastructure. What do superannuants look for? They look for a steady rate of return over a long period of time. That is precisely what good investment in infrastructure in the right projects can deliver.
REPORTER: So you’re saying that private investment is the answer?
ALBANESE: No I’m saying that public sector investment is needed but the public sector won’t be able to do the entire job. Private sector investment, where appropriate, such as the F3 to M2 tunnel, that is now underway in New South Wales is a good example of how on a case by case basis, you look at what the problem is and what the solution is as well. And in that case it may well be that the $405 million contribution from Federal and State Governments, respectively, isn’t required to that level. But what that has done is underwrite the risk in the project by having that funding made available and that is a good example of the federal and state governments working constructively along in this case with TransUrban to make sure that a vital infrastructure project for Sydney is built.
The problem with Westconnex is that while we made funding available potentially as well, the design has to be got right. And on Westconnex up to this point it’s unclear in terms of exactly where it will come out, it’s unclear in terms of the fact that the business case has not been published and we need to make sure that we address these issues and get the right infrastructure so that the public can have confidence as well that the taxpayers’ dollars which are finite, go to the right place, because the need as this report shows is great indeed for investment.
REPORTER: You mentioned private sector investment, state funding, and you did say there’s a need for public sector investment from the federal government. Where do you get that money from for this investment?
ALBANESE: Well it’s a matter of priorities and the priorities in the Budget. When it comes to infrastructure, the important thing is here it’s not just a cost; it’s an investment that produces a return to government through higher productivity and higher revenues over a period of time.
That’s why you do the cost benefit analysis through Infrastructure Australia and get it right. That’s why you fund projects like the Hunter Expressway to the north of Sydney that had a cost benefit analysis of above three. Like the Mildura Parkway in the ACT/NSW that had a very strong cost benefit analysis there.
One of the silliest decisions of the Federal Government has been cutting the Managed Motorways program in Melbourne. The Monash Freeway; the Managed Motorways program, an investment allocated in the 2013 budget of, I think from memory it was $69 million or thereabouts in the federal budget, it had a cost benefit analysis of more than give, meaning for that investment every dollar that’s put in, $5 dollars would be returned in public benefit. They cut funding for that project and put money into the East-West Link at a ratio of 0.45.
That’s why in Bill Shorten’s Budget Response on the Thursday night he announced an enhancing of the role of Infrastructure Australia, making sure its decisions are respected. That’s why we funded all 15 projects out of 15 that were on the Infrastructure Australia priority list when we were in Government. You need to break the nexus between the political cycle which is short term and the infrastructure investment cycle which is long term.
REPORTER: In Sydney at least, the state government has committed money to what is looking like it’s going to be the most expensive light rail project in the world, just in the Sydney CBD, it’s also going to shut down the city for about three years. What do you have to say about that and the congestion that’s going to create?
ALBANESE: Well that’s an example of a proposition that I don’t believe has been considered by Infrastructure Australia. You need to make sure that you get the planning right and what should happen, if you have the planning right, then you won’t have politicians expected to comment on issues that are rightly the responsibility of engineers and planners.
And that’s why the Infrastructure Australia model is so important, and why it’s so disappointing that the current government has walked away from that process, has cut the funding of Infrastructure Australia. It didn’t even have a CEO of Infrastructure Australia for more than a year. It is good that today’s National Audit report is being released but let’s put it in perspective.
We were told that this audit report would be released last year before the Budget and it should have fed into this year’s Budget. But I guess there wasn’t a need for the Government to do that given they had not a single new major infrastructure project announced in this Budget.
For the first time in memory, those of you that have gone along to the Budget lockup know that every year there’s an infrastructure department booklet that goes through state by state what projects are being funded. This year they didn’t need to produce a booklet because they haven’t produced any new funding. Just cuts.
REPORTER: Have you seen the report?
ALBANESE: I was sent by Infrastructure Australia the embargoed release but I haven’t been sent the full report.
REPORTER: So where would you start then? Would you start with roads? Would you start with rail?
ALBANESE: You start with where the best productivity return is. It’s the wrong question, with respect. It’s the sort of question that people in Tony Abbott’s cabinet have asked which is why they’ve got it so wrong. It’s as wrong as the question, ‘do you start with moving passengers or moving freight?’
A city works together by moving passengers and moving freight and doing it on rail and road and light rail and with intermodal transport. You don’t have a preference for a particular mode because they all work together. If you have a public transport project that’s effective, it takes cars off the road.
The Regional Rail Link project in Victoria that will open next month – the largest ever Commonwealth investment in urban public transport has led to considerable new development around stations like Tarneit has meant that not just people from Western Melbourne but from Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong can get into the city quicker by separating out the lines and it has meant less cars on the road. They are interrelated which is why Tony Abbott’s position is so absurd.
Similarly, the building of the Southern Sydney Freight Line here in Sydney meant that the previous circumstance, whereby at the Port of Botany the rail freight from the port, leaving the port to be distributed, often from right around Australia, stopped during the peak periods because you didn’t have a separation of passenger rail from freight rail. That’s one of the things that the Northern Sydney Freight Line is doing at the moment as well. You can’t view a project in isolation. It has to be viewed in terms of getting proper outcomes, and productivity benefits. There’s also a need to examine infrastructure in how it fits with employment, in how it fits with social infrastructure as well.
So Badgerys Creek airport isn’t just an airport; it’s got to be about a jobs growth for Western Sydney, it’s got to be how it fits with planning for Sydney. That’s why for example we supported, when in Government, the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link because it was about growing Parramatta as Sydney’s second CBD is absolutely vital. The light rail in Western Sydney, particularly going along north-south links, not just east-west is very important as well.
Thank you for the question because it’s enabled me to answer that, but I think that’s the problem. It’s the wrong question and any planner, any planner, anyone who has been involved in cities or urban policy will say exactly the same thing. So Tony Abbott’s position, which says essentially this: we should fund roads, but not rail because the state governments run rail. Well the state governments run the road system as well. It’s an absurd proposition that he has got himself into and he’s outlined ideologically in the book Battle Lines where he says to paraphrase, ‘there simply aren’t enough people who want to go from a particular destination to another particular destination at a particular time to warrant anything other than a car, and cars need roads.’ That’s an absurd proposition.
REPORTER: Mr Albanese, can I just ask you about the refugee issue. Do you think that Australia should accept-
ALBANESE: We might deal with infrastructure first, then I’m happy to take others.
REPORTER: We’re facing this dilemma because of our population growth. Do we need to look at population growth as an issue?
ALBANESE: One of the things that we do need to look at is how we take pressure off the capital cities in terms of regional cities and employment there as well. That’s one of the reasons the Major Cities Unit wasn’t a capital cities unit. It was a Major Cities Unit- looking at the growth of regional cities. Of course one of the things about increased population is that it can make dealing with issues of public transport easier. If you have the growth in terms of where densities are along transport corridors than it makes it certainly more and more viable and more and more important so that the public transport corridors to places like the Regional Rail Link or the Moreton Bay Rail Link in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, to Redcliffe, are very important in terms of growth.
What’s important in terms of urban congestion as well is that we have jobs closer to where people live. One of the things that the State of Australian Cities reports that used to be produced and the Government said would be produced last year, indeed they have a tender that shows that it was printed at least at the latest in December 2014, said they’d produce the State of Australian Cities report 2014 – it’s gone missing. We’ll be asking about that in Senate Estimates next week.
But the 2013 report, reported that as employment changes, the nature of it in our cities, you have a growth in the service sector, in the financial sector, legal advice, a growth in jobs in the CBDs of our capital cities. Less growth in jobs in terms of manufacturing that have tended to be around the outer suburbs. So the emergence increasingly of drive-in, drive-out suburbs where people can afford to live in a city like Sydney but there aren’t employment opportunities available.
We need to have a serious discussion about our cities. State governments and local government of course have a pre-eminent role in that. But I believe very strongly that there’s a role for the national government in those issues as well, because if you get it right, there’s no doubt increased population, brings with it increased economic growth and opportunity.
REPORTER: The NSW Roads Minister is probably dancing in the rain today because he says this is proof that he should get on and build Northconnex and Westconnex. Do you agree that that is what this audit states?
ALBANESE: In terms of Northconnex, I signed the agreement with the NSW Roads Minister in June 2013. We sat down – a jointly funded project, with the private sector and since then of course the federal government has renamed the project the F3-M2 ‘Northconnex’, but a new name doesn’t make it a new project. So there’s no doubt in terms of the cost-benefit analysis it stacks up.
There’s no doubt also that there’s a need to do something about the congestion on the M4 and the M5. There’s a need to make sure that they get the planning right to do the business case properly and to make sure it actually achieves the outcomes. The outcomes that were identified originally for that project were to deal with the port and to deal with the airport. At the moment the drafts that I’ve seen, and there have been a number of them, but the last 5 of the routes that I’ve seen don’t go to either the port or the airport.
REPORTER: On the refugee issue, do you want to see the government change its mind and accept some of the Rohingyas into Australia?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s not a decision for me. Those things are a decision for the government. I’d just say this: that Australia has a responsibility as do other countries in terms of our international obligations. There’s a reason why you have institutions such as the international Law of the Sea, which mean that we fulfil those obligations. We spend a lot of money for French sailors who are stranded. We are fulfilling our obligations with tens of millions of dollars being spent searching for the wreckage of the Malaysian plane.
I was disturbed, as were I think most Australians would be disturbed, by the idea that people, the Rohingyas, who have no doubt suffered persecution in Burma as a minority population, would be pushed around the oceans and left to die. That’s actually not what people do. There’s a reason why these international treaties have arisen – because we’ve learnt from history. Because humanity is better than that.
In terms of our obligations, we have no obligation other than to be a good regional citizen and one of the solutions that both this government and the former government say is required in terms of asylum seekers is regional solutions. So we should be prepared to engage with countries in our region and the federal government should certainly do that.
That’s what they’ve said they’re about when they’ve spoken about regional solutions. For people who’ve seen those people in the water, jumping in to get some food, this is a state of desperation.
REPORTER: The Prime Minister is saying that the government doesn’t want to get involved in this issue and bring some of them to Australia is because he believes it could send a wrong signal or the wrong message to people smugglers.
ALBANESE: That’s a decision for the Government. I’m not commenting on where people should go. But there’s a proposal for regional discussions about these issues, about this particular problem. There’s a particular problem there. You can’t pretend that it’s not there. You can’t shut your eyes to that issue. I’m of the view that every kid deserves humanity. Humanity has to come in here. It’s up to others to comment on whether Australia would play a particular role in terms of responsibility but we should at the very least be prepared to engage in the region about regional solutions. What we need is long term solutions that mean that people don’t get on boats. We are all against people smugglers. People smuggling is an evil trade. That doesn’t mean that people should, while the world is watching, die in the middle of a sea. The reason why we supported offshore processing was to stop people dying at sea. That’s my view. We should stop people dying at sea and it’s good that those countries have agreed that that won’t be allowed to happen, but for a few days there, it certainly looked problematic to say the least.
REPORTER: Those countries you’re talking about, Indonesia –
ALBANESE: With due respect, I’m not the Immigration Spokesperson.
REPORTER: But you’re saying what they can’t do –
ALBANESE: I’m not the Immigration Spokesperson and I’m not about to write our immigration policy here.
REPORTER: Can I ask you on another issue; Michael Costa said today that one of the main reasons –
ALBANESE: I’m not terribly interested in Michael Costa’s views. I wasn’t before. I’m not particularly interested now.
REPORTER: How about if I put the proposition to you that –
ALBANESE: What does Andrew Bolt think, or –
REPORTER: No, is Bill Shorten unable to cut through at the moment because he is pandering to Greens voters?
ALBANESE: Absolute nonsense.
REPORTER: So the focus groups talking about Bill Shorten and how he wasn’t cutting through, are they nonsense too?
ALBANESE: Well, you have a look at what the issues are and how they’ve been raised. Did Bill Shorten cut through about health cuts and changes to Medicare? I reckon he did. Did Bill Shorten cut through about the need to not have $100,000 degrees? I think he did. Did Bill Shorten cut through about the indexation of pensions being changed so that there was a real cut in pensions over a period of time? I think he did. Is Bill Shorten cutting through about the need for investment in public transport and taking the Infrastructure Australia process seriously? I think he is. Is Bill Shorten cutting through on the need for a national government to show leadership on cities? I think he is.
REPORTER: So we’re not going to see a Labor Party led by Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: We have a Leader. That Leader is Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten has held the Government to account to the point whereby if you look at the Government’s narrative it has changed from now to earlier this year, to last year’s Budget. It’s all over the shop. No wonder that Australians are confused about the economic message. And I’ll say this about leadership instability. Earlier this year there was a vote in the Liberal Party room between Tony Abbott and a chair not unlike this one here. An empty chair. 39 people voted for the empty chair rather than Tony Abbott.
Thanks very much.
Subjects: Refugees, polls, DJ Albo
LISA WILKINSON: We’re joined now by Education Minister Christopher Pyne and Shadow Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese. Good morning to both of you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning.
WILKINSON: Christopher, the Rohingyas are facing genocide in Burma. As a signatory to a number of refugee conventions, surely Australia can change the no boats policy in extreme circumstances such as this?
PYNE: Well, I have deep sympathy for the asylum seekers who are in this position right now Lisa, there’s no doubt about that. But we do have a process and they have to go through the same process as everyone else. Now, getting to Australia is winning the lotto of life as we all know. There are tens of thousands of refugees throughout the world who’ve applied to come to Australia. We’ve increased the humanitarian group from 14,000 to about 18,000, recognising that we have responsibilities as part of our international obligations. I want those people to be able to come here as much as anyone else. They have to come through the correct processes and apply as refugees along with everyone else around the world. And I’m glad that Indonesia and Malaysia are recognising their responsibilities as they are the first country that those refugees have come to. But we can’t allow open slather on our borders because that will take us back to the chaos that occurred under the Gillard and Rudd regimes.
WILKINSON: Anthony, speaking of which 50,000 refugees arrived in Australia during your time in government so this is a sticky area for Labor, but what would you do if you were in government?
ALBANESE: One of the things I think that needs to happen is a regional solution and Australia must play its part in it. I frankly don’t think that Tony Abbott was very Prime Ministerial yesterday. You can be opposed to people smugglers and I am, and Christopher is, but we need to be very careful about drawing a distinction between them and people.
These are kids just like mine or Christopher’s on these boats around the Andaman Sea. The idea of pushing them off and seeing people die is something that we find abhorrent. One of the reasons that offshore processing is in place is to stop people dying at sea. And that is a bipartisan policy. But there are international responsibilities and Australia, along with other countries in the region could help advance the long term solution by playing a part in that regional solution to this particular problem.
WILKINSON: Alright. Let’s move on to opinion polls now. Business confidence is up. Consumer confidence is up. The Budget seems to have been well received, even Tony Abbott’s approval rating, is up, which brings us to Bill Shorten’s leadership. He’s just not cutting through, is he?
ALBANESE: I think Bill Shorten has held the Government to account. We had the most unfair Budget that we’ve seen in living memory last year. This year, it’s a little bit less unfair but the cuts are still there to education, the cuts to health, and we know that if Tony Abbott gets a second term then the pension cuts and other measures that have been taking off the table temporarily will be put straight back on.
WILKINSON: But Tony Abbott’s had a pretty terrible 12 months, leading up to the Budget, a drover’s dog should have been able to knock Tony Abbott with a feather. Is Bill Shorten’s leadership even being discussed?
ALBANESE: No, not at all.
WILKINSON: Why not?
ALBANESE: Because we went through a period of instability with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. I think the Australian people want stability.
WILKINSON: You’re saying anyone’s better as long as it’s stable?
ALBANESE: No. What you’ve got under Labor is stable. We made a decision about Bill Shorten being the Leader of the Labor Party and he’s done a good job. You have a look at where we’ve been in polls. Even the worst poll at the moment has us on 50/50. The other polls have us ahead still as we have been almost since the last election.
WILKINSON: The government has had a terrible year, things have started to come good in that time. Bill Shorten has never really cut through. I’ll tell you what Laurie Oakes said about him this week – ‘Shorten is no performer. If he is an actor at all, it is of the ham variety. He lacks timing, he lacks pizzazz, force, gravitas and he’s unconvincing’.
PYNE: And they’re his good points.
WILKINSON: Anthony, back in 2013 it was the factions that put Bill Shorten in but the rank and file overwhelmingly voted you in. They got the wrong guy, didn’t they?
ALBANESE: The Party voted for Bill Shorten. I accepted that decision and what I’ve got on with doing is being a part of Bill Shorten’s team. Doing work on infrastructure and cities in my policy work, and I look forward to being a Minister in a Bill Shorten Government.
WILKINSON: Chris, the truth is you’d much prefer to go to an election with Bill Shorten as the Leader, wouldn’t you?
PYNE: Well Lisa the code for everything that Anthony’s just said is ‘I’m available’. That’s the code. You’ve just heard it. I want to be a team member.
WILKINSON: Are you available Anthony?
ALBANESE: I’m not available. We have a Leader. The Leader is Bill Shorten and he’ll lead us to the next election.
PYNE: I’ve heard that before too.
ALBANESE: All the polls show that we’ll win. The only team that’s been unstable is the Coalition. 39 of Christopher’s caucus colleagues voted for an empty chair against Tony Abbott just earlier this year.
WILKINSON: They seem to have forgiven Tony Abbott, not only the Party’s forgiven Tony Abbott but the electorate appears to have forgiven Tony Abbott as well.
ALBANESE: That’s not the case. That’s not the feedback on the ground I get. There’s one sense for which there’s a bit of relief that they didn’t get hit with a baseball bat like they did last year. But they’ve still –
PYNE: – you’ve had a lovely run this morning. I know that you wanted to talk about leadership all this time, but –
WILKINSON: You’d be arguing for a double dissolution right now, wouldn’t you?
PYNE: I think the difference is that in the Budget we were talking about childcare and families, small business, the Budget’s been well received because we’re talking about the things that people care about. Labor is still talking about bringing back a carbon tax, opening the borders. More taxes on superannuation. Labor’s response to everything is to increase revenue rather than actually look back at what we’re spending money on and deciding if that’s the priority, and I think that’s why Labor is suffering. Bill Shorten hasn’t been through any kind of process of looking back on the Gillard-Rudd years and deciding what they did right and wrong. They’ve just tried to paper over the divisions. Anthony was the people’s choice. He wasn’t the Caucus’ choice, and I think people want Anthony and they don’t want Bill Shorten. And who wouldn’t? Look at him!
WILKINSON: I know, look at him.
ALBANESE: I’m not sure I want your endorsement Christopher, I’ve got to say.
WILKINSON: We probably should finish with the biggest story in Canberra this week and it was DJ Albo. Let’s have a look at this. This is Anthony Albanese as DJ. Look at that. The bomber jacket, the polo shirt, jealous much Christopher?
PYNE: Yes I am jealous, actually. I am, very jealous.
WILKINSON: I would have thought so.
ALBANESE: It was good fun.
PYNE: The closest thing I’d come to that sort of thing is doing Triple J radio and that’s about it.
WILKINSON: Look at you two cool groovers. You need to go to the next one I think, Christopher.
PYNE: And maybe I should do it too.
ALBANESE: The next one’s a charity event in Sydney on a Friday night. Reclink Community Cup who do a lot of work with disadvantaged youth.
PYNE: I’ll have to see what my wife and four children think.
ALBANESE: The Education Minister would be very welcome there, I’m sure.
WILKINSON: So you’ve got to rock out the leather jacket again.
PYNE: I might need your advice on the music though, that’s the only thing.
ALBANESE: I wouldn’t let you near the music.
PYNE: We’re an auction item for charity at the Midwinter Ball this year, Anthony and I.
WILKINSON: Oh, what do you think you’ll go for?
PYNE: Goodness knows. Goodness knows. Hopefully you’ll bid on us, Lisa.
WILKINSON: I think Karl and I should bid on you.
PYNE: I think you should too.
WILKINSON: We see you every Friday morning. We don’t need to pay for you.
PYNE: We’re part of the family.
WILKINSON: You’re worth a lot. Thanks very much gentlemen, we’ll see you next week.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Subjects: Workchoices on Water; Australian shipping industry; share economy regulation
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government today will announce its proposal to introduce Workchoices on Water around the Australian coast. The Liberal and National Parties seem to be obsessed with attacking workers who work on the waterfront or on Australian ships.
It’s what they did last time when they were in office. This attack they’re launching today is an attack on the Australian national interest. It is in Australia’s national interest to have the Australian flag on the back of Australian ships working around the Australian coast and internationally.
For a government that says it wants to stop the boats, what they want to do is to stop Australian ships working on the domestic freight task around our coast. Today they’re making the announcement at a Shipping Australia conference.
What people might not know is that that is the body made up of ship operators who aren’t actually Australian owned. The Australian based organisation, Maritime Industry Australia Limited, is opposed to these reforms.
If you are a truck driver and you carry freight from Sydney to Melbourne you expect that you’ll be paid Australian wages and Australian conditions. If you move freight on a train from Sydney to Melbourne you expect you would be paid Australian wages and receive Australian conditions.
It should be no different if you move freight using the blue highway around our coast. People working on the domestic route should be paid Australian wages and receive Australian conditions. It is as simple as that.
If that doesn’t occur, then it will undermine the ability of Australian ships to compete with foreign ships.
What is of concern is that while Labor ensured that foreign ships had to pay the same wages as Australian ships, thereby having a level playing field, what the Government is proposing is that the wage rates and conditions of Australian ships and people working on them needs to be brought down to foreign levels.
In the Budget papers flagged a number of measures including ‘better aligning employment conditions for ships based in Australia with international standards’. (Budget Paper No. 2, p132)
What is extraordinary is when you look at third world conditions of ships including flags of convenience, they are low paid, they have less rest time, they endure conditions far worse than those in Australia and they tend to be the ships which draw the ire of those authorities that enforce environmental standards.
It is in Australia’s national economic interest, environmental interest and national security interest to have an Australian shipping industry. What the Government proposes is to wreck that Australian industry with these so-called reforms that are all about introducing Workchoices on Water.
This is just stage one. They’ve also flagged getting rid of Australian preference for the aviation sector, firstly in Northern Australia. That doesn’t occur anywhere else in the world. Everywhere in the world makes sure that the only planes that are allowed to fly domestic routes are those that are based in that nation.
And yet this government is considering changing that, opening up Australian aviation on a domestic level to foreign carriers that are foreign based paying foreign wages and conditions. That would undermine the Australian aviation industry and is a threat to Qantas and Virgin. It should be opposed and immediately ruled out by the Government.
REPORTER: Isn’t it in Australia’s national interest to have an affordable shipping industry too? The Government’s used the example of getting sugar from Thailand – Warren Truss has said it’s cheaper to get sugar from Thailand than to take it from port to port. Wouldn’t this make things a little more affordable?
ALBANESE: It’s just nonsense. Warren Truss just makes things up. The fact is that at the moment whether you have an Australian flag on the back of a ship or the flag of a third world country, while you are in Australia on the domestic freight task you have to pay Australian wages and conditions.
It would also be cheaper if you allow a truck that’s based in the Philippines with a Filipino truck driver, to pay Filipino wages to drive between Sydney and Melbourne. But we don’t do that because the truck wouldn’t be as well maintained, the driver wouldn’t be trained as well, and it would undermine safety and the environment and the national economic interest.
There is a very simple principle here. When you are working in Australia, whether it be on a building site or on a road, or on a rail system, or on a ship, you should be subject to the same wages and conditions. It’s as simple as that. To undermine that risks that being transferred onto other industries. The Government has already flagged that in terms of the aviation sector.
REPORTER: Can I ask, today Treasurer Hockey is expected to announce that Uber drivers should face a 10% GST. Would Labor support such a move?
ALBANESE: Andrew Leigh’s done a lot of work on this, I must say well in advance of the Government. What we’ve said is that there needs to be an examination of that sector of the economy that is growing, whether it be Uber or the accommodation sites or other sectors that are outside the traditional economy.
We need to make sure that there is a level playing field and that there is proper regulation of those industries. So we’ll examine any proposal but certainly with the growth in these sectors of the economy there needs to be a proper examination.
This sector of the economy is growing – we think that’s a good thing. But it needs to be on the basis of a level playing field, with the traditional way that these markets have operated, whether they be taxi drivers or whether they be accommodation in the form of the growth of Air B’n’B and other companies.
REPORTER: On shipping, do you think it’s a productivity issue though – the Government’s said that some ships under foreign flags are going from port to port with nothing in them because it would cost so much to pay Australian wages. Shouldn’t we be making use of the ships that are going from port to port?
ALBANESE: We want to absolutely make use of ships going from port to port. Under the changes that we made as part of the federal government’s reforms that was certainly encouraged on the basis of introducing certainty, so that you didn’t have a contract granted just on a one on one basis, it was granted on multiple journeys over a period of time.
So that was certainly permissible, and there’s a strong role in Australia for foreign ships around our coast. But not at the expense of wiping out the Australian industry. Not at the expense of making sure that people are paid proper wages and conditions.
When that doesn’t occur, there are incidents that can cost literally tens of millions of dollars. You saw two incidents off the Queensland coast – one off Gladstone and one off Moreton Island. The consequences of that were dire for the Australian economy as well as for the environment.
So we need to make sure that the Government puts the case of why it is acceptable that foreign wages can be paid for people doing jobs that are the Australian task.
When you look at the cost structure of shipping, the cost of the staff is a very small proportion of the cost of taking a ship from Sydney to Melbourne or anywhere else around the coast. It is a minute area.
This is ideology before common sense, before good economic policy. This is a Government that wants to introduce Workchoices, that believes in Workchoices, and in this case is doing it through the backdoor by introducing Workchoices on Water.
People need to ask themselves; would you find it acceptable if two buildings were being built next to each other, one by an Australian company employing Australians, paying Australian wages and having Australian safety standards, and next door, one being built by a Filipino company, paying Filipino wages, with Filipino conditions and Filipino safety standards? What do Australians think about that?
The blue highway is no different from any other section of the Australian economy, which is why these proposals are so outrageous. The reforms that were introduced by the former Government in 2012 were never given a chance to work. They were worked out with industry cooperation after a two year consultation period, with exposure drafts of legislation, making sure that industry was involved.
This has all been done behind closed doors. We haven’t even seen a draft of the legislation. There’s been no proper consultation with Australian industry or with the workforce. This is simply about replacing Australian workers with foreign workers who are paid less. That is not the Australian way. Thanks.
Subjects: Budget 2015, Tony Abbott’s refusal to invest in public transport; urban congestion; Melbourne Metro; East-West Link; Infrastructure Australia.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m delighted to be here with Clare O’Neil, Labor’s Member for Hotham, and Sean O’Reilly, the Mayor of the Dandenong Council. I came here to Springvale Railway Station a number of times looking at this vital project, which deals effectively with urban congestion. Here in Melbourne, the removal of level crossings makes an enormous difference to the time it takes people to get to and from work, and it’s also of course a major road safety issue.
The removal of this particular level crossing benefits 28,000 commuters every single day. It was a $140 million investment joint from the federal and state former Labor Governments. It was part of the contribution that we made to Victorian infrastructure which included here in Melbourne, the M80 road project, the Regional Rail Link project and important projects like this one which we are visiting today.
In Melbourne’s east we’d allocated some $69 million for the Managed Motorways program on the Monash Freeway. Now that had a cost-benefit ratio of more than $5 benefit for every dollar that was invested. That compared with the East-West Link that was 45 cents benefit for every dollar invested.
And yet what the Abbott Government did was take money that was allocated for the Melbourne Metro project that will benefit the whole of Melbourne and Victoria, take money from the M80 project, take money from the Managed Motorways project and put less money than had already been allocated towards the East-West Link.
But in last week’s Budget, we had that money taken away from Victorians and nothing put back.
The Budget shows that Victorians will get just 8% of every infrastructure dollar that is spent by the Commonwealth, even though they have 25% of the population. It’s extraordinary that Tony Abbott thinks it’s okay to punish the people of Melbourne and Victoria for the fact that they voted Labor at the last state election.
This is an absurd policy. It’s one that should be reversed and it is unsustainable. Tony Abbott is driven by politics and what we saw in last Thursday night’s Budget Reply from Bill Shorten is that we would prioritise Infrastructure Australia recommended investment, just like we did when we were in government last time.
That means that the dollar goes to the area that has the most benefit, and what we know is that Victorians need that investment in projects like the removal of level crossings, in the M80 project where funding was withdrawn, in the Melbourne Metro project and in other rail and road projects here in Melbourne.
SEAN O’REILLY, MAYOR CITY OF GREATER DANDENONG: As the Mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong, my name is Sean O’Reilly I am thankful for the opportunity to be here with Anthony Albanese and our local MP Clare O’Neil, the Member for Hotham.
We’re going to be discussing the infrastructure priorities of the City of Greater Dandenong. These are not just contained within our municipal borders but more broadly the south-east, and with Melbourne being the fastest growing city in Australia, with the council having sensible medium to high growth housing demand and Council looking to meet that, we want to talk with Mr Albanese and Ms O’Neil about how we can best manage that with assistance from the Federal Government.
CLARE O’NEIL: Thanks everyone for being here. We’re standing today in front of Springvale Railway Station, a $140 million project that was completed last year and funded in part by the former federal Labor Government.
I’d say very simply that the thousands of people who live and work in my electorate of Hotham benefitted from this terrific project and it is testament to Labor’s commitment to investing in better cities, investing in public transport and importantly, investing in the infrastructure that Victorians actually want and need.
We saw last week Tony Abbott come to Victoria to have a big old complain about why the Victorian State Government won’t proceed with a road that returns just 45 cents in every dollar. Labor announced last week that it wants to make really significant reforms to take the politics out of infrastructure decisions and we’re very pleased to see that here in Melbourne’s south-east.
Subjects: Budget 2015, infrastructure cuts, East-West Link, Infrastructure Australia, Coalition Magical Mystery Infrastructure Reannouncement Tour
ANTHONY ALBANESE: All economists and indeed the business community know that one of the big challenges for our nation is that as investment in the mining sector drops off, what needs to step up to fill that gap is investment in infrastructure.
That’s the key to securing long term economic growth, boosting productivity, boosting employment and boosting living standards. And we know that it’s necessary.
This Government was elected with a lot of rhetoric about infrastructure but no action. What we saw in the latest figures that were released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in April should have been a wakeup call to this government when it was developing this Budget that they released last night.
It showed a drop-off in infrastructure construction activity from quarter December 2013 to quarter December 2014 of some 17.3% in spending on infrastructure for the public sector. That is a massive decline that has occurred on the Abbott Government’s watch. So we should have seen that reversed last night.
Instead of that, we’ve seen the opposite. There will be a further contraction in investment in infrastructure as a result of last night’s Budget. Last night’s Budget produced a $2 billion dollar cut over the next two years in what the Abbott Government itself had projected it would spend in last year’s Budget. A $2 billion cut. It also of course over not just the next couple of years but over the forwards and beyond, we’ve seen a mean spirited decision and a vindictive decision by this government to cut $3 billion in infrastructure investment for Victorians.
Victorians are being punished by the Abbott Government for voting Labor at the last state election. One of the reasons why they voted Labor was because the Napthine Government prioritised investing in the East West Link project, a project that we know would have produced 45 cents of benefit for every dollar that was invested.
And yet the Abbott Government clings onto this, making a farce of the statements prior to their election that they would make infrastructure investment based upon the recommendations of Infrastructure Australia and based upon proper cost-benefit analysis. With this government, it’s all politics and no serious policy.
They’ve also decided to gut Infrastructure Australia. Infrastructure Australia was scheduled for funding of $15 million per year. But by the end of the forward estimates it will receive just $8 million in funding – a decline to $11 million next year and down further and further each year. This is an extraordinary decision by the Government but it’s not surprising given they left Infrastructure Australia without a CEO for more than a year, given that Infrastructure Australia on its watch hasn’t put a single project on the priority list for investment.
This Government’s infrastructure policy is in tatters. And the consequences of this for the national economy are long term. What we saw last night was no new investment in the Pacific Highway. No new investment in the Bruce Highway in Queensland. No new investment at all in any public transport project anywhere in Australia. No new major projects.
In our last Budget the Labor Government produced a booklet with documentation and maps of where the infrastructure projects were occurring. Last year the Abbott Government did the same thing. The problem was of course when people looked at the detail just about every project in their booklet was from the previous year’s Budget that had been funded in the 2013 Labor Budget. So this year they produced nothing.
This is the first time in over a decade that you’ve had a national Budget with no new major infrastructure projects anywhere in Australia. The Howard Government at its worst at least came up with one or two new projects to put some bells and whistles on even though infrastructure investment declined under them.
This Government has given up the infrastructure agenda just one year after they were caught out with their magical mystery infrastructure reannouncement tour, which they took right around the country pretending that old projects were somehow new.