Doorstop at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
Member for Grayndler
Subject: Constitutional recognition for local government; Victorian transport plan; divisions within the Coalition
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today I’ve addressed the Australian Local Government Association about constitutional recognition. Just a month ago, the Federal Government and Local Government started a new partnership, when we had the very successful Australian Council of Local Government meeting in Canberra.
A centrepiece of that was a new respect between the Commonwealth and Local Government. We also announced $300 million for the regional and local community infrastructure program. This is important in providing improvements to quality of life, local community infrastructure around Australia. It will also stimulate local economies and stimulate local jobs.
The Opposition aren’t quite clear over whether they support this initiative, or they oppose the $300 million injection. But the Opposition are pretty unclear on everything to do with infrastructure. Just last Friday they split three ways on the nation building infrastructure legislation introduced by the Rudd Government. So whether it’s nation building infrastructure, or whether it’s local community infrastructure, the Coalition are all over the shop and Australians want action on nation building infrastructure.
The Rudd Government is prepared to do that and in the regional and local community infrastructure program, we’re working with local government to make a practical difference – to fix up local swimming pools; to fix disability access for libraries and local community centres; to put shade cloths over kids playgrounds; to make those improvements which will improve the quality of life, whether it be in our major cities or in our regional centres and towns.
QUESTION: Have you seen the Brumby Government’s transport plan and, if so, what do you think about the $10 billion that they require of federal money to get it off the ground?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve seen reports of the plan of course and I’ll be having further discussions today with the Brumby Government about their proposals. The Rudd Government has established an independent process by establishing Infrastructure Australia. That is how we will be getting advice on the infrastructure priorities for the nation. Infrastructure Australia is continuing to do its work. They’ll be handing the Government an interim priority list and audit this month. The Government awaits that advice.
QUESTION: Mr Brumby seems very confident that they’ll get the federal funding – has remained confident for quite some time. Do you think that confidence is well placed?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government has an independent process. The Government won’t be allocating funds based upon media reports. The Government will be listening to Infrastructure Australia, will be receiving that advice. And we won’t be pre-empting that advice.
QUESTION: What’s your gut feeling about the projects in the report though? Do you think it’s realistic, or do you think it’s dreaming to be asking for that much in federal funding?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government will not be pre-empting the advice that we get from Infrastructure Australia. Infrastructure Australia is doing an audit of the nation’s infrastructure needs. We’ve set up for the first time a proper process, whereby projects will be analysed for their contribution to national productivity, as well as their social and environmental benefit.
Now this legislation was only approved last Friday. Infrastructure Australia will be forwarding their audit and also their interim priority list to the Government. But we’re a government that will take considered advice and make announcements at the appropriate time. What we haven’t engaged with and I’ve said it repeatedly to state governments is a campaign, or policy, by media. What we will have is policy is by due process. Infrastructure Australia is the proper process and we await that advice.
QUESTION: The Opposition Leader said he’s open-minded to constitutional recognition of local government. Based on past experience, do you trust the Coalition’s assurances on this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Coalition have trouble sticking to a position for an hour, so when they say that they’re open-minded about constitutional recognition, what I’d say is that they had 12 years in government to think about it. They now have a government that’s committed to constitutional recognition and working with local government on achieving that. And I’d call for the Coalition to be constructive.
Earlier this year, the National Party Leader, Warren Truss, who’s addressing this conference this afternoon, said that he supported constitutional recognition. Yesterday Malcolm Turnbull, the Leader of the Coalition came to this conference and couldn’t say what the Coalition’s position was on it.
The problem with the Coalition is that they don’t know what they stand for. They just know what they’re against. And the default position that they go back to, each and every time, is opposition. So they oppose the economic security strategy and the payments to pensioners and carers, even though they don’t have an alternative. They’ve opposed the nation building infrastructure program of the Rudd Government, even though they acknowledge that they left an infrastructure deficit. They oppose the community infrastructure program that we allocated $300 million for at the Australian Council of Local Government, even though they don’t have an alternative.
So I’m concerned that when the Opposition say they’re not sure what their position is, at the end of the day they come out opposing it.
QUESTION: Are you saying that they’ll oppose constitutional recognition for political gain?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m saying that this is an Opposition that seems to be characterised by not standing for anything and by playing politics with everything. And I’d be concerned that they seem to have reversed the previous support that was indicated earlier this year for local government recognition in the constitution.
QUESTION: What do you think about Stone’s(*) comments and do you think the cracks are really very visible now within the Coalition?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is a Coalition at war with itself. Not only is there division between the Liberal Party and the National Party. But there’s divisions within the Liberal Party as well. We’ve seen the undermining of the Leader of the Opposition. We’ve seen the undermining of the Shadow Treasurer, by people on her own front bench. And we have the Member for Higgins who failed to make a contribution to parliament all year, sat at the back of the House of Representatives, as the representative for Higgins, but failed to speak up on their behalf, on any issue. Didn’t give a speech. Didn’t make a statement. Didn’t ask a question. And one wonders what his motives are as well and I think within the Coalition they’re wondering what his motives are as well.
QUESTION: Just quickly on the transport plan again. Mr Brumby described it as a revolutionary plan. Based on what you’ve seen, do you think that it is a revolutionary plan?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ll leave Mr Brumby to make the statements that he’s made and they stand. What I do think is that the Victorian Government deserve congratulations for the fact that they’ve taken infrastructure seriously. Not just with this plan, but with a range of other initiatives. Just on Saturday myself and the Prime Minister and the Premier turned the first sod on the Western Ring-road works that are taking place there. That’s a very important road. I’ve also been with the Victorian Premier at Wodonga with work that’s taking place in rail.
So the Victorian Government is a government that takes infrastructure seriously. I look forward to a constructive relationship with not just Victoria, but with all the State and Territory Governments. What we saw at COAG just a couple of weeks ago was a very important breakthrough in ending the blame game when it came to education, health and housing. When it comes to infrastructure, we’re awaiting the Infrastructure Australia recommendations. We will be making announcements when they’re appropriate, based upon considered advice.
QUESTION: What’s on the agenda for…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks.
QUESTION: …for your discussions with Brumby today about the infrastructure?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not seeing Brumby. I’m seeing the Brumby Government.
QUESTION: Geoff Gallop has suggested that COAG be entrenched in the constitution and local government to be included in that. Would the Rudd Government support that proposal if it was put forward?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We won’t make policy on the run. What we have said is that we do support recognition of local government in the constitution. It’s been a long-standing policy of Labor. We look forward to the outcomes of this conference and that being fed into the process. We have the Attorney-General addressing this conference tomorrow. And we think that it’s very important that local government come up with a unified position of moving forward in order to get recognition of local government. As for other questions, they’re really matters for the Attorney-General.
QUESTION: And question for Councillor Lake. What’s your response to the Minister’s comment this morning?
COUNCILLOR LAKE: This summit welcomes the Minister’s repeated commitment to constitutional recognition of local government. This is about local communities and entrenching the accountability between local communities and their councils. And I think it’s something that is long overdue and we look forward to moving it forward and coming up with a resolution and the end of this conference that can be put to the Prime Minister and to the Minister and also to the Opposition Leader, as far as how this should be moved forward.