Oct 9, 2015

Doorstop press conference – Marrickville

Subjects: Labor’s infrastructure plan, Warren Truss, Infrastructure Australia, private email accounts, Turnbull Government’s infrastructure team, Parramatta shooting, religious fundamentalism

ALBANESE: Labor yesterday announced a major plan to drive investment in Australia’s infrastructure. We know that it’s needed because of the latest figure from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that there has been a 20% fall in public sector infrastructure investment since the change of government. That’s a disastrous figure and it has real consequences for Australian jobs and importantly future jobs growth and future economic growth. With the IMF warning about the perils of future economic circumstances, we need to make sure that Australia is in a position to grow into the future. Infrastructure, the investment in capital, is the key to that, along with investment in our people and Labor has a plan for education and skills development as well as innovation that we’ve released as well.

Yesterday’s announcement would create a $10b infrastructure facility, to facilitate investment much greater than that in Australia’s infrastructure needs, and we know that those infrastructure needs are there. Projects like Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, Melbourne’s Metro project, and the rail line connecting Leppington in Sydney’s south west to Saint Marys on the western line, through Badgerys Creek Airport, and through the employment lands in western Sydney, are so important. As well as that, projects like the on-going upgrade of the Pacific Highway and the Bruce Highway, public transport projects in Perth, where Infrastructure Australia has identified that seven of the 10 worst congested roads in Australia will be located if action is not taken over the next decade.

So these are important policy issues, and I’m pleased that Scott Morrison has said as the Treasurer that they have merit and are worthy of consideration. That’s a mature response from the new Treasurer, and it’s one that is welcomed. But it contrasts with the comments of Warren Truss, the Infrastructure Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, who said yesterday in a release, quite extraordinarily: “While projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane Rail and the rail link to Badgery’s Creek and around Western Sydney are yet to be planned, have no business case and the costs are unknown, they have not been through any Infrastructure Australia or detailed assessment process.’’

Mr Truss doesn’t seem to have a clue about his own portfolio. If it’s not about roads in Wide Bay or Gympie he has no idea about what has been happening in infrastructure around Australia. Cross River Rail was the first priority project, priority number one on the Infrastructure Australia list in 2012. We had funding allocated in the 2013 Budget. The Melbourne Metro, planning money was provided way back in 2009 by the Federal Labor Government, some $40 million for planning work completed, a project that is ready to go, a project that has the support of Infrastructure Australia. And the airport, he should just ask his department, where the work that was done by the former and current governments on planning for the second Sydney airport; part of that planning work is of course for the rail link. What he and the State Government are saying is that they’ll provide for the rail station to be underneath the new airport, but they won’t build the line. It makes no sense. Even if the airport wasn’t there, a link from the south west to the western line, through the employment lands of Western Sydney would make sense, and what be a good thing that would drive jobs and productivity and in Western Sydney, yet Mr Truss doesn’t seem to understand that.

Importantly today, the intervention is welcome from Lucy Turnbull, the chair of the Committee for Sydney, who has supported the rail line for Western Sydney Airport and Badgery’s Creek to be up and running from day one. Lucy Turnbull understands planning that is required for the second airport and her support for this project is very welcome. It is important that the State and Federal governments get on with the job of supporting this necessary infrastructure. Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: Labor wants to give Infrastructure Australia the ability to provide loans for equity and the private sector to build major projects. Would that model mean tolls are more likely to be part of new projects?

ALBANESE: Not necessarily at all and one the things that we want to do is to make sure that, we’ve said that, we’ll establish a committee that will look at the financing mandate, within six months of the election of a Shorten Labor Government.

There are a range of models available, for example in public transport, the availability payment model that was looked at for the Cross River Rail, that is essentially a way of bringing forward investment into nation building infrastructure, bringing it forward with a certain return that is particularly attractive to superannuation funds, and I’ve been meeting with people this morning who are so supportive of this plan, and it’s not surprising that our announcement has received support from ACCI – the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the superannuation industry, the Australian Industry Group have all come out and been supportive of the policy that we put forward yesterday, through Bill Shorten’s address in Brisbane.

REPORTER: Will your changes to Infrastructure Australia mean projects that are important but can’t be made to deliver a return to private companies, will they just get shelved?

ALBANESE: No, it doesn’t mean that at all. What is means for example is where there is a return to the national economy. Take public transport projects that have a strong cost benefit, such as Cross River Rail or Melbourne Metro. You can structure and attract private funding to those proposals through the availability payment model, or there are a range of other models, that can bring forward a certain return to the superannuation industry, but mean that infrastructure construction can happen sooner rather than later. So there are a range of ways in which you can attract and use private capital. We know that by the year 2025, there will be some $4 trillion in Australia’s superannuation funds. What we want is for superannuation funds to be used for infrastructure and investment here that provide that certain return, a natural fit between infrastructure, investment and superannuation, because infrastructure investment can provide a stable return, unlike, for example, investment on the share market, that we saw during the GFC can be very volatile, and in those cases people saw their contents, or the amount of money in their superannuation funds actually decrease while that crisis was on.

REPORTER: Mr Albanese, do you use servers outside of Parliament (inaudible), for emails?

ALBANESE: No I don’t. I do have a gmail account for personal use, but in terms of the business I do as a parliamentarian, it is done through the parliamentary system.

REPORTER: In your opinion, do you think it is appropriate that the Prime Minister uses personal email?

ALBANESE: I think this is a matter certainly needs to be looked at. I’m most concerned that in the last 24 hours you’ve circumstances whereby a Freedom of Information request from Alannah MacTiernan about documents between Minister Briggs, as the former Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, has been knocked back because there’s been a change of ministry and they’ve said therefore that the documents for the Perth Freight Link rail project, have not been handed over to the new minister and are therefore unavailable. That avoidance of scrutiny and of appropriate FOI laws is entirely not appropriate and I am concerned that the Prime Minister needs to make sure that any use of technology by him is appropriate and not designed to avoid proper scrutiny. We know that Malcolm Turnbull and others in their plotting against Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership were using wicker in order to avoid scrutiny and to make sure those messages disappeared, but we need to be, I think, very careful about this, and I think the Prime Minister should get proper advice.

REPORTER: Do you think that they are acceptable to use?

ALBANESE: Well, that’s a matter for the experts to say and obviously I’m not Prime Minister Turnbull. He’s aware of what technology he has been using. I do believe he has an absolute responsibility to make sure that any technology that he is using for sensitive material, that is national security related or at all related to his job as Prime Minister needs to be done in an appropriate way.

REPORTER: What do you make of the Minister for Northern Australia, Josh Frydenberg, make of his first visit to the top end?

ALBANESE: He’s certainly welcome to travel, but what we need to do is to have something other than just re-announcements. The Cape York Roads package, for example, in Northern Australia has been re-announced by the current government as if it is new, on about four separate occasions. That $205million was provided in the 2013 budget by the former government. Again projects like Tiger Brennan Drive and road projects in the Northern Territory have all been re-announcements rather than any additional investment. So I await to see what will come out of the plan, it does seem to me that when it comes to infrastructure you have Warren Truss who is the person in charge of infrastructure and transport for the country, and has a very narrow view, which is still opposed to public transport investment. You have Jamie Briggs who is the Minister for Cities, but doesn’t seem to have a department or be in charge of anything besides a new letterhead. You have Josh Frydenberg who is also in charge of some of the infrastructure development, perhaps in Northern Australia. It’s not quite clear what his responsibilities are, and then you have Paul Fletcher, who has some role in major projects. It seems to me that the government is in danger of having a dysfunctional structure when it comes to delivering on infrastructure. One of the things that we know in terms of the Labor Party, people know that we have myself in charge of infrastructure, in charge of cities, with Julie Collins looking after regional development, but people know what the structure is, and you have a coherent policy. What we’ve had in recent days is ministers Truss, Briggs, Frydenberg and Fletcher all saying different things about the same issues. They need to get their act together.

REPORTER: Mr Albanese, it’s been a week since the shooting in Paramatta. Do you think the Prime Minister has said enough, and do you think he has said the right things to calm community concerns?

ALBANESE: Well the community is rightly concerned. These are extraordinary events, where by a 15-year-old can have a gun that’s loaded to go outside Police Headquarters in Parramatta and shoot dead an innocent man, Mr Cheng, going about his daily work. It’s a tragedy for that family, and all Australians feel that, and we need to make sure that everything possible is done, to ensure that an event like this doesn’t happen again. And I think the Australian public want to know the details of how this occurred, I certainly have every faith in the work of our police and security forces, they should be given every support possible, and we need to also, as a society, to look at the radicalisation of some of these young people, what’s causing it. Obviously the concern that’s there about this persons school, whether teaching is occurring in an inappropriate way in any prayer group or online, those issues all need to be addressed because this is an issue that is obviously causing absolutely legitimate concern in the community.

At the same time, we need to make sure we target the right people here. This isn’t the matter of a particular religious faith, in this case the Muslim community, should not be tarred with these circumstances of one criminal who has engaged in a terrorist, violent and vile act, and it’s important that that occur as well. We are a tolerant society, a multicultural society, where generations have come here to make Australia our home, but we do that on the basis of Australian values, and Australia values are about respecting people, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion, regardless of their views, engaging in a way that promotes harmony, in which the whole community benefits from the diversity in our community.

REPORTER: Has Malcolm Turnbull said enough on the matter though? We’ve only heard from him once in the week.

ALBANESE: Well that’s a matter for Mr Turnbull, but I do think that the nation’s leaders need to show leadership at appropriate times, and I have no disagreement with anything that Malcolm Turnbull has said. But it is appropriate I think, and one of the things I don’t want to do, either now or at any time, is to try and make this into a political issue. In my view, it is important that these issues be dealt with, as a community, with our common interest, because we all do have a common interest here and certainly I would want to be working with Mr Turnbull, or anyone else for that matter, who is about promoting harmony in our community, and about making sure that the circumstances that occurred last Friday never occur again and that the circumstances around it too are known, because I think that is important as well.

REPORTER: You say you don’t want it to become a political issue, but you said before that it’s not necessarily a religious issue, what kind of issue are we talking about? Is it purely crime?

ALBANESE: Well, of course in this way it is of course related to a view of Islamic fundamentalism, that has a political dimension to it, and of course fundamentalism, fanaticism of any sort creates distortions and is intolerant. Overwhelmingly people of religious faith have respect for other people with religious faith. In this area, in the inner west of Sydney, there’s a dialogue that occurs between of Christian, Islamic, Jewish and other faiths come together, the religious leaders, I’ve sat down and had lunch with those religious leaders, and it’s about engaging with the community. What they do is they sit down and talk about issues of homeless, of addressing poverty, of addressing people who are risk of dropping out and being marginalised in the community, and work in a co-operative way. That’s the sort of tolerance that is Australia at its finest. We need to promote that and to call out, division and hatred is always wrong, no matter what the religious background of those who promote it.

REPORTER: Can I just ask on the topic of prayer groups in schools, Dr Byrne called for those to be banned. What’s your stance on that?

ALBANESE: Well I was asked about this earlier today, and along with Christopher Pyne, I’m not against the teaching of religion, if it occurs outside of school, or at schools, but it needs to be obviously monitored closely, if there’s been inappropriate teaching, teaching of hated, teaching of division, teaching of a lack of respect for people who happen to disagree with you, then that needs to be addressed. Look, we need to be prepared to call it out for what it is, Islamic fundamentalism is an ideological view that is not tolerant of those people, who are not of the particular view of the fundamentalists. But it’s intolerant not just of people of other religions, it’s intolerant towards of people of Islamic faith who are moderate, who don’t share the same views that those people do have. Just like there are Christian fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, who have no respect for people who do not agree with them. I have a view that fundamentalism and fanaticism is wrong in all its forms.

REPORTER: And one more question on that, there’s a call from State Labor for a bipartisan review of those prayer groups. Is that something Federal Labor would support?

ALBANESE: Well look I’m not the education spokesperson but it seems to me that it is a reasonable response, at a time like this, where there’s a question mark, for there to be a review, and what is important is the bipartisan call, is that it not be a party political issue. It’s really easy to try and play politics and to accuse people of not doing enough. What we need to do is to work together, there is a responsibility on the political leaders of this country, at whatever level, federal, state, local government, or whether it be community leaders to actually work together on these issues, because what we’re about here is trying to seek inclusion. So the process itself needs to be inclusive, needs to be one that brings people together, rather than divides people. That’s what makes Australia the best country in the world. We need to cherish it, we need to praise it, we need to facilitate it, we need to work with that, because I am very proud to represent an electorate like this one, which is multicultural, where people have come from all over the world to call Australia there home, and to be loyal to Australia and to our values. That is something that we need to not take for granted. The way to do that is by working together on those issues. Thanks very much.