Subjects: Shipping reforms, leadership, NSW infrastructure
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government has announced the most significant reform of Australian shipping in our history. We know that the ships around our coast have declined from 55 down to 22. This is an Australian industry that is vital for our economy, for our environment and for our national security. We have the fourth largest shipping task in the world and yet we’re in danger of losing the existence of an Australian fleet. That’s why we’ve introduced these reforms. These reforms include a zero rate of taxation for Australian registered ships meeting certain qualifications, incentives to invest in new ships which are more efficient, introduce better technology and are better for the environment and a skills package so that we develop our maritime workforce. All of these comprehensive reforms will revitalise Australian shipping and ensure that Australia can be participants in the global trade, not just consumers.
QUESTION: You were saying inside that you think that these reforms haven’t really received the amount of media attention that they deserve. Do you think that’s been a wider problem with the Government in terms of the achievements that it’s had in the past six months, just sort of been overlooked because of the leadership speculation and the other issues of carbon tax and mining tax?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think the announcement of Wayne Swan as the world’s best Treasurer really reinforced how successful the Government’s economic policies have been in terms of seeing us through the global financial crisis and positioning Australia much stronger than other advanced economies which we compete with. The Government will continue to pursue our agenda. We’ve got some long term reforms out there including the pricing of carbon. At the international conference I’ve just come from, it’s recognised that Australia is performing well in economic terms but is also pursuing a reform agenda. This shipping reform is obviously vital to Australia. Shipping, because it happens off the coast rather than on our roads and in our neighbourhoods, is often overlooked in terms of its importance, but given that over 99 per cent of our trade is on ships, it’s absolutely vital to the Australian economy and it’s vital that Australia has a strong position in terms of participating. Now, under the former government they actually removed policies that supported Australian shipping. The consequences are 55 ships down to 22 and an industry that, frankly, is very vulnerable. There are specific issues with regard to shipping but the fact that the Australian economy didn’t go into recession causes a position whereby there hasn’t been enough recognition of how close we came – like other economies, had the Government not acted.
And also if we had have listened to the Opposition, that had two positions, one was that we shouldn’t actually do anything, secondly, that it was inevitable that Australia would go into recession, Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, all of their leading shadow ministers, all had the same view.
QUESTION: And what is your response to the leadership speculation?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Julia Gillard is the Prime Minister, she retains the absolute support of the caucus. The government is getting on with the job of governing. We’re not looking at our internals. I know the media seems to be obsessed by trying to talk up internal issues. Usually, as I’ve said before, there are unnamed sources. They don’t even say whether it’s a member of the caucus or not. In the meantime we’re getting on with the job of governing. I’m getting on with my job as Infrastructure and Transport Minister and on with the job of being the Leader of the House. The Government has carried 195 pieces of legislation through the House of Representatives. Not a single piece of legislation has been defeated in spite of the fact that it’s a minority government and we’ve got to argue our case at each and every opportunity when legislation’s before the house.
QUESTION: It does look like you’re going to get that first piece of legislation defeated though with the asylum-seeker changes.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see what happens.
QUESTION: So it does look like you’re going to have that first piece of legislation defeated since the Government was re-elected though with the asylum-seeker changes.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see what happens on the floor of the House of Representatives. The Government is putting our position strongly and there’s been strong indication of support from a number of the cross-benchers. What’s clear is that Tony Abbott’s amendment will be defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives. You’ll then have a position whereby there’s motion of legislation before the House, that is whether offshore processing will be allowed or not. Tony Abbott will have to make a decision at that point whether he supports or opposes the legislation. What’s clear is that if it does pass the House of Representatives, unless Tony Abbott changes his position, it won’t pass the Senate. But that contradicts everything that Tony Abbott has said that he and the Opposition stand for. So he’ll have to make those decisions and he’ll be judged by them.
QUESTION: Just on the issue of the leadership speculation, you’re saying it’s Opposition rumour and that the media’s picking it up, but do you think even if it is, you know, Opposition or media generated that it’s damaging the Government in terms of public perception?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s pretty clear that we’re just going to get on with the job of governing. We’ve got important legislation through. We’ve got an important reform program. Here today I’m talking about the most significant shipping reform in Australia’s history. Other ministers are doing their job in their portfolio. The Prime Minister’s providing leadership over critical issues including the need to price carbon and tackle climate change; the need to make sure that Australians get a fair share from the minerals that they own and other reforms. So we’ll continue to pursue our agenda. We can’t control what the media want to speculate over. All we can do is concentrate on our job and that is the intention of each and every minister in the government.
QUESTION: And it is the Prime Minister’s birthday today. On that note do you think she’ll still be leading the Labor Party this time next year?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely and for many years to come. It’s a good day for the Prime Minister. I’ve known her for many, many years. It – since – I knew her when she was 20, so it’s a 30-year association and friendship. I’ve rung her this morning and wished her a happy birthday and I do hope she does get a bit of time off.
QUESTION: And have you got her a present from Mexico?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I haven’t got her a present from Mexico. I was too busy working unfortunately.
QUESTION: And just on another matter have you had – have you heard of Mr O’Farrell’s transport and infrastructure plans for Sydney and what are your thoughts on them?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I did see an article on the weekend in which Mr O’Farrell said he had plans which seemed to consist of asking the Federal Government to fund his programs, which seems quite extraordinary. That’s at the same time as he said that the Federal Government had contributed less than $100 million to transport infrastructure here in New South Wales. Now he knows that that’s not the case and he should stop saying stuff that is just nonsense. The Federal Government is contributing $12 billion to infrastructure and transport here in New South Wales. In Sydney alone we’ve committed three and a half billion dollars to transport infrastructure. We have before the New South Wales Government and he has had from day one, a position whereby we have $840 million ready to invest in the northern Sydney freight line. Now that is about separating the passenger line from the freight line with enormous benefit for the passenger rail system here in Sydney but also benefit for productivity in terms of our freight system. And yet, the state government has yet to conclude those arrangements even though the memorandum of understandings were worked out between the Commonwealth and the state government six months ago. So Mr O’Farrell needs to be clear – I’m not quite sure what the strategy is of saying things that simply aren’t true. He himself said this a number of times when he was in Opposition. He said that the state government, New South Wales hadn’t got money for infrastructure. He knows that we’ve got $4.1 billion committed to the Pacific Highway. He has less than one-quarter of that committed even after the last New South Wales budget to the Pacific Highway. So the fact is that he needs to stop saying things that are untrue to journalists who don’t check whether they are true or not. The Hunter Expressway for example, $1.45 billion from the Commonwealth, a vital project, currently employing hundreds of people in the Hunter. When you add in the positive impact of that investment literally thousands of people will be employed on this project. After he was elected Premier he turned the sod on one of the sections on this project so he knows it exists. I don’t understand why he’s the only premier in Australia who talks down the contribution to his state.