Jun 24, 2014

Interview of transcript – ABC 24, Capital Hill

Subject/s: Infrastructure legislation; fuel excise; asset recycling

CURTIS:  The Opposition has moved amendments in the Senate that have been voted for on two infrastructure bills. One is a Bill about Infrastructure Australia, the other is the asset recycling fund, which aims to give the States a bonus if they privatise some of their assets. Labor says it will insist on its amendments. I spoke to the Shadow Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese a little earlier today. Anthony Albanese welcome to Capital Hill.

ALBANESE:  Good to be here.

CURTIS:  If I can ask you first the Greens decided to now oppose the re-indexation of fuel excise. Does that come as a surprise, given that this is the party which would like to phase out fossil fuels?

ALBANESE:  Well, the Greens political party are never known for their consistency. But it’s up to them to determine their position and to explain how they have come to it.  What we did was look at the equity of this measure at a time whereby the Federal Government has cut all funding for public transport projects that were previously put in the Budget, that hadn’t commenced construction. Taking away that option of people not using their family car at a time whereby in terms of distances – the further you live away from the city, or where you work, particularly for those drive-in drive-out suburbs, people in regional communities who don’t have other options – they’re the people who will be hit by this new tax.

CURTIS: So the Greens move makes it much less likely, almost impossible for it to get through the Senate because the Palmer United Party won’t back it either?

ALBANESE:  I would have thought that’s the case. This is a Government, of course, that don’t have a mandate for this or any of the other new taxes that they’re seeking to impose on the Australian public. This is a very inequitable measure, and it’s all right for parliamentarians or corporate executives – they’ll have their corporate fuel cards, they won’t be paying it. The people who will be paying this proposed new tax are mums and dads out there in the suburbs travelling to and from work, or taking their kids to sport on the weekend.

CURTIS: Now there are a couple of other pieces of legislation which the Senate has debated and amended in your patch. One is dealing with Infrastructure Australia, the other is dealing with what is called asset recycling. If those amendments that Labor – that your side – has put up aren’t accepted in the House of Representatives will you back down or will you continue to insist on them?

ALBANESE:  We will absolutely insist on these amendments. This is flawed legislation, Lyndal. The Infrastructure Australia Bill had more than 20 amendments carried in the Senate including Government amendments. They had to amend their own legislation because the Business Council of Australia, the Property Council and Infrastructure Partnerships Australia all said to the Government “you’ve got it wrong”. They wanted to take away the independence of Infrastructure Australia. What we’ve done is make sure that independence is ensured through these amendments. They wanted to stop the publication of information and therefore transparency. They wanted to make it so that the Minister could direct Infrastructure Australia to not consider whole classes of projects – that is not public transport. Now, if we are going to deal with urban congestion in our cities you need integrated transport plans, you need to deal both road and rail.

CURTIS: On the asset recycling you wanted effectively more parliamentary oversight of what happens in that?

ALBANESE:  Exactly. We want to make sure, as well, that any project above – worth more than $100 million is – in accordance with what the Coalition said they would do – be subject to proper analysis by Infrastructure Australia, proper cost of benefit analysis, publication of that, so you have the transparency there.  Not what the Government’s done.  The Government in the Budget had funding for a range of projects like the Perth freight project, which has come from nowhere. The WA Government itself hasn’t got any funding for it. There is no plan, there is no environmental study, there is no cost-benefit analysis. The east-west project in Melbourne, they’re putting forward $1.5 billion as an advance payment for a project that hasn’t had a proper cost-benefit analysis. So they have got that wrong. And then on the policy framework, they’ve tried to remove any of the proper processes that are about ensuring that infrastructure investment went to the right project, that would boost productivity the most.

CURTIS: What would be the effect if these bills fail?

ALBANESE:   Well, that’s up to the Government. But we’re going to insist on proper processes, a proper analysis – in accordance with what the Coalition said they would do. They were on the record, on this one, prior to the election speaking about proper cost-benefit analysis, proper scrutiny of Infrastructure Australia. What they’ve tried to do is come up proposals which just suit political purposes. There is no new investment for infrastructure in this Budget. It’s all just renaming, taking project money from one to another. The asset recycling money is all from the existing Education Investment Fund and the Building Australia Fund – no new money, just moving it from one pot to another, coming up with a new name and pretending that it’s new investment. Well, we’ll scrutinise this legislation and hold the Government to account.

CURTIS: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for your time.

ALBANESE:   Good to be with you.