Subjects: Infrastructure, paid parental leave, Labor Senate candidates
VAN ONSELEN: A short time ago I spoke to Anthony Albanese. Now there’s only one thing that irritates him nearly as much as getting utterly shafted for the Labor leadership and that is the way that the now Government runs around talking about how it’s building the roads of the 21st century and, in his view, they’ve been in power for almost a year and they haven’t really achieved anything new of their own, that is to say projects that Labor hadn’t already started. I started by asking him what are these new projects after almost a year of the Abbott Government.
ALBANESE: We’ll they promised that there’d be cranes in the sky in Sydney, in Melbourne and in Brisbane and of course we haven’t seen so much as a hole dug, let alone cranes in the sky for any new project. What they’ve been doing is going around the country on a magical infrastructure re-announcement tour, pretending that projects that have been underway for some time, that are fully funded in the Budget somehow have anything to do with a Coalition initiative.
VAN ONSELEN: Can I just jump in there, Anthony Albanese. What you are saying is that when you see the ministers with the hard hats and then following it up with the rhetoric of building the roads of the 21st century, all we’re talking about are projects that were already announced by the Labor government. Is that right?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Today we have another new contract announcement on the Pacific Highway but that was a project that was fully funded by the federal Labor Government. Projects like the opening of the Hunter Expressway, was promised, funded, built and opened, but opened just at the end of last year.
VAN ONSELEN: Were they at least bipartisan in their approval. I mean, when you announced these and put these in place when you were in government, were the Coalition on board with what you were doing then?
ALBANESE: Take the Gold Coast Rapid Transit Project – they of course now oppose funding for any public transport project. But at the time, in terms of consistency, they did oppose that as well and said that it shouldn’t be funded. They were critical of the project but Steve Ciobo and the Queensland LNP Minister Scott Emerson – the LNP in Queensland who were then the opposition – opposed the project as well when it was proposed by the Bligh Government. They were quite happy to go to the opening of the project and to talk about the virtues of the project; how many jobs it created; what a boon it was for productivity, and yet they had opposed it every step of the way.
VAN ONSELEN: This is just politics isn’t it? I mean both sides do this. When you get into government, you look at what’s already in the pipeline and then you take credit for it as the new government. Both sides do it. It has always been thus hasn’t it?
ALBANESE: Infrastructure projects do take time. There are four new projects that they’ve announced – the East West project in Melbourne, they’ve announced additional loans for the Westconnex project in Sydney, the Toowoomba Bypass and the Perth Freight Link project. They are the four new things. But none of them have actually started, none of them have had proper cost-benefit analysis and all of the money for those road projects is money that has been taken from existing public transport projects that were in the Budget; that had had proper cost-benefit analysis like the Melbourne Metro, like the Cross-River Rail project in Brisbane. So were not seeing new investment in infrastructure. We’re just seeing a reallocation. And then of course we had the so-called recycling fund to promote privatisation of state assets to then provide money, or a bonus, to the states from the Federal Government. That money itself was recycled from the existing funds – the Building Australia Fund and the education investment fund. So were’ just not seeing new infrastructure development, were not seeing proper processes in terms of proper cost-benefit analysis and when we’ve tried to insert amendments into legislation to ensure that proper cost-benefit analysis, to ensure that value for money, what we’ve had is the government objecting to the implementation of their own policy.
VAN ONSELEN: By the same token when you say that these are existing Labor projects that had already been announced that were fully funded, let’s be frank about this – fully funded by debt because it’s not as though the Budget was in the black at the time that these initiatives were announced and funded as you put it under Labor.
ALBANESE: Well the debt has been increased since they came to office, Peter. We saw $68 billion being added to the deficit by government decisions that they made at the end of last year upon coming to office.
VAN ONSELEN: Exacerbated by Labor also blocking things that they had announced in government like the higher education cuts.
ALBANESE: You can have a look at whether it be the foregoing of revenue by a crackdown on international tax avoidance measures; whether it be other changes that they’ve proposed such as the paid parental leave scheme; whether it be new expenditures by the Abbott Government, the Abbott Government has added to that. And of course the thing about infrastructure is that it’s not just a cost. It’s an investment. It’s an investment because it produces higher returns to government through the wages and taxes that are therefore paid on people being employed but also importantly on that boost to national productivity.
VAN ONSELEN: You raised the paid parental leave and I realise that it’s roundly condemned not only on your side of politics but in some quarters even amongst the Coalition, but one person that has proposed something similar to it back in his union days is a Labor Left colleague of yours, in New South Wales MP Stephen Jones when he was running the public service union. I’m surprised that elements of the Labor Party, particularly the Left, of which you are a factional leader, don’t see something above the minimum wage for women who are taking time out of the workforce to have kids as a good thing.
ALBANESE Well, I see it as an equity issue Peter. Why is it that people should be paid $50,000 to have a baby? In terms of the system as it is, we introduced paid parental leave. It’s a system that provides support across the board and yet the government scheme is simply unaffordable. And it pays more, depending upon how much you currently earn. So it’s reinforcing the income divisions that are there in the community.
VAN ONSELEN: But that’s no different to the public service scheme but look, we won’t go into that. It’s an area maybe for another debate.
ALBANESE: I’ve found another defender of the scheme perhaps, Peter. I’ve been looking for one.
VAN ONSELEN: Call it devil’s advocate. One last question before I let you go, down in Victoria there’s Labor rumblings going on between Kim Carr, senior factional leader of the Left, and Stephen Conroy, senior factional leader of the Right. The two of them want to go around, reports on the front page of The Australian suggest, for another term in the Senate. Surely they should be moving on to make way for fresh talent.
ALBANESE: Well they are experienced people and they are entitled to put themselves forward. Pre-selections are a matter for the Labor Party membership and I’m sure that the Labor Party membership will get a say. But you need a mix.
VAN ONSELEN: Not as much of a say as you would like though judging by some of the recent internal debates in NSW.
ALBANESE: I support an extension of the vote that happened for the leadership of the Labor Party with rank-and-file members getting a say. I support rank-and-file members getting a say in Senate pre-selections as well – right across the board. I supported that at the NSW conference. But there’s no doubt that experience does matter and both Stephen and Kim are very experienced members both as government cabinet minister but also as parliamentarians. Stephen Conroy represents me in the Senate when it comes to the Senate estimates process and on legislation and that’s at my request. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have fighting for my issues than Stephen Conroy in the Senate.
VAN ONSELEN: All right Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time on the program. Thanks very much.
ALBANESE: Thanks a lot, Peter.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.