Aug 12, 2014

Interview transcript – The World Today, ABC Radio

Subject: Asset Recycling Fund

ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Opposition is set to kill off the Treasurer’s plan to bypass the Senate for his multibillion dollar asset recycling fund.

Joe Hockey doesn’t like the changes the Senate’s made to the scheme and has threatened to put the scheme into an appropriation bill.

But Labor’s infrastructure spokesman, Anthony Albanese, has been telling Alexandra Kirk that Labor won’t budge, even if Mr Hockey goes through with his threat.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We will certainly be maintaining our position that, in terms of this legislation, there needs to be proper accountability around it. That is what, not just Labor, but a large majority of the Senate insisted upon. And, you’ve got to ask yourself, what has the Government to fear from proper accountability when it comes to the expenditure of taxpayers’ funds. After all, there’s actually no new expenditure here; this is money which is already been appropriated that they’re taking from the Building Australia Fund and the Education Investment Fund, renaming it and pretending they’re doing something new.

: So, will Labor seek to amend the appropriation Bill and therefore kill off the asset recycling fund?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Labor will certainly be maintaining the principles of the position that we’ve put forward. So, we’ll examine the legislation and we’ll be proposing appropriate amendments if it is inadequate legislation as the original Bill put forward by the Government was.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So what amendments could you make?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we could do a range of measures. We could of course propose that expenditure be reduced to zero, depending upon what the legislation is. We don’t believe that money should be simply taken from these existing funds, where there’s proper accountability around them, to make sure that taxpayers get value for money.

We won’t be giving a blank cheque for the Abbott Government to intimidate state governments into privatising assets that are essential services. In Tasmania yesterday, it was stated by the Premier there that he was opposed to the sell-off of Hydro Tasmania, and yet this is being pursued by Joe Hockey, by the local member, Mr Hutchinson, saying, essentially, if it wants any new investment in infrastructure, they’ve got to sell Tassie Hydro.

That is, simply, not on. We will hold the Government to account for its promises. After all, the Government promised before the election that any new project which received government funding of value above $100 million would have a cost-benefit analysis.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you’d effectively seek to kill off the asset recycling fund if the Treasurer insists on inserting the fund into an appropriations bill?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what we’d seek to do is move appropriate amendments. It’s up to the Treasurer. He’s the one who’s killed off his own Bill by rejecting the amendments that were sensible and properly moved in the Senate and carried by the Senate.

If he wants to walk away from proper processes, that’s a decision for him.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now that it’s clear that the Senate does have the power to amend an appropriation bill – the only type of appropriation bill that the Treasurer would be able to include in his asset recycling fund in – do you expect the Treasurer to go ahead with this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see. That’s a decision for him. What’s remarkable is that the Treasurer – before he made these grand statements, not just once, but repeatedly over recent weeks – seemed to have no understanding of the way that the Parliament works.

Now, common sense tells you, as well as past experience demonstrates, that you can’t simply call a Bill an appropriation, change the name of it, and therefore be in a position whereby the Senate couldn’t examine that legislation.

It is remarkable for its incompetence that Joe Hockey repeated this statement without checking whether it could actually be backed up by practical action by the Government.

ELEANOR HALL: And that’s Labor’s infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese, speaking to Alexandra Kirk.