Subjects: Kate Ellis, Perth Freight Link, WA election, WA infrastructure
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Peter.
VAN ONSELEN: I see the news that Kate Ellis is planning to retire at the next election, understandable with all that travel. She’s got a young family. My question for you, I know this is a leader’s decision, but you know you are allowed to have your two cent’s worth on this. Who do you think will replace her?
ALBANESE Oh, that will be a decision for Bill and I’m not going to pre-empt that. I think now is a day not for talking about who replaces her, but for paying tribute to Kate. She is a very dear friend of mine. She is a valued colleague. She is someone who has made an outstanding contribution I think to the national Parliament and young Sam is about to start school and it is understandable that she has made the decision that she has. She’s flagged well in advance of the next election that she won’t be a candidate, but she’ll continue to serve the people of Adelaide very well as she has done for more than a decade now.
VAN ONSELEN: Should she step down from the front bench immediately though? You’ve already got Doug Cameron sitting in a front bench role even though he doesn’t intend to be there after the next election. That would make it two on the front bench that won’t actually be able to be ministers. That seems a bit silly.
ALBANESE That’s not quite right of course. The Senate doesn’t leave at the time of the election so it is very possible that Doug could be a minister at the beginning for the next term. We’ve got a very large front bench and I think in terms of filling any vacancy, Kate in my view is playing a terrific role and I wouldn’t be disappointed if she continued to do that up until the election. You need to always have potential vacancies down the track to keep people striving if you like, on their game, to fill those vacancies in the future.
VAN ONSELEN: But just on that Mr Albanese. Let me jump in. What is the point of that? I take you point about Doug Cameron. At least he could be a minister. Having said that though, I think that would be unusual you’d have to admit to make somebody a minister for a small window when you know their term is coming to an end when the Senate recalibrates. But in the case of Kate Ellis – nothing against her; I thought she was a perfectly able shadow minister as well as a minister before that – but if you are not going to stay on, what’s the point? You might as well get some experience in Opposition to somebody who is then going to have to take up a more onerous job in government.
ALBANESE: Well we’ve got, I don’t know what our front bench is up to, but we’ve got more than 45 now. We’ve got more people on our front bench than will be able to be on the front bench according to the Federal legislation that is provided. So we have more shadows now than there are ministers and that is permissible under the Act. So in terms of a vacancy, I don’t have a problem with Kate continuing to play a role and she plays an important role as well in the Shadow Cabinet at bringing that experience that she has as someone who has been a minister in government. So I think that though will be a matter for a discussion between Kate and Bill down the track.
VAN ONSELEN: As the person in my relationship that does all of the drops offs and pickups and meals for my children, allow me, indulge me on this one Anthony Albanese. Your wife, she stepped down as I understand it from the ministry, Carmel Tebbutt, when your son was young, she came back of course, became Deputy Premier. Why is it always the women doing this? This is the day after International Women’s Day.
ALBANESE: It’s a fair point Peter. It is a fair point. In my wife’s case, she was in a very similar situation to Kate. She stood down from the front bench when he was beginning school – his first year of school. A whole lot of people use family reasons for stepping down and we find in some cases they get very well paid jobs announced a couple of weeks later, in the case of the former NSW Premier. But in Kate’s case, just like in my wife, Carmel Tebbutt’s case, it’s real, they make those decisions. Of course you can‘t do the drop-off if you are a Federal MP. It’s as simple as that.
So I know that Kate’s other half, who would be known to some of your listeners, David Penberthy, he’s a figure in the media, I know that he plays an important role in young Sam’s life. But the truth is that if you are in Canberra that limits what you can do.
VAN ONSELEN: Yes. Look, completely understandable. Frankly I don’t know how politicians beyond at best coming out of NSW and Victoria and even then I mean the capital cities, do it with the amount of travel to Canberra. That is the human side of all this.
ALBANESE: And it’s not just Canberra of course. It’s the travel to other places as well. People often ask how we managed as senior ministers in the Federal and NSW Governments respectively to do the job and look after our young son. It is beyond me how we did it, looking back at it now, but we did manage.
VAN ONSELEN: All right, let’s get on to your portfolio. In the context if we can, Mr Albanese, of the WA election; I spoke to the Premier over there on this program a couple of days ago, Colin Barnett. I asked him about the whole Perth Freight Link and the Roe 8 extension. He made the point that the development towards this, albeit three kilometres short of the port, had been very much a bipartisan thing in all the previous extensions ahead of Roe 8, so this was just a political hit. And he particularly made the point, which I want to get your response to, that this was a priority choice by Infrastructure Australia to support Roe 8. Your reaction to that; you obviously champion the value of Infrastructure Australia?
ALBANESE: The Premier is delusional in putting that forward and I note that Paul Fletcher on this very program conceded that it stopped three kilometres from the port. That’s a good start because neither the Prime Minister nor the Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester seemed to even know that when we raised it in Parliament. But he went on to say it would require further work down the track; so a concession that this is a road to nowhere. You can’t build half a bridge, this makes no sense.
VAN ONSELEN: Hang on, let me take issue with that and get your reaction if I can. I mean the argument that he gave more broadly than that was that this Roe 8 will give you something like 12 kilometres of designated additional road space where otherwise these big trucks would continue to be ferrying freight to and from the port. It at least gets them off more congested road ways during that period and yes there is three kilometres to go where you join onto existing highways but it’s still better than what was there previously. And how do you account for Infrastructure Australia’s support if it’s so bad?
ALBANESE: Well Infrastructure Australia has been gutted by this Government. They’ve ignored its recommendations. When it was announced the Federal funding for this in the 2014 Budget it would appear that Tony Abbott got it out of a Wheaties packet. I was, of course, the Minister for the previous six years. Not once did the Coalition Government of Premier Barnett raise it with me as a viable project. Indeed it had been taken off the books. Roe 8 was deemed to be unsuitable because of the environmental damage it would cause and because it just didn’t stack up and because it’s a road part way to a port that’s at full capacity. It will be at absolute full capacity come the year 2022.
The issue here is planning for the Outer Harbour; for the port to the south of the current port and when you are channelling $1.5 billion into a road that doesn’t achieve its objectives, that doesn’t go to the port and that takes investment away from where it should be going, which is to the development of that Outer Harbour and at the same time you’ve taken money, which the Federal Government did, from money that was allocated for public transport in Perth, which is the big issue that’s needed to deal with urban congestion for a road that doesn’t stack up. It’s just a dud project. And Malcolm Turnbull is saying that he will hold the voters of Western Australia to ransom. That if Labor is elected in a couple of days’ time, what he will do is hold back that money and not make it available for WA infrastructure.
VAN ONSELEN: I don’t buy that. I think that’s just them playing politics. I think they’ll weaken at the knees on that, just like they did in relation to Victoria and Daniel Andrews in the aftermath of that election. But just back on Infrastructure Australia, is your point Anthony Albanese that this prioritisation of Roe 8 by Infrastructure Australia was by what – a newly stacked Infrastructure Australia, or a gutted, what do you mean by that? Isn’t it the same body that you left the Government that made that recommendation?
ALBANESE: It’s certainly not. It’s an entirely new board that’s been politicised. It’s a project that, in terms of Infrastructure Australia, they’ve cut their funding so they’re not able to do the detailed analysis that was there and it was announced before any submission had ever been made to Infrastructure Australia or to any other body for that matter and they’re still making it up as they go along. As Paul Fletcher said, on your very program, just two days ago, it will require, if this goes ahead further work because it doesn’t actually achieve its objectives. So this is a dud project. The fact is, it wasn’t submitted to Infrastructure Australia, and the process is pretty simple. You do your evidence and do your study first and get your business case then you make a decision and provide the funding.
This has happened the other way around. So they’re trying to retrofit a business case to make sense of a project that’s already been funded in 2014, three years ago. It’s no wonder that not much has happened because there was no business case, no environmental impact statement and one of the things they had to do is to change the WA legislation retrospectively so that this project stacked up by overriding the environmental considerations that had for a long period of time said that this project should not proceed.
VAN ONSELEN: Let me ask you about something to do with the GST. Now Colin Barnett has banged on about the need to do something about this ever since he became Premier particularly as receipts from GST per dollar slowly but truly dwindled for Western Australia. Mark McGowan has said the same thing. He’s argued that he will be forthright in trying to get a better share of the GST for WA. Do you support him in that move or do you look at this and think that this typical parochial West Australianism.
ALBANESE: No, I would expect that Mark McGowan, I know Mark very well, and he’ll be a strong advocate for the people of the West. He’ll be a strong advocate for infrastructure for Western Australia and for Western Australia to get its fair share. When we were in Government we had a specific Western Australian Infrastructure fund. We funded projects like Gateway WA, the widening of the Great Eastern Highway, the Swan Valley Bypass, the road to Port Esperance, the road down to Bunbury, the Great Northern Highway.
We provided funding for the Perth CityLink project to unite the CBD with Northbridge. At the moment the Federal Government basically have done not much at all. What they’ve done is name some projects that were already funded like the Swan Valley Bypass, call it Northlink and pretend it’s a new project. Well it’s not a new project, it’s a project that we funded with a new name and Colin Barnett seems to have just copped that. Mark McGowan will stand up for Western Australia and Western Australians deserve better than a Government that is out of touch, out of time and out of ideas. That’s what Colin Barnett’s Government is.
VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese, always appreciate you joining us on the program. Thanks once again.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.