Subjects: Infrastructure; Gold Coast Light Rail; Islamic extremism; Malcolm Turnbull heckled; China-Australia Free Trade Agreement
CHRIS KENNY: Thanks for joining us Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Chris.
KENNY: I want to come to a few things about the way that the political dynamic has changed but first up, let’s stick with infrastructure. Your own Party through Bill Shorten and yourself were involved in the announcement, of a new infrastructure bank if you like.
We had Tony Abbott saying that he was the infrastructure Prime Minister and now Malcolm Turnbull is out there announcing new money for an infrastructure project that Tony Abbott wouldn’t fund. Why all this focus on infrastructure and spending money on infrastructure when we don’t have that money? This is all borrowed money that both sides of politics are promising.
ALBANESE: Infrastructure development is the key to future job creation and future economic growth. It’s an investment that produces a return by growing the economy.
You have to draw a distinction between capital expenditure and recurrent expenditure and it’s a good thing that this project was funded today.
Last Thursday when we announced our support for it, the Infrastructure Minister, who wasn’t present today I noted, said that none of these projects had been through the Infrastructure Australia process, none of them had business cases.
Of course they do, and this is a project that has been approved by Infrastructure Australia, the first stage that Malcolm Turnbull has ridden on has been a huge success.
It’s an example of public investment facilitating private sector investment as well as being a PPP, a public-private partnership, and its patronage figures have way exceeded what the forecast would be.
Unless construction begins in the early part of next year it wouldn’t have been ready for the Commonwealth Games. The funding for this is a saving from the Moreton Bay Rail Link that’s under construction that’s coming in under budget so it’s money that is available.
KENNY: So Labor is claiming credit for this one but it’s a big leap to say you invest in infrastructure, you get that money back through economic development, because that presumes that all your infrastructure spending is wise and whenever we get governments throwing large dollops of money around at infrastructure projects there’s great potential to invest in the wrong projects, into white elephants or to line the pockets of private developers who don’t need all that assistance anyway.
ALBANESE: You’re right Chris. That’s why we’ve been critical of the Government funding the East-West Link that produces a 45 cent return for every dollar invested, WestConnex without a proper business case in Sydney and the Perth Freight Link where they don’t even know where it is going to go and without a business case as well.
But this project has been assessed by Infrastructure Australia, this is one that will contribute to the success of the Commonwealth Games, that will improve the liveability of people who live on the Gold Coast but importantly for people who visit the Gold Coast they’ll make it a much more attractive place to visit and we know from stage one that it is hugely successful already which is why this is a very worthy project indeed. It’s been through all the proper processes.
What we say is, get the process right, do the business case and then if it does stack up that’s where the investment should go. But you’ve seen a 20 per cent decline in public sector infrastructure investment since the change of government.
What that means in the future is less economic growth because the 20 per cent decline combined with the fact that it’s to the wrong projects has meant that Tony Abbott’s promise of an Infrastructure PM has gone from bulldozers to bulldust.
KENNY: It’s a bit rough for you to talk about infrastructure funding going in to the wrong projects. When Labor was in power they spent what $16 or $17 billion, or even more, on school halls on every school around the country. That’s hardly productive infrastructure building.
ALBANESE: We got Australia through the Global Financial Crisis. We got Australia through the Global Financial Crisis by making investments that kept the construction sector going and kept confidence in the economy going.
In regard to nation building infrastructure projects we funded all 15 of the priority projects that were identified by Infrastructure Australia. Whether they be road or rail or light rail, we funded those projects.
KENNY: Yeah, well without rewriting history, that’s the point isn’t it, when you needed to spend money back in the GFC it would’ve been much more useful if it was been spent on ready to go national infrastructure projects that we knew were going to help the economic development of the country.
What I want to ask you too on this is that you’re focused on this, we’ve got Malcolm Turnbull focused on it as well, as was Tony Abbott in different areas but we’ve still got a budget deficit, we’ve got a debt problem in this country.
Both sides of politics say it needs to be constrained over the medium to long term but we’re going to see some sort of a political auction going on between now and election day about which major project, which big spends either party is going to promise.
ALBANESE: It’s a matter of making sure it’s the right expenditure, that’s the point here Chris. You have for example the Tony Abbott plan – a billion and a half dollars forwarded to the Victorian Government for the East-West Link not this financial year, not last financial year, but the financial year before that.
It’s been sitting in a bank account for a project that is a dud. What we need to do is identify the right projects, make sure investment is available, make sure also that we drive that private sector investment. What we announced with the infrastructure investment financing package on Thursday through Bill Shorten was a way that you can drive that private sector investment as well.
That’s something that we did in government with projects like the Gold Coast Light Rail Project, through projects like the F3 to M2 in Sydney, now known as NorthConnex, where $405 million in Commonwealth investment helped create nearly ten times that investment through the private sector and through the state government through that seed funding if you like, through risk mitigation, through that $405 million grant.
Now that’s a project very importantly connecting the F3 on the central coast to the major road network, the M7 and M2 in Sydney that will ensure it that bypasses a whole range of traffic lights, it improves productivity, it means that you can actually go around Sydney from Melbourne without hitting a traffic light.
It’s a critical project but it’s one that was talked about for decades, we put in place a structure to make sure it would actually happen and it’s under construction today.
KENNY: Alright, we are going to hear a lot more about this, bidding and outbidding by both major parties in the lead up to the election. I do want to change the topic and talk about this problem of terrorism that the country is confronting.
Can you please explain to me, Anthony Albanese, why on both sides of politics, both major parties, Labor and Liberal, politicians seem to find it so hard to call Islamism extremism by its name, to talk about jihadist terrorism or Islamist terrorism? Why is there so much pussyfooting around these issues, given that we have to deal with these issues, we have to talk about them, whether we are Muslim or non-Muslim or Christian or atheist. We are going to be talking about them for many years to come.
ALBANESE: We have to talk about it Chris and we have to call it for what it is. Clearly the murder that occurred the Friday before last outside Parramatta Police station of Mr Cheng, an innocent person going about his work business to pay for his family or look after his family was just an extraordinary crime.
And there is no doubt that the motivation of that was this bizarre form of Islamic extremism, that is something that is being promoted whether it be online, whether it be in prayer groups, or wherever it is being promoted it needs to be addressed.
We do need at the same time though, to make sure that people of Islamic faith are not blamed for the actions of criminals who are engaged in a distortion of Islamic faith.
The great monotheistic religions of the world all regard human life as being sacrosanct, but these people would destroy it and our way of life.
I’m certainly not frightened of calling it out. Friends I have in the Islamic community are just as concerned as other loyal Australians about these extremists who are doing things in the name of a religion that’s a complete distortion of that religion.
KENNY: Well I’ve got to say it’s a pleasure to hear you talk about this terrible issue in straight forward terms because what you’ve just said there is frank, is factual, is responsible and that’s exactly what I’ve been talking about. We’ve seen far too few politicians even prepared to mention that this is Islamic extremism.
We need to know about it, we need to talk about it because we need to confront it in our communities and through law enforcement and the rest of it for many years to come, so thank you for explaining it in those straight forward terms. Let’s switch now to politics, not so long ago you were a government, an opposition that was ahead in the polls.
You had a government you were up against that had been trailing in the polls for a long while with an unpopular Prime Minister. Now suddenly they’ve done a Labor Party, they’ve done a leadership change and you’ve got a popular Prime Minister leading the Coalition which is ahead in the polls.
How much does this change your attitude to parliament this week? Will you be going hard and aggressive at the Government or are we going to see a new tack from Labor?
ALBANESE: Well he wasn’t too popular at his own Party Conference Chris, this week I noticed, where he was the subject of absolute ridicule when he made the absurd statement that somehow the NSW Liberal Party was free of factions and they don’t do backroom deals and everything is all hunky dory.
KENNY: It was a strange statement as I said in the start … there’s no ego in the media or greed in business. But you of course were more popular in your party membership than Bill Shorten was so there’s no surprise there.
ALBANESE: Well why it’s significant, what occurred yesterday, isn’t the fact that a whole lot of the Liberal Party membership are very angry about what happened with the replacing of an elected first term Prime Minister.
What was significant from my perspective when I watched it last night on the news, a sort of train wreck speech, was the lack of judgement. Malcolm Turnbull, who superficially might be more attractive to some than Tony Abbott, once again showed his complete lack of judgement. If you don’t know what the audience is at a Liberal Party forum, if you don’t know …
KENNY: We’ll come back to this issue later in the program. What about from Labor’s point of view where you’ve been very aggressive, it’s been a very polarised political debate and now you’ve got a new popular Prime Minister who says he wants to get things done. Can we expect Labor to be more cooperative, more bipartisan for instance by backing your rhetoric about the Asian Century and support the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement?
ALBANESE: We’re not opposed to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
KENNY: But you’re holding it up.
ALBANESE: We haven’t held anything up. As you know, the agreement, the legislation for the agreement has just been brought forward. It hasn’t even been debated in the House of Representatives yet.
KENNY: But you’re threatening to hold it up.
ALBANESE: No. Commentators have been saying that. What we will do is present our amendments; they’ll be out there for all to see. We want to get this done. We believe this is in the national interest; we need to make sure it remains in the national interest and everyone can benefit from this agreement.
I support free trade. I support market based mechanisms and there is no doubt there can be a great deal of benefit from trade liberalisation but we need to make sure in terms of the details of the agreement that it’s got right and we’ll be doing that.
We’ll also be pursuing the Government where we think that it’s got it wrong, we’ll be pointing out I’m sure some of the contradictions between what Malcolm Turnbull has said in the past and what he is saying now. We’ll be pointing out the issues remain where nothing has changed.
Tomorrow I have national shipping legislation in my portfolio that would suggest the only way Australian shippers can survive is taking the Australian flag off the back of their ships, replacing it with a foreign flag and foreign workers, paying foreign wages.
We don’t think that’s in Australia’s interests. We’ll be pointing out that many of the problems with the Government stay exactly the same, all that’s happened is a different spokesperson.
KENNY: Alright Albo, thanks for joining us tonight. I appreciate your time.
ALBANSESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.