Apr 30, 2008

The Government’s new Major Cities Unit and relationship with local govt

Transcript of Press conference at WSROC

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

April 30 2008

Subject: The Government’s new Major Cities Unit and relationship with local government

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m addressing the Western Sydney Region of Councils. It is the body’s 35th anniversary this year, was created by the Whitlam Government, and I am here to announce in that tradition of Whitlam and also the Hawke and Keating Governments, that the Commonwealth will have a renewed engagement with our cities. The Rudd Government will create a major cities unit within the Department of Infrastructure, which will work with Infrastructure Australia to make sure that we address issues such as urban congestion, which is having a massive impact on residents in western Sydney, and in other parts of our major cities.

It is indeed a tragedy that many working families are spending more time commuting in their cars than they are spending at home with their kids. And we need a Commonwealth engagement in urban transport, in urban water provision, in urban infrastructure, in partnership with state and local government, to make sure that we deliver improved living standards and quality of life for people such as those who live here in western Sydney.

QUESTION: So are you announcing any funding today? Or just are working with this [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there will be further announcements down the track. What we are putting in place in the initial stages of the Government is the structural reforms that are required to drive those policy changes. The previous government withdrew completely from involvement of the Commonwealth in our cities. We are the most urbanised country on earth, and yet the Commonwealth said that its involvement stopped at the outskirts of cities, so that, for example, we had the AusLink program, which funded major national roads, but then which stopped when it got to the outskirts of cities.

Quite clearly, you can’t have a plan for transporting freight and people without having a plan that involves our major cities, particularly the growth areas such as here in western Sydney.

QUESTION: How do you plan to work with these groups?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we have received a very positive response today from the Western Sydney Region of Councils. We have received positive feedback, also, from state and territory governments. I will be meeting, later this week, with every state and territory transport minister at the Australian Transport council which I chair which is meeting in Melbourne on Friday. And part of those deliberations are how we get a more cooperative approach, how we make sure that we increase investment in our urban communities, how we address issues, be they issues of road or rail, be they transporting people or freight. And that we have a cooperative model which involves all three levels of government.

And local government, I know, is very keen in making sure that there is delivery of these important infrastructure needs.

QUESTION: Is this a pledge that the new Federal Government is going to spend more money on public transport and urban infrastructure here in Sydney?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well certainly, it wouldn’t take much to do more than the previous government has done. The previous government essentially abandoned infrastructure provision in terms of our urban cities, whether it be transport infrastructure, or whether it be community-based infrastructure. They were obsessed with only providing funds based upon political need.

What we say is that funding is required; in a cooperative manner, we want to sit down, and we already have, with state governments, and with local government, talking about what the needs are for infrastructure provision.

We have created Infrastructure Australia to do just that, to make sure that there is an assessment of what is required, not just in the coming year, but five, 10, 20 years down the track. That is what has been lacking in the past, that infrastructure planning.

QUESTION: You’re obviously a fairly experienced MP. What does your gut tell you needs to be fixed here in Sydney, and what would you like to see improved and upgraded?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well when I was here for the community cabinet meeting just a couple of weeks ago, with the Prime Minister and other members of the cabinet, after the invite from the new Member for Lindsay, David Bradbury, what became clear as I was talking to that gathering in response to questions was the issue of transport provision is of great concern.

We know that there is some examples of success, as well. The M7 Westlink is a great example of a public private partnership that has delivered for the people of western Sydney. But we know also that when I spoke about urban congestion there was a great deal of acknowledgement from around that room and, indeed, the cabinet colleagues have commented on the response that was there in that room to those comments.

So we want to engage with the people of western Sydney, including through their representatives in local government. They, as the government that is closest to the people, are in a good position to give advice to the Commonwealth. That is why we will also be establishing direct consultative mechanisms. We will be establishing the Australian Council of Local Government(*) so that local representatives can put forward their views, directly, to the Commonwealth.

QUESTION: So just to clear that up, you would like to see more public private partnerships, similar to the M7?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That is right. We think that there is a great deal of scope for improving the number of public private partnerships. We know that in the coming decade, Australia will need some $400 billion of infrastructure investment. Now, all of that isn’t going to be able to be provided by the Commonwealth. Much of that will be provided by the private sector.

And where appropriate, public private partnerships can ensure that projects can be brought forward and delivered in an efficient, timely, and cost-effective manner. And the M7 Westlink is a great example of that.

QUESTION: Would you like to comment on the leaflet scandal?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes. It is quite clear that what occurred here in Lindsay during the run up to the last election is a scandal of monumental proportions, and it goes to the heart of the cancer that is affecting the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party. We know that a similar pamphlet, aimed at dividing the community to secure political advantage, was distributed in Greenway just prior to the 2004 election. So we know there is form here from the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party, and it’s really up to Brendan Nelson as the Federal Leader of the Liberal Party, and a member of the New South Wales branch of the Liberals, to show leadership and take action to root out this cancer from the New South Wales Liberal Party once and for all.

Brendan Nelson has been very quiet on this issue, but as the Leader of the Opposition, he has to accept responsibility for the actions of those members of the party in which he leads.

QUESTION: That’s a very large allegation. Louise Markus won that seat, I think it was for the first time ever for the Liberals. It was the most marginal seat in New South Wales. To say that they won it by using pamphlets, that’s a very large allegation.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, in the run up to the election in the last days, there was a pamphlet distributed anonymously purporting to be, once again, from the Labor Party, in similar fashion to the pamphlet that was distributed in Lindsay, aimed at promoting political advantage for the Liberal Party based upon promoting racial division in the community.

Now, Brendan Nelson is the Leader of the Liberal Party. He knows that there is a cancer in the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party where extreme right-wing elements who are prepared to do anything and say anything in the lead up to elections have been promoted, and indeed are in control of key sections of the Liberal Party in New South Wales.

And you don’t have to rely upon the Labor Party for this information. Just ask John Brogden about what the Liberal Party and these elements do to elements of their own organisation who happen to disagree with their extreme views.