Subjects: Inland Rail Project, Barnaby Joyce, Clive Palmer
KIERAN GILBERT: Let’s go live to senior Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese; your take on this? Are you encouraged by the numbers to the extent that there looks like there has been a swing out there? It just depends on how many seats that those sorts of numbers result in, Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Keiran, what we’re focused on is campaigning each and every day in our respective portfolios. Bill Shorten as the Labor leader will again be in Queensland today. He had a major announcement yesterday about our Regional Tourism Fund and our support for jobs in regional Australia through growth in tourism. Today I have already made an announcement about an inquiry into the Inland Rail debacle and the Government’s handling of that, particularly the role of Barnaby Joyce when he was the Infrastructure Minister. Later this morning I’ll be on the Central Coast of NSW announcing our National Bike Fund which will be the largest ever contribution to support for bike paths. There’s three fantastic proposals around Lake Macquarie on the Central Coast that will really provide a way for people to get access to work and recreation, but also I think will become over a period of time a big tourist attraction there. I’ll be with Emma McBride and our other candidates Anne Charlton and Pat Conroy this morning.
LAURA JAYES: This Inland Rail inquiry that you’ve announced this morning – why is it necessary? And do you concede that you perhaps made mistakes last time you were in Government?
ALBANESE: No Laura, what we did was support the Inland Rail Project and we provided money for the existing corridor. It’s 1700 kilometres, of which 1100 is about straightening and fixing the existing tracks. Six hundred kilometres of greenfield sites including between Narromine to Narrabri and some in the Southern Darling Downs as well. This morning I’ll be standing up with the head of the NSW Farmers Association and we’ll be saying that we’ve listened to what farmers in the agricultural sector are saying about the Government’s mishandling of the selection of the route. There’s a whole range of issues that require a public inquiry so that there’s full transparency. The Government’s allocated some $8.4 billion of equity funding for a project that at the moment doesn’t actually go to a port. It stops at Acacia Ridge, 38 kilometres short of the Port of Brisbane. It doesn’t go to the Port of Melbourne either. It goes through some prime agricultural land without giving proper consideration of whether pre-existing rail corridors should have been used. People in those Western NSW and Darling Downs communities are saying very loudly that they haven’t been listened to. This is typical of Barnaby Joyce’s period in Government as a Minister. This is a bloke who wants to come back as the Deputy Prime Minister if the Government is re-elected. There’s the debacle about water, where he and Angus Taylor have real questions to answer. Barnaby Joyce gave an interview yesterday afternoon to Patricia Karvelas. I don’t think he’ll be doing any media again for some time because that was a complete train wreck. This project, the financing of it, the decision-making process is a problem as well.
GILBERT: You say there are questions that need to be answered. Specifically, what are the details of those questions that need to be answered? Because Barnaby Joyce last night, while it wasn’t probably the smoothest of interviews I think is an understatement, but he’s basically saying that it was an arm’s length. I think if you drill it down his answer was, it was at arm’s length from him. It was his Department that decided that the buyback framework.
ALBANESE: The question here that needs to be answered is, exactly what was the process? Of course we know about Barnaby Joyce and his relationship to Departments. Just have a look at Paul Grimes’s resignation letter as Secretary of a Department and you get a real insight into a concern that a senior public servant had about integrity issues, to quote him. And Mr Joyce, we have here circumstances whereby a company based in the Cayman Islands has got more money for a water buyback than they were asking for, it would appear. When the documents were given to the Senate they were largely redacted and that’s why Labor’s saying that the full documentation needs to be made public. This is public money and it is reasonable that there be full public transparency on this, and then people can make up their own minds, just as there needs to be full public transparency about the process around the funding, the decision making, and the route selection of the Inland Rail Project.
JAYES: A couple of points to make about the water buyback though, the deal that was eventually struck was for less money than the company wanted. Do you expect that a Minister in Barnaby Joyce’s situation should have asked who was profiting and whether it was a Cayman Islands-based company? He argues that he followed the procurement guidelines, so if he did, are you saying the guidelines need to change?
ALBANESE: What I’m saying is Laura, before you can determine exactly the probity issues here you need to have all the information and the Government is sitting on some of that information, which is why Labor…
JAYES: …You’re making some pretty strong accusations without having all that information.
ALBANESE: Labor wants for that information to be made transparent and that is not unreasonable. Paul Grimes’s letter is out there for all to see, Laura, and you will well recall it’s quite extraordinary for the Secretary of a Department to resign and in a resignation letter talk about integrity issues and having essentially, a lack of confidence in the Minister.
GILBERT: Can I ask you to go back to where we started on the polling? Are you surprised that Clive Palmer has been able to buy back a bit of popularity given what a debacle he was last time he was in Parliament?
ALBANESE: It was a debacle, and what’s more of course, his attitude towards the workers in Townsville was quite outrageous and I think people need to be very clear about voting for these fringe parties and be clear that they won’t necessarily get what they think they’re voting for. We know that with these fringe parties what has happened is that senators have been elected and then they’ve resigned, become Independents, joined other parties, have had all sorts of moving chairs in the Senate. It was hard to keep up with who was a member of where, during the last term of office, I’ve got to say, and the irony of Clive Palmer and where his money is coming from, to fund this advertising campaign, that is speaking about having a concern about foreign investment in Australia, is quite frankly breathtaking.
JAYES: Absolutely. And just a yes or no question – will Labor do any deals with him?
ALBANESE: That’s above my pay grade. What we’re concerned about is having primary votes for the Labor Party. We’re campaigning very hard right around the country. Yesterday I was in Gilmore and MacArthur and Cunningham and Whitlam. Today I’m going from here up the coast to the Central Coast, and then I’ll be making a major Pacific Highway announcement with Meryl Swanson at Hexham. And then I’m launching Sharon Claydon’s campaign in Newcastle tonight. So we’re all getting on with our job right around the country, advocating a vote for Labor because if you want certainty and stability you need a majority Labor Government to get rid of the chaos which is there both within the Liberal Party, within the National Party, and between the Liberal and the National Party at the moment.
JAYES: Okay, Anthony Albanese, thanks so much. We are right out of time.