Dec 28, 2016

Interview transcript – Doorstop, Sydney

2016 Subjects: Infrastructure investment, Badgerys Creek Airport

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for joining me. Today the Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester on the ABC AM program repeated the Government’s big lie that it has a $50 billion infrastructure program put in place since the 2014 Budget. This is a classic case that if you repeat a statement enough, you think that people will eventually believe you. But it is simply not true. The Government is not investing in the railway lines, the roads and the ports and infrastructure that Australia needs and when the Budget went backwards in the September quarter in terms of economic growth, the indicator then was that the contribution of the reduction in public sector capital infrastructure investment was responsible for a 0.5 per cent reduction. What the figures that have been given to Senate Estimates show is that the Government plans to have expenditure of $34 billion between 2014 and 2019 and that into the never-never is an additional $8 billion at an unspecified time from 2019-20.   The Government continues to argue that it has a $50 billon program when that simply isn’t the case; when, in the last Budget and indeed in this year’s election campaign, they have refused to commit to a single new infrastructure project of any major consequence for the nation. And what’s more, it’s not even spending the money that it has allocated. It allocated $8 billion in the last financial year but spent $5.5 billion.   It hasn’t committed to new projects that are necessary like the Melbourne Metro, like the Brisbane Cross River Rail, like light rail in Adelaide or Perth METRONET or rail for Sydney’s second airport, to be opened on Day One. And what is worse is it has actually slowed investment in important projects for road safety like the Bruce Highway and Pacific Highway upgrades.   This is a Government that hasn’t got a plan for economic growth. You can invest in economic growth through two fundamental ways – investing in productivity through nation building infrastructure or investing in education, training and skills in order for people to make a better contribution to the economy. This Government is doing neither. And it’s no wonder that it is presiding over quite disastrous economic figures on its own watch and why they are constantly looking for excuses.   And on infrastructure it’s also the case that the Government is refusing to let the Australian public know which of the six ministers who have some responsibility for infrastructure in Australia; the Infrastructure Minister, the Regional Development Minister, the Northern Australian Minister, the Urban Infrastructure Minister, the Assistant Minister for Cities and the Prime Minister himself, are actually responsible for which specific parts of policy development. It is beyond belief that this is a national secret that the Government refuses to let Australians know. Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: One thing the Government has said that they will spend money on is the second Sydney Airport if the Sydney Airport doesn’t come forward and stump up the money. What do you think about that plan? We saw it in the paper today.

ALBANESE: Well it’s clear that the Government has done what it is required to do, which is to offer the first right of refusal to the existing operators of Sydney Airport, as it is obliged to do, due to the flawed legislation that was made by the Howard Government, when the Howard Government looked at the short-term, some short-term gain, in order to lose though the long-term opportunity of having competition between the airport operators between Sydney and Sydney West airport. The Government is saying, quite rightly, that if Sydney Airport does not take up the offer it has the option of; off budget it can be done through the creation of a vehicle, such as was created with the Moorebank Intermodal project, to build the infrastructure that’s required for Badgerys Creek Airport to be off and running and then it would be on-sold, or leased, to a private operator.   That is a prudent thing for the Government to prepare for and it is the case that the Government has required Sydney Airport to come up with an answer within four months about whether it will take up the first option. That is enough time for Sydney Airport to make a decision and it is prudent for the Government to put in place mechanisms to not delay because this needs to be a catalyst, not just a runway and a terminal, but a catalyst for economic growth and jobs in Western Sydney. There needs to be rail there from Day One. There needs to be a plan to have the aviation fuel supplied by pipeline.There needs to be work done on ensuring that the employment lands around Badgerys Creek Airport promote local employment as well. And there needs to be a local employment plan, including training for the people of Western Sydney, particularly young people to have opportunities in the industries that will develop as a result of Badgerys Creek Airport. So the Government has a one off opportunity; as a greenfield site, to get this right. It should get it right and we have been briefed appropriately by the Government and I look forward to working with the Government constructively to achieve the right outcome for taxpayers and the right outcome in terms of employment for the people of Western Sydney.

REPORTER: Just going back to what you were saying before about the Government misleading the people about its infrastructure spending, why do you think they are saying one thing and they are doing another, and what would you like to see changed?

ALBANESE: Well this is a case where the Government believes that if it repeats a statement enough, somehow people might believe it. This Government doesn’t have an infrastructure plan for the country. Malcolm Turnbull likes taking selfies on trains; he just won’t fund them. And there’s been a failure of the Government to fund important nation building projects like METRONET in Perth, Adelaide light rail, Western Sydney rail, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro project. All of those projects are worthy of funding by the national Government and Malcolm Turnbull has refused to do so. What they’ve done up to now is go and open projects like the Redcliffe Rail Line, like the South Road Superway in Adelaide, like the Gateway WA project in Perth, like the Regional Rail Link in Melbourne, and pretend somehow that they had something to do with those projects that were funded by the previous Federal Government and by State governments. They need to actually get on with planning now, or else what we’ll see is a dip in future economic growth and a dip in future productivity.