Subjects: Townsville Ring Road opening; Badgerys Creek Airport; Malcolm Turnbull’s $2.5 billion infrastructure underspend.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Firstly can I say it’s fantastic to be here with Cathy O’Toole, the newly elected Member for Herbert at the opening of this final stage of the Townsville Ring Road. I’m very proud to be here as the person who signed the agreement for this section of the road in June, 2012. It was funded, the $160 million from the Federal Government, was put in our 2012 Budget and it’s a part of the commitment that we had here to upgrade roads in Northern Queensland and particularly in the Townsville region – the Port Access Road, the Douglas Arterial, the Ring Road – all funded by the former Federal Labor Government, who put record funding into the Bruce Highway and into Queensland’s roads when we more than doubled the roads Budget.
That has a good impact in terms of jobs but it also has a good impact in terms of road safety. Five thousand trucks taken off local streets because of this ring road. A thousand jobs created as a result of this construction project. And it is a great opportunity I’ve had in the visit that I have over the next two days with Cathy to Townsville. We’ll be visiting Palm Island and having meetings about infrastructure and the needs of this great city today. It’s a great opportunity the fact that I have been able to be here at the completion of a project that we began when we were in government.
REPORTER: In a spirit of bipartisanship, would you like to like comment on that the fact that it started under the Gillard Government and the fact that is has now finished ahead of time under a different government?
ALBANESE: Well its a good thing that this project got funded. What we need from the current government is not just opening projects that were funded by the former government; we need them turning sods on new projects and it’s been disappointing that in the Government’s own Budget allocations from the 2014 Budget, there has been an underspend in the last financial year of $114 million less than was actually allocated for the Bruce Highway for example.
What we need to do, and all the economic commentators are saying, as the resources sector moves from the investment to the production phase, we’ve had a drop off in infrastructure investment and that’s why the Commonwealth Government should be stepping up its investment, not having as we saw in the last financial year, $8 billion budgeted for infrastructure investment in 2015-16, but only $5.5 billion actually spent. So an underspend of more than one in every three dollars occurred in the last financial year. What we need to do, because projects are long-term, if the projects aren’t being commenced now then you won’t have openings in a few year’s time and that’s why the Government needs to step up its infrastructure agenda.
REPORTER: If you think there is an underspend do you have any examples of where you would like to see the money in North Queensland?
ALBANESE: Well they should be spending the money that has been allocated for the Bruce Highway, for example. They should be investing in road and rail projects right here in North Queensland. We had upgrades right up and down the Bruce in this section, but there’s more can be done and what’s more it shouldn’t be the case that you have $8 million in the Budget but you only invest $5.5 billion. What that shows is a lack of preparedness to actually invest and you create jobs and you boost the economy when you invest, not when you say you will invest. It needs actions, not words, from the Commonwealth Government when it comes to infrastructure.
REPORTER: Speaking of actions not words, it looks like Badgerys Creek’s got the go-ahead. What’s your reaction to that. Fifty years of stalling and now it’s gone through?
ALBANESE: Well, Badgerys Creek Airport has the potential to be an economic gamechanger for Western Sydney, but also for the national economy and what we need in terms of Badgerys Creek though is to make sure that we get it right. We need to have public transport access from day one that the airport opens. That’s important because Badgerys Creek needs to be not just a terminal and a runway; it needs to be a catalyst for jobs and economic growth in Western Sydney and for the nation. Because four in every 10 flights around Australia go through Sydney, it is a national economic issue and that’s why we need to make sure that the rail is there. We need to make sure that the economic benefits are maximised, whilst the environmental impact is minimised. And we can do that, for example, by making sure that no communities are flown over at night and that’s possible because of the protections that were put in place around Badgerys Creek Airport by the Hawke Government way back in the 1980s. So we need to make sure that the economic benefits are maximised, but the environmental impact is minimised.
REPORTER: Is the answer for Malcolm Turnbull to undertake stimulus packages like Kevin Rudd did to kick start the economy again?
ALBANESE: Well Malcolm Turnbull needs to get serious about infrastructure. We know that there are projects that are ready to go that he cut funding from when they came to office after the 2013 election – so projects like the Cross River Rail project; projects like the Melbourne Metro; projects like light rail in Adelaide, Metronet in Perth. All of these projects are ready to go. The upgrades to the Pacific and Bruce Highway could be both stepped up instead of them having an underspend on both of those projects.
So Malcolm Turnbull I think needs to have an economic plan, rather than just a three word slogan and the key is investing in infrastructure, but also investing in people. Thanks.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.