Subjects; Cross River Rail, Barnaby Joyce, Coalition infrastructure underspend
ANTHONY ALBANESE: (Audio interrupted) Queenslanders voted at the end of last year and they voted overwhelmingly in South-East Queensland to re-elect the Palaszczuk Government where funding for the Cross River Rail project and whether it should proceed was a major election issue.
What we’ve seen is a decline in infrastructure investment here in Queensland and nationally from the Commonwealth Government. In the Mid-Year Economic Forecast there was a further cut of some $1 billion from the Government’s own projections, which they made just in May. So a cut from $8 billion to $7 billion. That brings the cuts over the Coalition’s first four budgets to some $4.8 billion less in actual investment from the investment that they themselves said when they released their budgets.
In Queensland, that figure is $1 billion less than what they themselves put in their budgets when they made their announcements and released papers on Budget night. What that means is a billion dollars that could have already been put into the Cross River Rail project, or a billion dollars to make improvements on the Bruce Highway.
Over the coming decade, the Parliamentary Budget Office, independent of politics, has said that the infrastructure share of the economy in terms of investment will decline by half from 0.4 to 0.2 per cent. What that means is less jobs and less economic growth. It also means bad outcomes for road safety because as the investment declines, roads aren’t able to be maintained and new, safer roads with dual carriageways aren’t able to be built.
So Barnaby Joyce must step up. He says he cares about Queensland; what he’s got to do is invest in Queensland and the test for him over coming months is to show that investment is there in the 2018 Budget. There’s another test for Barnaby Joyce as well, which is that over the last four years we’ve seen, after year after year of decline in the road toll, we’ve seen an increase. Barnaby Joyce should immediately convene the Transport and Infrastructure Ministerial Council, sit down with his state and territory ministerial counterparts, the Labor Opposition federally would be more than happy to sit down and participate to work out why it is that after decades of decline we’re seeing more and more tragedies on our roads and that has been exacerbated by this Christmas/New Year period. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Albo, we’ve seen the problems in regional Queensland with a lot of people not happy with their share of construction. I’m glad you mentioned the Bruce Highway. Do you think that regional Queensland has been forgotten about?
ALBANESE: What’s happening is that the Government has made commitments about spending at Budget time and then not invested. So regional Queensland needs that investment. When we were in office, we more than quadrupled the amount of investment into the Bruce Highway after years of neglect. Some $1.3 billion was invested under the Howard Government over twelve years. We put $6.7 billion in during our six years of office and you saw that improvement in areas like Cooroy to Curra, in areas like the Townsville southern and northern approaches, around the Mackay ring-road where we began the funding for that project, the southern approaches to Cairns. We saw those improvements in the Warrego Highway, but what we need to do is make sure that that investment steps up, which is why it is so outrageous that the Government has underspent on its own figures what itself said it would spend by some $1 billion in Queensland alone out of that $4.8 billion underspend over its first four budgets.
JOURNALIST: Regional Queenslanders listening to you right now, watching you, what’s your message, what’s your sales pitch to them on why $5.4 billion should be spent on the Cross River Rail project?
ALBANESE: The fact is that we need investment in South-East Queensland and in regional Queensland. We need to step up the investment on the Bruce Highway. We need to step up the investment on the Warrego, like we did when we were in office. Projects like the Townsville ring-road only occurred because of a Federal Labor Government being in place. And they are important projects. But so too is urban congestion important, to drive productivity.
The Cross River Rail project is vital because you need a second rail crossing here. It’s not just about Brisbane; it also is about the capacity of the network on the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. It’s about productivity, it’s also about getting cars off our roads and getting people onto public transport, that increases road safety and reduces the health budget.
What we know is that public transport investment over a period of time pays for itself, because it produces a return to the economy through those productivity benefits. That benefits all Queenslanders. So I think what we need is a Government that is committed to both regional communities, but also to communities here in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast.
JOURNALIST: Albo, the average punter probably doesn’t doubt Labor’s commitment to infrastructure, but what about your general commitment to spending? You saw the deficit last time you guys were in power rise quite dramatically, how can we stop that?
ALBANESE: What we’ve seen under this Government is the deficit blow out massively. We’ve seen the debt increase by hundreds of billions of dollars under this Government. We’ve seen this Government lift the debt ceiling. The fact is that it is this Government that hasn’t been able to deal with a sensible economic outcome. We delivered the response to the Global Financial Crisis with lower deficits than what this Government has been able to deliver when we’ve had, essentially, global economic sunshine.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask your thoughts on ousted politicians being appointed to plum jobs as advisors? Pauline Hanson has appointed Malcolm Roberts and Steve Dickson, while there’s rumours Barnaby Joyce will have Fiona Nash as his Chief of Staff.
ALBANESE: Merit has to come into play when it comes to appointments to jobs as advisors. Malcolm Roberts was a dismal failure as a Senator, came up with all sorts of very strange ideas and theories around climate change and other issues. I think that Pauline Hanson would be well served by thinking very carefully about merit in appointments. Barnaby Joyce needs to do the same. He needs to be on top of his portfolio. He’s got major challenges.
We’ve got skills shortages in the aviation sector that have been identified in terms of pilots and engineers. We’ve got the issues of road safety. We’ve got ongoing challenges of dealing with urban congestion. We’ve got the issue of road safety, particularly in our regions. We’ve got issues of making sure that more freight gets off our roads and onto rail. There are major challenges with regard to the maritime sector in this country, making sure that the Australian flag continues to have a presence on the back of Australian ships with Australian seafarers on those ships. Barnaby Joyce needs to deal with all of that and at the same time he appears to be distracted by the internal machinations of his divided party.
JOURNALIST: Just overseas, are you concerned by reports that China is breaking sanctions (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Look I’m not going to respond, frankly, to every one of President Trump’s tweets. I think it would be a really good idea if foreign policy was done on the basis of fact and on the basis of very careful consideration of comments and therefore, I think I’ll await to see what the facts are. Very clearly, there’s a bipartisan position with regard to North Korea and with the need for sanctions to be imposed on what is essentially a rogue and dangerous state.
JOURNALIST: Is it acceptable that Australian workers are forking out $83 a week, or three hours work, to fund Australia’s increasing welfare budget?
ALBANESE: When you look at the actual facts, the largest component in that is the age pension. Now I support the age pension being paid to people who’ve made a contribution to this nation for their entire working lives. And we need to be very careful, I think, that we give respect to our older Australians who’ve helped make this nation the greatest one on earth. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.