Subjects; Cuts to Federal infrastructure budget; marriage equality
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government has today released its Final Budget Outcome for the financial year 2016-2017. What that shows is that the underspend when it comes to infrastructure investment under this Government is even worse than what was indicated at the time of the May Budget. These figures are the Government’s own figures, the Government’s figures it put in its budgets of 2014, 2015, and 2016, about what they said they would do on infrastructure investment. What we see over those first three budgets of the Coalition is a $3.9 billion underspend on infrastructure.
That has a real impact on issues like road safety when you have the Black Spots Program underspent. They said they’d spend $220 million; the actual spend is $105 million. Heavy vehicle safety, they said they’d spend $171 million, the actual spend is just $51 million. What that means in practice is that black spots around the country that should have been fixed, that had money in the budget to fix them, haven’t been done. What that means around the country is that heavy vehicle rest stops, providing an important break on those major national highways, that could have been built, that had money in the budget to build them, haven’t been built. And the Government’s response from Minister Chester yesterday was to say that we were playing politics with this issue. Well, Minister Chester needs to understand that this issue is serious; is serious to the tune of some $3.9 billion.
Now you hear a lot from the National Party, from Barnaby Joyce, as well as Darren Chester, about the importance of the cattle industry. Well here’s a program for you: Improving Cattle Supply Chains, allocated $35 million over the first three years, actual spend: zero, nothing, not a dollar on a program. Why do they have programs if absolutely nothing is happening in them? But that’s what we’ve seen across the board under this Government; a disgraceful performance, one that underlines the fact that they are not serious about infrastructure investment.
The Parliamentary Library has found that infrastructure investment will decline from 0.4 per cent as a share of GDP to 0.2 per cent over the next 10 years. It will be cut in half. That has a real impact on growth, and on jobs.
Just as these effective cuts of some $3.9 billion on the Government’s own figures. We’re not talking here about projects like Cross River Rail where they’ve cut out almost a billion dollars, or Melbourne Metro where they cut out $3 billion. This is the Government’s own figures, what they said they would do on top of the cuts that they’ve made to important projects, particularly to public transport projects. The Government stands condemned on its own figures. And if I was the Minister, frankly, I’d be considering my position if I’d performed this badly, year on year, for budget after budget, in terms of actually delivering on what commitments I’d made in the budget papers from the time that the Government was elected.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Just while we’re on these figures, by tying the spending to the national road toll, are you suggesting that the Government will have blood on its hands if this spending isn’t fast tracked?
ALBANESE: Well look what clearly is happening here, you look at the underspend. The Heavy Vehicle Safety Program is about safety. Supposed to spend $171 million; spent $51 million, a $120 million underspend. They’ve spent just a little bit under a quarter of what they said they would do. The Black Spots Program that targets projects, each one costs around about $160,000. It targets black spots; it targets by definition, the areas which are most dangerous. Northern Australian roads: they said they’d spend $100 million; they’ve spent $12 million. There are other programs like major road investment, there’s a $1.7 billion underspend. A lot of that is on major highways. The Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan has been underspent. Improving Cattle Supply Chains down to zero, not a dollar gone out the door.
The fact is that infrastructure investment is important to make a difference to productivity, but it’s also important in terms of road safety, and the Government just needs to get its act together. This isn’t just one year, if it happened one year you might think, oh well, they’re finding their feet. They’re now into their fifth year, effectively, of government, and we still find that all of these programs, on the Government’s own figures, they just haven’t got their act together.
JOURNALIST: Where do these unspent funds end up?
ALBANESE: They end up back with Finance and Treasury, back in Revenue. There’s no indication they’ve been brought forward, and programs increased in the future to make up for that, and when you’re talking about $3.9 billion, that is substantial. From time to time there will be a weather event that slows down work on a major project. We all understand that happens. But what should occur when that happens, if there’s a slowdown in one area, you increase the speed in another, where if you’ve got your act together and you’ve got your planning right, then you can do that, and what that does is make sure that jobs are continuing to be created, and that you’re getting that activity in public sector construction.
JOURNALIST: Aren’t they contributing to the budget bottom line?
ALBANESE: Well they certainly contribute to the reduction that the Government is talking about on its projected deficit. A pretty pathetic performance of course from the Government, whereby they’re out there proclaiming that somehow these are good figures, when in fact the deficit is three times higher than what Joe Hockey predicted it would be for this financial year, for 2016-17 when he brought down the 2014 Budget. And of course we’ve seen debt balloon out by some $147 billion on this Government’s watch.
JOURNALIST: The deficit isn’t lower than expected as you said, are you saying its not worthwhile if the road toll and things like that keep increasing?
ALBANESE: Well what I’m saying, clearly, is that the Government is not performing when it comes to infrastructure year after year. These are the Government’s own figures; this is a separate question from whether the Government should be funding Cross River Rail, from whether the Government should be speeding up investment on the Pacific Highway. I think both of those things they should be doing. We’re seeing a significant reduction, for example, in the current financial year compared with last, on investment in the Pacific Highway. These are the Government’s own figures, so on this they’re not even doing what they themselves said they would do.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about Frances Abbott’s contribution to the marriage equality debate?
ALBANESE: Frances Abbott is making this contribution as an Australian citizen. She has said herself that she wants to attend her aunt’s wedding, Christine Abbott, or Foster as she is now. I was on Sydney Uni SRC with Christine many years ago, and certainly, the fact is that so many Australians are touched directly by a friend, a relative, someone who they care about, and they want to see them be able to express that commitment that they have with their life partner in front of friends and family. Frances Abbott is just one of those people, she has expressed her views, she’s certainly entitled to do that independently of the views of other people in her family, and I certainly respect her contribution.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.