Subjects – Infrastructure spending, Budget, Qantas
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today I’ve just come from the opening of the Woomargama Bypass. This is a project that began in February 2010 and today is open for traffic. On 15 November – next week – the Tarcutta Bypass on the Hume Highway also will be open for traffic. And on the 13 November there’ll be an open day so that the community can walk along what will be this very new stretch of fully duplicated highway. That leaves just one project to go – the Holbrook Bypass of which work is underway. This Government will ensure that the Hume Highway is fully duplicated. It’s taken far too long governments to do this, but today’s opening – fully funded by the Federal Government. The Tarcutta Bypass, open next week, fully funded again by the Federal Government. And of course the Holbrook Bypass, when it opens in around about a year’s time if we can get it brought forward and the work can be done, that will be a great day when the Hume Highway is fully duplicated. The road between Australia’s two major cities – Sydney and Melbourne. Good for economic productivity but also good for road safety. This Government is investing in our nation. We have doubled the roads budget, increased the rail budget by more than ten times, and committed more to urban public transport than all governments combined from Federation right through to 2007. But we recognise it’s not just about investing funds. It’s also about getting the policy settings right. As much as this Government has committed to infrastructure, we recognise we need to mobilise private sector and superannuation investment into infrastructure. That’s why tomorrow I’ll be speaking at the Infrastructure Financing Conference hosted by Infrastructure Australia in Sydney.
We’ve set up an infrastructure finance working group that’s looking at ways to mobilise private capital and investment funds into the productive side of the economy. And combined with the measures we put in the Budget this year, this will go a long step forward. We’re also engaging in regulatory reform. And last Friday, all of Australia’s Transport Ministers approved the legislation that will go before the Queensland Parliament next week for a Heavy Vehicle Regulator and the legislation that will go before the South Australian Parliament before the end of the year for a Rail Safety Regulator. We’ll be introducing legislation for the Single Maritime Regulator in March into the National Parliament. These three reforms, moving from 23 transport regulators down to three, will boost our national economy by $30 billion over 20 years. This is nation building reform. So whether it’s a micro-economic reform getting the regulation settings right, cutting red tape, or whether it be the investment into nation building infrastructure, this Government has a big agenda. And it stands in stark contrast to our opponents who we’ve seen, with the issue of superannuation today, are once again in a policy shambles. Making commitments that they have no money to pay for and literally all over the shop whereby they can’t even trust each other in terms of their senior Shadow Ministers. How can the Australian people trust them to deliver on these big economic and infrastructure issues?
QUESTION: Minister, have you had any indication that your portfolio could face budget cuts with the Treasurer Wayne Swan announcing his decision today?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re all in a position, in terms of a tough Budget coming up, whereby we’ll go through our Expenditure Review Committee and our budget processes. I reckon as a Minister it’s probably best I discuss these things with the Treasurer rather than with your good self and that will improve the chances of me coming out of the Budget process with a better position.
QUESTION: And is their room in your portfolio…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: [Interrupts] I discuss Budget measures around the Budget table. That is as you would expect. I’m very confident though in terms of this Government’s commitment to nation building infrastructure is vital. One of the things that we’ve found about our investment in major projects is that for every dollar committed to major nation building infrastructure it’s returned to the economy by more than three times. That’s what the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics has found over our 158 major road projects and our major rail projects. So this is vital. This is vital nation building infrastructure which is why I also find it extraordinary that the Opposition have back flipped, it would appear, on superannuation. Although, who knows where that’ll end given that they seem to be in disarray. But they’re also not back flipping over the Regional Infrastructure Fund which is a part of the mining – the MRRT legislation. The MRRT will ensure that we can have nation building infrastructure into our regions, those regions that are under pressure directly because of the mining boom. We know that those communities, particularly in Western Australia, Queensland and the Hunter and the Illawarra, are under pressure because of the mining boom. We recognise that which is why we’ve put in the place the Regional Infrastructure Fund. We’ve announced a number of projects already of which that fund would be able to go towards, alleviating, building those big major productivity benefits on road, rail and ports. And yet, the Opposition seem to be dismissing that. They’ve already got a $70 billion black hole. I reckon when the pressure’s on are they really going to abandon and make a savings project such as the study in the Mackay Ringroad; the work that’s been planned on the Bruce and Warrego Highways; the work that’s planned around the WA Gateway Project – we’ll wait and see.
QUESTION: Would you expect the Finance Minister to be involved in discussions about superannuation as part of a leadership discussion on issues like that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly would. I find it extraordinary the lack of confidence that the Opposition have in their own finance spokesperson. Perhaps of course, it was Mr Robb who gave that rather sensational press conference interspersed with vision of his staffer during the last election campaign. It was also Mr Robb who confirmed the $70 billion black hole in the Opposition’s funding. Of course that’s very soft because what isn’t added in there is the other fly-by-night commitments they’ve made off the top of their head to fully duplicate the highway between Melbourne and Adelaide and other commitments that they’ve made. So, it is extraordinary that they would exclude the Finance Shadow Minister from such a critical discussion. I would have thought that he was the first person who you’d want invited to such a discussion along with the Shadow Treasurer.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with this announcement that Qantas has made to offer free flights to those customers that were affected by last week’s grounding?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s a matter for Qantas. But can I say this? That I’m pleased when passengers and customers are given any support by any airline. So, it’s a good thing when that occurs but as for the individual judgements of course that’s a matter for individual airlines themselves.
QUESTION: Are you being kept up to date on how the negotiations are going between Qantas and the unions? And how confident are you that this can be achieved without arbitration?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’ve certainly had discussions with Qantas and with all of the unions. I remain available to provide whatever assistance that I can in terms of assisting discussions. I’m very hopeful but it’ll be a matter of goodwill and I think that all of the parties need to recognise that they have a common interest. Qantas management and its workforce have a common interest in a successful company and successful outcomes of these negotiations. And I’d call upon all the parties to negotiate in good faith over coming days. Otherwise, of course, Fair Work Australia will determine the outcome.
QUESTION: Is there a need for a Cabinet reshuffle?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, that’s a matter for the Prime Minister. Last time I looked that wasn’t the responsibility of the Infrastructure Minister. Not even the responsibility of the Leader of the House. I get to decide where people sit in the House is the extent of my ability to intervene on these matters.
QUESTION: Would you like to keep your portfolio’s of transport and infrastructure?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh look, this is a hypothetical question based upon as much as previous reports have been in past days. I’ll tell you what I’m concentrating on. I’m concentrating on the job that I have. I’ve today – flew to Albury, drove up to Woomargama, had a fantastic event with the local community, the workforce.
This project created 350 jobs. The Tarcutta Bypass will open next week with 300 jobs. That’s 650 jobs directly in a regional community, many more than 1000 if you count the indirect jobs that would’ve been multiplied by that. And it occurred at a time when there was a Global Financial Crisis.
It’s this sort of nation building infrastructure that has made our economy strong which stands in stark contrast to what was occurring in other parts of the world. When other parts of the world were seeing millions of jobs literally being shredded, here in Australia we were creating jobs and creating a long lasting benefit for the community. Thanks very much.