Subjects: Road infrastructure funding, remote communities, NT voter enrolment
WARREN SNOWDON: Welcome this morning, here we are with Albo, my good colleague and friend Malarndirri, and Luke from Solomon to make some really very important announcements around road infrastructure across the Northern Territory. Albo’s here to make that announcement so I’m going to slip to him straight away and then maybe we’ll make some more comments after. Albo?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much Warren and it’s great to be here with Warren, Malarndirri and Luke for what is a major infrastructure announcement in addition to things that are already in the pipeline. What we are announcing today is 10 new projects here in the Top End, in Katherine but also around Central Australia. These roads are about making a difference to the economy and job creation here in the North Territory. They’re also of course about road safety as well – better roads improve safety. So a $173 million package has been identified, really making clear what the priorities of an incoming future Labor Government would be. One of those is $20 million for the mango industry roads. What we see here today is a dirt road that damages fruit, that inhibits growth of this industry, and as well reduces job creation here in the Territory. This upgrade is sensible. Anyone who’s just seen the truck go past us will know the difference that it will make. This has been strong representation I’m told, going back to 1998, for this to be fixed. A future Labor Government will get it fixed. I’ll say something else about our approach towards investment in the Northern Territory: so many of the Government’s announcements that they’ve made are off in the never-never. What we’ll do if we’re elected is sit down with the Northern Territory Government to see how soon we can fix projects like this one here. We want to make a difference in our first term, not make announcements and then have construction starting in 2026 or 2027, which is what the current government seems to be obsessed by. It used to be that when budgets came down you’d make four-year projections. This government has had a sleight-of-hand, of making ten-year projections and not much at all in the initial period. So you’ve got to elect them, elect whoever leads them next time, whoever leads them the time after that, before you get to make a difference. This project is vital, along with other projects that we’re announcing today across the territory.
SNOWDON: Thank you. I’ll just make a couple of comments about some of the other projects. The $60 million for the Maningrida Ramingining Milingimbi area is really very important and for a lot of Territorians it’s a long way away, but we’re talking probably around five or six thousand people using those roads regularly, and it means accessibility for tourism ventures and a whole other range of business activity. I was at Numbulwar yesterday where I told the community that we were planning to do the Phelps Crossing. The Phelps is a river which separates effectively the road between Numbulwar and Ngukurr and for many months of the year, because of that crossing, Numbulwar is inaccessible. We started school holidays last Friday – school teachers, families have not been able to leave that community because of that crossing, unless they fly or catch a ferry across to Groote Eylandt. So that will make a substantial difference, and they think that’s really very important, as I do here. All the other road projects are also equally important. One other road I do want to mention is the Santa Teresa road: $35 million being promised here by Albo and the Shorten Labor Government if we’re elected. That will make a huge difference to Santa Teresa, and whilst there is still just 50 kilometres of unsealed road, this will go long way to completing that seal. That will impact upon the tourism industry in particular, but also service industries going to and from. There are people who travel daily from Santa Teresa into Alice Springs for business and other purposes. This will make a huge difference to the viability of business and to their opportunities. I’ll ask Malarndirri to make a few comments.
MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Thank you Warren. Firstly Albo, thanks. It’s great to have you here and it’s an important announcement, especially for our regions and as Warren says, Maningrida, Ramangining, Santa Teresa are critical. I just came back from Ramangining yesterday – really good news for the people there. Just out at Santa Teresa a couple of weeks ago and that road, as we always know, it’s the constant request we have. Driving from Alice Springs out to Santa Teresa, for the workers, for the families, for all the people there. And the safety aspect is really important. We know we have real concerns about road fatalities here in the Northern Territory, and to have those roads sealed like that from Alice Springs to Santa Teresa is a really important initiative and a very safe one. So here – vote Labor.
SNOWDON: Can I just finally make a couple of comments before introducing Luke? I think one of the things the story of this mango operation tells us, which is, I don’t think, properly realised either in the territory or elsewhere, is how important the rural area of Darwin is to our economy. If you think about it, we produce many times more product in the Northern Territory than the Ord River. When people talk about agriculture in the north, they defer automatically almost, to the Ord River. This part of the Northern Territory is the fastest growing part of the Territory in terms of the economy, but particularly in terms of agriculture, whether it’s mangoes or intensive horticulture, or broader-scale agriculture, these things are driving change in the Northern Territory. I don’t think that’s properly recognised. These roads which are being announced today, the $20 million for these four mango roads, will make a very material difference for the operation of the mango industry in the north of Australia, and it’s something which I really, really am thankful for. Luke?
LUKE GOSLING: Thanks Warren. I just wanted to really emphasise that his is yet a further example of how Federal Labor will support industries in the North Territory. We’ve heard too many promises over six years from the Coalition but it’s amounted to not much at all. We’re not only ready to govern, we’re ready to get behind great businesses in the Territory, give them the infrastructure that they need so that we can take an even more prominent and important position in our nation’s economy. We’re very proud to have Albo here to announce this funding, not only for this area, the rural area, but throughout the Territory, because it will make a real difference to a whole range of industries. Very proud to be here.
SNOWDON: Questions thanks.
REPORTER: To the Shadow Minister – there’s a full page ad in the NT News today from the Chamber of Commerce calling for $800 million in road funding to rebuild the Territory. $173 million pales in comparison to that, doesn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well this is in addition of course to previous announcements that have been made. So this is a substantial new commitment from Federal Labor. I met with my three local members here last night, with NT Industry. I’m someone who comes to the Territory on a regular basis. I sit down with industry, talk about the needs they have, and Malarndirri, Warren and Luke organise regular meetings both in Canberra and here to talk about how we can grow the Territory economy. This industry here for example is now worth $90 million, but with this investment today it can be worth much more. And that’s what it’s about – identifying what are the projects that can make a difference, that can really lift up the economy? Not for a day, or while the construction of the road is going on, but how you get that multiply impact. And certainly I look forward to working with industry, including the Chamber of Commerce, to grow the Territory economy. What Warren has just said is exactly right. I think that the opportunities which are here – one of the things we talked about last night was the fact that we are located right here, right next door to the fastest growing region in the world, not just at the moment – the fastest growing region in the world in human history, has not seen anything quite like what’s going on in the Asia-Indo-Pacific region, and so the Territory is ideally positioned to take advantage of that. But in order to do that we need to be smart, we need government to work with the private sector to facilitate that growth.
REPORTER: As far as I know the other announcements, and this announcement, wouldn’t amount to $800 million, so do you think it’s enough?
ALBANESE: This is a major announcement today of $173 million. If you ask any chamber around Australia, do they want more money, then the answer is pretty obvious, they will say yes. That shouldn’t be any surprise. You’d be worried about a lobby group that said that’s enough, because you know what it would do?
REPORTER: It’s more about being in touch with what people in the Territory…
ALBANESE: …You know what it would do? It would put them out of business if they did that. Job done, pack up, let’s go home.
REPORTER: A lot of people are concerned here about…
ALBANESE: That’s what they do. So what we will do, we have a major announcement here today, we’ll have funding that we’re prepared to bring forward, unlike what the Government is doing. We saw what they did with Kakadu – it’s unclear what the timeframe is for Kakadu, and the announcements that that have been made there, both in terms of road infrastructure but also for infrastructure that will ensure that Jabiru has a future., What Labor’s about is working with industry to achieve real, practical results on the ground. Today’s announcement is a great example of that.
REPORTER: Given the massive infrastructure deficit we do face here in the Northern Territory, Warren talking about people living in communities who can’t even get to the next one by road – should the Northern Territory therefore get a greater share than it’s currently getting of the GST funding?
ALBANESE: The Northern Territory needs to get its fair share and undoubtedly as well, what the Northern Territory needs as well is support for Infrastructure. When I was last the Minister you can actually have a look at what we did, not just what we say. When I was last the Minister, if you look at the infrastructure investment here in the Territory, we doubled investment, compared with the period of the Howard Government. Tiger Brennan Drive was a direct result of the initiative and funding of the Federal Labor Government – a critical piece of road infrastructure. We invested right around the Territory. We want to do more and we want to work with industry, but with these three advocates who I’m here with today I’m sure the Northern Territory will get its share. I feel like I know this mango industry pretty well, primarily because Warren and Malarndirri and Luke have spoken about it so often.
REPORTER: You talk about Tiger Brennan Drive, and this might be a question for Warren and Malarndirri as much as you Albo, but isn’t part of the problem historically in the Northern Territory that we’re spending all this money on roads like Tiger Brennan Drive in the city? Right now, I’m not sure if you’re aware, they’ve just built a new road next to Tiger Brennan Drive, Barneson Boulevard, so you’ve got two roads coming into the CBD and people in Numbulwar can’t even get to the nearest community. Do we need to re-assess where that money’s being spent in the Northern Territory, and should the Commonwealth play a role in making sure that money goes to the right place?
ALBANESE: Well, the Commonwealth should play a role in making sure it makes the right investments at the right time, in the right projects. I think we did that with Tiger Brennan Drive.
SNOWDON: I’ll just add the strategic roads – there’s a bit of historical context here. 1996, John Howard gets elected. Prior to 1996 there was a Strategic Roads program in the Northern Territory which was jointly managed effectively by the Northern Territory Government, industry, and local government. As soon as we were thrown out of office that program was canned, and so the bush roads which you refer to, just didn’t get funded. Just did not get funded. Now there’ve been some announcements from the current Government around roads through central Arnhem Land etc which we obviously agree with, but these smaller ones – the people of Numbulwar have been screaming about this crossing since the mid-1990s and indeed earlier. What we’ve been able to do, and I want to thank Albo for this, is we haven’t gone for funding new roads in Darwin or Alice Springs. What we’ve done is go to say, “Well what’s going to make a material difference to those many communities outside of Darwin who need road access in a timely and appropriate way, and don’t have to bugger their cars every time they drive on them?” Now this will make a great difference, so the Maningrida, Milingimbi, Ramingining area, it’s a monty, you know it’s really good. It’s a simple one, the Sandy Creek Crossing between the highway and Yarralin, that doesn’t sound like a lot, $3 million but it will make a substantial difference to the quality of life of the people who live in Yarralin. Simple. The roads which we’re putting extra money into, we’re putting $9 million into the road between Utopia and Ampilatwatja. I don’t know how many of you have been on those roads, probably not many, but I have often and that small section of road is really important because it links Ampilatwatja to a bitumenised, sealed airstrip, so emergency patients coming from Ampilatwatja clinic, if they need to get to the airstrip they’ll now be able to do it on a bitumenised road. That makes a substantial difference to the quality of life of the people in Ampilatwatja and around the region, the pastoralists who live around the region, because of that little bit of infrastructure. So we’ve been very targeted in our approach and the message is clear – Tiger Brennan Drive, all those infrastructure projects are very important for Darwin and we need to continue them, but at the same time we need to have eyes on another prize, that is looking after the interests of people living in remote communities.
REPORTER: Do you agree that historically we’ve prioritised those Darwin projects over ones where they’re perhaps more sorely needed? In the last few years we’ve spent $18 million on a new tennis centre in Darwin, $18 million on a new netball centre…
SNOWDON: …I think that’s a different argument. I think what we’ve got to talk about here is that Tiger Brennan Drive has made a substantial difference to the way in which this city operates and connects with Palmerston and the rural area and is good for business and good for the community. I don’t there’s any way you could denigrate the investment in Tiger Brennan Drive or the other road infrastructure that’s been invested in in Darwin. I think what we need to do is contextualise all this and to say, “Well the major urban centre for the Territory is Darwin, we need to make sure its road linkages, the port, all of those things are properly accessible. That means having good roads, we need to invest in them.”
REPORTER: Are you concerned about the low voter enrolment in the bush?
SNOWDON: Mate – you know, well I suppose you know. I’ve been extremely critical of this current Government for the way in which they’ve treated remote residents with absolute contempt. In the Northern Territory, as of about a month ago, only 67 per cent of Aboriginal people were enrolled, and that was AEC figures. In Western Australia it’s even less – it’s 63 per cent. So almost a third of those people who should be eligible to vote and on the roll and able to vote, which is a compulsory voting exercise at an election, are not on the roll. Now that’s a direct responsibility of the Federal Government who cut the AEC’s budget, relocated their staff out of Darwin to Brisbane. How the hell were they going to be able to do the work that was required on the ground to be able to get people enrolled? There’s been some belated ads on social media over the last week in 12 different languages which we commend. But it should have been done years ago. And that’s a direct responsibility of the Federal Government, and if the turnout is low because people aren’t enrolled, that is their responsibility.
REPORTER: These are voters, the majority of them would traditionally vote Labor. Do you think there’s been a deliberate effort to hamper your campaign in your seat, and are you concerned about the fact that you might be affected in your seat because of that low voter enrolment?
SNOWDON: Well you ask yourself the question. You’ve asked the question, now answer it yourself. Would you regard it as cynical political exercise if the AEC’s office was cut from 15 to four or five…
SNOWDON: … to three, and then not able to do the job it’s supposed to do in the bush? Answer it yourself.
REPORTER: I’ll ask another cynical question though. Is Labor’s concerted effort, which it’s doing now, to go around and enrol all these voters. Is that because you’re enrolling them and then telling them to vote for you at the same time?
SNOWDON: We’d be silly not to invite people to support us in an election campaign. But we’ve been out enrolling over a couple of years, let’s be clear. So we’ve had staff on the ground visiting communities enrolling people in small numbers, because we’ve got limited resources. But we do, absolutely do, because it’s the right of every Australian to be on the electoral roll and to vote, regardless of how they vote. We’d like them all to vote for the Labor Party. Well they won’t. But we do want them to vote, because that’s their right as Australian citizens in a democracy.
REPORTER: Just a question to Mr Albanese. The NT Government, as I’m sure you’re aware, is struggling with debt and deficit. They’ve called on the Commonwealth Government to commit $200 million of historical debt in [inaudible]. Is that something you’ll do if Labor is elected?
ALBANESE: Look, what we’ll do is sit down with the NT Government if we’re successful. What I won’t do is make promises on the run without going through proper economic accountability. That’s one of the things we are doing as an Opposition that contrasts with what the current Government did, that was elected of course on a platform with “no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC, no cuts to infrastructure”. And of course, we saw the opposite happen. Quite clearly, the NT Government needs support. So one of the things that we’ve been talking with them about is how to support them on infrastructure such as this, how to support them on tourism, with my Tourism portfolio. And we’ll make further announcements today and during the Election campaign. Bill Shorten I’m sure is visiting here pretty soon. We’ll have more announcements to make. But what we won’t do is make glib announcements. Our announcements will be considered.
The work in this package has been the subject of consideration by Warren and Malarndirri, in particular with the responsibility for the non-Darwin section of the Territory, and of course, Luke as well. They’re considered announcements, they’re right, they’re properly costed, and they’re the right projects. We take that approach, that rigour to policy development. I think that is one of the reasons why we are ready for Government. You’ve just seen Warren Snowdon outline in detail, in far greater detail than I could, exactly what the impact of these investments are. That’s the sort of representation the Territory needs, and that’s why he should be re-elected as the Member for Lingiari.
REPORTER: Luke Gosling last week pledged a Territory support plan from the Federal Labor Government. What exactly does that mean?
ALBANESE: Well that’s a question to Luke.
REPORTER: Sorry Luke. I mean, is there any further detail on that?
GOSLING: I think you’re hearing it right now. Part of the package of support for the NT is what you’re hearing about this morning. Our industries need support. Sealing these roads not only helps our communities, but it helps our industries. We’re seeing that with the mango industry right here. So this is part of a package of support, and there’ll be more that we announce between now and the Election.
REPORTER: Just to be clear – it has nothing to do with bailing out the Territory Government, or helping bailing it out?
GOSLING: They’re your words. What I’m saying is that the Territory has always done better when Federal Labor is in Government – always. And what we’re demonstrating, day after day, is our commitment. I’ve personally already made six announcements for Darwin and Palmerston. We’re here out in the rural area, showing our absolute commitment to see the Territory going forward. That means jobs, and that means supportive industries that are going to build our economy for the future. That is what a supportive Federal Labor Government will do.
WEDNESDAY, 17 APRIL, 2019
MEDIA INQUIRIES: MATTHEW FRANKLIN 0411 659 868
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.