Issues: Pacific Highway Duplication; Queensland Election; The Greens
QUESTION: Minister, the Premier today has said that – has basically criticised you in terms of moving to a 50/50 split in the funding for the Pacific Highway, and says the deadline’s now in jeopardy as a result.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what the Premier [Barry O’Farrell] needs to do as he approaches his first anniversary in government is recognise that he’s now the Government, not the Opposition. We’re asking nothing more and nothing less than what he committed to do prior to his election to government in NSW one year ago.
Prior to him gaining government, not just himself, but his deputy [Andrew Stoner] and others who are now ministers and senior members of the O’Farrell Government, made clear commitments about the Pacific Highway. Since then, they’ve attempted to walk away from them.
The facts are these: the Federal Government has committed $4.1 billion to upgrade the Pacific Highway. The former Howard Government committed just $1.3 billion. When the Howard Government introduced its AusLink program, it made clear that they expected 50/50 funding between the Commonwealth and the State Government to upgrade the Pacific Highway.
Now we’re doing more than our bit. All that we’re asking is that the NSW Government put their money where their mouth was before the election, and commit to this upgrade.
QUESTION: So is $2.3 billion – are you saying – where does money – this figure Barry O’Farrell’s floating; you’re saying it’s a lie?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have no idea where he is plucking this figure from. The fact is that we’ve committed $4.1 billion. At the last budget we committed another $1 billion. Of that, some was from another program, but some of it, $750 million, was committed on the basis that the State Government would match it.
He’s got to recognise that he’s the Premier, and these silly political games have to end.
This is the only state government that can’t seem to negotiate basic arrangements with the Federal Government. Now that he’s been in office for more than a year, it’s about time he delivered on his commitments and got serious rather than just try to blame someone else.
QUESTION: Well drivers want to know a simple thing: is the 2016 deadline now in jeopardy?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ve written to the State Government outlining a timetable in which the full duplication can occur by 2016. The Premier and many others in his Government are on the record as saying they were also committed to that timeframe.
That timeframe is achievable. He should put the dollars in, as well as the Federal Government putting additional dollars in, to get this done.
QUESTION: He says that traditionally, it was 80/20.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that’s just nonsense. Go and have a look at the figures.
When the Howard Government was in office, they spent $1.3 billion. The State [Labor] Government during that same period spent $2.5 billion. So go and have a look at what the figures say. They’re all there in the budget papers.
What has occurred in recent years is that the Federal Government, particularly in terms of our Economic Stimulus Plan, has put in extra money. For example, the Kempsey Bypass is fully Federally-funded; not one cent of State Government money.
State Government ministers are happy to use projects like this as photo opportunities. What they really need to do is back that up with funding.
QUESTION: If the State Government doesn’t go half/half with this, is the 2016 deadline in jeopardy?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There’s no doubt that the State Government has to do their fair share if this joint objective is to be met.
QUESTION: So it is in jeopardy, Minister?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There is no doubt that the State Government has to do their fair share. What they should do is stop the game playing, sit down, work out the funding arrangements, and just deliver on the commitments they made prior to the election.
QUESTION: And if they don’t do their fair share, Minister, what are you going to do?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well if the State Government doesn’t do its fair share across a whole range of projects, then yes, there will be ramifications. And what they need to understand is that they need to do more than just play the blame game. They need to actually deliver. They’re now the government. A year on, the time for just complaining is over. It is time for them to actually deliver across the board when it comes to the infrastructure commitments they made.
Prior to the coming to government, they made comment after comment about how the Pacific Highway was a state road. That was their position prior to coming to government. They can’t now say it’s got nothing to do with them.
QUESTION: If you can’t work with a conservative government in NSW, how will you deal with a Deep-Blue LNP government in Queensland after tomorrow?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have no problems dealing the Baillieu Government [in Victoria] or the West Australian Government. Indeed, I sat down with the Western Australian Transport Minister [Troy Buswell] just last week, and worked through a number of projects. They’re not engaged in this opposition game which the NSW Government seems determined to play.
QUESTION: So you think Campbell Newman’s going to be quite a cooperative Queensland by the looks of things?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Let’s wait and see. I won’t pre-empt the election being held today. Queenslanders will cast their vote.
But I can say that when Campbell Newman was the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, and I was the local government minister, I had a good working relationship with him.
QUESTION: In light of recent developments in the UK and some decisions made over there, do you know if the Australian Government has a position on a minimum price for alcohol?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, that’s obviously not my area of responsibility. I do know that you’re at Henson Park which is one the only places in Australia you can still get a KB on the hill. Beyond that, I think that’s a matter for the Health Minister.
QUESTION: How vital is this upgrade to the Pacific Highway in your mind?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s absolutely critical. That’s why we’ve committed more money to this highway than any government to any road in Australia’s history. We think it’s vital. At each Federal budget we’ve added additional money.
What you have now is the extraordinary circumstances whereby Barry O’Farrell, whose government holds every seat from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Queensland border, is saying that it’s not his responsibility, and is walking away from the very clear commitments he made.
REPORTER: So when the drivers leaving Sydney in a couple of weeks’ time for the Easter school holidays are going up the Pacific Highway, what are you telling them in terms of when this road will be finished?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What they’ll see are 1,600 people at work. What they’ll see is that it’s mainly Federal Government money. When they get to the Kempsey Bypass – which will have the longest bridge in Australia when it’s completed in 2013 – they should know that every single dollar going into that project is from the Commonwealth. The State Government haven’t put a cent in.
QUESTION: And when they wonder, as they’ve been doing for the last 23 years, going up that road, as to when it’s going to be finished, what are you telling them?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, both governments have said they’re committed to 2016. We should be sitting down and delivering on that. I’m arguing within our Government for additional money for the Pacific Highway. That’s my job as Infrastructure and Transport Minister. It amazes me that State ministers think their responsibility is to argue for more money from another level of government.
QUESTION: What kind of Premier do you think Campbell Newman would actually make, following up from your previous answer?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not going to pre-empt voters in Queensland. They’re casting their vote today. Isn’t it great we live in a democracy where people get to determine their government?
QUESTION: A different topic. It’s the 40th anniversary for the Greens. They’re celebrating. What do you think of their contribution to Australian political life?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think diversity in politics allows people to go and advance their views. I certainly don’t think they’re agents of the CIA like Clive Palmer does.
But I also don’t think that they can ever be a ‘party of government’. And that’s why I’m part of a party that seeks to get a majority in a majority of seats across the country. That’s why I’m in the Labor Party rather than protesting or trying to lobby a major party.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.