Subjects: Malcolm Turnbull’s neglect of Tasmania; backpackers tax; refugee laws; Macquarie Point Development.
ALBANESE: It’s fantastic to be joined here by Julie Collins and for the first time, the Member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell, and it’s great to be back here in Tasmania. What’s not great is the lack of action from the Tasmanian Liberal Government and their Coalition colleagues when it comes to tourism and infrastructure in this great state of Tasmania. When I was last here we were announcing a Tasmanian tourism fund of $44 million prior to the election. It is true that prior to the election the Federal Government did announce support for some projects. But what we’ve seen is no action on those projects
No news about the city deal for Launceston, no news about completion of the Three Capes Track and no news about the Cradle Mountain Master Plan. This is a government that abolished the regional tourism fund that had provided so much support for regional projects here in Tasmania. This is a government that abolished the T-QUAL program which had provided so much support for lifting the quality of tourism infrastructure here. And this, also, is a government that has failed when it comes to infrastructure investment.
Right here in Hobart we put in, when we were in government, more than four years ago, $50 million to Macquarie Point which was to be the catalyst for over $1 billion in private sector infrastructure investment and yet what we’ve seen is no action from the Liberal State and Federal governments. This is an appalling state of affairs given this vital project that was approved and supported by Infrastructure Australia that would transform this great capital city of Hobart and provide private sector jobs, provide support for retail, support for commercial, support for hospitality.
It is typical of a Government that, when it comes to infrastructure, cut $100 million from the Midland Highway, cut more than $60 million from the Tasmanian freight rail revitalisation program and we find out from the actual Budget spend, as opposed to their estimates, that of the money that was allocated for the Midland highway in the 2015/16 financial year that has just passed, there was an underspend of some $15 million and that’s a part of the $3 billion underspend when it comes to infrastructure investment from what the Government itself said it would spend in the last financial year, when it brought down it’s vicious 2014 Budget.
This is a government that is out of ideas, that is too busy trying to paper over the cracks in its internal divisions in order to actually advance the interests of Tasmanians and that’s before you get to, perhaps the most important infrastructure project for Tasmania, the National Broadband Network, where we know that Malcolm Turnbull, as the minister himself, said that every Tasmanian would be hooked up, whether it is a provider home or a business to the National Broadband Network, this year.
Wel,l every Tasmanian who doesn’t have access to the National Broadband Network knows that that is a broken promise and Malcolm Turnbull, in particular, should be held to account given he was the communications minister and for more than a year now here’s been the Prime Minister, in name anyway, even if it is clear he’s not in charge of his own party.
COLLINS: Thanks Anthony. If I can just add to that, what we’ve seen from the Liberal State and Federal Governments, of course, is a lack of action right across the board in infrastructure. There’s been very little development happening with the Hobart Airport runway extension, there’s been nothing and no news in terms of the roundabout around Hobart Airport and that intersection. We’re waiting to hear the outcome of the tender for the Huon Highway/Summerleas Road project, money that was in Labor’s Budget in 2013. The State Government seems to have a serious issue with planning state infrastructure projects and rolling out Commonwealth money that is on the table. They don’t seem to be able to get their act together and Tasmanians are suffering as a result.
JOURNALIST: We waited quite a while for the Cadbury money to come through. There is a $25 million jobs and investment fund, also an election promise. Are you expecting as long a wait with that?
ALBANESE: Well, what we saw of course with the Cadbury debacle was an announcement made during an election campaign for a project without a business case and without a plan and Tasmanian senior Liberal representatives, like Eric Abetz, saying month after month that it was going to happen soon, it was about to begin. And then, of course, it was abandoned. And what we see with Tasmania is that we have a Federal Government that is prepared to make minor commitments during an election campaign but not actually follow through even with that.
They follow through with their cuts and taking money off Tasmania. What they don’t follow through with is any real action, and it is extraordinary that under now a government entering its fourth year there has not been a single major infrastructure project planned and funded for Tasmania.
If you compare it with the major projects that we announced – the $500 million for the Midland Highway, the Tasmanian freight rail revitalisation plan, the Brooker Highway, the work that we did on the intermodal, the $50 million for Macquarie Point. These were all major announcements. Irrigation to support the agriculture sector here in Tasmania, the revitalisation and support that we did – changes to the freight equalisation scheme to give additional support. All of the work taking place.
We had money in the 2013 Budget of course as well for, in Launceston, the Launceston Bypass to have a study. We’ve heard nothing about that since then. We had no money in the Budget for Hobart light rail, again withdrawn by this Government.
It’s no wonder that they had such a poor result here in Tasmania, but it appears that they haven’t learnt the lessons, because the minor statements that they did make aren’t being backed up with any action.
JOURNALIST: There’s been a second backpacker inquiry hearing today and the Senate goes back next week. When will Labor tell us what level of tax that they will go with, or are happy to support?
ALBANESE: Well this, of course, has been a debacle from go to whoa, and we wouldn’t have changed the system. This was an announcement made by the Government in it 2015 Budget where they spent 18 months providing uncertainty, for the agriculture and tourism sectors.
We know that some in the agriculture sector have refused to plant because they weren’t sure that they would be able to pick their particular crops. Now that’s a disaster in 2016.
We know, in terms of the tourism sector, that they were impacted severely as well because they rely upon backpackers. And what we know and we’ve heard again in the hearings is that the Government didn’t do any modelling prior to that announcement. What’s more, they also didn’t do any modelling prior to announcing the increase in the passenger movement charge in direct contravention of their promise.
So we’re going to actually do this review. Labor is the reason why we have the Senate inquiry in the first place because you get the evidence and then you make your decisions. And we have the evidence coming through on this inquiry. What we know is that it’s been a debacle from go to whoa. The legislation was pushed through the House of Representatives, gagged by the Government, even though the Senate wasn’t sitting.
Well perhaps now some of the shenanigans of Christopher Pyne and Malcolm Turnbull’s Government in the House of Representatives in that last sitting week make a bit of sense because it is very clear that this Government knew that there was a problem with Bob Day and they sat on it. They sat on whether he was eligible to even be elected to the Senate and what’s clear is that when it comes to competence and actually just running day-to-day government, they have no idea. So we’ll be talking with the crossbenchers about what changes are necessary to their legislation, both in terms of the backpacker tax but also the Passenger Movement Charge.
JOURNALIST: Kevin Rudd had criticised Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today, saying that this new asylum seeker policy is his way of appeasing the Right members in his Party. Do you believe that?
ALBANESE: This is another example of policy without a reason for that policy being given. Now the Government has said that this is necessary. But this is a Government that said that it had the policy framework right prior to the election. They can’t have it both ways. If the policy setting was right, if they had found a way to stop the activity of people smugglers, why is this legislation necessary?
We know from Prime Minister Key that this will make it less likely that New Zealand would be prepared to accept asylum seekers, or genuine refugees, people found to be genuine refugees, who are on Nauru and on Manus. So it’s difficult to see what the point of this legislation is, apart from playing politics and trying to appeal to Pauline Hanson’s agenda and it’s not surprising that Pauline Hanson has come out and claimed credit for this legislation.
JOURNALIST: Don’t we have to keep control of who comes in and who leaves though?
ALBANESE: What we’re talking about here is that the Government will find it more difficult now to settle people who are on Manus and on Nauru who’ve been found to be genuine refugees, who the Government has responsibility for. And we know that’s the case because John Key, the New Zealand conservative Prime Minister, has said that that is the case because it will create two classes of citizenry in New Zealand. Now other advanced economies will also, I should image, have a similar attitude towards creating different classes of citizens.
The Government’s priority needs to be dealing with the immediate concerns that are there of the people on Manus and Nauru. They have had years to find a solution and they need to do something more than just engage in political rhetoric. They need to recognise that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity and we need a humane response, one that recognises that the people who have been on Nauru and Manus for such a long time, are suffering mental anguish, and that we have a responsibility to come up with real solutions, not just come up with these ideas that don’t appear to be thought through, that the Government has refused to provide Labor or the Australian public with their legislation that they say that they’ve got ready next week. But who knows? Given their incompetence in dealing with day to day issues, who knows what this legislation might look like, who knows whether it’s ready or not. It’s pretty clear the Government is distracted by issues like Bob Day’s Senate position and whether he was ever eligible to fill that position.
JOURNALIST: In relation to Macquarie Point, you came down, I think it was in 2012, and announced $50 million of Federal funding. Are you comfortable where that project had progressed to?
ALBANESE: Not at all. This has been a fail when it comes to the Federal Government and an absolute fail when it comes to the State Government. This is an exciting urban renewal project. It was welcomed by those people who were concerned about cities policy, more so than any project in the country. That’s why the Federal Labor Government contributed $50 million of upfront capital. That was seen as a catalyst for further investment. More than $1 billion of private sector investment, ready to go, to transform Macquarie Point, as a result of, only possible because of what we had done with Brighton with the intermodal and with the upgrade of the rail freight system including the Tasmanian rail freight program investment which was almost $150 million originally from the Federal Government.
This is a substantial, exciting project and four years on there’s been nothing of substance happen. We should have seen jobs created, construction started, and activity well underway by now. The board was created while we were still in Government with $50 million funding and it’s been a complete failure on behalf of the State Government and on behalf of the Federal Government to oversee its investment in this exciting project.
Malcolm Turnbull talks about cities but that consists of, he thinks the major policy on cities from the national Government is having a Prime Minister who jumps on a train every now and again. He won’t fund any, he won’t fund any cities policy, he won’t fund urban renewal and it’s quite farcical, frankly, that the Macquarie Point project has not been much more advanced.
JOURNALIST: The sewerage works beside the site are effectively what’s holding up any meaningful development there. What would you have done about the sewerage works?
ALBANESE: That’s no excuse. The State Government have responsibility for sewerage. That’s like saying there is an electricity requirement down on the site, or there are water requirements. Yes, utilities have to be dealt with. That’s part of the State Government’s responsibility.
JOURNALIST: With respect, under the planning scheme you can’t actually do anything, any meaningful development at the site, while they’ve existed. It hasn’t come up overnight. What should happen with that?
ALBANESE: And they should fix it. It’s up to the State Government. And the Federal Government should be putting pressure on them to fix this solution. But the State Government under our system is responsible for sewerage works. This isn’t something that’s news. This is something that’s required. What we’re talking about here is transforming a site into a site that will be a jewel in the map of Tasmania. It is that exciting this project. Well over $1 billion private sector investment. Transforming the area – commercial, tourism, residential, recreational – a really exciting greenfield, effectively, project because of the size of the land that is there. And I find it extraordinary that years later and about 20 visits later from me to Hobart there is so little action on this site. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.