Jan 6, 2014

Transcript of doorstop interview – Sydney

Subjects: Tony Abbott’s refusal to invest in urban public transport, Cory Bernardi, Australia Post, electricity prices, Coalition’ broken promise on whaling

(First 30 seconds inaudible. Initial comments relate to confirmation that the Abbott Government is not prepared to invest in urban public transport.) 

ALBANESE: Labor’s position is very clear.

We believe that you must invest in roads, but you also must invest in urban public transport and intermodal facilities such as the Moorebank intermodal here in Sydney.

What’s more, that approach is backed up by Infrastructure Australia.

In their submission to the Productivity Commission report on infrastructure financing, Infrastructure Australia say this: 

Any consideration Australia’s infrastructure needs for the 21st century must acknowledge the relationships and inter-dependencies between different modal options. Urban transport infrastructure provides the clearest example of this view. An integrated perspective is required that encompasses the roads, railways and interchanges that support passenger and freight transport in our city.”

That’s why we must look at infrastructure as a whole, not just roads and rail, but also look at the integration between passenger and rail freight.

For example, the northern Sydney freight line that is being built here in Sydney to separate out passenger and rail freight will make an enormous difference, not just to improving productivity and efficiency of movement of freight, but also of course to the passenger rail system.

Just as the southern Sydney freight line here in Sydney, a billion-dollar project opened just a year ago, has made a huge difference to the passenger rail system and its efficiencies, as well improving the flow of freight from the port at Botany.

That’s why we need an integrated approach.

That was Labor’s approach and a part of the consistent role we brought to our agenda in government.

The problem for the new Government is that because they didn’t have a plan to govern, just a plan to get into Government, the void that they’re creating in policy is being filled by voices such as Cory Bernardi’s, who today is out there promoting an extreme agenda.

It’s an agenda that says that he’s pro-family but only the sort of  family that he regards as being legitimate – not sole parents, not families that involve same-sex couples, not families that look different from what he sees as his ideal family type.

He also seeks to impose his views on women’s right to choose over controlling their own bodies.

He also seeks to proclaim a freedom of religion except any religious view other than his own is not seen as legitimate.

And he wants that view to be involved directly in politics.

He also speaks about freedom of the individual, except if you’re an individual in a workplace who is powerless against the relative strength of an employer.

By bringing back the elements of WorkChoices that he advocates, he would take away the power of individuals to bargain collectively with their work colleagues in the workplace.

So this is a very narrow agenda being filled by Cory Bernardi.

And this is someone who has been a close confidant of the now Prime Minister Tony Abbott, was indeed the parliamentary Secretary and one of the key advisers to Tony Abbott up until late last year.

So it’s up to members of the Government from Tony Abbott down to disassociate themselves from these comments of Cory Bernardi. If they don’t do that, then one could take the view that Cory Bernardi has been put out there to push this divisive agenda.

What Australians need is political leadership, but political leadership that unites the nation, not one which divides it.

We’re a tolerant community, we’re a diverse community, and political leaders need to recognise that diversity, not succumb to this very narrow political agenda that Cory Bernardi is out there promoting once again today.

REPORTER: Inaudible. Question related to today’s report in the Australian Financial Review that the ACCC is calling for further sale of public assets like Australia Post and Medibank Private.

ALBANESE: In terms of those comments that are reported in the paper, some of them aren’t direct quotes so we’ll wait and see what the ACCC have to say.

But with regard to Australia Post, certainly as Communications Minister, I saw the good work that Australia Post was doing.

The post office in a regional or small country town provides a much more important role than being the place where letters are posted.

The post office can be the banking centre, can be the centre where families pay their bills, can be a key component of those communities.

Now without cross-subsidisation and without Australia Post, playing the role that it does, which would be diminished if it were broken up and put into private hands, what we’d see is a real loss in those regional services in particular.

So in terms of the argument, it’s up to the Government to come out and say what is their agenda for Australia Post, what is their agenda for Medibank Private?

We know that before the election they said one thing, but afterwards we’re finding different messages.

We know that Medicare itself is under attack from this Government, that we have a Health Minister who, prior to the election, said that he supported Medicare staying as it was and now he’s saying it can’t be kept as it is and that we have to introduce essentially a new going-to-the-doctor tax, every time Australians visit their local GP.

So in terms of the agenda, it’s up to Government to respond but certainly I would think that those regional members, members of the National Party and members regional seats, need to state exactly what their view is on this Australia Post privatisation that has been suggested in one paper today but has been suggested before in the media in recent times.

REPORTER: INAUDIBLE – relating to electricity prices and privatisation

ALBANESE: It’s up to the appropriate spokesperson to speak about that.

What is clear though is that in recent times energy prices have been higher than they needed to be because of the considerable investment that went into energy infrastructure.

Some would regard that as over-investment that has then been passed on to the people in local communities through higher bills.

Labor pointed that out in Government, that over-investment that has been occurring.

We do have a national energy market and it’s important that those issues such as over-investment continue to be addressed.

That was what Federal Labor was attempting to get the states to do when we were in Government.

REPORTER: You mentioned before the before the  Government saying one thing before it was elected and doing another thing once it’s in Government. We’ve learnt that the Government is going to send a plane to look at whalers in the Southern Ocean but before the election it promised to send a ship. Is that another example of reneging on promises?

ALBANESE: Well it’s an extraordinary example.

I mean Greg Hunt was out there prior to the election, not once but on multiple occasions, commiting an incoming Abbott Government to send a vessel to the Southern Ocean, to monitor the activities of the Japanese whalers and also those environmental groups including the Sea Shepherd.

Now, we said at the time, that that wasn’t practical, that we were taking the appropriate action, which is the commitment that we gave to take Japan to the International Court of Justice in terms of ruling out, seeking that a ruling, that would indicate that scientific whaling is actually not for science but is a breach of the conventions that are there outlawing commercial whaling.

We did what we said we would do.

The incoming Government and Greg Hunt made a lot of wind before the election.

This is a guy in who is charge of the environment, wrote a thesis about the need to price carbon, and now decries any action, regarding pricing of carbon, made a lot of statements about whaling and then did the exact opposite, once they’ve come into government.

So I think really people are inclined to take a view that before the election the Opposition had a lot to say about a lot of issues, most of which was defining themselves by what they were against, which that is they were against anything that we were doing.

Now since the election, I think it’s very clear that they don’t have an agenda, just opposing what we were doing, and in some of that they’ve been consistent.

On others they’ve been inconsistent because they’ve broken their own very clear commitments that they gave prior to the election.

REPORTER: If they committed to sending a boat do you think they should follow through?

ALBANESE: I think people they are entitled to say: Why did they say one thing before the election, and another after the election?

Labor’s been very clear about our position, which is why we took the action that we did.

The Opposition at the time, said they would send a boat, now afterwards, it’s too hard.

They made very clear commitments about that being the case, and putting an aerial surveillance flight over will not achieve anything in terms of the outcomes.

But more importantly I think it’s very clear that they were prepared to say anything and do anything just to secure votes before the election and after the election they simply don’t have a plan.