Jan 3, 2018

Transcript of Doorstop Interview – Adelaide

Subjects; South Australian infrastructure cuts, Barnaby Joyce, Tony Abbott, US Ambassador

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The incoming Infrastructure Minister Barnaby Joyce has a real challenge on his hands and he must deliver for South Australia.

At the moment, the way that the Budget is configured, in this year South Australia will receive $921 million dollars of federal infrastructure funding. In four years’ time at the end of the forward estimates in 2020-21, South Australia will receive just $95 million, or a cut of some 90 per cent compared with this year.

On top of that, in their first four Budgets, the Federal Government hasn’t spent the money that they themselves said they would spend. Some $400 million has been cut from the funds that the Federal Government said they would invest when they brought down their budgets on Budget nights. What that could have done is do the next extension of the North-South corridor in between the Torrens to Torrens section that’s under construction and the South Road Superway. We could also, of course, have support for AdeLINK, South Australia’s extension of the light rail network.

It’s very clear that Barnaby Joyce has a challenge as the Deputy Prime Minister and as Infrastructure Minister to deliver for South Australia and he needs to do that. And he needs to make it clear what the Federal Government’s priorities are before the South Australian state election is held in March.

JOURNALIST: Does at least some of the responsibility for this though lie with the South Australian Government being more proactive and working harder to get that Federal funding?

ALBANESE: No it’s absolute nonsense. The fact is that the South Australian Government has put forward the submissions for light rail, the Adelaide AdeLINK project. We committed to the project as the Labor Party prior to the Federal Election in 2016.

So this is a light rail extension into the suburbs of Adelaide that is ready to go. We also know in terms of the North South road corridor that the section between Torrens to Torrens, which is under construction now and the Superway is also ready to go and that it would save money by getting that project underway as soon as possible – a swift flow.

What we know for example with Torrens to Torrens is that it was fully funded by the former Federal Labor Government. The current Federal Government stopped that project for two years while they prevaricated and said that their first priority was Darlington, whereas it was Torrens to Torrens that was ready to go in construction.

So it’s very clear that what we have is a massive bias. We have something like 45 per cent of this year’s Federal infrastructure budget going to New South Wales. We have South Australia missing out on those funds and over the coming years up to 2020-21, the Federal Government currently has no money whatsoever for that section of the North South corridor even though they themselves have said that they’re committed to its full duplication. Malcolm Turnbull says he is committed to public transport funding but he won’t put a dollar into Adelaide’s light rail extension.

JOURNALIST: There’s been some suggestion from the State Opposition and Nick Xenophon that this state needs a state-based independent infrastructure body. Do you think something like that might help this kind of situation?

ALBANESE: Well the fact is that this state has got its infrastructure priorities right. The extension of the North South corridor is South Australia’s most important road network.

We know what has to be done there; the full duplication of that corridor. When we were in Government we more than doubled infrastructure investment in South Australia. South Australia has been the best state when it comes to getting the planning right. Adelaide’s light rail extension; we know that that is a priority for Adelaide. We know that it took a former Federal Labor Government to turn the Noarlunga to Seaford rail extension into a reality, to fund the Northern Expressway, to fund the South Road Superway, to fund Torrens to Torrens. All of these projects.

But what we’ve seen from a Federal Coalition Government is a failure to actually invest. Over the coming decade, infrastructure investment as a proportion of the economy will fall from 0.4 percent to 0.2; or half. That’s what the Parliamentary Budget Office says. Now that will have a real impact on our national economy and on growth and on jobs. But what we have is a particular impact on South Australia due to this 90 per cent fall in funding when it comes to Federal infrastructure funds.

Barnaby Joyce, the new Minister, has to get on top of this issue and has to explain either why that’s legitimate or secondly fix it. And as Deputy Prime Minister you now have someone as Infrastructure Minister who has the capacity to make a difference. My concern is that Barnaby Joyce historically has said that any investment in our cities including Adelaide is a waste. And he has indeed ridiculed investment in public transport and in our cities in the past.

He needs to provide that assurance to the Australian public, 80 percent of whom live in our major cities, that indeed he as Infrastructure and Transport Minister will take this responsibility seriously.

JOURNALIST: Just on another topic we’re three days into the New Year and Tony Abbott’s already causing trouble for the Coalition. What do you make of that and what do you think is going to happen in 2018?

ALBANESE: Well the drama goes on in the Coalition. Tony Abbott’s out there on page one of his favourite newspaper today once again causing trouble for the Coalition. Causing trouble on the basis of something that, when he was in Government, and signed up to the Paris Accords as the Prime Minister of Australia that envisaged, of course, the issue in terms of international carbon credits being a part of the international regime. He wasn’t critical then. He is critical now. He is going out of his way to look for issues in which he can complain and contradict and campaign against Malcolm Turnbull in such a relentless fashion.

Yesterday it was, of course, on the issue of the Republic. Today it’s on the issue of climate change. Tomorrow it will be something else, I have no doubt. So a lot of politicians have had a bit of a break over Christmas. Tony Abbott has been relentlessly working day after day to undermine Turnbull and I expect that that will continue. Because Malcolm Turnbull’s Government doesn’t have an agenda. He came out and said that there should be some advance on the Republic and couldn’t hold that position for 24 hours before he backed off and said well maybe not this term, sometime in the future.

Well, Malcolm Turnbull is unlikely to be there sometime in the future so commitments into the never never from him, of all people, aren’t worth anything at all. What we’re seeing is that Tony Abbott is stepping into the vacuum that Malcolm Turnbull is creating because he doesn’t have an agenda for Government.

JOURNALIST: What’s Labor’s position on the idea raised by a Liberal MP that tourists should face more stringent checks before driving in Australia?

ALBANESE: Well what we’d need to do is properly examine any proposals. The concern there would be of course, that if Australia did that then you could expect it to be reciprocated. Australians when they travel to Europe or in the United States drive cars. That’s why we would need to be very cautious about measures such as that. But that’s why that could be one of the options for discussion at an emergency meeting of the Infrastructure and Transport Ministerial Council. I’ve called for that to happen when it comes to road safety. What we saw from the 1970s right through to the last few years is substantial falls in the number of fatalities on our roads. In the last three years we’ve seen that reverse.

Barnaby Joyce should convene a meeting of State and Territory Transport Ministers. He should invite the Opposition, certainly Labor would want to participate in a constructive way. All of these ideas shouldn’t be party political. What they should be is about how can we, as not just Government, but as a society involving the motoring organisations in the respective states, involving law enforcement and the police in respective states, get together to do all that we can as a community to reduce the road toll because the toll over the festive period was quite frankly horrific. For all of those people who suffered over that period, they all have family, they have friends and they are a part of communities. And those communities, and those family members will remember the Christmas period of 2017-18 with a great deal of trauma in future years as well.

JOURNALIST: Tim Fischer’s comments. Do you think that it’s dragged on too long to get a US Ambassador here in Australia?

ALBANESE: I think that’s really a matter for the US, but we of course would welcome the United States appointing an Ambassador here. We are friends of the United States and we would expect that the United States would regard the appointment of an Ambassador to Australia as being an important post. Certainly in the past it’s been filled by people with a great deal of dignity, who have worked very hard to build that relationship. So we would want to see that appointment made as soon as possible. But that of course is a matter for the Trump administration.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s a sign of further dysfunction in the Trump administration?

ALBANESE: It’s a matter for the U.S. administration. I caught up with our Ambassador to the United States in Washington Joe Hockey, over December. I had a chat with him. He certainly is in my view doing a good job as the Australian Ambassador. Representatives of nations who are friends have an important role to play in fostering that friendship and certainly notwithstanding the fact that the United States have not made that appointment, there are a number of U.S. representatives here, of course, in Australia who are working hard on fostering that relationship and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so.

JOURNALIST: Just finally on GST, the Government’s pushed back the date for the report on the inquiry. Do you think, or does the ALP think, that GST needs fundamental reform?

ALBANESE: Well I do think that South Australians are entitled to know what the Federal Coalition Government has in mind before the South Australian election in March. I’m somewhat cynical about the fact that you have state elections in South Australia and Tasmania in March and you have this GST review pushed out beyond that date. The Government really needs to explain prior to those March elections what it has in store for South Australians.

JOURNALIST: Just on that question of the 90 percent fall in infrastructure funding, would you expect the Coalition Government to sort of rejig the figures or look again if the Liberals win the state election here? I mean is the bias just against South Australia or is the bias against the Labor Government in South Australia.

ALBANESE: (Inaudible) What we want to see is those figures fixed immediately. What we’re seeing is a general drop off in infrastructure investment. What there is though on top of that is a particular bias against South Australia and against Victoria. Victoria is serving nine percent of the national funds. South Australia in 2020-21 is receiving two per cent of the national infrastructure budget. Quite clearly that’s not good enough.

And let me tell you if the Coalition does do something about that, then I think the chances of South Australians voting for them in March are diminished because it will be a sign that the Federal Coalition can’t do anything and isn’t concerned about the interests of South Australia. In general there is concern that this Government, and I say this as someone from Sydney, this Coalition Government is too Sydney focused, that they need to address the issues of the entire nation not just the east and state capitals and not just Sydney. Thank you.