Sep 7, 2012

Transcript of Doorstop Interview – Grand Hyatt, Melbourne

Issues: National Land Freight Strategy; Federal Labor’s infrastructure record; Infrastructure Australia; Melbourne Metro; Grocon; Newstart; AAA credit rating

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Today I’ve released the National Land Freight Strategy. This complements the National Port Strategy and is the next step in the comprehensive plan we have to tackle the infrastructure deficit around this nation.

A National Land Freight Strategy will ensure that we can get goods to port for export, but also that we can get goods around our vast island continent in a much more efficient way.

What we need is better coordination to improve productivity.

The upgrades we are making to the busy rail route between Brisbane and Melbourne will shave 7 hours off the trip.

We’ve seen Woolworths make the decision to put dry goods from road onto rail, leading to productivity benefits, benefits in terms of competitiveness, but also better outcomes in terms of road safety.

Across the interstate rail freight network from east to west we’ve reduced the time that it takes to get freight across our nation by nine hours. That’s resulted in major Australian companies, such as Star Track Express and Australia Post, shifting their freight from road onto rail, leading once again to better outcomes and improved national productivity.

These are all sensible reforms as a result of the Government’s investment, the Government’s planning and better regulation. These three approaches; better investment, better planning and better regulation means that we’re getting productivity benefits and better economic outcomes for the nation.

QUESTION: Minister, this National Freight plan you’ve released says the governments should recommend that COAG make a greater priority of work on [Indistinct] charging reform. Should we be expecting to see more toll roads? What’s your view on that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This Strategy will go to Standing Committee on Transport and Infrastructure and what it recognises is that these are decisions essentially for State and Territory governments. Infrastructure Australia are providing a policy framework, it’s up to state and territory governments to give consideration to those issues, including issues of distance tolling. There are a number of major freight operators such as Linfox who have raised that issue for a long period of time – that we look at more efficient ways to charge for use of our road system.

In Europe for example, in countries such as Germany, it occurs through distance tolling.  The black box located in the truck ensures that it’s efficient and that it’s also accurate in terms of pricing mechanisms.

What we’ve done today is release this policy framework, it’s up to State and Territory Ministers to give consideration to it, and I look forward to the discussion at the next Standing Committee on Transport and Infrastructure that will meet in November in Perth.

QUESTION: Rod Eddington says that Australian cities won’t be able to build their way out of trouble forever. Eventually they’re going to have to contemplate something like congestion pricing. What do you think of that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: One of the areas that we’ve done a lot of work in is to re-engage with our cities.

We need to have a framework for the planning of our cities that looks at not just the growth out ad infinitum, but looks at urban consolidation, that looks at making sure that we have appropriate development around transport corridors, that looks at where housing is going, at where the jobs are, and where the transport corridors are.

For too long many State Governments have looked at transport and planning as if they’re separate entities. One of the things that we’ve done at the national level to try and encourage that discussion is to have Transport Ministers and Planning Ministers all present at the same Ministerial Council meeting.

We are going to have to look in a much more coherent way at the way that our capital cities are planned and that’s why we put on the agenda proper capital city planning as a precondition for getting funding through the next Nation Building Program II process.

When Infrastructure Australia for example looks at what recommendations it makes for funding it looks at whether State Governments have given proper consideration to the issues around the infrastructure, not just as a piece of infrastructure in and of itself but what is occurring in housing, what’s occurring in urban development, what’s occurring in employment. They’re looking at it in a much more coherent, properly planned way.

QUESTION: You mention the States with their wish lists of pet projects, does Ted Baillieu have any chance of having a sympathetic ear from you regarding his renewed plea on the metro rail project?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s important to note that Victoria is yet to submit to my Department the detailed funding proposals under Nation Building II.

We’ll give that consideration, and Infrastructure Australia, who they have made an earlier submission to, will also give it consideration.

Victoria has already had a more than doubling of the infrastructure commitment from the Federal Government compared with the previous Government. This includes of course the largest ever commitment by any Federal Government to an urban transport project – the Regional Rail Link – as well as many other projects that are being rolled out here including the M80.

In terms of looking at inner-city rail, we’ve already contributed $40 million for planning for that project. That planning process hasn’t been concluded yet. It’s due to be concluded next year so we’ll have a look at those proposals then.

We have a constructive relationship with the Victorian Government. I’ve worked very well with Terry Mulder, the State Minister, and I’m sure I’ll continue to have discussions with him.

QUESTION: Would you agree with the Premier that militant unionism is putting major projects at risk both here in Australia and… both here in Victoria and across Australia?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I support a cooperative industrial relations system. I do note that in terms of days lost, they are lower now than they were – substantially lower.

I think the figure is 4.3 days compared with more than double that, that were lost under John Howard’s industrial relations regime.

I’m pleased to see that there’s been a breakthrough in the dispute here in Melbourne regarding Grocon. I’d call upon both the employers and the trade unions to negotiate in good faith through the Fair Work Australia process.

That’s what’s occurring now. That’s a good thing.

QUESTION: What about the argument quoted by Ted Baillieu that Commonwealth can borrow without jeopardising its AAA credit rating, whereas the states have much less leeway.

Does that give you any comfort [indistinct]…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I look forward to Ted Baillieu talking to his colleagues Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb, perhaps Andrew Robb who is here in Melbourne.

You can talk to Andrew Robb.

I look forward to Andrew Robb saying something similar and seeing whether his own party supports that proposition by Ted Baillieu.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s a silly proposition?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I think Ted Baillieu needs to get the support of his own party for such a proposition before he comes to us as a state leader, and puts forward such a proposition.

He’s not unique, he’s not the only state leader who says I want to build a particular project and I want someone else to pay for it.

State Governments also have to bear their part of their responsibility for spending. This Federal Government has doubled the roads budget, we’ve increased the rail budget by more than 10 times, and we’ve committed more to urban public transport since 2007 than all governments combined since Federation.

You would have only had to have spent one cent to have spent more on urban public transport than the Howard government right around the nation.

Here in Melbourne, the Regional Rail Link itself is a $3.225 billion commitment from the Federal Government. It’s in addition to the road spending that we’re engaged in, in addition to the managed motorways program which is being extended to places like West Gate.

QUESTION: Is there a good case for a $50 increase in Newstart?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government has no plans to engage in that at the moment. There are arguments that will be put and of course if you’re a recipient of welfare, you would always want more to be paid.

But the Government has no plans to change those arrangements.

Newstart is of course a temporary payment while people are unemployed.

The Government’s priority, including during the global financial crisis is to get people into work.

I’m pleased that we have some 800,000 new jobs created – the envy of the world, created since the global financial crisis.

QUESTION: Just Minister on this national freight plan that you’ve released today it talks about what are termed [indistinct] vehicles. Do they mean bigger trucks and will we see more of those on our roads?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s a matter for the State and Territory Governments But I note that New South Wales and Victoria are giving consideration to that issue. I’m sure that the Commonwealth will be informed about the outcome of those discussions when the Transport Ministers meet later this year.

Thank you.