Jul 26, 2013

Transcript of doorstop interview – Logan, QLD

Subjects:  Affordable housing development; Queensland infrastructure projects; Cross River Rail; Asylum seeker policy; Second Sydney airport

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I’m joined by Jim Chalmers, who is the Labor candidate for Rankin, here at the opening of an affordable housing project in Logan Central.

This is a part of Federal Labor’s Liveable Cities program. That’s a program that acknowledges that we need to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our major cities right around Australia.

Here in Queensland, particularly south-east Queensland, projects such as this and the Pacific Motorway, the Ipswich Motorway – and of course our commitment to the next section of the Ipswich Motorway – to the Gateway Motorway north and the Cross River Rail project, underline Federal Labor’s commitment to improving productivity and lifestyle here in Brisbane.

The Cross River Rail project in particular is a vital project. It has been agreed to by Federal and State Governments.

We agreed to both put in $715 million and then make available an availability payment on a 50-50 basis with private sector funding to attract superannuation funds.

What we know is that Brisbane will grind to a halt in terms of urban congestion in 2016. We know that because state government reports tell us that’s the case.

And yet, in spite of the fact that the Queensland Government have been given everything they have asked for with this project, it’s listed on the Infrastructure Australia national priority list as number one, and it will help – not just people in Brisbane – but people on the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast, the Queensland Government has stalled at the barrier when it comes to supporting this vital project.

So I’d say to the Queensland Government, it’s time to put politics aside. When politics are put aside, different levels of government can achieve good outcomes.

That’s what we see here with this small project that has made a big difference. One block, taken, renovated with a DA through in three weeks, with an affordable housing project behind me that shows that you can have good quality as well as affordable housing to help renew communities such as here in Logan Central.

So it’s an exciting approach that the council has led that the Federal Government has been happy to be in partnership with.

We want to partner with local and state governments right around the country to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities – whether it be small projects or whether it be major public transport projects.

And we know that Tony Abbott has said that under his government, if he is to be elected later this year, there will be no funding for any public transport projects ever under his government.

We are already investing in the Gold Coast Rapid Transit System. We are already investing in the Moreton Bay Regional Rail Link. And we want to partner with Queensland on Cross River Rail.

QUESTION: The Queensland Minister says he is ready to sign up to a 50-50 deal as soon as it’s on the table. Why hasn’t there been an agreement?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: He’s got it. He has got everything that he asked for and frankly this is nonsense.

I’ve released the correspondence whereby he asked for the Cross River Rail project to be treated the same as funding for the Bruce Highway, the same as funding for any other infrastructure project.

If he is consistent, and he acknowledged this I understand in estimates in the Queensland Parliament, he will say that the Bruce Highway funding isn’t 80-20, it’s only 40 per cent if he’s going to just cut in half the funding.

It’s embarrassing. I can understand Mr Emerson’s embarrassment having asked for a range of agreements to be included on the Cross River Rail project, having a Federal Government that has said yes to everything that was asked for, he then at the very last minute walked away from the project.

This is a project in which we had actually even agreed the timing and the details of the announcement in Budget week.

QUESTION: Minister, when does the Government believe the asylum boats will actually slow down coming into Australia? Will it be weeks, will it be months?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We said very clearly when we announced this policy that you wouldn’t change things immediately. That there would be ups and downs, there would be difficulties, that the people smugglers would test our resolve.

What we didn’t anticipate is Tony Abbott sending messages to the people smugglers to try and undermine the strategy.

It really is quite extraordinary that after coming out to welcome the agreement on the day that it was announced, he has done since then everything he can to undermine the agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Even to the point whereby we’ve had attempts at verballing Papua New Guinea, just as we saw attempts at verballing Indonesia.

It is beyond me how the alternative government thinks it will be able to negotiate with our nearest and most important neighbours.

QUESTION: If that is the case, then we’re not likely to see a slowdown in boats before the election, and this mean it’s a blow to the government and its policies.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This isn’t about politics. This is about policy. This is about stopping people drowning at sea. This is about getting a solution – a solution that is not an easy one.

A solution however that does break the people smugglers’ model. We know that already people are saying that one, they are not getting on boats, that they are joining the UN processes.

We know also that there are people smugglers who are saying that they have been put out of business. That they have made a lot of money but the business model is over.

And the message is very clear: if you come to Australia by boat without a visa, you will not be settled in Australia. You will be treated under the UN Convention in an appropriate way under the UN processes, but you will not be settled in Australia.

What that does is it breaks the model. That’s what we need to do. Not come up with simple three word slogans, and we had another three word slogan from Tony Abbott yesterday with a change from a two-star to a three-star person in charge of our border command somehow making a huge difference.

That has already been rejected by senior retired defence personnel.

What we have is a plan that will work. It’s about time that Tony Abbott stopped playing politics and acted in the national interest.

QUESTION: You are committed to building a second airport in Sydney. Where will that airport be built?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have proper processes to determine those issues. Those issues are not determined politically. They are determined by those proper processes.

We’ve had a joint Federal-State Government review in terms of the need for a second Sydney airport. What that found is that for future jobs, economic growth and for Sydney’s position as a global city into the future, we do need a second airport.

QUESTION: If you can’t say where it is going to be built, how can you guarantee it is going to be built, or started within the three-year time frame you promised?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  What I’ve said is very clear. Have a look at what I said, not what you say I’ve said.

What I have said is that it would be my intention to want to see construction start on a second airport during the next term. In order for that to happen there is a range of processes that need to be concluded.

The first is the firm identification of a site. The second is, because of the former government’s legislation which gave a right of refusal – not a right of veto but a right of refusal – to the existing owners of Sydney Airport, there is a notification period that has to be given to them.

And what it also requires is bipartisan support. That’s why we need to remove politics from this issue, because politics has got in the way in the past.

QUESTION:  Concerns about the militarisation of your management of the asylum seeker influx – putting aside the Opposition’s plan – how do you respond to that issue? What is the military’s role within the asylum seeker debate?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: When we have had issues of people seeking to come to Australia, without a visa, on a boat, the military have been involved.

Naval personnel have been involved too many times in recent days and weeks. And what we’ve seen when you have a tragedy at sea, you have Naval involvement and involvement of Customs personnel, involvement of personnel from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

What we need to do here is to stop people risking their lives by getting on boats. That’s what we need to do; to have orderly processes.

My ideal is that no one comes on a boat to Australia without a visa, therefore no one gets sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and settlement, and Australia takes an increased number of refugees. We now take 20,000, up from 13,750, we can take more, and we have flagged that we would consider increasing that up to 27,000, which was the number recommended by the Houston panel.

Australia is a generous country. We can have good outcomes for refugees by taking people in an orderly way in which they do not have to risk their lives at sea.

And in an orderly way that ensures that whether you are in a camp in Indonesia, whether you are in a camp in Africa, or whether you are someone who is fleeing the very real conflict and tragedies that we see being played out in Syria at the moment, you have an opportunity for a safe-haven here in Australia.

It’s not either or. There is nothing compassionate about allowing a policy to continue that is seeing the tragedies that we have seen. There is nothing compassionate either about playing politics with this issue as we’ve seen Tony Abbott do.

We have the Papua New Guinea Government saying they are in favour of this agreement, indeed that they proposed to Australia this agreement. They are saying yes, Tony Abbott says no to Papua New Guinea.

The Indonesian Government have said very clearly a number of times they will not accept the so-called tow-back policy. It will simply not work. And yet Tony Abbott insists that their views are irrelevant to the implementation of that policy, in spite of the fact that we know from experience and from the experts that it simply won’t work.

What we need to do is move beyond politics on this issue.

Thanks very much.