Subjects: Turnbull Government cuts to tourism funding; Turnbull Government’s failure to invest in Tasmanian infrastructure; Eric Abetz, Labor Party leadership.
ROSS HART, MEMBER FOR BASS: Thank you everybody for joining us here today. I have great pleasure in welcoming Anthony Albanese here to Bass and Northern Tasmania today. We have been up in the north-east of Tasmania looking at the best that the north-east has to offer, in particular focusing on a craft brewery. Anthony is the Shadow Minister for Tourism as well as being Infrastructure Shadow Minister. He has a real interest in seeing what can assist regional Tasmania and regional Australia generally in exploiting their benefits and exploiting their key advantages, driving tourism and driving business growth. That is particularly important here in northern Tasmania. Anthony, welcome to Bass.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks Ross, It is good to be here. This morning we visited Little Rivers Brewery in Scottsdale – a fantastic local small business started by a husband and wife – a family business that now is employing fellow Scottsdale residents and it is the centre of community activity but importantly also is a real tourism attraction. And it is those sort of niche tourism attractions that can bring people to regional towns like Scottsdale, that can provide a real boost to the economy. We know that tourism is so important for our economy. It employs some one million Australians right now. But we know the potential is enormous. We live in a part of the world which is seeing the greatest explosion in the middle class that we have ever seen anywhere in the world throughout human history. And what that presents is an opportunity. But it is an opportunity that is being lost. The Budget last week saw not just no dollars into tourism; it actually saw a cut of $35 million to Tourism Australia funding. Now in terms of its role in promoting Australia to the world, in promoting Tasmania to the world, it plays a critical role and to cut funding with no notice whatsoever is extraordinary. In addition to that we saw an impost of additional visa charges on visitors to Australia, again undermining our competitiveness as a tourism attraction.
We also saw here in Tasmania no money for any infrastructure projects – an extraordinary Budget where it was as if Tasmania was left off the map. No road projects, no rail projects, no port projects, no new airport projects, nothing at all for Tasmania. And that’s pretty consistent with what has happened under the Abbott and Turnbull Governments. We’ve had now four years of neglect, four years where they have relied upon the funding that was already in the Budget for projects like the Midland Highway, even though they cut $100 million from it, projects we had of course, funding here for the first stage study of the Launceston bypass. We had an approach to nation building that saw jobs created in the short-term, that saw the safety on our roads improve in the medium term, but importantly also saw productivity benefits as a result of our investment in Tasmanian infrastructure. And we are not seeing that from this Government. Whether it be transport infrastructure or tourism infrastructure, this is a Government that is ignoring Tasmania.
REPORTER: Do you have an explanation for them (inaudible) ignoring Tasmania?
ALBANESE: I think one of things that happened during the last term was that they had some pretty ineffective members of Parliament who the Tasmanian people themselves passed judgement on at the last election by electing people like Ross Hart here in Launceston. It’s pretty clear that they just don’t understand Tasmania and the Tasmanian representatives who are still in the Parliament for the Liberal Party like Eric Abetz – is more interested in fighting Malcolm Turnbull than he is with actually achieving outcomes for Tasmanians.
So the Labor Party will continue to present the evidence of why we need that investment here in Tasmania. The only things that we have seen, which weren’t Budget announcements, were during the last election campaign. The UTAS development – a good development, one which we initiated and we said we would fund and they matched and called it a City Deal. But that is all that we have seen from the Government. And it’s very disappointing. As the Infrastructure Minister I know that each and every single time I was a part of a Budget process over that six years there was there was money for Tasmania, money for new projects. That means money for jobs and it means money for the Tasmanian economy.
REPORTER: There’s a Tasmanian Regional Jobs and Investment fund. How long would you expect that to be wound out? It was announced in the July election last year and appeared in the Budget. What would be your expectation?
ALBANESE: Well that was an election announcement but it pales into insignificance compared with the regional development funding that was created by the former government. Indeed, much of it is just a repackaging of that. What we haven’t seen is new initiatives and what it needs are some new big initiatives from the Government. If you look at the work that we did on the highway here in the north of the state but also the most important road – the Midland Highway – we had that commitment to deliver.
REPORTER: You mentioned Eric Abetz before. He has come out today criticised the CFMEU and said they will take Tasmania back to the stone age with jobs and all that if they continue having more power. Do you think Eric is out of line to make those comments?
ALBANESE: Well Eric Abetz continues to almost be a parody of himself. That’s up to him to explain his own comments. What Eric Abetz would be better off doing is actually making some representations to the Coalition Government to actually give support to Tasmania. Clearly he failed in the lead-up to last week’s Budget because there just weren’t any new initiatives and that is quite extraordinary in a Budget where the Government is trying clearly to turn its fortunes around. They have failed dismally when it comes to support for Tasmania.
REPORTER: When it comes to the fortunes of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten’s popularity continues to slide. Can you see yourself perhaps stepping up to the main role as leader?
ALBANESE: Oh look I want to be part of the team and that is the role that I play. I’m very satisfied to be the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Tourism. I’ve got big responsibilities and I am perfectly satisfied being part of that team and making a contribution and I will continue to do so. That is what I am doing here in Tasmania. I was doing it in Victoria yesterday. I will be doing it in NSW tomorrow and I will be doing it in Western Australia on Thursday.
I’m absolutely committed to getting rid of the Turnbull Government because it is a government that frankly is out of ideas. They are now trying to adopt Labor ideas so they are now saying that they support needs-based funding for education but they are not putting the funding in. They are saying they support Medicare but they are not providing the support that is required to actually support Medicare and they are not doing it soon enough. They are maintaining the freeze on the rebate for a period of time. They say they are interested in infrastructure but they are cutting $1.6 billion from the infrastructure budget just this year. So what I am focused on totally is holding the Turnbull Government to account.
REPORTER: What about Bill Shorten then. Is his current popularity dragging the down party as a whole in your eyes?
ALBANESE: Look we work as a team. Bill Shorten is the Leader, everyone doing the task that they have been given by Caucus. And we are being I think very effective at holding the Government to account, at forcing the Government into temporarily walking away from its own beliefs. We know that they, at the first possible opportunity, would bring back those zombie Budget measures to punish people who are on benefits or punish the most unfortunate people due to no circumstances of their own. We know that this a Government that is out of ideas and it is really out of time and I look forward to the next election.
REPORTER: I want to ask about Tanya Plibersek. She’s proving to be quite a winner with the voters as well from what the polls are suggesting. Do you think that it’s maybe for a woman to be in charge of the Labor party again?
ALBANESE: We have leader. Our leader is Bill Shorten and people are doing the jobs that they have been given.
REPORTER: So you are quite satisfied with the status quo right now?
ALBANESE: Yes. Bill Shorten is the Leader. He is performing. He gave a Budget reply last week that took it up to the Government and every one of our team is out there doing our job, focused on the needs of Australians. That’s our focus. The Labor Party isn’t focused on ourselves. What we are focused on is the needs of the Australian people, the need to fulfil our vision for better educational opportunity, better health care, better jobs, investing in infrastructure and investing in people. Thanks.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.