Subjects: Westconnex; Leichhardt campus of Sydney Secondary College; penalty rates; Liberal Party chaos.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for joining us. I am joined today by Darcy Byrne, who was formerly the Mayor of Leichhardt, and parents and friends and indeed students who attend Sydney Secondary College Leichhardt Campus. This is a packed school. It is overflowing and for years the P&C have campaigned to have the tram sheds here incorporated into the school. The school has just one small oval. It has classrooms that are packed and it services the local Inner West community for Year 7 to Year 10.
Parents, students and the community were quite shocked when on Friday the Sydney Motorway Corporation dropped a leaflet into letterboxes in Leichhardt and Lilyfield informing them that the tram sheds just behind us, that in any normal-sized school would actually be on the school grounds, was considered as a possible site for construction of the Westconnex project. Stage 3 of the project will require dive sites, which are essentially major construction sites where earth will be removed to build the tunnels that will make up Stage 3 of the Westconnex project. This will be major construction and the idea that you would do it adjacent to a local high school is beyond belief.
What’s worse is that when you actually read the correspondence from the Sydney Motorways Corporation, they speak about “the latest route’’ for the tunnel. This is a project whereby they started building the tunnel without knowing where it was going and where it would come up. It’s an extraordinary proposition that you would consider causing such disruption to the education of students at the school as well as disruption to the local community by considering this to become a major construction site. Premier Berejiklian needs to rule this out. The new Education Minister, Rob Stokes, needs to rule this out. Because what it is motivated by is simply greed. It is motivated by Sydney Motorway Corporation thinking that because this is state-owned land that should be given back to the school, they won’t have to purchase land for the construction site when other sites are available. This will be rejected by the local community. It shows contempt for the students and the people of the Inner West and that’s why there will be a great deal of anger at the failure when it comes to community consultation to even consider such a barking mad proposal of having a construction site right basically on a school ground. Darcy.
DARCY BYRNE, FORMER LEICHHARDT MAYOR: Thank you Anthony and thank you to the parents and students are here today. Gladys Berejiklian needs to put herself in the shoes of these parents who will be concerned and fearful that their child’s education is going to be sacrificed to make way for her motorway. What the minutes of the recent meeting between the Sydney Motorway Corporation and Inner West Council reveal is that the Department of Education has secretly given the green light to the handing over of this land for Westconnex. Rob Stokes must intervene and show that he is on the side of public school students and that he’s not going to roll over to allow Westconnex to roll through this school site.
Parents in the Inner West know that our schools are already bursting at the seams, nowhere more so than here at Leichhardt campus. The idea that we will have trucks rolling all day, every day past classroom windows, with kids exposed to dust and unsafe traffic conditions for years to come is absurd. There is no one in our local community who will think that this is acceptable.
The fact that the Government is considering handing over this land and destroying the amenity of this school to save a liquor store is quite extraordinary. There is an alternative site available. The Government is simply cutting costs by sacrificing the education of the students at Leichhardt Campus. That’s not good enough and we are not going to stand for it.
ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Do the minutes specifically talk about the liquor store and compensation? What do the minutes say?
ALBANESE: The letter that has gone out to residents speaks about two potential sites. This is one. The other site is currently occupied by Dan Murphy’s. That has been the subject of community consultation for a long period of time.
I’ve sat down with Sydney Motorway Corporation on a regular basis. Not once have they mentioned this to me and they only sent out a letter to me yesterday afternoon after the letterbox drop to the local residents in Leichhardt and Lilyfield and after I rang yesterday morning. Immediately I heard about this I rang Paul Fletcher, the Minister who on a federal basis has responsibility for this project.
Stuart Ayres has gone missing on this project. He doesn’t have responsibility for much, but you would think he could get it right. But he refuses to engage on these issues. The minutes, I will let Darcy talk about in terms of the council.
BYRNE: Last Friday the Inner West Council transparently released the minutes of their recent meeting with Sydney Motorway Corporation and what they reveal is that firstly Sydney Motorway Corporation is specifically targeting this school site as a cost-saving measure. They don’t want to pay compensation to acquire the liquor store and so they want to sacrifice the school. It also demonstrates in this document that the Education Department has secretly given the green light to the acquisition of this land, publicly owned land, for Westconnex and Rob Stokes as the new Education Minister needs to demonstrate some of the commitment that his predecessor showed to the welfare of public education students, intervene and show that he is going to stand up for the school community rather than rolling over for Westconnex.
REPORTER: You said the leaflet said that both proposals were under consideration. Has a decision been taken, does it appear?
ALBANESE: A decision hasn’t been taken. What they said is that there are two sites – the site that everyone knew about and this site here. But what they have done is entered into negotiations secretly with the Department of Education with no consultations with local parents, students or the school community. This is a vibrant school community here and the fact that these negotiations have taken place, that they have the approval of the Department of Education, is frankly beyond belief. They are saying afterwards that the tram sheds of course will be available then for the school. I’ve got an idea for them – let’s hand the tram sheds over to the school now. That’s a campaign that has been in operation for a long time.
REPORTER: Labor’s got a bill that they are going to put through tomorrow (inaudible) about penalty rates. Do you think it will get support from the cross bench?
ALBANESE: Well, I am certainly hopeful that anyone of good will who looks at this legislation and looks at the unfairness in the decision that was made by the Fair Work Commission last week, will say on a day like today, or will think about, is Sunday a different day? It is to other days in the week and that’s why the compensation is there. Local members, not just on the cross bench, but I think Coalition members as well, will think about their constituents who will contact them and inform them that they rely upon these penalty rates to pay school fees, to pay their mortgages, to put food on the table of their families.
Students who are relying upon penalty rates in order to further their education, they rely upon penalty rates to get by on a day-to-day basis and that is why this decision is wrong. They’ll also think about the impact on the economy of taking out of the economy those dollars that are spent. If you are working on Sunday for penalty rates, you are not making savings; you are spending that money creating jobs, creating economic activity through the economy and that is why this decision is wrong. That’s why Labor has said that we will legislate if need be in order to make sure that we protect the living standards of some of the poorest working people in our community.
REPORTER: Wouldn’t your plan to overturn this decision undermine the independent umpire?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that no one envisaged that the umpire in this case could make a decision unlike any decision that has been made by industrial relations umpires for more than 100 years. What we haven’t had before, ever, is decisions which cut real wages of working poor. That’s what this does. It cuts real wages. It takes away the living standards of people who need these wages in order to survive. That principle is absolutely fundamental and that’s why, if the context of the decision that has been made is wrong in terms of the rules, then Labor will be changing those rules to ensure that people can’t be worse off. The last time this happened was under the WorkChoices legislation when people lost real wages as a result of that legislation. Guess what? It was rejected by the Australian people. It was rejected by Labor. We were elected to government and we fixed that problem. We are prepared to fix this problem now, from Opposition and show the leadership that frankly the Government should be showing on this issue.
REPORTER: If you didn’t want penalty rates cut why didn’t you put that in the legislation establishing the commission?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that none envisaged that for the first time in over 100 years we would have a circumstance where the Commission would actually cut real wages of people who rely on those wages for their living standards.
REPORTER: Do you regret voting to establish he commission now?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that in terms of the rules that have been applied, have been applied in a way that wasn’t envisaged when this legislation was carried. No-one in the Parliament, or in the media, or in the union movement, or in the employers said when that legislation was carried: Oh good this will lead to a reduction in real wages. What we are seeing in this country at the moment is that real wages are flat-lining. You had the lowest wage increases that we have seen in a generation. Now, on top of that, to cut the real wages of some people who rely upon these wages to get by, some 700,000 people will have the income that they rely upon cut as a result of this decision. It’s a bad decision. We are prepared to fix it.
REPORTER: There are enterprise agreements though, that were struck by the SDA. And Sunday workers under those are paid less than this decision. Did that help lead to this decision?
ALBANESE: Not at all. For a long time enterprise bargaining has allowed for flexibility in particular workplaces and or across a particular industry. So those negotiations take place whereby you have a reduction in penalty rates but an increase in wages across the board to allow a more flexible workforce in the benefit of employers and employees together, recognising that there is a common interest. What we have here is something very different. We don’t have any compensation. We just have a real cut in the wages of these people.
REPORTER: What does it say about the Government if Mathias Cormann, who supported Abbott in the 2015 leadership spill, is now speaking out against him?
ALBANESE: Well the Government is a shambles. This is a Government that is divided, that is dysfunctional and, in Tony Abbott’s case, is delusional. What we have is a Government that doesn’t have a sense of purpose, that at a time where Labor is concerned about the real wages of people who rely upon penalty rates for their living standards and real issues. Here today we are talking about the education of young people. The Government is just talking about itself and each other. It’s talking about personalities. It’s divided. It’s game over really for this Government when it comes to having a sense of purpose or a future agenda.
REPORTER: So is Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership terminal?
ALBANESE: Well I think whether it is terminated by the Australian people or be terminated by his own party we will see. But it is very clear that even people in his own party think that Malcolm Turnbull is not providing leadership for the country and that is the vacuum that Tony Abbott is trying to step into, a vacuum created by a government without a sense of purpose, without a narrative and without a reason for being.
REPORTER: And just back to this issue in terms of disruption to kids’ education, what is that disruption do you believe?
ALBANESE: Well what we are talking about isn’t a small hole here. What we are talking about is a site where trucks will be entering and excavation equipment to dig tunnels both ways in both directions and to have literally hundreds of thousands of tonnes of materials to be taken out in order to make the space for the tunnel – that sort of disruption. The tunnel will also require major boring equipment. These aren’t little pieces of machinery. This will devastate the entire area. The idea that literally, on the area of land that borders the oval and is just metres from school classrooms, that you could conduct this sort of major construction activity is quite frankly obscene. And if anyone comes to this site where we are standing here today and says that there is any possibility that this would be found to be acceptable, I find it quite frankly beyond belief.
Now Westconnex seems to be dominated by people who aren’t from Sydney, in terms of their major executives. I don’t think they have any idea of what they are dealing with with this site. Certainly the person who I spoke to yesterday at the Motorway Corporation seemed to have no idea of exactly just how close this site is. Indeed, common sense tells you that it should be incorporated into the school, which is what the school has campaigned on for some time.
So some smarty in the Education Department has decided they can get the Motorway Corporation for this toll road to clean up the land and that’s the way that they save on the clean-up of the Tram Shed site. Someone in the Motorway Corporation who thinks they are smart too has decided that they can use this site rather than purchase a private site near here. This is an absurd proposal. It’s one that shows contempt for the students, staff and the local community here in Leichhardt. It’s one that should be rejected and it should be rejected today.
REPORTER: And just finally, how long would it go on for? You say it would be handed back in the end.
ALBANESE: It’s unclear because as the letter to residents shows, this is just the latest tunnel route. Here we have a project that has been under construction for years where, in writing, the corporation is saying they don’t even know what the final route of the tunnel will be. That is just extraordinary and it is an indictment frankly of infrastructure development under this State Government and this Federal Government, where every single dollar of federal funds has already been funded – the $1.5 billion in grant funds – for a project that they don’t even know where’ it’s going. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.