Subjects; The Coalition Government’s infrastructure underspend, Doug Cameron, ABC, quotas
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yesterday the Government released its final Budget Outcome. What it showed was another $1 billion underspend on infrastructure. That is, the Government spent $1 billion less than what it itself said it would spend when it announced the Budget in May of 2017. The fact is that over the first four Budgets now, we have an underspend of some $4.9 billion. These aren’t figures based upon what Labor though should have been invested in infrastucture – these figures are based on what the Government itself said it would do.
So what we see right across the programs is an underspend. When it comes to the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, a 46 per cent underspend. They said they would spend $1.5 billion, but only invested $800 million. For the Beef Roads Program, we have $81 million committed in those four Budgets and $6 million actually invested. Six out of 81 – or a 93 per cent underspend. For the Black Spots Program we have $100 million less spent then what the Government said it would invest – or one in three. Now Black Spots occur right around Australia. It’s a program aimed at road safety. The Government has to explain why, on major road projects, on the Heavy Vehicle Safety Program, Northern Australia Roads Program, the Bridges Renewal Program – a program that they introduced, more than half of the money that was allocated hasn’t been invested in that program – over the four years, $4.9 billion. Just think about that. That’s the sort of figure we want to see as a federal commitment to the Airport Rail Program in Melbourne. That’s the sort of program that could have delivered major projects in five capital cities. That’s the same figure that could have equalled the cuts that were made to the Melbourne Metro project of $3 billion, to the Cross River Rail project of $715 million, to rail in WA and South Australia.
What we’re seeing as a result of that is less jobs created, less economic activity and we’re falling behind on all of those issues. And at the same time we know that the Government, due to a leak in this year’s Budget, have allocated $7.6 billion for new infrastructure projects. The money has been set aside but those projects haven’t been announced. It shows that the politicisation of the Government’s infrastructure agenda is leading to failure of policy. And just this week we saw Infrastructure Australia announce, through the Government, that they had listed the Gawler Line Electrification in South Australia as a priority project. But the fact is it was listed as a priority project way back in 2009, almost ten years ago and it was invested in by the Federal Labor Government. It was a project that was underway and was stopped by Tony Abbott when he came into Government in 2013. And now, five years later, they are announcing it as somehow a new project that’s been approved by Infrastructure Australia as a priority. This Government is failing on infrastructure. They are failing to invest the money that they themselves said they would do. They are failing to support Infrastructure Australia’s independence and fund projects that have been endorsed as priority by Infrastructure Australia. And they are allocating money to projects, putting it aside, but not announcing them until the Federal Election campaign is actually launched, rather than getting on with projects like Western Sydney Rail. It should be under construction today, rather than waiting for some surprise political announcement down the track where the Government will say, ‘oh we’ve just made the decision to announce $3.5 billion for this project’. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Is it correct that Doug Cameron is going to run as Labor’s candidate in Lindsay?
ALBANESE: There are also fairies and dinosaurs flying past Marrickville Town Hall. That’s a bizarre suggestion. Doug Cameron is a good friend of mine. He could run for any seat and he’d be a good candidate, but the idea that Doug Cameron is going to run for Lindsay just shows that the media will report any rumour and it is a great example of the 24 hour media cycle driving things. The fact is Doug Cameron announced, on his own time, he’s stepping down from the Senate. Had he chosen, I’m sure he would have been endorsed for a further term in the Senate. That term ends in June 2019 and I know that Doug’s looking forward to making a contribution – I’m sure he will continue to – to the Labor Party and on other issues that he cares about. He certainly has never raised with me, and I doubt whether he’s raised it with anyone on earth, him running for the seat of Lindsay.
JOURNALIST: Now on the subject of the ABC, is it appropriate for the Chairman of the ABC to get involved in the employment of staff?
ALBANESE: It’s completely inappropriate, if that story is proven to be correct. The idea that the ABC Board would have a say in the running of the ABC in terms of who they employ as reporters is extraordinary, made all the more extraordinary by the emails that seem to indicate this was as a result of Government pressure. The ABC’s independence should be cherished. There’s a word for governments that intervene to try to stop reporters and journalists being able to do their job – it’s called totalitarian. That’s what we see from totalitarian regimes around the world. In a democracy the public broadcaster’s independence should be cherished by both the government and by board members.
JOURNALIST: Now if those emails are found to be true, should Justine Milne stand down because of this?
ALBANESE: Well the issue here is the Government pressure that has been placed on the ABC. We saw it with Tony Abbott stopping members of his party going on Q&A. We’ve seen it with the ongoing attempts to intimidate the ABC as the national broadcaster. All of us from time to time, if we’re in politics, will have disagreements with various reporting of the national broadcaster and have a right to actually say we think that’s wrong or we think that report has got it wrong. What they don’t have a right to do, as the Government, is to intervene in the ABC’s independence and I say that as a former Minister for Communications. It is very important that the intimidation from the leadership of the Liberal Party, and indeed from the Communications Minister that we’ve seen as well in Mitch Fifield, against the ABC and SBS stop. And the ABC plays such an important role in this country. It is the most trusted news source and the basis of that trust is its independence from interference from government. The Government should not be interfering and the Board should ensure that government interference is not supported, indeed that the ABC’s independence is protected.
JOURNALIST: Now what do you think of the idea of quotas for gay people in the Labor Party?
ALBANESE: Well I don’t support having quotas for every category that exists in society and certainly someone’s sexuality is just one aspect of the contribution that they make and their personality that they bring. The fact is that the Australian population is made up of a diversity of people. We have people who happen to be gay or lesbian now in Federal and State Parliaments, I don’t think that defines all of who they are or what their contribution to public life is. It is good that there’s diversity in our Parliaments, I support that. But if we move to a situation whereby identity politics has categories based on every category in our society thenI think given the House of Representatives, for example, is made up of people whose job it is, as mine is to represent people in this electorate regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, then I don’t support quotas. I didn’t support them when the issue was raised in 2013, when it comes to quotas based on sexuality or based upon race.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.