Subjects: Coalition’s lack of investment in infrastructure, asset sales, High Speed Rail
ALBANESE: Can I begin, given that I am in Melbourne where this awful crime and tragedy occurred just last Friday, in expressing my deep condolences and sympathy to the family and friends of those victims.
Five people lost their lives last Friday in this senseless tragedy that is difficult to comprehend the scale of. And many more, of course, are injured and we hope dearly that they come through this process. Of course the scarring that will occur for this community will last for a considerable period of time. Matthew Si, Jess Mudie, Thalia Haykin, a three month old baby, has impacted the sensitivities of every single Australian, their heart goes out, and it is good that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were here in Melbourne yesterday expressing that sympathy.
Can I talk today about infrastructure investment? The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures are quite stark. Remarkably they show that for 12 consecutive quarters since this Government was elected, for each and every one of those quarters, it is less the public sector infrastructure investment than it was at any time under Labor from the time of our first Budget in the June quarter of 2008, right through to when we lost Office in September of 2013. This Government, from the Prime Minister to Ministers to spokespeople, continually say that they have record investment in infrastructure.
That is simply not true and the figures show that that is the case. In Labor’s final four quarters in office, the equivalent figures were $7.5 billion in September 2013, $7.8 in June of that year, $8.1 in March of 2013 and $8.3 billion in December 2012.
For the 21 quarters going back to the June 2008 period it was higher than what the ABS says was the figure for September 2016 of $7.3 billion. Remarkable figures. And of course we know that the Government’s rhetoric simply doesn’t match its reality. And we know it particularly here in Melbourne and in Victoria, where Victorians are receiving less than eight per cent of that reduced infrastructure investment from the Commonwealth, in spite of the fact that they have 25 per cent, or one in four, of the population. Victorians are being dudded by the Turnbull Government because they elected an Andrews Labor Government.
And it’s about time that they put up investment for projects like the Melbourne Metro and they don’t have to find new investment, they can just put the money back that they themselves cut. The Melbourne Metro project was approved by Infrastructure Australia in 2012. That was reaffirmed again just last week and yet the Commonwealth isn’t funding public transport projects. This national drop in investment can be explained by considering the fact that Malcolm Turnbull likes riding on trains but he won’t fund them.
Tony Abbott cut the funding for all public transport projects in his first Budget in 2014 including the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail project and, since then, Malcolm Turnbull has not put any of that money back. We need that investment to deal with urban congestion. We need it to create jobs and create economic growth.
They also keep giving a figure of $50 billion for their investment. Now we know from Questions on Notice that the actual figure is $34 billion up to the years 2019-20 and then $8 billion beyond that, of which perhaps $3 billion is available in 2019-20. Meaning that the total investment is a maximum of $37 billion. This is a Government that has talked about infrastructure but simply isn’t building infrastructure. The projects that they’ve been prepared to support have been ones that have already been under construction and almost completed like the Regional Rail Link here in Melbourne or the M80 project where they actually cut the funding and then put some of it back three years later and pretended somehow that this was a new investment.
Infrastructure is the key to jobs and growth. This Government says it cares about jobs and growth, but by not investing in infrastructure, by having a lower investment every quarter than the one that they inherited from the former Labor Government, they’re not investing in jobs and growth and they’re holding back our economy.
REPORTER: You mentioned one of the reasons that the Turnbull Government is not funding infrastructure in Victoria is because Victoria elected a Labor Government. Are there any other reasons you think could contribute to why the Turnbull Government isn’t giving money?
ALBANESE: I think this is a Government that just doesn’t seem to have an agenda. They went through the last Budget in 2016 and then the election campaign without committing funding to any major infrastructure projects. They had around about 75 small projects they announced during the election campaign, of which all but two or three were in Coalition seats, but which added up to a total investment of around about $800 million. Many of those were essentially roundabouts and very small road projects. They didn’t have any major investment.
And one would have thought that every single budget, certainly when Labor was in Government, and certainly if you look at State Government budgets, whether here in Victoria or in other states, every state budget tends to have a major infrastructure announcement because you have to keep that infrastructure pipeline rolling out.
This is a Government that has stopped. This is a Government that cut all the money from public transport projects in 2014, promised money in that same Budget for projects that simply haven’t begun. Whether it be the East West Link project, the Perth Freight Link project, in Perth, or the slowdown that they have had on major projects like the Bruce Highway or the Pacific Highway down the East Coast. Whether it be the $54 million that they cut from the High Speed Rail Planning Authority, or whether it be Freight Rail where you haven’t had any new initiatives either, whereas the former Federal Labor Government rebuilt one third of the interstate rail freight network. This is a Government that doesn’t seem to be able to advance an agenda. They’re too busy fighting and arguing with each other.
REPORTER: So the Government is seeking to red flag assets which are of national security importance. How big is the national security risk of full privatisation?
ALBANESE: Infrastructure is critical in terms of national security issues and we welcome the fact that the Government seems to have belatedly acknowledged that. But surely you didn’t need a committee or a process to know that the Port of Darwin was a strategic asset that was important for Australia’s future national security. It’s our major port in the North; it’s a major strategic asset which the Government allowed to be sold off just one year ago.
Labor at the time criticised that decision. That decision was wrong and it’s an example of a common-sense approach. You could ask anyone at random, do you think that Darwin Port is strategically important given its location, given the significance it has, to where our major defence presence is in the Northern half of Australia, and given where Australia is located in the world? Our Southern border is close to Antarctica. It’s pretty clear that that is a relatively secure location, compared with our northern border. So in terms of the Port of Darwin, that was a disastrous sell-off and Labor welcomes the fact that the Government is at last recognising the error of its ways.
REPORTER: So should there be a more careful check on asset sales?
ALBANESE: There should absolutely be a national security check on any asset sale and the Port of Darwin is I think the best example and it’s also important for investment certainty that that be identified in a coherent way. Under this Government, it doesn’t seem to have been the case. They’ve allowed in energy, for example, some assets to be sold, others not to be sold, halfway through the process and I think that has created a great deal of concern. The fact is that Australia does need foreign investment, but we need to also make sure we look after the national security interest of this country.
REPORTER: So what do you think should happen in 2017 in terms of progressing High Speed Rail?
ALBANESE: Well I think the first thing that should happen is what was recommended by the High Speed Rail Advisory group that included people like Jennifer Westacott, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, and Tim Fischer, the former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party, and a strong advocate for rail in this country.
We should establish the High Speed Rail Authority. It should be tasked with the job of, firstly, preservation of the corridor; making sure that the planning mechanisms that will require coordination across the Commonwealth, State and Local Government levels takes place. And then, secondly, it should also be tasked with the job of seeking expressions of interest from the private sector, including from international consortiums that have experience with both the construction and the operation of High Speed Rail lines in our region and in Europe to be able to participate in that process but certainly what we’ve seen since the Government came to office is that process stall.
I’ve got a Private Members Bill before the Parliament right now that I had to reintroduce after the election because the Government refused to have even debate on this issue. They could start when Parliament resumes in the second week of February, they could begin by passing that legislation because I’m sure that it would have the overwhelming support of the House of Representatives and the Senate if the Government just let it be put to a vote.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.