Subjects; Regional Rail Link opening; public transport; payments to people smugglers; Ipsos poll; need for conscience vote on marriage equality
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yesterday I had the great privilege of attending the official opening of the Regional Rail Link in Victoria. This project is the largest ever federal investment in public transport. 15,000 jobs created, more than 90km of new track built, two new stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, stations renovated along the route, grade separations – a fantastic project that will make an enormous difference to the people of western Melbourne, Geelong, Bendigo, and Ballarat. In terms of this project, it’s significant that Tony Abbott was in Melbourne when he said that the Federal Government does not invest in urban public transport. It seems he was unaware when he said that prior to the last election, that the largest project ever of federal Commonwealth investment was already underway creating jobs, creating economic activity, and improving productivity for Melbourne. He has put that promise into practice and has removed all funding of public transport projects around Australia including the $3 billion cut from the Melbourne Metro project. At the moment Victoria is receiving 8% of Commonwealth infrastructure investment but have 25% of Australia’s population. That is simply untenable. The federal government must stop punishing Victorians for having the temerity to vote Labor at the last state election. There are projects in Victoria including level crossings, including the Melbourne Metro project, including additional funding that could be made available for the Western Ring Road, that are ready to go right now.
REPORTER: Why do you think Labor has extended its lead over the Government in terms of the Fairfax-Ipsos poll?
ALBANESE: This is a Government that its own Cabinet ministers describe as a shambles. It’s a shambles over national security issues. It’s a shambles over economic policy. It’s a shambles over social policy. When you have a government that is so out of touch with the needs of everyday Australians that you can have a Prime Minister that can say the only Commonwealth engagement in transport and infrastructure should be for roadways, not also for rail lines let alone the freight rail projects that are ready to go in Victoria as well. It really shows how out of touch Tony Abbott and his ministers are. Every time they open their mouth, whether to say that poor people don’t drive cars, or that there are no issues of housing affordability in Sydney, they just remind the Australian people of just how out of touch they are.
REPORTER: There are reports about the potential payment of these boat turn backs in Australian waters. Should that make some on Labor’s right rethink them pushing for Labor too to adopt boat turn back as part of its strategy?
ALBANESE: These reports are quite extraordinary. Peter Dutton said a simple no after being questioned about whether payments have been made to people smugglers. Tony Abbott has had the opportunity for days now to confirm Peter Dutton’s response was correct and he’s refused to do so. Indeed, he’s implied that that isn’t the case. We’ll be raising that issue obviously in Parliament today. I think the Australian public would be shocked to think that their money is being used to pay people smugglers. It would be an extraordinary indictment of the lack of morality of this government. This is about the Government and whether the Government has paid people smugglers. That is the question that we need answered. This is a Government that has talked big, but we need to see exactly what it has done. Australians have been very concerned about the lack of transparency that has been involved in the Government’s approach to these matters. Well, enough is enough. They need to make it very clear today whether taxpayers’ money, ordinary mums and dads, have paid indirectly through the tax system to pay people smugglers.
REPORTER: They’re being asked about that, but just for Labor because you’ve got your National Conference coming up –
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for National Conference.
REPORTER: For this issue –
ALBANESE: We have this great system within the Labor Party which is you go along to the National Conference and you have your say there. I’m sure there will be a range of issues dealt with at National Conference.
REPORTER: What would you say to some of your colleagues who are in talks with Coalition MPs about working together to oppose a gay marriage bill?
ALBANESE: I actually think that it’s reasonable that people be engaged across the Parliament on the issue of marriage equality. I think that there is a majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate to support this change. What I know is that there is an enormous majority out there in the Australian public. The Prime Minister should this week indicate through a process in his party room that there will be a conscience vote across the Parliament on this issue. That is the appropriate way for this reform to get done and when it’s done I think people will look back and wonder why it wasn’t done earlier because giving some people rights who currently don’t enjoy them, doesn’t take away the existing rights for anyone. This is just about improving rights for some, not taking rights from anyone else. I disagree very strongly with the opponents of marriage equality be they in my party or another political party but I respect their right to hold that view and what concerns me though and what I’d say to them is, why is it you’re objecting in terms of the Coalition members, you’re objecting to being able to say what that view is and give your colleagues the same right to say what their view is to support marriage equality on the floor of the parliament. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.