Oct 18, 2016

Transcript of Doorstop – Parliament House, Canberra

Subjects: Infrastructure investment cuts; Gavin Marshall; Kimberley Kitching; Stephen Conroy 

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Hi. Thanks for joining me. In the lead-up to the election campaign Australians were forced to endure an $18 million propaganda campaign from the Government, speaking about its so-called record infrastructure spend. One of the great ironies of that is that they cut money that was allocated to build roads and rail lines in order to fund their propaganda campaign. Of course, once the election campaign ended the propaganda ended.

But what we know is that not only was it false when the Government spoke about its record infrastructure spending; it actually in terms of delivery is quite farcical. Senate Estimates confirmed yesterday the Budget outcomes for the financial year 2015-16. Now, when Tony Abbott handed down the Budget in 2014 with the cuts to health and the cuts to education, the cuts to child care, the cuts to services, what he said was there would be record infrastructure spending. That included $8 billion in the financial year that we have just had – 2015-16. What the actual investment shows is that the expenditure in that year was actually $5.5 billion and that included $490 million as a one-off payment to Western Australia as GST compensation. That means a $3 billion cut in actual investment on infrastructure in the last financial year.

You don’t create jobs, you don’t create economic growth by promising to build infrastructure. You create jobs and future economic growth by building infrastructure, by putting that investment in.

This follows a $1 billion cut from the previous financial year as well and in yesterday’s infrastructure departmental Estimates we had details of the impact of those cuts. We know that there have been cuts to the Bruce Highway, cuts to the Pacific Highway, cuts to the Gateway North program, cuts to the Goodwood to Torrens rail project in Adelaide, cuts the North-South Road project in Adelaide, cuts to all of these projects which have had an impact.

And it gets even worse when you look forward. Malcolm Turnbull likes riding on trains; he just doesn’t like funding them. So when you look at the forward estimates from this year’s Budget, in 2019-20 the figure for rail transport investment is zero – a big round figure of zero. Not a single dollar invested from this Government in public transport projects anywhere in the country in 2019-20, according to the Government’s own Budget figures.

Because what we have seen from this Government is just a Magical Infrastructure Re-announcement Tour. They have gone around the country; pretended that projects are somehow new that were funded either in the 2013 Budget or in many cases many years before that. But that is running out and hence the investment in roads, in public transport, in ports is all running out as well and that means less jobs and less investment.

Yesterday, to comment on one other issue, yesterday we saw the Government gag debate on its departure tax increase and its backpacker tax farce. What we saw was the Government ram through those changes through the House of Representatives even though the Senate isn‘t even sitting. This Government’s incompetence when it comes to managing the Parliament is quite extraordinary. They lost votes on the floor of the House of Representatives for the first time of any majority government in 50 years.  For the first time since Federation, they actually supported an Opposition amendment which condemned the Government when Kelly O’Dwyer brought forward legislation before the Parliament. And last night they gagged legislation so it could get to the Senate quickly, even though the Senate isn’t meeting until the 7th of November. This is a government without a sense of purpose. This is a government without an agenda. This is a government that clearly is looking for a reason for existence. Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: You don’t think the funding cut is a result of the East West Link not going ahead?

ALBANESE: No, its not. And the government outlined it. You can get good footage in Senate Estimates of the officials outlining the Pacific Highway cuts, the Bruce Highway cuts, Goodwood to Torrens – all of the projects that are not going forward. It’s a result of that, them slowing down investment in projects like the Pacific and Bruce Highway. It’s also a result of them cancelling funding for projects like Cross River Rail and Melbourne Metro. Bear in mind that none of the Government’s investment in the 2014 Budget was new. What they did was cut money from projects that were ready to go ahead in order to fund projects that weren’t ready to go ahead like Perth Freight Link and East-West Link. The other thing that they did – by cutting funding for projects like the M80 road project in Melbourne was that was ready to go, it was recommended by Infrastructure Australia four years ago. Projects and that upgrade, the widening of the ring road around outer Melbourne, was well under way. More than $1 billion was invested in that project while we were in government.

But we had another $500 million in the Budget for the next section, funded in the 2013 Budget. They came to office and in 2014 cut that funding. Then they put it back in in the 2016 Budget and work commenced two weeks ago on that project on the day after the AFL grand final in Melbourne.

But that is three lost years that they had. That was a project that should have been under way more than two years ago. And they are the sort of reasons why these cuts  all add up – projects stopped; projects paused and projects slowed down. That is what has happened to this Government’s infrastructure agenda and projects funded that weren’t ready to go taking money off projects that were ready to go, that were recommended by Infrastructure Australia, like the Cross River Rail Line, like the M80, like the Melbourne Metro.

REPORTER: Mr Albanese, is Labor Senator Gavin Marshall out of line saying on the record that he is going to work to remove his Victorian colleague Andrew Giles?

ALBANESE: Well, I have seen the comments about not just Andrew Giles but Catherine King and Jenny Macklin. They are all valued colleagues. They are all frontbench colleagues. They are all playing a significant role in the Parliament and they have, I think, the support of everyone, not just here, but importantly the people in their respective electorates, which is why they were all returned on July 2 at the federal election.

REPORTER: So, sorry, is he out of line or not, in saying what he said?

ALBANESE: Well, I think the comments speak for themselves and they say more about Senator Marshall than they do about the colleagues who he is disparaging.

REPORTER: Do Bill Shorten and Kim Carr need to bring him to heel?

ALBANESE: Look, that’s a matter for them. These issues were dealt with when they were preselected before the last election and their respective electorates returned them. They are all outstanding colleagues. I don’t intend to comment further.

REPORTER: Are you surprised that Kimberley Kitching was pre-selected for the Senate, Mr Albanese?

ALBANESE: Well, I am not a Victorian member. I didn’t have a vote and I am not familiar with all of the candidates. That’s a matter for the Victorian branch.

REPORTER: Sure, but my question was were you surprised? Do you think that she is an appropriate person to be standing for the Senate given what the Royal Commission found?

ALBANESE: Well, that’s a matter for the Victorian branch. I am a member of the NSW branch.

REPORTER: But you sit in the same party room as her.

ALBANESE: Well, I don’t actually, because she hasn’t been elected yet. So I regard that as a matter for the Victorian branch. Quite clearly she had the support of some significant figures from the Victorian branch and that is a matter for them. I support ensuring that pre-selections are held in accordance with the rules. This one, that certainly happened. I think there certainly is a case for ensuring that members have votes in Senate pre-selections. That is something that I have supported on the record, across the board for some time as a part of party reform.

REPORTER: So you are saying that there is a lack of transparency in Victoria’s Public Office Selection Committee selecting her behind closed doors?

ALBANESE: No. I’m making no comments about those processes. They were done in accordance with rules. That is a matter for the Victorian branch.

REPORTER: But your comments hardly amount to a ringing endorsement of the would-be senator Kitching though.

ALBANESE: I don’t know all of the candidates who presented themselves.

REPORTER: I am asking just about one candidate Mr Albanese.

ALBANESE I don’t know all of the candidates so therefore I wasn’t in a position to make a judgement. I am in a positon to say that Stephen Conroy is a significant loss to our team. Yesterday I felt that loss personally because Stephen Conroy would have had a ball with this $3 billion cut to infrastructure investment and Stephen Conroy was an extraordinary performer in Senate Estimates over a long period of time. He was certainly my go-to guy when it came to infrastructure.  He represented me as I represented him on the floor of the House of Representatives and I certainly wish him well. Thanks very much.