Subjects: Australian Jobs Bills; Ford; Parramatta to Epping Rail Link; Sydney infrastructure; Senator George Brandis; Electoral reform; Party reform; Kevin Rudd
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Last night, the House of Representatives passed the Australian Jobs Bill. That was an important piece of legislation. It’s about ensuring that Australian working families and the Australian economy benefit from major projects. What it requires is to have plans put in place for projects over half a billion dollars to secure Australian jobs. So plans about issues such as procurement of resources, procurement of steel, procurement of all the products that go into a major project in the construction industry, or in other sectors of the economy, which actually give consideration to Aussie jobs.
This is important for Australian manufacturing. The Labor Party is the party that believes in Australian manufacturing. Last night, in voting against this legislation, the Coalition confirmed yet again that they won’t stand up for Aussie jobs. Just like in the car industry where they’re planning to rip off $500 million at least, and a potential of a further $1.5 billion cut to the bone down the track. It is only this Labor Government that will stand up for Australian jobs and the legislation was overwhelmingly voted for by the cross benchers – they got it, the Labor Government got it and it was just the Coalition that once again stood isolated, unprepared to stand up on these issues.
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Given that you’ve given industry assistance to, for example, Ford, how can you guarantee the companies benefiting from this jobs plan will continue to provide jobs and to exist into the future?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The analysis by the Department suggested that this could be of benefit for Australian companies of some $6.4 billion. The analysis suggests that if you have to put these plans in place – and we’re only talking about major projects worth $500 million or more – surely, under those circumstances – where you have a project worth that much money, delivering that much money to the proponent of the projects in order to attract capital to go ahead with the project such as that – surely it is not much to ask that analysis and effort be put in place to secure Australian jobs as part of the procurement process, as part of ensuring that we have a national benefit to these major projects.
Now, with regard to Ford, the loss of those jobs is regrettable indeed. We know that Ford, compared with the other companies, didn’t have in place an appropriate export orientation behind their future agenda. But we want to make sure that we put in place proposals, including making sure that there are regional jobs plans. We’ve stated with regard to Ford, that we will put in place assistance in Geelong and Broadmeadows. I notice when Tony Abbott speaks about Ford, he just speaks about Geelong, he doesn’t worry about Broadmeadows. But we will put in place proposals consistent with our approach on all of these matters, which is about securing the national economic interest and that’s what the Budget was about – securing jobs and growth for the Australian national economy.
QUESTION: If there is such a focus on job creation, why is it that the $2 billion Epping to Parramatta rail link has been shelved?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We didn’t defer it. The State Government has refused to go ahead with this project and I think that’s unfortunate. I would be prepared to sit down with them, put it back on the agenda and bring it forward.
What we did with state governments was ask them to put forward projects that they wanted included in Nation Building 2 that begins in 2014-15.
Now, we put forward funding for a range of major infrastructure projects in our Budget just a fortnight ago. The State Government, for reasons of – I’m not quite sure, it’s hard to explain why you would say ‘no’ to the funding that was on the table. I got asked a question about this today on radio which was ‘either-or’ with regard to a reference to the fact that we have funding for the F3 to M2 Link in the Budget, funding for the potential extension of the Sydney motorways. We’ve put $5.5 billion into Sydney infrastructure since we were elected. The Howard Government spent $300 million, that’s all, during 12 years of office. You could have had all of it.
The Parramatta to Epping Rail Link was chosen because of the vital need to ensure that Parramatta is Sydney’s second CBD; ensuring that road and rail links don’t just go to and from the CBD in Sydney, that Parramatta is truly able to grow as an economic hub. You could have indeed had the North West Rail Line, and Parramatta Council had a proposal well developed for it, go through Parramatta. But when the O’Farrell Government got in, perhaps because it was supported by the former Labor government as well as this Federal Labor Government, they chose to reject that funding. Construction could have been under way right now.
And I make this point: there has been no construction begun on any infrastructure project by the O’Farrell Government in Sydney or anywhere else, none. There are ideas and proposals, and some of those are worked through and infrastructure does take time, but this is the project where construction could have begun, it should have begun. But we can’t force a state government to build an extension to a state government rail line.
QUESTION: Do you think it will ever happen?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it must happen. This is a rail line that has been half built. This is a rail line which would bring enormous benefit and access to the high-value jobs in the hub that is around the Macquarie region. This would bring benefit to Western Sydney. It would also bring benefits because at the moment if you want to go to the Macquarie sector – where you have those high-value jobs, high-tech jobs, jobs in pharmaceuticals, in information technology, et cetera, and access of course to Macquarie University – you’ve got to go into the city and then out again. It makes no sense.
Part of what has to happen in Sydney is ensuring that transport routes don’t have to go into the city and out again because the crunch point in terms of congestion on the rail line is the City circle. Now, we have no action on the second harbour crossing. We have no logical extension which would have been the Parramatta to Epping Rail Line. We support it. We’ve kept the funding there in the Budget as part of Nation Building 3, hoping that the State Government realises how vital this project is, and you would have had construction well under way on this rail line.
Construction can commence on the F3 to M2 Link in 2014, where we have agreement between the State Government – and I expect their funding to be in their budget. That’s an example which shows that you can have Federal and state governments sit down, work out a proposal, in this case with a private sector operator as well, Transurban, and achieve a good outcome for the people of Sydney and NSW.
The same thing could have happened on Parramatta to Epping. The State Government chose not to.
QUESTION: Senator Brandis has been briefed by ASIO last night, [indistinct]…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: How do you know that?
QUESTION: He says he has been briefed by ASIO last night and he has accused the Prime Minister…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That was a joke.
QUESTION: Sorry. They are few and far between. And he says the Prime Minister has misled Parliament.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You want me to comment on what George Brandis says about a discussion he had with ASIO. Get serious. Get serious. I’m not comment on a briefing to which I wasn’t a part of between a security agency and a shadow attorney-general and frankly, I’m pretty surprised that the shadow attorney-general is commenting on briefings from ASIO.
I don’t intend to do it. I don’t care what he says. I don’t intend to comment on a briefing between ASIO and the shadow attorney-general to which I wasn’t at and frankly, security briefings that I’ve had, I don’t comment on.
QUESTION: On electoral funding reform, is it a bad look for the parties to be basically feathering their own nests before the election or are there merits to this electoral reform?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There are absolute merits to this reform. We have a situation whereby currently the electoral donation is $12,100. That is a major step forward from where it was. A few years ago, when I first engaged in politics, there was no disclosure of donations at all, many years ago.
What we’ve seen is change so that there is increased transparency in the system. Now, the Labor Party put forward a proposition of moving to $1,000. We weren’t able to secure the passage of that legislation through the Senate. What this change does is $5,000, but it’s not indexed. It’s $5,000 permanently, so a significant shift in terms of transparency of the system, and I think that is of considerable benefit. And when it comes to electoral reform, I think commonsense tells you that where possible that should be done in a bipartisan way between the Government and the alternative government.
Surely that makes sense, rather than it be a matter for partisan politics where a government attempts to secure a majority in order to advantage the government and retain office over the alternative government.
QUESTION: So did you make an honest attempt to get that thousand dollars through the House and the Senate?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, yes.
QUESTION: So you canvassed people?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It was voted against. It was voted against. It lost.
QUESTION: So that’s the only reason that this deal has come about, is because the deal you wanted couldn’t get through?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it lost. It was put to the Senate, and it lost, and in terms of the going forward with this proposition, I think if I was standing here, and it’s not my legislation, but if I was standing here saying the Labor Party has a partisan piece of legislation that is opposed by the alternative government, the Coalition, three months out from an election, I think there might be a bit of criticism from yourself.
QUESTION: Just further on that, Independents want more transparency and lower donation thresholds. So do the Greens. Why couldn’t you have struck a deal on that side of Parliament, why did you need to go to the other side?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think I answered that pretty clearly. The idea – and I can’t be more explicit – that a government has a proposition that is opposed by the alternative government, and the alternative government isn’t, I hate to tell you, it’s not a choice between Adam Bandt and Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott. The choice at the next election of who will lead this country is between our Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve stated very clearly, I can’t do it more explicitly than that. It is my view that, where possible, electoral issues should be conducted in a bipartisan way. I can’t be clearer than that, and I make no apologies for that.
QUESTION: The administrative fees are backdated to April. Is that because Labor’s struggling to find enough funds ahead of the federal election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No.
QUESTION: And why has it been backdated?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s when the legislation was begun with in terms of the process. It’s not my legislation. I haven’t written it. But I assume that it is normally the case when legislation is prepared, quite often it’s prepared on the basis of from the time of preparation or from the time of agreement.
QUESTION: Do you think that Labor is broke and needs the extra money?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. And I note that there’s a direct quote from me in one of the papers today that the journalist concerned didn’t have the courtesy of contacting me or my office about that, and it’s wrong.
QUESTION: The idea that that had to be both major parties agreeing, I mean, so what, this issue is this – sort of lives in this separate world where it has to be bipartisan, you can’t pass it the way you normally pass legislation?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You’ve asked the same question a number of times.
Well, it might seem odd to you, perhaps that’s why you’re a journo and I’m in politics – some people report, some people do. What I know is that if I was standing here saying we’ve got a partisan piece of legislation on electoral reform, I think you’d be very critical of it.
QUESTION: So you want a fight with Tony Abbott?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think people would be really critical of electoral reform. I can’t be clearer than that. I think where possible, electoral reform should be conducted in a bipartisan way wherever possible.
QUESTION: I disagree.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You can disagree with it, but it’s my position and it’s been my position the whole way through. I might add that that is totally consistent with the way that most electoral reform issues have been dealt with, not just in this Parliament but in previous Parliaments as well, and that when there has been attempts to have partisan differences, and there are differences within the political parties over a range of things such as voluntary voting.
If it was the case that a government was able to or endeavoured to abuse its position to entrench its current electoral position by changing future outcomes, I think that the media would quite rightly be very critical.
QUESTION: On another question of reform of the caucus, do you support the idea of the caucus appointing the executive?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Let’s be clear about what used to happen. What used to happen was that the factions and the faction leaders – and you know, I am not immune from those issues – would determine, there’d be a ballot not in the Caucus. The ballot would be within the Left, within the Right, they’d do it within the respective state branches of the Right. So there would be little ballots in little rooms and then a slate presented to the Caucus.
I was here from 1996 to 2007 as a member of the Opposition. During that time there were ballots for leadership and deputy leadership. There weren’t ballots held in the Caucus.
QUESTION: If it is a deal between the two major parties, if it’s a deal to be struck between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, while then in the agreement that Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan signed with Rob Oakeshott is the 3.1 actually explicitly outlined electoral donations?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have answered the question.
QUESTION: You haven’t.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have answered the question. You disagree with me.
QUESTION: Just back on the Caucus reform, do you think there should be some changes to the way the executive is appointed or should be in the hands of the leader?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I think in terms of the reforms that the Party needs, very different from talking about the executive and the way that that it’s chosen. What I want to see is a democratisation of the Party from the grassroots up. I want to see more power given to individual members of the Party, and I want to see that across the spectrum. I think it’s worthy of consideration of the Party membership having a say in the leadership of the Party.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it’s worthy of these issues being debated within the Party, at the next national conference. I’ve been an advocate, for example, of members directly having a say over who goes to the ALP national conference. There’s been some reforms in NSW and I give Sam Dastyari and John Graham a great deal of credit. Measures such as election of the policy committees have meant that members have been able to participate. I want to see more direct democracy in the Party.
Now, if you could have a Caucus ballot which was a genuine Caucus ballot where there weren’t groups and people were not chosen by the factions, then I think that would be worthy of consideration. But my view is that any party leader in 2013 and beyond who isn’t able to get the frontbench they want would be placed in an extremely difficult position. I also say that when I look at the frontbenches from 1996 to 2007, I can’t look at you and say that I agree that that was the best team that was available.
QUESTION: There’s been some disquiet on the back benches in recent days over a number of issues. Are you 100 per cent certain it’s not Kevin Rudd supporters agitating behind the scenes, as reported in some of the papers today?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely.
QUESTION: So you can categorically deny there is no new push?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. I’m a friend of Kevin’s. I make no secret of that. I’ve been a friend of Kevin’s for a long time I will be for a long time.
Kevin’s been consistent about all of this. Some journos do the sort of jump around and jump at shadows. Kevin is doing his job. I was with him and Wayne Swan in Brisbane at a very successful press conference about the Cross River Rail project, and I know that Kevin’s continuing to do his job as the Member for Griffith. I expect that he will continue to do that, and the only discussions that I’ve seen Kevin Rudd engaged in are issues of policy that are of interest to his electorate.
And so I think in terms of people looking for motivations that simply aren’t there and trying to join unconnected events is, I think, just not the case. The fact is that internal issues were resolved, resolved clearly and we’re all getting on with the campaign of going forward to the next election.