Mar 17, 2014

Transcript of doorstop – Parliament House, Canberra

Subjects: Re-announcement of F3-M2 link; infrastructure financing; Medicare; SA & Tasmanian elections; Royal Commission; Greens

ALBANESE: Yesterday we saw a farcical press conference in Sydney. Tony Abbott proved that when it comes to infrastructure, he is the Great Pretender. He and the Premier Barry O’Farrell stood in front of a big placard saying ‘NorthConnex’.

The only thing that was new about the announcement was the signage. This project, the link between the F3 and the M2 has been worked on and included in Federal Labor’s budget for a number of years.

It took time to negotiate with Transurban and the state government to make sure the project could go ahead and that was announced prior to last year’s federal budget. In the 2013-14 budget we included funding.

$150 million of that funding is flowing in the current financial year. Five million of the $405 million flowed in 2012-13. This is an agreement. $405 million from NSW, $405 from the Commonwealth, and Transurban to conduct the work with an extension of the tollway on the M2 in order to cover off the financing of this project.

It’s a vital project that will remove 21 traffic lights between the Central Coast and the city. It’s vital for commuters but also for freight. I signed the intergovernmental agreement for this project with the relevant minister, Duncan Gay, in the government party room of the New South Wales parliament on 21 June last year.

This is a project that was done and dusted – fully financed with Commonwealth, state and private sector financing. Yesterday we had an ‘exclusive’ story in the Sunday Telegraph put in there by Tony Abbott and his spin doctors suggesting that this was somehow a new project.

I’ve got this message for Tony Abbott. If you’re serious about infrastructure, it requires you to actually build something new, not just come up with a new name for an old project. Today we also have the suggestion that any funding available from the Commonwealth for infrastructure will be dependent upon privatisation occurring from state governments.

That’s already been rejected by people including Troy Buswell, the former WA Treasurer. What we’re seeing in the lead up to the Budget for this year is the government preparing to rip $500 million out of public transport projects in Western Australia.

They’re planning to rip $3 billion out of the Melbourne Metro in Victoria. To rip $715 million out of the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane. This is all money that’s been fully allocated in the Budget. It’s there for people to see. They’re planning to rip that money out. And we’re seeing nothing new from this government. We’re just seeing a wide range of old projects being re-announced.

Last week there was a graphic on Twitter about the Coalition’s commitment to the Gateway project, to the North West Coastal Highway, to the Great Northern Highway upgrade, and to the Perth to Darwin Highway, as well as projects on the Leach Highway. All five of these projects are already underway because they were all funded by Labor in the 2013-14 Budget, or in earlier budgets.

This is an attempt by the Abbott Government to con the people of Australia into thinking that they’re doing something in infrastructure, when they’re really doing nothing.

This week, they’ll have a decision to make regarding the Infrastructure Australia Bill and the Land Transport Bill that’s before the parliament.  The decisions is, do they genuinely support Infrastructure Australia being strengthened and staying independent, or do they want to politicise it?

There are two things at stake. One change would mean that the government will be able to direct IA to not fund certain classes of infrastructure – public transport – and therefore distort the whole purpose of IA. The other change they’re seeking is to give the minister the right to stop the publication of cost-benefit analyses.

What we need is openness and transparency. We need Infrastructure Australia to be able to function properly. That’s what the submissions to the inquiry say, including those from the Business Council of Australia, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the Urban Development Institute of Australia, and from Infrastructure Australia itself.

REPORTER: When it comes to this poll on Medicare co-payments, does it show there might be a willingness among people to take one for the county, so to speak?

ALBANESE: I’ll tell you what Australians want and expect. They’re very proud of the fact that we have a universal health care system – Medicare. That’s something Labor is absolutely committed to. I believe it has overwhelming popular support and if the conservatives want to try and undermine that, let’s see how they go.

REPORTER: Bill Shorten said yesterday that Labor has a hard road back given they might not have any governments left, depending on South Australia. How does Labor need to change to come back?

ALBANESE: Labor must always be the party of progressive reform. We must be prepared to defend our legacy. Medicare, superannuation, our infrastructure program, setting up Infrastructure Australia. But we must always look forward as well. What are our future jobs? How do we skill our workforce so they can take advantage of those opportunities? Australia has a bright future. We must always be optimistic in how we maximise opportunity.

We’re in the fastest growing region in the world – the Asia Pacific. With that comes opportunity, but also challenges. That’s why we had projects like the National Broadband Network. We’re about setting up Australia for the future so that we can compete with the world. We can’t be complacent. We must always be optimistic and forward looking.

REPORTER: Just talking about ‘NorthConnex’, you were talking about one area that’s going to have a toll placed on it. Isn’t that what you were talking about, privatising assets to invest money in others? You’re using that to extend it, essentially. That’s a small form of it, isn’t it?

ALBANESE: No. We make no apologies for delivering the F3 to M2 project, which of course the state government has renamed the F3 to M1 project. It’s not a new road – it’s the same road. They haven’t spent an extra dollar. They’ve renamed the F3 to M2 link ‘NorthConnex’. Not a single extra dollar in yesterday’s announcement. Not an extra cent, not an extra metre of road. Nothing. We’re mobilising private capital there from Transurban. That’s a sensible arrangement. Labor supports mobilising private capital for infrastructure. We support it fully. What we don’t support is that being used as an excuse to withdraw totally from Commonwealth funding. That is our position. It’s balanced. The F3 to M2 is a great example of what happened in three big projects in the last budget. The others were Cross River Rail, and Melbourne Metro. If Joe Hockey and the government are serious about mobilising private capital and superannuation for infrastructure, they won’t withdraw the Commonwealth contribution that was all about managing risk for those projects and making sure they could go ahead.

REPORTER: The Royal Commission into pink batts gets underway today. You were around that Cabinet table. Do you think the outcomes will be worth it given that no politicians are actually fronting it?

ALBANESE: There have been a number of inquiries already. Workplace safety is a critical issue. I refer you to the coroner’s report from Queensland which was very comprehensive.

REPORTER: Given the results in Tasmania at the weekend, do you ever see a Labor-Greens alliance in government of any form again?

ALBANESE: My objective is Labor winning every seat that we contest. My main opponents in my seat of Grayndler are the Greens.  I’m familiar with campaigning against them. Only Labor can provide a comprehensive plan that isn’t just concerned about sustainability but also about economic growth. That’s the distinction. Concern for jobs as well as sustainability. I gave a speech last week about productivity, sustainability and liveability of our cities. It is majority Labor governments that deliver that. We’re not just a party of protest. Greens political representatives rarely talk about the environment, and sustainability. By and large they talk about fringe issues. They don’t actually represent the mainstream of the environment movement.

Thank you.