Subjects; WA Infrastructure; Budget; GST.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s great to be here at the Perth City Link project. This was funded with $239 million of funding from the former Federal Labor Government. It is a great example of an urban project that is changing the face of Perth. The first stage, the sinking of the rail line; the second stage, here, the bus interchange; and of course the third stage that we can see happening around us, which is development on top of where the railway line used to go. This is uniting the Perth CBD with the Northbridge entertainment area and also of course with important areas like the new Perth Arena.
This is a great example of urban policy in action and it was also a great example of the federal, state and local government combining to improve the liveability of this great city of Perth. On the way here I travelled along the Gateway WA project – the largest ever road project here in Perth. I then went along the Great Eastern Highway, which of course was also funded by the former Federal Labor Government. And it is also the case that we funded projects right around the state – the North West Coastal Highway; the Swan Valley Bypass, renamed the NorthLink Project; the upgrades to the Tonkin Highway; the Leach Highway; the upgrades to the Great Northern Highway, the Esperance upgrade. WA Grain Rail was funded to the tune of $135 million.
So when we were in government we partnered with WA. Indeed we lifted up the per capita infrastructure spend for each and every West Australian from $154 to $260. But now WA is getting a dud deal from the Commonwealth. You are not getting your share of GST, with some 34 cents in the dollar. You are also not getting your share of infrastructure funding – even funding that is committed.
The Budget papers last year indicated that WA should get $842 million spent on infrastructure in 2016-17. When the Budget came out in May it indicated that that spending had fallen to some $616 million – a more than $200 million cut to what the Government itself just one year earlier had promised would be spent on infrastructure here in Western Australia.
I’ll be having meetings with the WA Government today as a regular visitor to Western Australia, meeting with my infrastructure counterpart, Rita Saffioti about the needs of Perth and indeed the great state of Western Australia. But what we know is that the Commonwealth needs to step up and provide WA with its share. WA is doing the heavy lifting in terms of the national economy by contributing so much to exports and it is up to the Commonwealth to recognise that and to provide that support for the economy here in Western Australia. And this project is a great example of what can happen when you have the Commonwealth in partnership with the other levels of government providing that national leadership.
JOURNALIST: Do you know what the ratio is now, the spending ratio that you mentioned before that had dropped (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: The spending ratio has fallen in recent times and what we know is there is not a Commonwealth Government-funded infrastructure project under way in Western Australia now that was not funded by the former Labor Government. So when you look at projects like the Swan Valley Bypass; when you look at projects like the Great Northern Highway upgrades; when you look at this project here, they are all legacy projects. What we have had is laziness from the Commonwealth Government and that fall in investment. Of course in the 2014 Budget they came out with the freight link proposal. That was a flawed proposal. It didn’t even take freight to the port. And as a result of them taking funds away from projects that were in the Budget and giving it to that project, which of course didn’t get very far, then we have had four wasted years as far as Commonwealth involvement is concerned.
JOURNALIST: You said we’re being dudded on the GST. What would a Shorten Labor Government do to fix that?
ALBANESE: Well of course you need in terms of the GST, in order to change the rules, you need national agreement by all the state and territory governments. We’d be prepared to sit down over those issues, but also to look at how it is that WA can get its fair share. When we were in government we created the Western Australian Infrastructure Fund, for example. We made sure that the money was there for large projects like Gateway WA and Perth City Link here. This project is the first rail project funded by the Commonwealth here in Perth.
We had in the 2013 budget, $500 million set aside for rail. So projects like the Forrestfield Rail Line, that have been funded to the tune of $498 million – that was simply taking the money that was cut in the 2014 Budget and then giving it back. It wasn’t actually additional investment in infrastructure. So we made a range of commitments during the last election campaign, but we’ll continue to talk to the WA Government, to local government, and to local communities about making sure that WA gets its fair share.
JOURNALIST: It’s not the case that you need the agreement from the other states to change the GST distribution. The federal Treasurer can do that at the stroke of a pen.
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that you do need some agreement in terms of the Commonwealth of the way that it works in terms of the state arrangements. What we’ve said, of course, the current distribution is unfair. What WA’s looking for is for agreements to happen now, is to get change now. They haven’t had that, we’re not the Government now, so it’s not possible for us to change this year’s formula.
JOURNALIST: You don’t have a policy to improve it either.
ALBANESE: What we have is a policy to help out WA. We did it when we were in government by almost doubling the infrastructure investment, and we’re prepared to sit down, those matters are a matter for the Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, and the Leader, Bill Shorten, will be sitting down, and I know they’ve had constructive discussions with Mark McGowan about those issues.
I’m responsible for infrastructure investment, and what I can commit to is consistent with not just what we’ve said, but what we’ve done. If you look here, the jobs created in the short term that are improving the sustainability, liveability and the economy of Perth and WA for the long term.
JOURNALIST: How can West Australians have any faith that the GST rip-off will be fixed under a Shorten Labor Government if what you’re just saying is that you’ll just sit down and have a talk about it? It’s not offering much hope is it?
ALBANESE: Well what you can’t do in 2017 is pretend you are the government and provide a precise response. The truth is that Chris Bowen and Bill Shorten have been having discussions with Mark McGowan. You can’t change things from opposition. What you can do is commit to things in government. We’re not about to hold an election this month. Those discussions will take place, but what we are doing also is planning to make sure that we get WA its fair share.
JOURNALIST: So would you restore infrastructure funding in WA to the levels that the Commonwealth had set, that $200 million, or would you go above?
ALBANESE: Well what we’d do is make sure that WA got its share. And what it got when we were in government is more than just to make-up in terms of population. What we gave was additional funding to WA in recognition of the contribution that WA was making to the economy. That’s why you had that record investment, that’s why you had investment in projects like Grain Rail, here in WA, $135 million. You had $900 million for Gateway WA. You had the funding of the Swan Valley Bypass, renamed NorthLink, but that doesn’t make it a new project. You had the upgrades in terms of the Tonkin and Leach Highway.
One of the things that is clear from Infrastructure Australia’s work on urban congestion is that Perth will have more of the congestion spots than anywhere else in the country. The top ten, more than half of the most congested roads and intersections will be right here in Perth by 2031. Now in order to address that you’ve got to invest, and the sooner you invest the less cost there is to the taxpayer and the better the productivity improvements.
JOURNALIST: So what is a fair share for WA in terms of investment? Can you put any sort of specifics on a funding ratio or a funding injection?
ALBANESE: Well what we will do is consistent with what we’ve done. We’ll make all of our finance arrangements during an election campaign and those commitments, as we did at the last campaign. And I’ll tell you what – sometimes you can lead from Opposition. If you look at projects like the Wanneroo projects, Perth Metronet. These were projects that were committed to by Labor when we were in government. They’re now happening as a result of the diversion of funds from the Perth Freight Link project and they are now happening as a result of the election of the McGowan Government and the pressure that’s been placed on by Federal Labor.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.
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