Subjects; WA infrastructure; GST; Cabinet papers found; private health insurance
LAUREN PALMER: It’s great to be here. I am Lauren Palmer and I am Labor’s candidate for the Federal seat of Hasluck. I thank Anthony for being here in Perth. Yesterday we were down at Morley Bus Station and discussing METRONET and the critical need for that project and of course today we are at Gateway, the largest-ever federally funded road project for Western Australia, delivered by a Labor Government because we know only a Labor Government is committed to servicing WA’s transport and infrastructure needs.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much Lauren, I am very proud of the work that we did when we were in government last time. Every time I fly into Perth I get on the Great Eastern Highway and see the widening that occurred. I come here to Gateway WA, the largest-ever road project federally funded, some $870 million, making an enormous difference to productivity and the functioning of not just the airport but the freight network and importantly cutting down on commute times for road users here in Perth. It’s just part of what we did when we were in government. The Great Northern Highway, the Swan Valley Bypass, the Perth City Link project, the roads and improvements around Bunbury, the Esperance Port Access Road, the Great Northern Highway around Port Hedland, the North West Coastal improvements, all of these projects done by Labor in government when we more than doubled the infrastructure budget.
And in the last three days I have been here in Perth campaigning with our sitting members and with candidates and looking at potential projects as well for our $1.6 billion WA infrastructure fund; yesterday looking at the Morley to Ellenbrook rail extension, a rail extension talked about for some time but with only Federal Labor having that funding on the table – some $700 million. We will be making further commitments in coming months from the $1.6 billion fund.
We will also continue to look at cities and urban renewal. We looked yesterday at the City of Stirling and the urban renewal that is occurring around Scarborough Beach and around those northern suburbs. But right around Perth we need to provide support for infrastructure.
But what I want to talk about today that is having an impact not just in WA but nationally, is the Commonwealth Government’s approach to infrastructure. They have recently put out the Infrastructure Yearbook and what that shows is that the difference between Labor in Government and the Coalition Government is demonstrated by this graph. That’s the Howard Government years. The Labor Government saw that massive increase in investment. The Abbott Government has seen a decline and that has continued under the Turnbull Government, some 17 per cent less spent on infrastructure since the change of government in 2013 on an annual basis, or some $10 billion less each and every year since there was that change of government.
Now if you want to have growth, you need to do two things. You need to invest in infrastructure, our rail our roads and our ports, and you need to invest in people through education and training and skills. What we are seeing from this government is neither, which is why we are seeing economic issues and pressure being placed on families. That’s why here in WA it is quite extraordinary that there isn’t a single new infrastructure project of any major consequence under way that wasn’t funded when we were in government. The Airport Rail Line here, the Government, to pre-empt what they will say, they will say but oh, we are doing that – $480 million. That’s true. But what they did was they cut $500 million in 2014 for that very project that was there, sitting in the Budget. Then two years after that cut put $480 million – most of it – back and pretended it was a new project. It’s a bit like the Swan Valley Bypass, now called North Link; giving a project a new name does not make it a new project. It’s an old project funded by Federal Labor in 2013.
It’s about time Malcolm Turnbull came to Western Australia, spent not an hour or two hours, but spent a few days here and got to know the issues. While I have been here I have met with the business community, I have met with local residents, with the Mayor of Stirling. We had a good walk around his city yesterday with Tim Hammond. I have been with Kim Travers in the electorate of Pearce and today also we’ve got Senator Glen Sterle here as well, who champions WA in the Senate, particularly on transport infrastructure issues and I thank him for the ongoing work that he does in the Senate committee in particular where he has led the charge to make sure that Western Australia get a better deal. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: What did you think of Bill Shorten’s speech yesterday? Do you think the talk about the left-behind society was a bit reminiscent of Jeremy Corbyn?
ALBANESE: I think that Bill Shorten’s speech yesterday did a number of things. One, it took the position of support for the National Integrity Commission as its centrepiece, a commission that will restore faith that has been lost by the public in our public institutions and that is very important. The second thing that Bill talked about was about living standards and the pressure that is there on working people in terms of wages and conditions. In this country we are seeing real wages in decline. That means that we have got real pressure being felt people in the suburbs, in the towns and in the regions when it comes to their living standards.
And it is quite right that a Labor Leader would talk about those living standards issues because they are having a real impact on people and I think Labor will always stand up for working people and making sure that economic growth isn’t the end in itself. Economic growth is about making sure that we have living standards improved for people wherever they live.
ALBANESE: The fact is that we have an industrial relations system in this country, some of which is being found to be inadequate and we have had attacks on working conditions by this Government over issues like penalty rates. Many people rely on penalty rates to pay their mortgage, to pay their bills, to pay their school fees on this first week back for most states and territories. That means that increase in bills. They rely upon penalty rates. They also rely upon wages to keep up with inflation and that is why Labor is concerned about living standards. We want to grow the economy and I have had very successful meetings here with the business community. I have spoken to people last night from the minerals sector, from the construction sector. We want to make sure that we grow the economy, that we grow jobs, but we also want to make sure that the beneficiaries of that growth are spread throughout the community and at the moment there is a lot of pressure on household budgets due to housing affordability issues and other issues that Bill has identified.
REPORTER: You talk about meeting business but do you think it is necessary for Labor to bash big business as Mr Shorten has done to try to win power?
ALBANESE: I don’t think that is a fair characterisation. Labor when in government has, whether it be under Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard or Paul Keating or Bob Hawke, recognised the need to work with the business community. I as the Infrastructure Shadow Minister have a good relationship with the business community. I sit down and talk with them all the time. I know Bill Shorten does that as well as does Chris Bowen and our other people, particularly in economic portfolios and I think that it is important that Labor in Government works with the business community. But also we don’t shy away from the fact that we have a direct connection with the trade union movement that we are proud of and that we want to represent working people and that we want to make sure that living standards are lifted.
REPORTER: Can I just ask also about this trove of Cabinet documents that have been found in a filing cabinet In Canberra, including from the government of which you were a member. Are you concerned about the implications of this?
ALBANESE: Well of course what we have seen this week is two major leaks from cabinet documents from the current government. This appears to be not so much a leak from the Cabinet, but a cabinet leak literally to be found in a building of course shouldn’t happen. Cabinet documents should be properly secured and should be properly disposed of and yes it is obviously a concern that that has happened.
REPORTER: So what kind of investigation should be conducted then?
ALBANESE: Well Cabinet documents, if they are Cabinet documents, and I haven’t seen them, can be identified. They are numbered. And obviously there should be a proper investigation as to how this occurred because these issues go to security. There is a reason why Cabinet documents are kept confidential for a considerable period of time, for a couple of decades and obviously this shouldn’t have occurred. I haven’t seen the documents so I can’t comment on the specifics in them.
REPORTER: And just on the GST, you’ve got to have a question on that in WA, this $1.6 billion infrastructure fund, that’s the best that Labor will be able to offer WA?
ALBANESE: What we do, every time we come to WA is have new initiatives. We will await of course the Productivity Commission report. It’s been delayed, not by us but by Malcolm Turnbull’s Government. What we have said is I think best recognised in recent times by Colin Barnett who said that it is the best thing that has been put on the table by any political party that he has seen. It’s good that Colin Barnett has had a bit of honesty on the way out and he has identified this $1.6 billion – it’s a substantial commitment. And bear in mind this is over and above the normal investment that Labor Governments will have in infrastructure, normal investment means projects like this right here.
The Coalition, when they came to office, indeed in the lead-up to the Canning by-election and in 2016 came here and tried to pretend that this was a new project that had just started, when some of it had been completed. The fact is they had to do that because there is nothing that they could come to where they could stand and say this is a project that has been funded and delivered by a Federal Coalition Government because they simply have been left behind, which is why you have that investment falling off the cliff.
But our $1.6 billion has enabled us to put on the table the $700 million for the rail line to the north as part of METRONET. We have further commitments that we will make to rail but also to road infrastructure here in Perth and indeed through Western Australia. But frankly the Government has relied upon the investments that Labor put in place prior to our leaving government in 2013 – projects that were either under construction like here, or that were funded, like the Swan Valley Bypass, now known as North Link or projects like the North West Coastal Highway that were funded by the Federal Labor Government.
REPORTER: Just on private health insurance, it’s obviously a high cost for Australians and Labor didn’t manage to keep premiums low. What kind of options are out there to decrease premiums?
ALBANESE: Well we will give consideration to how we can address those issues as part of our commitment to improve living standards and to take pressure off families. People know that they are paying increases in their private health insurance. They also know that often when they try to use that health insurance they are told that that particular procedure isn’t covered so there is a great deal of dissatisfaction out there with regard to private health insurance. I think by Labor raising the issue in itself has put pressure on the private health insurance industry that does play an important role in our health system, to put pressure on them to do the right thing by their customers.
REPORTER: And do health insurance companies make too much money in your opinion?
ALBANESE: Well one of the things that people have looked at is the level of profit compared with the capitalisation that has occurred of some of those companies and that has caused some concern particularly given that they are reliant upon government support through various policy mechanisms. So we want to improve living standards. We want to take pressure off families who are struggling to make end meet.
We make no apologies as a Labor Party for doing that. We will do that in a way that is constructive as we always do and we will work through these issues with industry and with the business community. But we make no apologies for saying that the issue of living standards and of making ends meet is one that people are talking about out there in the suburbs and Labor has heard that message and will continue to raise issues of how we improve living standards, how we make the economy grow, how we ensure that there is jobs growth. I had, I must say, from the business community who I met over the past few days some mixed reports, in terms of the state of the economy but a substantial amount of confidence from the majority of business people here in Western Australia who I have met with who are much more positive about what the future holds and the potential for jobs growth here in WA. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.