Subjects: Tourism, Roads, Local Government, Coalition
REPORTER: Tell us what brings you to Ballarat today.
ALBANESE: I’ve been here today to address the Australian Local Government Association’s road congress about local roads funding, but also here to have a tourism roundtable that we’ve had hosted by Catherine King. Tourism employs three and a half thousand people now in Ballarat.
There are enormous opportunities as we saw with the visit of the Archibalds this year and with wonderful attractions such as here at Sovereign Hill. So it’s been great sitting down and talking with the sector about how we can create more jobs and increase economic activity here in Ballarat.
REPORTER: What have you been hearing from people today, what have they been saying?
ALBANESE: Well what they want is more coordination from the national government. There’s a role for the national government in attracting international tourists. We’re in the fastest growing region of the world and we heard about the massive increase in people from China, including a student group of fifty school-aged students coming right here to Ballarat, and being based here for a number of days. We’ve heard about overseas students who bring their parents and extended family here to Ballarat to have a look at the attractions that are here.
We’ve heard about the opportunity in terms of food and product tourism. Overseas in many of these countries, they’re looking to come to a place like Ballarat that has superb natural produce, to be able to be hands on with that produce at local farms and attractions and then enjoy it on a plate at night. So the attractions are many here in Ballarat, the opportunities are great and it’s fantastic that people are so positive about the future.
But what they want is their national government to support them through measures including the old T-QUAL grants for tourism that applied for regional areas that were abolished by the incoming government.
REPORTER: In terms of the roads forum, there’s been a lot of talking about this great funding black hole that exists in rural communities in terms of fixing up roads. Does your Party have a policy to address that black hole that’s greater than what we’re currently doing?
ALBANESE: Well the good thing about today is that I was able to address what we did in Government, which gives us credit for what we would do in the future. We doubled the roads budget, including projects like Anthony’s Cutting and the Western Freeway. We increased the rail budget by more than ten times, including projects like the Regional Rail Link, which shows that we made a difference when it comes to infrastructure.
What we’ve seen now is a cut in infrastructure spending that’s hitting local government hard. We made sure, earlier this year, that we negotiated for the fuel excise to go to local government over the first two years, meaning a $1.1 billion increase in local government funding for local roads.
That’s a good thing and it was welcomed today by the local councils who were at the congress.
REPORTER: Was there any issues in particular that smaller regional councils were bringing up with you as a problem in terms of roads?
ALBANESE: Well certainly long-term there’s an issue with the maintenance budgets of roads. One of the issues that was raised very specifically is what I think is very much an ideological thing being put forward saying that you can’t use day labour, the labour that is employed permanently by the council for natural disaster relief and that defies common sense.
That’s something that should be looked at by the government. It’s really about just knocking out permanent employees from local government. Of course we know that local people employed by local councils know more about the road system, what needs to be fixed, where the danger spots are, than people from outside those local communities. So, that’s a message that I think needs to be put loud and clear right around the country.
REPORTER: Was there much talk in the tourism forum about the upcoming election? A lot of the time when we talk to Commerce Ballarat and that seems to be on the agenda at the moment, really setting themselves for that.
ALBANESE: Well there’s no doubt that tourism is going to be a big issue. We went through more than two years without the Federal Government having a Tourism Minister. It seems amazing that when Tony Abbott was elected as Prime Minister he thought tourism was so unimportant that he wouldn’t even bother to appoint a Tourism Minister. There is one now, finally it has been appointed, but there’s a big catch up that has to be done because there’s been two lost years. Two years of cuts and two years with no one running a tourism agenda for the national government.
REPORTER: The city’s got a spectacular tourism industry. Where do we go from here? How do we improve it?
ALBANESE: Look it’s a matter of working to enhance what’s here. This is a great product. It’s a wonderful city and region with a great history. And here at Sovereign Hill, of course, we’re celebrating that history in a way which is a major tourist attraction, not just for Australia but for the world. It’s a matter of taking advantage of that, how we can market Ballarat and the region more, not just to people who visit Melbourne but as a specific destination in its own right.
If you look at where the tourism growth will come from in the coming decades, it’s from countries like China and India. Countries with urban centres that are overcrowded; countries that are looking for a place to visit with a bit of space, with great natural environments and great natural assets. Here in Ballarat and this region there is so much to offer and I’m really positive about the future for this great city.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.