May 11, 2012

Transcript of Doorstop – Sydney

Subjects:  National Infrastructure Construction Schedule; 2012-13 Budget; Pacific Highway Funding; Craig Thomson; Tony Abbott’s Budget Reply; Sophie Mirabella; Moorebank Intermodal; Costello/Kroger spat

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today I’ve had the pleasure of being here at Infrastructure Partnerships Australia to launch the National Infrastructure Construction Schedule. What that is, is a website that people, both here and overseas, can go to which contains information about all major infrastructure projects procured by governments across the country valued at $50 million or more.

What this will do is facilitate information both to the general public, but importantly, to the infrastructure sector – whether it be builders, whether it be investors – on what major projects are in the pipeline. That’s important in creating competition. It’s also important in identifying potential opportunities for private sector investment, which is why it’s being welcomed here today by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia.

Too often in the past companies have not known what is coming in terms of a pipeline of projects. What this will do is identify not just the projects that are under construction, but also the projects that are the subject of feasibility or scoping studies; that shows which projects governments – be they federal, state and territory – are serious about moving to actual construction in the future valued at over $50 million.

So this is an important tool.

The second document I’ve launched today is Best Practice Studies – eight examples of projects that represent the best possible method of delivering infrastructure.

We need to always reward better behaviour, celebrate it, and we also need to learn lessons. We know, for example, that a number of PPP projects have suffered because they haven’t got issues such as the patronage figures right.

So that’s been an important development as well, and it’s been great to be here today selling Labor’s Fair Go Budget.

 On Tuesday night, in spite of the fact that we had a tough Budget, one that delivered a surplus back to the Australian economy, we made sure there was also investment in productive infrastructure. In particular, every one of the Infrastructure Australia Priority List projects, identified after the National Audit of infrastructure in 2009, has now been funded.

What that shows is how seriously we take Infrastructure Australia and its recommendations, how serious we are about ensuring that money is directed towards those the Benefit Cost Analysis identifies as the best possible projects. That’s about delivering higher national productivity. It’s also about delivering best value for the Australian taxpayer.

Happy to take questions.

QUESTION: There’s been another death today on the Pacific Highway; does it worry the Government that these deaths keep happening while the State and Federal governments are bickering over funding?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. I was on the Pacific Highway this morning at Banora Point up on the Tweed Coast. Can I say that each and every tragedy on the Pacific Highway is one too many. Governments need to do what we can to address this issue.

It was 1989 that 56 people lost their lives in two separate bus crashes just months after each other. The coronial inquiry arising out of those accidents at Clybucca and near Grafton recommended the full duplication of the Pacific Highway.

The Federal Government, since we came to office, has invested $4.1 billion into the Pacific Highway. Today we announced the traffic switch on Banora Point project that was removing the last set of traffic light between Coffs Harbour and Brisbane on the Highway. So an important project.

 We want to get this done. We have, in a tough Budget, found the capacity to increase funding for the Nation Building Program by more than $3.5 billion, and we’ve said to NSW that that funding is available for the Pacific Highway.

QUESTION: So what are you trying to do to resolve that impasse? Are you trying to speak to the State Government about this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I spoke to the State Government in the first meeting I had with Premier O’Farrell. But I also spoke to the State Government well prior to the Budget coming out.

They know that last year we allocated $750 million on the basis of matching funding. They made commitments prior to their election in March 2011.The quotes are all there of them being extremely critical, indeed demanding that the former State Labor Government provide matching funding.

What’s occurred with some of the bickering I think is very unfortunate. The State Government need to recognise that they’re no longer the opposition and that they’re actually responsible for providing funding in accordance with the commitments they’ve made.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to Mr O’Farrell since the Budget announcement…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. We offered Mr O’Farrell a briefing in the weeks leading up to the Budget about a range of issues including the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal. I certainly attempted everything including texting the Premier about having discussions, and we still haven’t heard from him.

QUESTION: Given the weight of evidence in Fair Work Australia reforms, was it still right to profit – to continue to treat Mr Thomson, Craig Thomson as being innocent until proven guilty?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have a legal system in this country. I support the legal system that we have.

QUESTION: Minister, what do you say to continued accusations that the PM has started class warfare?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s just nonsense. This is a Budget that provides for a Fair go. This is a Budget that provides support for some of the most vulnerable people who need it. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a vital reform that we’ve brought forward as a part of this Budget.

I find it a bit rich, if you’ll excuse the pun, for Tony Abbott, who opposed the cuts to company tax, to then complain that as a result of him and the Greens blocking them they haven’t been able to proceed.

QUESTION: Are you really putting your faith in the justice system or are you…


QUESTION: Do you defend Craig Thomson until the justice system rules?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not a part of the process.

QUESTION: So you don’t defend him?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not a part of the process. I’m not his lawyer. There’s a judicial process. It’s appropriate.

QUESTION: As a political ally, do you defend…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: He’s not a member of the Labor Party. There’s a judicial process. It’s important that judicial process be allowed to take its course.

QUESTION: Minister, the allegations about Craig Thompson are clearly relevant to Parliament, whereas Sophie Mirabella’s personal issues regarding her partner aren’t. Why is the Government making this so personal?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s an extraordinary position to suggest that it’s the Government raising personal issues. Yesterday the Manager of Opposition Business [Christopher Pyne] during Question Time made a number of references to the allegations that have been made against Craig Thompson, and said all of the Government members have been in engaged in that sort of behaviour.

Just a generic statement made about all Trade Union leaders. They’ve gone in there day after day – there have been 54 suspensions of Standing Orders this Parliament from the Opposition.

We use to have a Question Time in Parliament that consisted of a debate about the policy issues of the day. Now what we get is a couple of questions, then a suspension of Standing Orders so that – the Leader of the Opposition is now trying to distance himself from it – but so that attacks can be made on a personal basis against the Prime Minister and against members of the Government.

I’ve sat in the Parliament for 16 years. I can’t remember a Budget Reply that had so little substance and such a personal attack on the Prime Minister. We certainly didn’t engage in that during the period in which we were in opposition.

With regard to the Member for Indi [Sophie Mirabella], there are a range of allegations have been made about a failure to declare, properly and appropriately, campaign donations.

Those allegations have been made. They’re out there in the public arena.

QUESTION: You also brought up and old assault issue with Tony Abbott though. Are the gloves off because of the Coalition’s attacks on Craig Thompson?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. What it was is simply this: we do have a judicial process. From time to time, people are accused of things and when they go through the process, as Mr Abbott did, he was proven to be innocent. People should respect those processes.

I mean, here in NSW, Nick Greiner was Premier and lost office due to an adverse finding by the Independent Commission Against Corruption that was then overturned when a court examined it. But Nick Greiner had already lost his position as Premier of this State.

I think Nick Greiner’s doing a good role as the chair of Infrastructure NSW.

I think it’s really important that – and I have said this in private to members of the Opposition – I’m very concerned about the tone of the political debate in the Federal Parliament. It’s important that people just recognise that it’s a very dangerous path to go down when you’re proposing to determine what are legal matters based upon party allegiance.

QUESTION: Does the Government need Mr Thompson’s vote?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, the Government does not. Craig Thompson doesn’t sit in the caucus.

QUESTION: Should SIMTA abandon its plan for a freight terminal in Moorebank and back your proposal?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s a matter for SIMTA. But what is clear is that in terms of the process, we’ll have one that allows for proper competitive processes. We will engage, as part of the decision we’ve made, the ACCC to make sure that there’s an outcome that produce open access arrangements at Moorebank.

And it’s up to individual companies to bid. The decision won’t be made by me as the Minister. We’ll set up a process and contrary to what has been written, this is a facility that will be designed, built and operated by the private sector.

QUESTION: Minister, do you have any comments on the spat I suppose you could call it between Kroger and Costello?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it really arises from Mr Costello not having confidence in the current Opposition’s economic team – and who can blame him? I mean, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb can’t stay on the same line for one day. This week we had Tony Abbott say in response to what’s the difference between the SchoolKids payment and the Baby Bonus: “there just is”.

And when Joe Hockey was asked what the difference was, he said, “well you’ve got to have a baby to get the baby bonus”, as if babies don’t grow up to be kids who go to school. I mean, it was an extraordinary position.

Last night we had a Budget Reply that didn’t have figures in it. I mean, the economic illiteracy of Tony Abbott saying, for example, that he can use savings from cutting the NBN when the NBN, because it’s an investment that will produce a solid return to the Government, does not come off the bottom line. Either he doesn’t understand how budgets work or he’s deliberately trying to create an impression that he’ll have this pool of funds to spend on other infrastructure which simply won’t be available to him.

So it’s not surprising that Peter Costello thinks the Federal Opposition is hopeless and bereft of ideas when it comes to fundamental economics. That’s why Mr Kroger has confirmed today that Peter Costello approached him to get one of his Liberal colleagues in Victoria to resign so that he could fill the seat. It’s not surprising.

Peter Costello, I have my differences with, but there’s no argument about who knows something about economics, Peter Costello or Tony Abbott. I think Peter Costello nailed that in the report.

What we’re also seeing is the arrogance from the Coalition. I mean, they think that they just have to, you know, sleep walk into the Lodge. They’re taking the Australian public for granted. They assume that they will win the next election, and they’re fighting over the spoils like a bunch of people who think that it’s their toy thing, the Australian Parliament and the Australian Government.

QUESTION: Just going back, so the Government doesn’t need Craig Thompson’s vote?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what does that mean, that question?

QUESTION: To get Government business can you rely on…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we need a majority of people on the floor of the House of Representatives. And guess what? We’ve done it 307 times. We have not been defeated on any piece of legislation.