Subjects: Infrastructure investment; Budget; housing, Tony Abbott.
ALBANESE: Thanks for joining me on this Easter weekend and I begin with a reminder for people to drive safely as they are driving home this Easter weekend. We have seen far too many fatalities on our roads and indeed the road toll has increased for each year over the last two years after many decades of decline.
And one of the things that road safety is about is infrastructure and the Australian Institute of Company Directors recently did a survey about what the big priorities were for the nation that company directors saw. And it wasn’t education. It wasn’t taxation issues. It wasn’t the ageing of the population. It was a lack of investment in infrastructure and that is why the Government must seize the opportunity in the upcoming Budget to invest in infrastructure. When we were in government we took Australia from 20th in the OECD to first. We invested in 7500km of new roads and 4500km of new rail lines. And yet infrastructure investment has stalled under this Government. Under this Government we saw 20 percent decline in infrastructure investment in two years and we have seen infrastructure investment less in every single quarter that this government has been in office, (inaudible) compared with every single quarter when Labor was in government from June of 2008 right through to the end of 2013.
So there is an urgent need to invest in infrastructure. Not just company directors, but the Reserve Bank is warning of the need to invest in infrastructure time after time. The business community is saying that we need to invest in infrastructure – upgrading our roads, upgrading our rail freight lines, such as completing the duplication of the rail freight line to Port Botany, such as progress on Inland Rail, but most importantly progress on public transport to deal with the issue of urban congestion. Issues like the Cross River Rail in Brisbane, the Melbourne Metro, Perth METRONET, Adelaide’s light rail project and Western Sydney Rail in the north-south corridor to connect through Badgerys Creek Airport. All of these projects are worthy of funding in the upcoming Budget and this is a big test for Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison of whether they can actually get their act together and do the nation building infrastructure investment that Australia needs. We already know there has been a complete failure on the National Broadband Network where Malcom Turnbull, who was of course the Communications Minister, presided over a debacle when it comes to the NBN rollout. He said that all Australians would have access to high speed broadband by 2016 and of course we haven’t seen that eventuate.
They could also invest in High Speed Rail. If they invested in High Speed Rail, establishing an authority to preserve the corridor and to call for expressions of interest, that would be the sort of nation building project that Australians want to see from this Budget. I notice today Tony Abbott out there commenting as if he has had nothing to do with the debacle that is the Abbott and Turnbull governments. Well, Tony Abbott, for him to criticise the Opposition is quite extraordinary. This Government has failed because they didn’t do the hard yards on policy. Tony Abbott came to office with a plan to get rid of Labor but no plan to actually govern the country and Malcolm Turnbull came to office with a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott but also not a plan to govern the country. This is a dysfunctional Government and it is being played out on the front pages of every newspaper at every time that Tony Abbott and the ministers in the Turnbull Government play out these conflicts that are there in the lead-up to the Budget in May. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: How much money would it take (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well it’s a matter of investing. In some cases it is the case that the private sector are just waiting for good projects to invest in. In other cases, the Australian Rail Track Corporation – a government entity – just wants the funds injected so they can complete the Port Botany rail freight line. In other projects there are opportunities there to build on future productivity and therefore produce a return. Good investment in infrastructure projects produces a return to government that boosts the economy in the long run and improves the fiscal position of government in the long run. The Reserve Bank have indicated that at this time when you have record low interest rates, now is the time when investment in infrastructure should be taking place, investment in the rail, road, ports and national broadband that Australia needs for the 21st century.
What we have seen from this Government though, is failed plans. It was Tony Abbott who established the Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund way back in 2015 in the Budget. Two years on the only expenditure has been on directors’ fees because the truth is that for projects from the private sector, investing in private infrastructure, there is enough capital available for good projects. But it seems that they are committing the same mistake. The Government is saying that the centrepiece of its infrastructure budget will be establishing an infrastructure financing unit in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. This will sideline completely Infrastructure Australia and indeed sideline the Government’s own department and to create a vehicle which isn’t necessary, a vehicle that isn’t addressing the problem that has been identified by the business community – the pipeline of projects that is required and the commitment from the Government to actually work with state governments, work with the private sector to fund projects that are available right now.
REPORTER: Is the Government wrong to focus on housing in this Budget?
ALBANESE: Well this Government has talked about housing and that would be a good idea. The problem is they rule out everything that they propose. In the lead-up to last year’s Budget of course what Scott Morrison was saying was that there were excesses in negative gearing. And Labor proposed a constructive solution on negative gearing and Capital Gains Tax that was then ruled out by the Government. The Government knows there are excesses there. The Government knows this is one measure that would go some of the way to addressing these issues and yet it has failed to do so. This is a Government that hasn’t invested in social housing, that indeed has cut some of the programs that Labor put in place to support social housing and therefore to increase supply and take pressure off the private rental market and yet this Government has failed there as well.
This is a Government that is in search of a narrative, that is in search of sense of purpose. One of the things that it should do at this Budget though is concentrate on investing in infrastructure, including of course in social housing would be welcomed, but also investing in people through education, where the Gonski reforms remain unfunded through in future years, investing in TAFE, investing in universities. Investing in people and investing in infrastructure should be the centrepiece of the Budget because that is the key to economic growth and jobs in the future.
REPORTER: Setting aside private sector contributions to infrastructure funding, how much public money needs to be spent over what period to meet the nation’s (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well what you don’t do is set a funding figure. What you do is look at the projects that are worthwhile. The projects that are worthwhile and worthy of public funding are those such as the Cross River Rail and Melbourne Metro that were identified by Infrastructure Australia way back in 2012 as being worthy of funding, They are projects like METRONET in Perth that is required. They are projects like Adelink in Adelaide. They are projects like Western Sydney Rail including through Badgerys Creek Airport that all of the experts know is required. They are projects like High Speed Rail where we know the investment of every dollar would produce $2.15 of return between Sydney and Melbourne. So we know that that is worthwhile as well.
REPORTER: Sorry Mr Albanese, can I just grab you again of your thoughts of Mr Abbott this morning on radio and saying that this Government should stay with Mr Turnbull as Prime Minister. What do you make of that?
ALBANESE: Mr Abbott speak with forked tongue. Mr Abbott is out there undermining the Turnbull Government each and every day and attacking personally the Prime Minister of the moment, Malcolm Turnbull, while saying at the same time that he is worthy of support. Tony Abbott can’t have it both ways. It’s very clear that Tony Abbott is undermining Malcolm Turnbull. It’s clear that the entire Cabinet is undermining Scott Morrison. It’s clear that the Treasurer and the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister have dysfunctional relations in the lead-up to Budget 2017. And it’s quite clear that this Government doesn’t seem to have a sense of purpose or a reason for existence beyond keeping Malcom Turnbull in the Lodge for its own sake.
It’s very clear that Tony Abbott failed because he didn’t have a plan once he got into Government and it’s very clear that Malcolm Turnbull had a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott and no plan to govern afterwards. And it’s is not surprising that Tony Abbott has called out Malcolm Turnbull for his lack of conviction today yet again when he said that people want politicians who stand up for what they believe in. Well Malcolm Turnbull – who knows what he believes in these days because for decades he believed in real action on climate change, he believed in marriage equality, he believed in support for public transport. And as Prime Minister he walks around saying there are these problems, gee I wish I was in a position to do something about them. He has abdicated his responsibility for leadership of the nation. Tony Abbott has called that out but at the same time pretending somehow that he is not about undermining Malcolm Turnbull. Every Australian can see what is going on here – dysfunction, chaos and the problem isn’t the impact on the Coalition, which is simply self-indulgent; the problem is the impact on the nation because we have a Government that is simply incapable of governing and clearly is incapable of putting together a Budget in the way that governments do.