Subjects: Turnbull Government’s failure to deliver on infrastructure and road safety programs; Sydney airport.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we’ve seen from the Coalition Government under both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull is cuts to infrastructure. They have cut projects like Cross River Rail and Melbourne Metro. They cut public transport funding in Western Australia. They cut the M80 Road project. But that’s only part of the story because even what they promised, they haven’t delivered. In their first three budgets, a $3.7 billion underspend that’s having a real impact on road safety around Australia, at a time when the road toll, for the first time in decades, is actually increasing.
The Black Spots Program – they promised to spend $220 million in their first three years; the actual spend was $105 million, less than half. The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, which is providing rest stops on our major highways; promised: $171 million; actual spend $64 million, an underspend of $107 million, almost two-thirds.
The Bridges Renewal Program: $180 million promised; $100 million delivered. The Northern Australia Roads Program: $100 million promised; $12 million actually invested, an $88 million underspend on a $100 million program. Even major road investment: $11.8 billion; the actual spend was $10.4 billion.
This shows the failure of this Government when it comes to infrastructure investment, and in the future it’s going to get even worse, because what we know from the Parliamentary Budget Office is that infrastructure investment is set to decline from 0.4% of GDP, as a proportion of the national economy over the next 10 years, to half that, or 0.2%.
This is a government that simply can’t get it right when it comes to infrastructure investment, and is just one of the many failures that they have, along with important infrastructure projects such as the National Broadband Network where of course they are rolling out a hybrid system that includes outdated copper infrastructure, infrastructure that is redundant before its even been rolled out, rather than fibre that is the key to connectivity in the 21st century. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the impact of the spend. Are you suggesting that the underspend has had a direct effect on the road death toll?
ALBANESE: Well there’s no doubt that if you don’t invest in infrastructure, in programs like Black Spots – the Black Spots Program costs a little under $160,000 for each project, and we know because they go back and do the research, that the impact on accidents when black spots are fixed up is about 30% less. So therefore if you’re not investing the money that was actually allocated in budgets for programs like that, for programs like the heavy vehicle rest stops program, then you will have an impact, an underspend of some $3.7 billion over three budgets – not on what Labor says should have been invested, not on what the NRMA or any other motoring authority says should be invested, not what public transport users wanted to see invested – over what the Coalition Government themselves said they would invest in their 2014-15 Budget, in 2015-16 and 2016-17. So this is based upon the Government’s own predictions of money that they put in the budget, so they put it there, and they simply haven’t spent it across the board. It’s one of two things: it’s either incompetence, or it is simply deceptive. I suspect that it’s both. I suspect that the Government hasn’t really wanted to invest in infrastructure, and I also suspect that given its incompetence in a range of areas, that it is incompetence as well.
JOURNALIST: Just briefly touching on the chaos out of Sydney Airport this morning. It’s the second time in less than a month, that these disruptions have been happening and flights have been delayed. There are calls for the Federal Government to scrap a cap or alleviate a cap on the amount of flights that can come in and take off; therefore we wouldn’t have that backlog when it’s happening. Do you think that’s a reasonable call?
ALBANESE: Well it’s actually the opposite that is the case of course and the people making that call know that it’s the case. For example, the chaos previously, just a couple of weeks ago, there was one runway operating. The idea that you can therefore operate at higher capacity than normal with one runway, rather than with two, is quite frankly absurd, and they know that that’s the case. The problem, and the reason why the cap at Sydney Airport is necessary and is important, is shown by today’s events.
The fact is that the peak at Sydney Airport means that once there is any issue, then it takes longer to get through so that we return to normal programming, if you like. Because of that 80 movement per hour cap there at least are less flights scheduled. If you had more flights scheduled that couldn’t operate, because anyone who uses Sydney Airport knows that quite often, at any time during the peak, when we’re operating at 80 movements an hour there are delays in getting access to the gate, there are delays in planes pushing back from the gate that are taking off, and that leads to a delay during peak hour that takes a while to correct itself. And because four out of every 10 flights go through Kingsford Smith Airport at some time during the day across the Australian passenger network, then it has an impact right around the country.
This is an example of why the cap at Sydney Airport is necessary, not the opposite, and the people saying that know that that’s the case. This is just them playing politics, and pretending somehow that you can get more out of Sydney Airport than is possible. The truth is that Sydney Airport is half the size, and a third the size of Brisbane and Melbourne Airport in landmass. That’s the big restriction at the airport.
JOURNALIST: There are suggestions that this is to do with a system upgrade, that there was a glitch. Do you think this was preventable?
ALBANESE: I’m not going to comment without proper knowledge and a proper briefing on technology. I don’t believe in playing politics with issues like this. I hope the Government and the Minister investigate why this occurred, and certainly we’ll be seeking, as the Opposition, a briefing on why this has occurred.
JOURNALIST: So do you think there should be a formal investigation?
ALBANESE: When an incident like this happens, it should be investigated. The Minister should inform himself over whether this could have been avoided as the result of a technological problem it would appear occurred today. The previous issue was one of wind. We can’t always control the weather. That’s the fact of the matter and sometimes these things do happen with airports, not just Sydney, but around Australia and indeed around the world.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there should have been a back-up system?
ALBANESE: Look I’m not going to comment on the technical issues without getting a proper briefing. I don’t seek to play politics with these issues, what I seek is to ensure that the airport operates efficiently. The fact is that Sydney Airport is at capacity for most of the day. The peaks have increased over a period of time. That pressure is there, which is why the Second Sydney Airport, which will be Western Sydney’s first airport, is an important piece of infrastructure, and one that enjoys bipartisan support.
The Government should be getting on with the business of building that second airport, including the earth moving works which I don’t understand why they aren’t under way right now. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.