Subjects; New England by-election; road funding, road safety.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s great to be here in Tamworth with David Ewings, Labor’s candidate for the New England by-election and it is great to be back in New England. I was here just a couple of months ago in Armidale delivering the Sir Earle Page lecture at the University of New England. I have continued to visit this region on a regular basis and when Labor was in government, we delivered for this region, unlike Barnaby Joyce.
It has taken a by-election to get any movement at all from Barnaby Joyce. I was shocked frankly when just in the lead-up to Barnaby Joyce being ruled to be ineligible because of this New Zealand citizenship the Government announced tenders for the Bolivia Hill Upgrade and also for the Scone Bypass and as well confirmed that they were still interested in the Tenterfield Heavy Vehicle Bypass. Now Bolivia Hill – I drove along the New England Highway here and had a look for myself at Bolivia Hill – a dangerous black spot with more memorials to tragedy than any spot I have seen in Australia, and I say that as someone who was the Transport Minister for six years. It was very clear what the problem was – a straight road that is flat along the New England Highway all of a sudden leading to a windy road up and then down Bolivia Hill with dangerous curves in that road. There had been so many fatalities at that site that we, immediately I looked at it, committed to fully fund the upgrade because the New South Wales Coalition Government weren’t interested in providing support because the seat was held by the Independent Member Tony Windsor.
So we put $80 million in the Budget after we funded the planning work for it - in the Budget since 2013, the planning work funded in 2012. It was ready to go. Nothing happened for the rest of 2013 except that the money got taken out of the Budget and then put back in a couple of years later after a delay. And nothing has happened. lt is now 2017. That project should have been completed. The Scone Bypass was funded by the former Labor Government. The Tenterfield Heavy Vehicle Bypass was funded after a visit to Tenterfield by myself as the Transport Minister.
It’s a bit like the National Broadband Network when it comes to infrastructure, where, when I visited Armidale I heard from people at the university and involved in providing job creation for the New England region about what an advantage Armidale has because it has the fibre-to-the-premise National Broadband Network, unlike Tamworth, which has a second-rate system. So Armidale has 21st Century technology; here we have fibre-to-the-node - 20th century technology with then copper to the home – unacceptable wind back because this area has just been take for granted by Barnaby Joyce.
Imagine the impact that it would have if David Ewings is elected as the Member for New England at this by-election. You would see more visits from Government ministers than you have ever seen before from the Coalition. It’s about time that the people of New England said they are not going to be taken for granted; they are going to take this opportunity to send Barnaby Joyce a message that his performance simply hasn’t been up to scratch and it is not good enough to wait until a by-election is around the corner before you see some action. David …
DAVID EWINGS: Yes, thanks Anthony. It’s great to have our Labor Shadow Ministers visiting regularly in New England, not only just in a by-election but, as Anthony mentioned, on a regular basis whenever they can to make sure they are on top of the issues in the regions and I might just pick up where I started in the campaign, which is to reiterate what Anthony said. The National Party takes the regions for granted. What we want is action in the regions. We already face disadvantage in these areas through our education funding and our health system and we’ve got a Government that is attacking penalty rates.
They don’t care about ordinary people. They don’t care about students. They don’t care about the battlers out there doing it tough and the Nationals are not delivering on these big infrastructure projects, particularly in road transport, making sure that our roads are safe and we have seen the Government I believe getting rid of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal as well.
Once again it is great to have Anthony here but I might just touch on a couple of figures just to make my point about the lack of activity from Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals in the regions. When you look at Black Spot Program you are talking about $70 million budgeted with a spend of about $30 million. And then moving on to other projects you are seeing for roads, you are seeing budgeting for about $60 million - spent $14 billion.
Now what people need to understand is that this is a Government that has in its sights to give $65 billion worth of tax cuts on a plate to big businesses. This is how these things are paid for – cutting from important infrastructure projects; cutting from our social security systems; cutting from our health and education. We can’t tolerate it. I won’t tolerate it. The Labor Party won’t tolerate it.
And, as Anthony said, this is an opportunity that all New Englanders should take to send a message to Malcolm Turnbull who frankly is in all kinds of trouble. He is not leading. He is not leading the nation. He is not leading his party room and you know it is anybody’s guess how much longer this Government will continue, but we need change here and I fully intend to do a far better job of delivering for the regions and for the New England if I am elected.
REPORTER: What is Labor proposing to do to fix these black spots?
ALBANESE: What Labor will do for a start is we won’t leave spending that is allocated in the Budget unspent. That is what is happened with programs like the Heavy Vehicle Safety Program and the Black Spots Program. Here in New England there is money that was allocated that they simply haven’t had their act together to spend.
Now today we are the Truck Drivers Memorial here in Tamworth. It is a memorial to those people who have lost their lives doing their job that they love doing - sacrificing for their family so that their family can have food on the table; so they can school their kids. This is Government that isn’t showing appropriate care when it comes to actually delivering on transport issues and that is having a real impact in regional Australia, particularly here in the New England, where you have major projects where the money has been in the Budget like for Bolivia Hill and you have smaller projects like Black Spots and the Heavy Vehicle Safety Program, programs that were created with the Heavy Vehicle Safety Program when Labor was in Government, where they haven’t spent the money.
It is quite extraordinary. But it is typical of this Government – the cuts that have happened to school funding here as a result of their reneging on the Gonski funding agreements; the cuts to the National Broadband Network roll out; the cuts to health that we have seen from this Government. This is a Government that doesn’t care about Australians. It just cares about itself. It is so mired in conflict between the National Party and the Liberal Party and Malcolm Turnbull’s supporters and Tony Abbott’s supporters that they don’t know whether they are Arthur or Martha. So things are not getting done. It’s just not a competent government.
REPORTER: Can you be more specific more specific about how the money will actually be spent to help fix the black spots?
ALBANESE: Well, we what we will do is allocate the money for Black Spots and make sure it is spent. What that will mean is that the most dangerous black spots identified by the local community will be fixed under a Labor Government. We will also get on with making sure that Bolivia Hill actually happens, not is talked about for years and years that the money is there in the Budget, that it is spent and invested, creating jobs in the short term as well as making a difference in the long term.
We will make sure that the National Broadband Network is actually rolled out in a way that actually delivers a difference to Tamworth and this region. We’ll make sure that schools get the proper funding that they were promised and don’t get the cuts that have occurred under this Government. For the region in terms of universities, we won’t have the sort of changes that have been proposed to impose higher fees on university graduates which will place more pressure particularly on people from underprivileged backgrounds. We think that is critical. One of the things about regional Australia is that it does have less income than those people in our capital cities. That is why regional Australia is deserving of additional support. We did that when we were last in Government. We’d do that again. But there’s an opportunity for New England to get, if you like, a pre-showing of what a Labor Government would be like by getting rid of Barnaby Joyce. This is a guy who is not sure whether he supports New South Wales or Queensland in the State of Origin. It’s no wonder that he is struggling to represent this area.
REPORTER: Do you think the Government is holding off doing the Bolivia Hill alignment for political benefit - as a bargaining chip for a rainy day?
ALBANESE: It’s quite extraordinary that they cut the funding that was allocated when they came to office. They then put the money back, but not all of it. It was $80 million. One of the reasons why it was fully federally funded was that we didn’t want any delays over argy bargy between New South Wales and the Commonwealth. We said this is a danger, we will fix it – fully funded $80 million. They have put $55 million back into the Budget and are requiring a contribution from the New South Wales Government. The New England Highway is part of the national network. It is a responsibility that we have.
People in this region have benefitted from the Hunter Expressway that was completed when we were in Government. That was a $1.7 billion project - the largest infrastructure project for one section of highway that we have seen from a Federal Government in New South Wales - $1.5 billion of that was Commonwealth money. Now, that was talked about during the Howard Government, but nothing happened. It took Labor to get elected to make that a reality, to cut travel times from this region down headed south to Sydney and Newcastle. So we think that this needs to be done.
As for the Government’s motives it is really beyond belief that press releases started to come about the Scone Bypass, Bolivia Hill and the Tenterfield Heavy Vehicle Bypass, only after Barnaby Joyce had been referred to the High Court of Australia. There is no doubt that that was a part of the preparations for this by-election. It was a cynical move and I think the people of New England have an opportunity to send a message that they are better than that, that they won’t cop that sort of cynical behaviour and opportunism from the National Party.
REPORTER: There is still a lot of support for Mr Joyce and there is a massive field of candidates for this by-election. What do you think your party’s chances are of getting in?
ALBANESE: Well we’ve got a great candidate. We’ve got a candidate who ran in 2016. He has a broad range of experience. David has been a Royal Australian Airforce serviceperson. He’s worked in mining, He’s worked in steelworks. He is someone who, when he ran in 2016, said he was here for the long term and he is doing it again. He is fronting up to run. He lives with his partner, his fiancé, in Scone in the electorate. I think he is an outstanding candidate. We are very pleased to get him. He was pre-selected unanimously by the party to contest this by-election and if he wins here I will tell you what, there will be no doubt about whether he will go to Queensland to get a seat like Barnaby Joyce swapped states. There’ll be no doubt about him swapping Houses. There’ll be no doubt about who he supports in the State of Origin, and, more importantly, there will be no doubt about how he will deliver for the New England region because he is committed to making a real difference. And he will have the voice of people in Government, because the truth is that Malcolm Turnbull; it’s a matter of how long he can limp on for at the moment. His own party don’t have confidence in the Government. They are falling apart at the seams and I think the quicker a transition to a Labor Government happens the better and the people of New England have an opportunity to assist in that.
REPORTER: David, we have seen a couple of Labor heavyweights come into the electorate so far. Are we going to see more as the party throws resources at this electorate?
EWINGS: Sure. As far as resources go, we are still running a grassroots campaign. We are going to get out and do some more door-knocking. We did a lot of door-knocking last time. We will continue to do that and get our message out there. But it is always great to have people like Anthony Albanese and our other shadow ministers - Matt Thistlethwaite, Doug Cameron come along. They are the ones we have had to date so far. Joel Fitzgibbon of course is always up here lending his support to the campaign. So yes, you will see other shadows here leading up to election day.
REPORTER: And what’s the response from the door knocks been like? It is a traditionally National or independent or conservative seat. What’s the response been like from door-knocks?
EWINGS: It has been really positive. I think people are really pleased that we are out and about. It’s always going to be hard. I have said this from the outset - we are the underdog candidate – or one of them. But people are pleased that there is that alternative voice getting out there and they want that. They want that choice. They want a decent choice between the person they have had delivering nothing at all for them for the last four, nearly five, years and they want maybe the chance to give someone else a go that really wants to get in and have a crack and I have got to say that it is really great to be part of the Labor Party and the labour movement because we govern for everybody. That’s what the Labor Party does. It doesn’t matter who is the incumbent member. It doesn’t matter. We get in there and we make those assessments based on what the communities need and they get done as Anthony outlined with some of those other projects. So people I think are starting to understand that and they are pleased that we are out there having a go and the response has been very good.
ALBANESE: Thanks you very much.