ISSUES: MYEFO and infrastructure spending; Pacific Highway; ALP National Conference; Craig Thomson; Tony Abbott and the Noalition’s negativity; Julia Gillard leadership
QUESTION: So tell us about it, the shift of $1.4 billion worth of spending in terms… One point three – oh, we like to round up – in 11-12. How can you spend all that money?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there was actually no announcement yesterday. These projects have all been announced well in advance.
Take, for example, $490 million for the Pacific Highway. It was announced with the leader of the New South Wales National Party and Deputy Premier [Andrew Stoner] in Kempsey weeks ago.
What that’s doing is bringing forward construction on sections such as the Frederickton to Eungai section.
This is the site at Clybucca where Australia had its worst road accident in 1989 and yet it has not been fixed for more than two decades. We’ve done the planning.
We want to get jobs such as the Pacific Highway done as soon as possible.
And yesterday I was at the opening of the Ballina Bypass on the Pacific Highway. That had a positive impact, opened six months ahead of schedule as a result of, in our first budget, bringing forward our infrastructure spending.
So we’re a government that makes no apologies for the fact that we’ve doubled the roads budget, increased the rail budget by more than 10 times so projects can be done sooner.
It’s a good thing for the economy, particularly given the softness that’s there in the construction sector, to bring forward projects such as these.
QUESTION: Do you think that $1.4 billion worth of work will actually be brought forward by the six months?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What it will do is provide an opportunity. We don’t make these decisions by ourselves. What we’ve done is bring forward projects, be they on the Pacific Highway or the Calliope Crossroads in Queensland, where the planning work’s all done, where contracts can now be issued sooner than they would be otherwise.
As I said, there were no new announcements yesterday and, indeed, the Coalition which now are questioning this were last week trying to take credit in the national Parliament for some of these very projects. They can’t have it both ways.
If they take their eye completely off the ball and are unaware of what’s going on in infrastructure, it’s because of their policy laziness.
In the budget in May, when we announced a billion dollars extra for the Pacific Highway, the Coalition’s response, including from Warren Truss, was that there was no new money. Now they’re lobbying us for where that money should be spent and yesterday they decided to oppose the spending of this money.
They are confused in their attitude towards infrastructure. These are good announcements and there is nothing unusual about us bringing forward infrastructure spending. We did it in our first budget in 2008, we did it in our budget this year in terms of the Pacific Highway bring-forward. We pay according to construction schedules, according to getting infrastructure built.
If we can boost productivity by getting these infrastructure projects done sooner then we should be doing so.
QUESTION: How much pressure is the ALP’s right putting on the left, re the gay marriage issue?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ll be taking a position that I’ve made clear at the national conference and I’m under no pressure at all from anybody. I’ll be taking a position in support of equality at the conference.
QUESTION: You may not be under pressure but how much pressure is the right trying to exert?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly none on myself. There are some people who have different views but I think that I’ve made it clear that those who argue that there should be a conscience vote on this issue can’t then deny other members the right to debate and vote on the floor of the conference as they see fit.
That contradiction is there and they will undermine their support for a conscience vote if there’s any indication that they are doing so.
QUESTION: Will Craig Thomson survive the summer?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, this is a complete nonsense from the Opposition. The Noalition have spent more than a year under Tony Abbott running round saying no to every policy initiative and trying to pretend that this Government wouldn’t last full term.
After last week, if there was any doubt – and certainly there was none in my mind or in the Government’s mind – that we would last the full term, if there was any doubt at all in the public’s mind, then Tony Abbott’s hysterical position of trying to pretend that somehow this Government wouldn’t last full term has been exposed for the farce that it is.
What Tony Abbott should do over the summer is hope that Santa brings him a policy. But, of course, we know that Santa says ho, ho, ho, not no, no, no, which is what Tony Abbott’s obsession has been all year.
QUESTION: Just finally from me, is Julia Gillard’s authority on the line with regards to this gay marriage issue?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all. Julia Gillard as the Prime Minister is strong enough to have said let’s have a conference whereby people can have an open, public, democratic debate. We’re a vibrant political party. We’re a party made up of people who are passionate about their beliefs, their ideas, their values and about different ways to take the country forward.
It’s appropriate we have an open conference over the next few days, and I think that is a positive thing, not just for the Labor Party but a positive thing for Julia Gillard’s leadership.