May 10, 2017

Transcript of interview – ABC News 24

Subjects: Budget 2017, cuts to infrastructure investment, Victoria, cuts to Tourism Australia, TV Ad

GREG JENNETT: Yes thanks Joe. So as that summary just highlighted for us, infrastructure spending is one of the big ticket items. When all bundled together it equals $75 billion over a decade, which might sound like a lot. But as Labor’s Shadow in this area, Anthony Albanese, who is also incidentally responsible for transport, cities and tourism, has been pointing out sometimes these numbers can be deceptive because, Anthony, it is in the nature of these projects that they are very long term and the dollars don’t always land at the front end. Sometimes they can land in the tenth year. That’s normal in infrastructure isn’t it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well in this case it was just a fantasy and the actual numbers that are in the Budget papers tell the story of the chasm that is there between the Government’s rhetoric and what is actually happening on the ground. This current financial year was budgeted last year; $9.2 billion of expenditure, sctual $7.6 billion. A $1.6 billion cut in actual infrastructure investment and it continues to completely fall off the cliff, going down in each and every year so that in 2020-21 it is down to $4.2 billion. Less than half of what they were saying last year would happen in infrastructure. That’s why the industry group, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, have called it out that this is a massive decrease in actual investment in infrastructure.

JENNETT: And you are saying, I think, that there is only one new item that gets funding out of the whole plan?

ALBANESE: Well I’m not saying that. The Budget papers are saying it; Budget Paper Number 2. It’s there for all to see. New infrastructure investment programs; there’s one, which is a $13 million local road called Far North Collector Road that, frankly, I have never heard of.

JENNETT: Just north of Canberra, where we are.

ALBANESE: No it’s not; it’s not even in Collector. It’s in the marginal electorate of Gilmore, so they haven’t done anything about the Nowra Bridge, but they have done something about some local road, which just shows how farcical it is.

So take Scott Morrison’s speech last night; if you were sitting at home watching you would hear him mention AdeLINK light rail in Adelaide, the Brisbane Cross River Rail, Melbourne Metro, Western Sydney Rail. None of it has a dollar attached to it.

JENNETT: Well let’s talk about another big ticket item there, which is the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail. What is Labor’s disposition on that as a project? It has been assessed by Infrastructure Australia. It should, on paper, be able to return income.

ALBANESE: Well we, of course, funded the study for it. We put $600 million in the Budget that has already been spent.

JENNETT: They have found more than $8 billion for it.

ALBANESE: Well they haven’t found anything for it; it is all off Budget. They are pretending that it will produce a return without any actual Government investment. And what John Anderson said, not a friend of the Labor Party, he said in a review that was set up when they came to office – they did not actually do anything they just had these reviews and, in 2015, he said it wouldn’t repay the capital within fifty years. So we are concerned about the Budget treatment here. I am supportive of the project but the Budget …

JENNETT: But isn’t it a risky investment you are suggesting?

ALBANESE: The Budget treatment is just a fiddle to get it all off Budget according to John Anderson himself who produced this report. It cost a lot of money. It’s the only thing they’ve actually spent money on in four years that they have been in Government, is this report, and it said it wouldn’t produce a return within fifty years.

JENNETT: But it’s been assessed for so long, as you say, right back through Labor years and beyond. I think it started under the Howard Government. It ultimately came to a point, didn’t it, where it either had to be backed or abandoned?

ALBANESE: Sure. It’s a matter of whether you are actually putting any cash in for the project, or whether you have this view that it will all be off Budget and produce a return in order to make the Budget figures look better. And that is what they have done here with this particular project.

JENNETT: What is wrong with that approach if it is a viable investment which can produce a return? Why not take this?

ALBANESE: Because the assessment from John Anderson himself, the former Leader of the National Party and former Transport Minister, said that it wouldn’t produce a return within five decades.

JENNETT: Now we won’t have time to step through every major spend in every state. But urban rail in Victoria, including a passenger line is being upgraded to Geelong, this potential Tullamarine Airport Link. Any reservations with those?

ALBANESE: Well they have cut finding there again in Victoria, Have a look at the Budget papers. The Budget papers say, attached to it is; zero, zero, zero, zero. Because there is no new money in there.
The Victorian Government were entitled to $1.45 billion under this Government’s own Asset Recycling Scheme and they are getting a total of $1 billion. So it is actually a cut to spending. Victoria is still getting less than ten per cent of the national infrastructure Budget, in spite of the fact that they are the fastest growing state and they have one in four of the population.

JENNETT: Now I don’t think this counts strictly as an infrastructure spend, but Snowy-Hydro II potentially coming into full Commonwealth ownership at $2 billion, is that where Commonwealth money should be going?

ALBANESE: Well it’s currently publicly owned. It’s owned by the Commonwealth and a couple of the states. They have said that they would be prepared to buy it; we will wait and see. I’m not sure, frankly, that it makes a huge difference in terms of the corporate structure for Snowy Hydro, but we will have a look at that.

JENNETT: Fair enough, and back into another area away from infrastructure; tourism. Now the overarching sort of marketing body I suppose, Tourism Australia, has had cuts in previous Budgets and is up for another. What are you saying is the impact of this, for those in the tourism sector?

ALBANESE: Well the collective impact of what the Government has done in one; increasing the Passenger Movement Charge last year, contrary to their own commitment just a couple of months beforehand.

JENNETT: By a small amount.

ALBANSE: No it was a substantial increase, Slashing funding for Tourism Australia by $35 million over the forward estimates, increasing the visa charges for tourists who want to come to Australia – all of that combined will have an impact.

JENNETT: How much? What do you say that impact will be?

ALBANESE: Well we will do a proper assessment of it. I’m not like this Government. I won’t just make up figures and say that will happen down the track. What will happen though is; it’s really cutting of your nose to spite your face.

You cut Tourism Australia funding and what you are doing is you are limiting the marketing of Australia that produces a return to the national economy from growth in the tourism sector.

And this Government just has a look at tourism and thinks that it is a cash cow. Well, it is not. It has been identified as one of the super-growth sectors for the economy. It employs almost a million Australians alone and we need to encourage this industry, not continue to hack away at it.

JENNETT: Alright, well let’s see what they as an industry have to say in the days ahead.

ALBANESE: I think that they have been pretty clear already you might find.

JENNETT: Alright, well broader Budget themes, why can’t Labor straight out say they are up for this half a percent increase in 2019 on the Medicare Levy? It would apparently fund the gap in the NDIS, why is that not a lay down yes?

ALBANESE: Well one of the things that we are concerned about is the equity impacts of this Budget. They’ve got, you know this nonsense of figures like the $75 billion when Scott Morrison’s great-great grandchildren are in Parliament down the track, whilst they are actually cutting actual investment. You have in terms of the fiscal impact, if you are a millionaire, you will be $16,400 better off, because of getting rid of the deficit levy.

JENNETT: Does that come into Labor’s calculations here? That you might seek to change that, extend that in some way?

ALBANESE: Well, we will make announcements at the appropriate time. But the fact is that last night’s Budget gives people at the top end a tax cut and people at the lower end a tax increase. So people on $40,000 a year are going to have a significant tax increase, that will impose a burden on them and people at the top end are being treated very differently, just like this Government with its $50 billion of company tax cuts.

JENNETT: Well let’s see where Labor goes with that. There’s obviously a few signals coming from you there I think.

Now just because Joe O’Brien mentioned it at the introduction to this interview, some reference to chatter about the Labor Party and dissatisfaction, what’s going on? Media chatter? Vaguely reported around this place, not necessarily by the ABC but are you aware of anything?

ALBANESE: Media bored. We are getting on with the job. We have been very united over the last few years. That’s a good thing. We are all working very hard in the jobs that we have. I am out there today, pointing out the farce, the mirage that is the Government’s infrastructure strategy. Remember a few years ago, when they had their so-called $50 billion plan? That’s all gone to nothing; that didn’t actually exist. Nor does this long-term view of spin that they have tried to put out last night.

JENNETT: And nothing about that botched advertisement which went to air in Queensland has sent out any alarm bells through the ranks that you’re aware of as to the function of the Leader’s Office?

ALBANESE: Well the fact is it was rejected by Bill Shorten himself, who pulled the ad. It was rejected by me, by Chris Bowen. Anyone who got asked about it said the same thing. I am somewhat bemused by the fact that people in the media say, what we want are politicians who don’t just read from the notes they are given. I am a pretty straight talking politician, what you see is what you get. If I am asked a question about something like that, I will give a straight answer. I did that.

JENNETT: You did. You called it a shocker. Well look we have covered that off and other areas too. Anthony Albanese, thank you for your thoughts.

ALBANESE: Good to be with you.