SUBJECTS: Western Sydney motorways; Sydney infrastructure; Western Sydney
CHRIS SMITH: We’ve got the minister, Anthony Albanese on the line right now. Minister, good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day, mate, how are you?
CHRIS SMITH: I’m very well. How is the Rooty Hill RSL hospitality treating you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Pretty good. I just had lunch there actually.
CHRIS SMITH: What did you have for lunch?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I had a Caesar Salad, trying to be a bit healthy.
CHRIS SMITH: Caesar Salad, and were you able to partake in a beer or anything, or is that for when the day is over?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I’m on my way to a Cabinet meeting at two o’clock this afternoon at Blacktown City Council, and then tonight I’m addressing the Sydney Institute, so I’ve got a big work day ahead.
CHRIS SMITH: Busy. What are your thoughts on that survey which Channel 7 spoke about – the Reach TEL survey yesterday, which indicated that people had not been convinced about this shift to Rooty Hill, and they were very cynical about the politics involved? Is it a little bit too early to judge whether people won’t accept what’s going on this week, or do you think we’ve just become cynical towards all politicians?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think there’s a fair bit of cynicism out there about politics in general, but one of the things is, I’m here in Western Sydney talking to you this afternoon and your listeners. I just, at Rooty Hill RSL, ran into the full suite of journalists, and other people who are around there. There was a huge press conference I held with the Prime Minister and local MPs a couple of hours ago.
This is getting people talking about Western Sydney and its needs and its specific qualities as a region as well, what it has to offer, and I think that’s a good thing.
CHRIS SMITH: Okay, tell me about this connection from the end of the M4 to the CBD. You know, it should have been done at the very beginning. It wasn’t. We’ve all been screaming for it, but you have to admit that in recent decades, less and less in the far west of Sydney, you’re travelling by car and driving all the way to the CBD.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely, and we certainly need proper rail links as well, which is why this Federal Government committed at the last campaign to the Parramatta- Epping rail link. We need to make sure that it’s not just about the CBD – it’s also about Parramatta, Sydney’s second CBD, and other centres like Penrith and Liverpool.
But the fact is, when you get to the end of M4 at Strathfield there, it doesn’t sit right. Everyone knows that it’s a road which stops halfway or three-quarters of the way through. We’ve got what is a common sense proposal. I think people have been quite shocked this morning to realise that this [NSW Government] proposal is just about moving the bottleneck further to the east.
CHRIS SMITH: So what people need to understand – and you can explain it probably better than I can – but what the State Government has done with some kind of support from Infrastructure New South Wales, was to suggest that we should link the M4 with the M5 via Botany Bay for truck movement in that orbital circular around Sydney. But you’re going a step further?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes. Essentially their plan would have extended the M4 down Parramatta Road. That is what they proposed. So a cut and cover model, a bit like the Eastern Distributor, if people are familiar with that. And it would stop at Camperdown. Then there would be a tunnel across to St Peters, which would meet up with the M5.
So the problem is, there are two challenges here. One is to get people into the city when they have to go by car, and sometimes that is necessary if public transport can’t always be used for whatever reason. So it didn’t solve that problem. It also didn’t solve the problem of getting freight to the port. It would have funnelled freight – I don’t know where it would have ended up – sort of along King Street, Newtown or something.
And we need to get it right, and that’s why we contributed in last year’s budget $25 million, which we’ve made available to New South Wales this year, to make sure that the planning can be got right. And now we’re saying that funding is conditional.
We got asked by New South Wales for $1.8 billion towards the project. And we’ve said, well, okay, we’ll consider a substantial contribution would be made by the Federal Government, so we’ve made clear that, you know, we’re not trying to play silly buggers and say $50 million or $100 million, we’ve said there’d be a B involved, so at least a billion dollars of the $1.8 billion that was requested will be made available. But it’s conditional upon the project doing what people think that it should do.
CHRIS SMITH: So all up, you’re talking $13 billion. Where the hell are we going to get $13 billion from?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, this is a State Government project, they’re the ones that have come up with…
CHRIS SMITH: [Interrupts] They’ve got no money though.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …this proposal. Some of it, no doubt, in terms of new links, they’ve said would be subject to a toll. And I think in terms of people’s views, if they get a new road, they consider it reasonable that the money comes from somewhere. But what they won’t accept is just putting a toll on existing roads.
CHRIS SMITH: So I’m a bit miffed here. Are you saying the M4 old toll should not exist ever, even if we do this, but a toll to cater for the new roadway can begin?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Exactly. Yeah. We’ve been saying essentially that for existing roads, you shouldn’t put it back on when you’ve already paid for it. And that as well is I think a common sense proposal.
CHRIS SMITH: I have this funny feeling – Anthony, I have this funny feeling that you’re still going to reach this stalemate, where the New South Wales Government says, well, we’ve got no money. We can’t aim for the stars to that degree. You certainly aren’t flush with the surplus at the moment, as we know, so where are we going to get the money? It’s not going to happen.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think that the planning has to be got right, and the funding proposal has to be a part of that. At the moment, we haven’t seen that. The route hasn’t been properly defined, and the financial arrangements and timelines haven’t been completed.
So what we’re saying is, taxpayers’ money is important. We can’t just make an open-ended commitment like Tony Abbott seems to have done, without knowing where the road is going to go.
CHRIS SMITH: Okay, look, forgive me for being cynical, but I remember Neville Wran saying it won’t be long before we’ll be linking the M4 with the city as well, and that was back in the ’70s, but anyway.
In the meantime are you – you getting up close and personal with people out there? Are you mixing with the people in Rooty Hill and Blacktown?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We are indeed. I just had lunch at the RSL and we’ve got a cabinet meeting this afternoon, and this morning I was with the Prime Minister at a disability employment service.
So over this week, like other times, as you know Chris, I get out and about, so I’m very familiar with the region here, and it’s a great opportunity to have such intensive engagement. Last night there were 1000 people at the University of Western Sydney at the Prime Minister’s speech, and there was a really positive vibe around that room.
CHRIS SMITH: Yeah, because they were all card carrying members last night.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Or friends, that’s right.
CHRIS SMITH: The family, you had the family there.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There’s nothing wrong with being close to your family and there’s a great deal of Labor true believers here in the West.
CHRIS SMITH: You’re going to Allianz Stadium on Thursday night, more importantly.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Mate, I wouldn’t miss it. We’ve got a charity event there being organised by Pikey, who you would know.
CHRIS SMITH: Yeah.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: So it’s a bit of the old gang of Mikey Robins and Denton and people who have been involved in Souths for a long time, and I hope it’s as good as the last game.
CHRIS SMITH: Oh the last – wasn’t he – would you like – just so we could get it a little later – no, we can’t play it for the minister, can we?
COMPERE: I’ll find it.
CHRIS SMITH: You’ll find it?
COMPERE: Not yet, but I will find it.
CHRIS SMITH: We were just going to play the last 60 seconds of the last game at Allianz, July 16, 2012.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’ve been going to footie games for a long time. I had my 50th birthday on Saturday, and I’ve been a Souths fan since the day I was born and I’ve never seen two tries scored without a tackle being made.
CHRIS SMITH: That’s just extraordinary.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s the way it ended up. It was a cracker of a game, and the fact it was versus the Roosters just made it even better.
CHRIS SMITH: All right, we’ve almost found it, hang on, we’ll just put it from this particular computer into the other computer. When you think about the crowd on Thursday night, I think they’ve only got about 6000 tickets to go before a sell-out. A wonderful way to start the NRL year.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is indeed.
CHRIS SMITH: No, can’t play it for you – can’t do it. We might play it a little bit later, or later in the week. Thanks very much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks Chris, bye.
CHRIS SMITH: Okay, Anthony Albanese, Infrastructure Minister.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.