Subject: Cyclone Yasi; flood recovery; Regional Rail Link; Abbott’s use of the floods to solicit political donations for the Liberal Party
Steve Price: Anthony Albanese is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He’s been good enough to join us. Thanks for your time, Minister.
Anthony Albanese: G’day, how are you?
Steve Price: Well, thank you. You’ve got a massive challenge on your hands now in Queensland after the cyclone. You already had a massive challenge following the floods.
I just want to play for you a little bit of an interview I did, a very brief comment from one of our – one of the victims up there in Tully who told me this morning that water is their biggest issue. Here he is – this is Tully resident, Chris Heritage(*).
[Excerpt of earlier interview]
Chris Heritage: People pretty much are fine, but if we can just get the water back on, as a matter of priority.
[End of excerpt]
Steve Price: So he’s saying there they’ve got no water for showering and drinking, obviously, and not even for toilet use. How are you going to quickly get that back up and running?
Anthony Albanese: Look, we have people on the ground, including, of course, the Prime Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister was up there yesterday. Our officials have been working very closely with the Queensland Government.
These are extraordinary circumstances. You’d think Queensland had suffered enough. I, indeed, was due to be in Emerald in north Queensland today looking at the floods. We decided yesterday, essentially, to cancel that trip to free up the aircraft.
Steve Price: Yeah.
Anthony Albanese: Sometimes you can just get in the way. And, of course, the cyclone coming on top of the floods is quite horrific.
But we’ve certainly offered whatever Commonwealth support we can to the local and state authorities who are doing a pretty good job under the circumstances. And, of course, the people themselves are doing a great job. They’re pretty tough up there.
Steve Price: What sort of dent has all this put in your infrastructure planning?
Anthony Albanese: Look, it’s certainly had an impact. Just in a practical way, Steve. You can’t do everything at once. So, in terms of issues like labour and some of the capital equipment that was envisaged to be working on projects in our Nation Building Program, they will have to be diverted to the more immediate concerns, making sure that towns aren’t cut off, repairing the bridges.
There’ll be much more infrastructure spending but it has meant a re-examination of priorities.
Steve Price: So, are you going to have to cancel some projects or delay them?
Anthony Albanese: No, we haven’t – we’ve cancelled just one small project in South Australia. We sat down with Queensland over a fortnight and determined to defer five projects. They weren’t the real big projects worth a total of 325 million in order to free up the capacity to fix the more immediate concerns that were there.
Steve Price: Well, the biggest of the lot is that regional rail link here. I don’t know if you’ve seen this story in The Age today, but it’s suggesting – or a suggestion from the new Transport Minister, Terry Mulder, here that the regional rail link, which is a $4.3 billion project, Melbourne to Werribee, might, indeed, have to be cancelled.
Anthony Albanese: Well, I certainly think there’s no reason why that should occur. We’ve put up $3.2 billion. We’re the major funder of that. That funding is, certainly, still available. We have asked for a deferral of an amount.
Steve Price: Five hundred million, is that right?
Anthony Albanese: We’re in discussions with Victoria. It’s certainly up to that figure. What’s occurred there with the environmental processes and the examination of where the stations would be there was going to be a small time deferral anyway.
Steve Price: Well, The Age says though that you’d already deferred 400 million and that you’re now going to defer another 500 million. Nine hundred million is not a small deferral.
Anthony Albanese: The Commonwealth have introduced very rigorous fiscal discipline in our major infrastructure. In the last Budget, in 2010, indeed, we introduced milestone payments. In the past what had occurred is that money would just get paid to the states and say, you know, good luck with the road or rail project.
We haven’t done that. We have a Commonwealth official actually sits on the board.
Steve Price: But you’ve put your foot on 900 million and said you’re not getting it until we’re happy with the way this project’s going. Is that what you’re saying?
Anthony Albanese: Well, we’ve said that we’ll paying accordance with progress rather than paying up front. And…
Steve Price: You’re not happy with the progress, so…
Anthony Albanese: That’s what we’re doing with all our projects.
Steve Price: So you’re not happy with the progress under the former Labor Government of that project.
Anthony Albanese: No, it’s not that we’re not…
Steve Price: They say today that it is in chaotic planning.
Anthony Albanese: No, it certainly is not the case, and it’s not the case we’re not happy with the progress. It is the case that with a project of this size, with proper community consultation that occurred, there was some delay to make sure that that community consultation was got right and there were some changes. For example, to – where the stations would be. But…
Andrew Bolt: Anthony, look, I think everyone’s accepting that there’s a need for sacrifices, for delays. You know, we’ve seen a fair bit of damage done and everyone would like, actually, savings made generally anyway. And, I think, also, there’s a lot of ticks being given for government – both the federal and the state government in Queensland for how they’re responding.
But I just want to talk about a decision made before the Queensland floods that, I think, is puzzling.
Why is Queensland the only state not to have insured its major public infrastructure from this sort of damage, and isn’t this exactly why we’re having to pay – the rest of the country – a couple of billion extra to bail Queensland out for refusing to do the insur… take out the insurance that every other state takes out.
Anthony Albanese: Well, of course, Andrew, that’s a question for the Queensland Government. You know, it’s…
Andrew Bolt: But aren’t you puzzled? I mean, this is crazy.
Anthony Albanese: Well, it’s not my…
Andrew Bolt: We wouldn’t have to dip into our own pockets if they’d done the right thing.
Anthony Albanese: Let me tell you, I’ve got a big enough responsibility making sure that my job is done correctly without trying to second-guess the circumstances of what…
Andrew Bolt: It’s not second guessing. Anthony, you are one of the straightest guys in parliament. You’re a scary guy. You should have gone up there and said, what the hell are we paying, the rest of the country, Queensland a couple of billion for because you guys didn’t take out the insurance that every other state takes out. Surely, we should be asking that very fundamental question.
Anthony Albanese: Yeah, but that’s a question in retrospect. As you know…
Andrew Bolt: No, it’s not in retrospect, Anthony. Excuse me, I don’t want to interrupt too often, but listen, it’s not in retrospect. The Queensland Government was warned beforehand this was stupid, and every other state was doing it differently.
Anthony Albanese: Well, that’s a question for the Queensland Government.
Andrew Bolt: Oh, come on, Anthony, give us a headline, please [laughs].
Anthony Albanese: Well [laughs], I’m not aware of the…
Steve Price: He’s not about to, is he?
Anthony Albanese: … circumstances. Well, you’ve upset me, Andrew, you said I was scary.
Andrew Bolt: [Laughs]
Anthony Albanese: I think I’m nice.
Andrew Bolt: Oh look, no, before you came on, I said you were our favourite New South Wales left-wing politician. I mean, can we say it – be any fairer, mate?
Anthony Albanese: Well, that’s not a big pool.
Steve Price: It’s a very, very impo…
Andrew Bolt: It’s either you or Tanya [laughs].
Steve Price: Not only not a very big pool, it’s a shrinking pool, I would have thought.
You’ve climbed into Tony Abbott overnight over this email that was sent out under his name opposing the government’s flood levy and then asking for donations.
Andrew Bolt: Stephen, this is a little lobby off the off stump for Anthony. He won’t comment on Queensland Labor, but he will comment on federal Liberal [laughs].
Steve Price: We’ll move on. Isn’t that just the way that all political parties do these things…
Anthony Albanese: No, it’s not.
Steve Price: … when you add the donation line on the bottom of these things?
Anthony Albanese: No. This seeks to draw a direct relationship between the flood issue and donating to the Liberal Party. This is incredibly offensive. You know, don’t worry about how we’re going to pay for repairing Queensland, just donate money to the Liberal Party and we’ll stop the flood tax.
Andrew Bolt: Well, I think – I agree, I thought it was a stupid…
Anthony Albanese: This is red hot.
Andrew Bolt: … mis… very stupid, insensitive, and Tony Abbott should have simply said, we’ve stuffed up, sorry. But I agree with you.
But listen, this is just how it looks. I’m tal… well, I want to go back to the fact – here is Queensland making a decision that cost the rest of the country, through its slackness, a couple of billion. Can we now ensure that, in future, the federal government says, no more money for us for fixing Queensland infrastructure until you insure the assets that we’re paying for. Will you do that in future? Not looking back in the past. In future, say Queensland, insure it like every other state the infrastructure so next time we don’t have to write out cheques for billions for you.
Anthony Albanese: Well, look, that’s a matter for discussion. What we’re concerned about at the moment, Andrew, with due respect, we’re still trying to get water on to people’s homes. We’re worried about the immediate, and that’s where we’re at at the moment. All those policy discussions, certainly, no doubt will take place.
Steve Price: And the flood levy that copped so much criticism from last week, you’ve extended your hand to the people in far north Queensland. If they’ve been affected by Yasi, you’re not going to hit them with the flood levy. Are you going to do that again on this postcode-style selection basis, where if you live in an area hit by Yasi and your postcode comes in there, you don’t pay the levy, because that seems to be a very unfair way to do it. I’m not sure the… what the better solution is, but I don’t know that that works.
Anthony Albanese: Yeah. Well look, we’re going to sit down on Monday as a Cabinet and discuss through these details. As I said earlier, I was going to be in north Queensland or central north Queensland today, so we haven’t had an opportunity to discuss through all of those details. What we’ve said is that those people who’ve been impacted won’t be charged the levy, just as has occurred with the floods. I think that…
Steve Price: But how do you do that though? I mean…
Anthony Albanese: There are a range of ways that you could do it in terms of people who’ve received payments. Therefore, if you receive a payment, you don’t pay the levy. There are a range of ways that it could be done and we’ll look at that detail. And, indeed, my New South Wales left colleague, Tanya Plibersek…
… responsible for…
Andrew Bolt: The other one [laughs].
Andrew Bolt: …human services. Oh, we’re everywhere. We’re everywhere.
Steve Price: Tanya will be very upset, Andrew, that you consider Anthony your favourite over her.
Andrew Bolt: Well, I tell you what, he’s probably…
Anthony Albanese: Or [indistinct]
Andrew Bolt: …now my favourite New South Wales minister, full stop, given that the New South Wales Labor right has absolutely disgraced itself. But never mind.
Look, thanks a lot for joining us, Anthony, and good luck to you.
Steve Price: Appreciate your time.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.