Transcript of Interview on ABC’s Insiders program
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
Member for Grayndler
Subject: Government’s “nation building” infrastructure agenda; the Budget; Opposition’s tobacco tax rise policy; NSW politics
Sunday, 17 May 2009
BARRIE CASSIDY: Minster, good morning, welcome.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
BARRIE CASSIDY: A $60 billion black hole, is that what it is, because you will have to find a lot of money either by, as Andrew Robb says, borrowing or drawing on private sector investment.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yesterday we saw Andrew Robb and the Coalition’s political opportunism out there once again. Here, you had infrastructure, the centrepiece, once again, of our budget. Nation-building for recovery was the theme of the budget. We had record spending, not just in terms of transport infrastructure, rail road ports broadband, solar energy, and of course confirmation of the measures including the education and social infrastructure we had as part of our stimulus packages. And yet, we had not one question in the Parliament. I haven’t had a question from Andrew Robb in Parliament this year on infrastructure, nothing…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, take this as a question then, he talks about the level of borrowing you’ll need to make or drawing on private sector investment.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s absolutely nonsense of course. What Andrew Robb did was see a headline in the Australian yesterday that didn’t relate to the story at all. The fact is that we’ve had a considered approach to infrastructure development. We spend a year through Infrastructure Australia putting together an infrastructure priority list and a pipeline of projects that will be available for years to come. We set out in the Budget fully costed commitments for these projects.
We have nine rail projects, four road projects, and two ports and we’ve got a full analysis of each of those and simply it was got, it was got wrong. Take, the Regional Rail Express, for example in Victoria. A $3.225 billion commitment from the Commonwealth, it’s a $4.225 billion project, the rest of the funding will come from Victoria. That is good, not just in terms of the need to increase our use of urban rail in terms of dealing with urban congestion, it’s also a part of tackling climate change…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, all of that but before you go…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: ……it’s also, in this case a part of good planning, good planning which…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, but before we talk about…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …will allow growth in Western Melbourne.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But before we talk specifically about what you’re doing, to what extent will it be drawing on borrowings and private sector investment?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: In terms of borrowings there’ll be only the impact which is there in the budget papers for all to see. But the Government has made no – it’s no great secret that the Government believes that we need to encourage public sector investment in infrastructure, but that the public sector can’t do it alone.
Take for example the Gold Coast light rail project. What we’ve done is contribute a $365 million equity injection. That will enable, that was what we were asked to do, that will enable the project to go ahead, that will be backed by funding from – the Gold Coast ratepayers are paying a levy, at the moment, in order to get that project up.
There’ll also be support from the Queensland State Government and from the private sector. And that’s all fully outlayed in the analysis that we put out on budget night. And it contrasts with the previous government’s approach which was essentially to preside over a situation whereby there was a 20 per cent fall in investment in infrastructure over its period of office as a share of national income at a time where we had the benefit of the mining boom.
The government has set up infrastructure Australia with not just public representatives but private sector representatives chaired by Sir Rod Eddington involves people such as Mark Birrell and Heather Ridout and other people from the private sector.
We want to move forward in terms of dealing with the infrastructure deficit that we were left with and Mr Robb has just shown how opportunist and how out of touch they are…
BARRIE CASSIDY: All right well…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …with the business community in particular.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, the question now superannuation funds. I presume you can’t raid them, they’re independent. But will you be encouraging them to get involved?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course we can’t raid them. The decisions of superannuation funds are…
BARRIE CASSIDY: We agreed on that, that question is will you encourage them?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …right – they’re the decisions of trustees? Well, we have encouraged them by putting out an infrastructure priority list and an infrastructure pipeline of projects. One of the demands of the private sector, including superannuation funds, has been for some time that they’ve wanted a pipeline of projects so that they can actually plan for what is happening, not just a year ahead but a decade ahead.
What we’ve done, through the Infrastructure Australia process, and GarRy Weaven is a member of the advisory council of Infrastructure Australia is do just that, is respond to the requests and the pleas, indeed, from the superannuation industry and the private sector, to actually have this considered approach to infrastructure investment. We did that and we delivered on Tuesday night.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, but you also claim it as a recession buster but isn’t it true there are only $1.7 billion of the new infrastructure money will be spent in the next 12 months that the bulk, the great majority of the money, will be spent once the economy is growing again?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s nonsense as well, Barry. The fact is that, take transport infrastructure alone, Transport Infrastructure, in the budget, we’ve outlined a six-year plan going, starting – commencing this financial year, of some $35 billion. Now, ten point…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yes, but how much in the first year, that’s the question?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Ten point eight billion between this financial year and June 2010, $10.8 billion of investment. Take for example…
BARRIE CASSIDY: But how much new money in that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Take for example – well, what we’ve done is bring forward, it is natural that when you announce a project such as the building of a railway line such as the Regional Rail Express, then you announce it in May, you don’t get out the shovel in June.
But you get it out this, the next financial year, that work will commence and build up. But what we’ve done is have a concerted approach.
If you have a look at our stimulus packages, we for example, on Thursday, myself and the Prime Minister and the Treasurer were there in the Hunter with Premier Rees turning the first sod on one of the Hunter Rail projects.
One of the lines that we funded in the December stimulus package has already been opened. There are 650 people being employed in the Hunter on those projects. We have brought forward road and rail projects to the extent that it is possible as part of the stimulus packages and as part of the nation-building program that was included in the budget.
And that’s before you look at the impact we’re having such as they first family moved into one of our new social housing units in Ingleburn in Sydney just yesterday. The education infrastructure is going ahead in electorates right around the nation.
BARRIE CASSIDY: All right.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Every primary school will be a building site. We’re going to create 35,000 construction sites and it’s happening right now.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, you mentioned you had this conversation with Premier Rees, how did you explain to him the disparity between states in terms of how much they receive in transport funding, I am talking about here. Victoria gets $3.2 billion for the rail link that you mentioned, $91 million for a rail project in New South Wales.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: New South Wales get $11.6 billion in transport infrastructure from the budget on Tuesday night, 32 per cent, precisely the same percentage as its population.
What we did with the Western metro…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Why did then did John Brumby – excuse me, why then is John Brumby, the Premier of Victoria, crowing about this? He says Victoria got 30 per cent of the money paid out from infrastructure, health and education, 30 per cent to Victoria alone. You have to concede Victoria did better out of this than New South Wales.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Each Premier has a role in talking up their state, that’s their job but the fact is that $11.6 billion in transport infrastructure has been provided for New South Wales.
Last year we funded the feasibility study for the west metro. This year we’ve funded the next stage which is to get it up to when a contract can be issued and that is the way the infrastructure development, considered infrastructure investment, should go forward.
And I make this point, Barrie, the amount of investment in public urban transport from the previous government over 12 long years, zero. Not a cent. And in Malcolm Turnbull’s reply to the Budget in the failure to ask questions in the Parliament, one has got to assume that that is still their approach.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You’re not seriously suggesting New South Wales did as well as Victoria out of this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the fact is, Barrie, that New South Wales got 11.6…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, sure. But the question is did they do better than Victoria?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …billion in transport infrastructure out of the budget. Well, I am not getting into the state versus states game. What we’ve done is develop an approach which is a national approach. We’ve looked at projects on their merits and we’ve been – we’ve provided the appropriate spending that’s there. New South Wales is a great beneficiary of our N1.
Our plan to make sure that we have proper road infrastructure from Melbourne all the way through to Cairns. And with the $1.65 billion Hunter Expressway the $3.1 billion we’re spending on the Pacific Highway, the $950 million which will ensure that the Hume is fully duplicated by 20112.
We’ve taken a major step forward there and we’re partnering with New South Wales in terms of metro transport. As well, in the Budget, the northern Sydney freight line was delivered $850 million. This is probably the single most important project that we can have to improve passenger transport as well as freight transport on rail in Sydney.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And I don’t think there’s a commentator out there who would accept your argument New South Wales did as well as Victoria. And they all argue that the quality of the submission was the problem that it’s not up to scratch, but what you’ll do is go through a list of what New South Wales did do and we’ve heard that.
On politics more generally, and wearing your hat as leader of government business in the House, do you believe these reports that the Opposition is now saying they’ll support the alcopops legislation? Malcolm Turnbull said this morning they will definitely look at it again.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly hope that they do because for months you’ve had the absurd argument that somehow revenue and tax issues can’t have an impact on behaviour when it comes to heath. And, of course, Malcolm’s problem is the inconsistency. And on Thursday night when he announced a cigarette tax increase, he blew away his argument when it came to alcopops. So, we’ll wait and see, Barry, but they change their mind from day to day, week to week.
We want to see what they do on alcopops but certainly there’s a very clear argument that they should be supporting this legislation. If they’re at all fair dinkum about revenue and savings measures, it’s interesting, this morning, that Malcolm Turnbull has, once again, refused to support our $22 billion in savings that we put out on Tuesday night in the Budget.
He’s not fair dinkum when it comes to the whole issue of debt and the whole issue of budgetary policy.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, finally a report yesterday that the Deputy Premier of New South Wales Carmel Tebbutt has told party members she is interested in the leadership. Given that she is your wife, has she told you that as well?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: She’s made it very clear that she’s happy to be the Deputy-Premier of New South Wales and is very loyal to the Government, to Nathan as she was a loyal player to Morris Iemma, before him.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But the report suggests that she doesn’t want a ballot, she doesn’t want it to happen before next year and only then if the polls suggest that Labor can win, that’s quite a wish list, isn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The reports are nonsense, they’re not based upon any fact and they’re certainly not based upon, I note, no comments on the record from her or anyone else. She’s on the record in today’s papers and she can speak for herself frankly, Barrie.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks, Barry.