Transcript of Interview on Channel 9’s Sunday program
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
Member for Grayndler
Subject: The Budget; pensions; asylum seekers; and the Government’s $26.4 billion Nation Building Program
Sunday, 26 April 2009
LAURIE OAKES: Mr Albanese welcome to the programme.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be here.
LAURIE OAKES: Before we get on to infrastructure there are a couple of other stories in today’s newspapers I wanted to ask you about. First pensions: there’s a report that single age pensioners may not get the full 30 dollars we’ve been talking about they might only get 20 dollars increase so you can afford to increase money payed to the unemployed. Is that true?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, of course, you can’t believe everything that you read in the papers about budget speculation.
LAURIE OAKES: Can’t you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I know some of them have been contradictory this week, so I don’t intend to comment on the budget, there’s not long for people to wait. What I will say is that the government is committed to long-term pension reform. We put a process in place to achieve that. We, of course, paid a one-off payment last December to pensioners, carers, disability support pensioners, veterans, that was well received, but as for budget measures, I’m afraid Laurie I won’t be giving you a scoop here on the programme.
LAURIE OAKES: Well, alright, don’t give me a budget leak, but last year we had a string of ministers admitting they couldn’t live on the single age pension. Now, the new start allowance for the unemployed is something like a hundred dollars less than that, so how can you expect them to live on that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Laurie, we will be making announcements in the budget in terms of long-term pension reform, we are absolutely committed to that. In terms of the unemployed, one of the reasons why we’ve been taking the economic stimulus measures that we have, in both nation building infrastructure and one-off payments, is to cushion the economy against impact of the global recession and try to limit the impact on employment that that global recession will have.
LAURIE OAKES: But unemployment’s still shooting up, I mean, can you leave these people, increasing numbers of Australians, to exist below the poverty line – well below the poverty line?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Laurie, we’ll be making budget announcements on Budget Night.
LAURIE OAKES: All right. Yet another boat load of asylum seekers has been intercepted. They seem to be coming thick and fast now. How concerned is the government about the politics of this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we know, of course, that just as the Australian economy isn’t immune from the global recession, the issue of asylum seekers, seeking to settle in Australia, is not divorced from what’s happening globally. We’re seeing some 35,000 people arrive in Italy, seeking asylum, 20,000 in Spain, right around the world the impact that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in particular are having and so that the government is making sure that we have tough border security, the fact that this boat was intercepted indicates that is working and in terms of the politics, we want to keep the politics out of this issue and deal with it in a rational and considered way.
LAURIE OAKES: But we’ve heard asylum seekers interviewed in Indonesia saying they want to get a boat to Australia because Kevin Rudd won’t send them back as they feared John Howard would. That indicates they are aware of our changed laws and that’s an influence.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, look Laurie, the PM said the other day I recall, him talking about how people smugglers were telling asylum seekers that if they came to Australia under Mr Howard they’d get a free house and a job and everything all sorted out for them and cash payments. The truth is that the real reason for any increase is, of course, what is happening in international circumstances, particularly Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. People don’t risk their lives getting on a boat without being really concerned about their future in their country of origin.
LAURIE OAKES: Alright, we’ll get on to infrastructure. I gather that you’re going to make an announcement today about the big infrastructure programme Kevin Rudd has been negotiating with the states?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right. Today we will be announcing that all states and territories have signed up now to the government’s $26. 4 billion Nation Building Programme. This is more than double what the previous government, the Howard government spend under its Auslink programme under a similar period of time. It is 120 nation building road projects, 26 nation building rail projects. It includes two-and-a-half billion dollars for the Pacific Highway, 2. 2 billion-dollars for the Bruce Highway. 950 million dollars to finish off the duplication of the Hume Highway. As well as $850 million for the northern Sydney freight line and projects right around Australia will benefit from this and this is a programme that will honour all of Labor’s election commitments and it’s good that we’ve been able to conclude it so quickly with the states. This was, of course, raised at the COAG Meeting earlier this year by the Prime Minister.
LAURIE OAKES: But, why didn’t you bring this stuff forward, as part of the economic stimulus strategy, instead of going the cash hand-out route?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we did, Laurie. Two-thirds of our nation building and jobs plan has been on infrastructure spending. Only one third on short-term economic stimulus…
LAURIE OAKES: But there are not a lot of big projects in it are there?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there are major "bring forwards" of projects including 711 million dollars we allocated to bring forward 14 of these road projects. 1.2 billion dollars for the Australian Rail Track Corporation, the biggest ever investment in rail in the nation’s history. That is already, as a result of the announcements that we made in December. One of the loop lines in the Hunter will be ready to open next week, that work has been taking place, 650 jobs alone in the Hunter. We are spending more on rail in 18 months than the previous government spent in 12 years. That is… on top of that, of course, we have 150 million dollars for rail crossings, we had a tripling to 150 million for the black spots road programme…
LAURIE OAKES: Why didn’t you do more of this, Mr Anthony Albanese, instead of sending out cheques for $900, to all and sundry and the Opposition says that’s just to prop up Kevin Rudd’s popularity. Are they right?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, for every dollar that we made in stimulus payments for the short term, we put two dollars aside for medium and long-term infrastructure spending and the great — and we simply made the short-term spending in order to keep consumption up while the infrastructure spending came on line. That made good sense. Certainly now we’re seeing the infrastructure spending come on line, including $800 million for the community infrastructure programme and it’s got to be remembered that each of these programmes, whether it be rail crossings, black spots road programme, community infrastructure programme, the $14. 7 billion we have allocated for education infrastructure in every primary school in the nation, the Opposition and Mr Turnbull and Mr Hockey voted against every one of these measures. So their hypocrisy has no bounds.
LAURIE OAKES: Well, you refer to the community infrastructure programme, which was part of the big 42 billion dollar infrastructure package. Now, the Opposition couldn’t vote for the individual programmes, without voting for the whole package, could they?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the Opposition could have moved amendments. They chose not to. They chose to just oppose every one of these measures. Not only did they vote against them, they’ve gone out there and campaigned against them, and called it low level spending. At the same time as when these projects and of the 550 million dollar component there will be 137 projects across the nation, all of value greater than $2 million, in partnership with local government. It’ll produce over $1.5 billion of high quality, local capital works programmes. They have argued against these and yet at the same time, of course, they’ve argued to get some of their money for their own electorates. This is an extraordinarily hypocritical opposition.
LAURIE OAKES: You’re obviously squeezing every ounce of political advantage out of this you can, I know that today you’re launching a community infrastructure project in Malcolm Turnbull’s own electorate in Sydney, a new sporting pavillion. Will Mr Turnbull be there, and what will you say to him if he is?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, he’s certainly been invited as the local member, but we’ll be having these announcements right around the nation. The previous government had a $70-million regional partnerships programme in which most of the money went on just ten Federal Coalition electorates. We have not had that approach, Laurie, we’ve gone through local governments, so they’re the priority of these local communities that have been established and they will be announced without political advantage, right across the nation. Roughly in proportion to the balance that is there in the Parliament.
LAURIE OAKES: You say without political advantage, but presumably when Malcolm Turnbull turns up this afternoon and you’re building this project in his electorate, you will point out he didn’t vote for it, won’t you, I assume you’ll enjoy that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, certainly, Laurie, I think that the hypocrisy of Malcolm turning up to Waverley Park for this announcement, $2 million from the Commonwealth, contributing to $7.3 million project in his electorate that he voted against, that is, I think, something that stands for itself. We’ve got major projects today also we’ll be announcing the Insley Bridge Project in far North Queensland, we’ve given particular consideration to flood and bushfire affected areas. This is an $18 million project. You will recall that communities such as Normanton and Karumba was isolated for ten weeks, so you couldn’t get goods and services into those communities, nor could you get the exports, agriculture and fisheries products out in terms of export dollars. This is the single most important project to contribute to flood proofing that part of far north Queensland and the Gulf country and it will be welcomed by those communities. Mr Turnbull and Mr Hockey and all of the Coalition voted against these projects.
LAURIE OAKES: Minister, we’re out of time, we thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Laurie.