Aug 8, 2013

Transcript of interview with Aaron Kearney, ABC Newcastle

Subjects: Federal funding for Tourle St and Cormorant Road; Hunter infrastructure; Federal election; NBN rollout; Craig Thomson 

AARON KEARNEY: Anthony Albanese joins us now. Good morning. Welcome.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.

AARON KEARNEY: What are you announcing today?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, today we’re announcing that after a recommendation from Infrastructure Australia, the Federal Labor Government will provide federal funding to make a twin of Tourle Street a reality. It’s been recognised that this is a bottle-neck. This is an increasingly congested road but it’s going to get worse. We’re going to see traffic volumes increase further over the coming decade from 33,000 today up to 40,000. So, we will provide half the funding for this project – $52 million.

AARON KEARNEY: Is this money guaranteed? 

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  It is. It was in our Budget in May. When people see the PEFO as it’s called, the budget statement that will be made by Treasury, it will be there for people to see. We received representations including some very strong representations from Sharon Claydon and she has been very pleased that we’ve been able to deliver this and of course the current member, Sharon Grierson. She was also a very strong advocate of the project but importantly Infrastructure Australia and the infrastructure coordinator, Michael Deegan, came up to Newcastle himself and certainly there’s a very strong recommendation from Infrastructure Australia that this is a regional priority.

AARON KEARNEY: Now my understanding is the State Government has already committed its share of funding. Therefore, and all of this is based on the assumption that the ALP is re-elected. You can go ahead with a formal start date.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. And this is not based on any assumption of that, it is in the Budget. It was in the Budget in May.

AARON KEARNEY: Would a Coalition Government be committed to it however under these conditions?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I would hope so. They would certainly need to remove it and we know that they’ve got some cuts planned and they won’t tell us what they are. But I would’ve thought this was a vital infrastructure project. We’ve made sure that the funding is available. We’ve been big investors in infrastructure here in the Hunter of course. The Hunter Expressway will be opened later this year and that is a much more expensive project. There’s $1.45 billion of Commonwealth money gone into that project.

AARON KEARNEY: This spending however, does invite the question of what happens to the broader plan to link the end of the F3 and by proxy, the new Hunter Expressway with Port Stephens and other points north? Because there’s a major infrastructure application in for that as well.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes. And that will be dealt with by Infrastructure Australia who’ve got to finalise its consideration of that. Of course we’ve already announced funding between the Federal Government, the State Government and the private operator of the M7, Transurban to have the missing link, the F3 through to the M2 and we’ve also announced over $100 million for various widening projects on the F3 around the central coast area. So we have significant resources in the May Budget allocated towards dealing with congestion and the road network between Newcastle and Sydney.

But also of course this is very much a local issue, fixing up the bridge and fixing up Cormorant Road.

AARON KEARNEY:  It’s widely understood that the existing bridge, the one that opened in 2009 could have been four lanes for an extra $15 million. Now this duplication will cost $100 million-plus. Your Government was in power back in 2009, it was a State ALP Government that committed to this inadequate infrastructure. Why didn’t you intervene then?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Because it was a state road and the Federal Government doesn’t control state roads. It is a good reminder to people that when you do infrastructure you need to do it once and do it right. I am also of course the Minister responsible for the National Broadband Network and the Coalition’s broadband plan is essentially like building a two-lane harbour bridge. It’s inadequate, it relies on copper to the home rather than fibre. When we look at infrastructure, we need to look at today but also look ahead. And yes, that was a mistake by the former government to not make sure the infrastructure was adequate then.

AARON KEARNEY:  You’ve raised the NBN – front page Financial Review today says that the June 2014 rollout target of the NBN will miss by more than 250,000 homes. Do you accept that number?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, that report relies upon some draft information from NBN Co. What that same report says is that the target of 2021 completion will still be met. There’s been the delay as people would be aware in the short-term of dealing with the asbestos issue. That meant that Telstra stopped work in a number of places as the contractor and that means obviously that there is a short-term delay.

AARON KEARNEY: That doesn’t account for 250,000 homes though, Minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  But that delay will be picked up. Well, if you have, I’m sorry but if you have a two-month delay in the rolling out of the work, the fibre rollout, then of course that leads to a delay.

AARON KEARNEY: You accept then that asbestos being the cause or otherwise there is going to be a failure to meet that target.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  No, no. Have a look at the report and have a look at all of it. All of it says that the targets will be met, there’ll be a very short-term delay because right now as we speak for example, in a number of places the rollout has stopped because of the asbestos issue being dealt with, as is appropriate. Teltra have made that decision. It’s important when it comes to asbestos that nothing is put before the health of workers and the health of communities.

AARON KEARNEY:  And that delay can be made out without a cost blowout.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes. And that is precisely what the very same report in the Financial Review reported upon, suggests.

AARON KEARNEY: Twenty-three past seven. You’re with Aaron Kearney on 12.33 Breakfast, so too the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese who is in the Hunter to announce a duplication – the funding for the duplication of the Tourle Street bridge, and one of the major bottlenecks in the Hunter Region.

Minister, I understand that you hung out with local ALP Members and candidates last night. Have you noticed a distinct cooling in the enthusiasm for the ALP in recent times in the Hunter?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all. What I saw last night with Sharon Claydon and ALP members and supporters at her function was incredible enthusiasm. What struck me was how many young people re-engaged with politics and that’s a great thing. I also chatted to other people who happened to be at that the same venue and there was a great deal of enthusiasm for Labor. There’s a new energy with Kevin Rudd as the Prime Minister and we’re looking forward to fighting the campaign on issues like infrastructure, on the National Broadband Network, on the Better Schools plan, on Disability Care Australia of course where the trial was launched right here in Newcastle.

AARON KEARNEY: What about on unemployment? There is talk that a four-year high unemployment figure will be released today and slowing of employment in the mining sector a major employer here in the Hunter is considered one of the key blames.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what we have seen of course is under the Federal Labor Government the creation of almost a million new jobs. And that comes at a time where the rest of the world was shedding jobs and that’s because the Government’s been prepared to invest in infrastructure projects like the Hunter Expressway, like the upgrade of the ARTC rail lines that assist the resources industry here in the Hunter. The Hunter Expressway at its peak was employing more than 1000 people. And when you look at the multiplier impact that it has had it was that investment that kept Australia going during the global financial crisis. That investment made sure that Australia has emerged out with the strongest economy in the industrialised world, with strong growth, low inflation, low unemployment, low interest rates, higher workforce participation, less industrial disputation than occurred under WorkChoices and importantly, a Triple-A credit rating from all three agencies. One of only eight countries in the world that has that.

Now our opponents have a $70 billion cut that they have to make to jobs, to education, to health. And what worries me about jobs in the future is that a Collation Government would cut jobs just as Queensland, New South Wales and the Victorian Governments have done and as well have to introduce an increase in the GST and an extension onto food and basic essentials in order to pay for their promises.

AARON KEARNEY: For all that, you are aware, as I am, of polling from both parties that suggests at least two traditionally strong Labor seats here in the Hunter are in big trouble. Has the Hunter been taken for granted and will it get as much focus as Western Sydney clearly is with the Prime Minister campaigning there for the second day in a row?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. The Prime Minister will actually be in Queensland today and in terms of Newcastle, I’m here as the Deputy Prime Minister. Minister O’Connor was here yesterday. There has been a Minister here on three days of this week, a senior Minister, and I’m a regular visitor to the Hunter, as you know. I’m a regular visitor to the Hunter because there is so much happening in terms of what the Federal Labor Government has committed here.

AARON KEARNEY: So you do think you’re in trouble here in at least two seats?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, not at all. But, you never take people for granted and, in terms of the election here, we have very strong candidates, strong candidates in Jill Hall and Joel Fitzgibbon, good new candidates in Pat Conroy and Sharon Claydon, and as well, you know, we’re committed in the Central Coast. We’ve just down in Wyong selected Emma McBride who works at the local hospital, is a former Deputy Mayor, is a very strong candidate there.

AARON KEARNEY: Have you had a beer with her yet?


AARON KEARNEY: Front page of The Daily Telegraph today, you are depicted as a Nazi along with this line: a secret meeting for beers between Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and disgraced Labor pariah Craig Thomson in a Sydney Bavarian ale house has undermined Kevin Rudd’s claims he is forging a new way for the ALP. Reaction?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, not much of a secret, was it? You know, the fact is that it was one beer for 10 minutes in the place next to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices. It’s not unusual that parliamentary colleagues find themselves in the same vicinity, either in Canberra or in Sydney. It was his dad’s birthday, you know. Big deal.

AARON KEARNEY: Knowing what you know now, Deputy Prime Minister, would you have that beer again?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, look, there wasn’t anything secret about it, very clearly. What I do know is that The Daily Telegraph has an agenda. They made it clear on Monday with their page one article. I think people will look at the agenda that they’re running and, frankly, be pretty offended that they’ve been told how to vote and what to think by a newspaper.

AARON KEARNEY: Was it poor judgement by you to have a beer with an embattled ex-Labor MP?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Australians are better than that. Australians know that elections are up to them to to determine, and The Daily Telegraph, I suspect, of what has occurred up to now, is that there’ll be a different headline and a different front page each and every day, but the agenda is very clear.

AARON KEARNEY: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese, your announcement today is most welcome in the Hunter and we greatly appreciate the large amount of time you’ve given us in a busy schedule. The Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.