Subjects: Road funding, paid parental leave
INTERVIEWER: Can I just read you some copy here from ABC radio news? Traffic jams up to 10km in length right now on the Pacific Highway and between 1km and 4km in length on the Princes Highway south of Sydney. It’s a hard sell isn’t it, and I know this is the argument that you’ve been advancing, it’s a hard sell that we shouldn’t be spending publics funds on the nation’s roads right now, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m certainly not arguing that. I am the minister who doubled the roads budget. On my watch we completed the full duplication of the Hume Highway; we brought funding forward as part of the economic stimulus plan.
We committed $7.9 billion to the Pacific Highway over the same period of time in which our conservative opponents during the Howard years committed just $1.3 billion.
And in terms of the Bruce Highway, we more than quadrupled funding on it as well. So I certainly am absolutely committed to increased road funding.
What has tended to occur is that the conservatives have been good at rhetoric but not good at action. They’ve actually cut road funding and at the same time they are not investing a cent in urban public transport, which also needs addressing.
INTERVIEWER: You’re criticising the Prime Minister for putting an emphasis on road funding and you are arguing that money should be going into public transport funding instead. Is that correct?
ALBANESE: No, not instead. What I’m saying is that you need road funding but you also need public transport funding. It’s important.
The federal government has a big responsibility on our regional and national road network – upgrades to the Pacific Highway and the Bruce Highway, for example, are big priorities for the nation and that’s why we more than doubled the roads budget.
It’s only pressure from us as well that has seen the Coalition, just before Christmas, agree to not rip money out of roads like the Great Northern Highway in Western Australia that they were threatening funding from.
But at the same time, you can’t say you are the infrastructure Prime Minister when you are actually not putting any additional money into roads, which they are not, but cutting massively funding for urban public transport, which means that state governments are going to have to … if they are going to have to foot the entire bill, they will have less money for roads as well as public transport suffering.
Infrastructure needs to go towards areas which produce greatest productivity benefits and where that is, is areas like Pacific Highway, that was identified by Infrastructure Australia as a priority.
But it is also projects like the Cross-River Rail Project in Brisbane, the Metro Project in Melbourne. Projects like that do a lot to boost productivity.
INTERVIEWER: But given the state of the budget, which is in the red, how many of these projects get priority and will it be the task of the Commission of Audit, which is due to report very, very soon, to find the projects that can be put on the backburner while government funds are reconsolidated.
ALBANESE: Well it’s a matter of priorities and what we see from Tony Abbott is his priority of new additional spending isn’t infrastructure; it’s his expensive, unaffordable paid parental leave scheme.
You could fund a massive amount of urban public transport or roads funding from that scheme that’s unaffordable, that’s unnecessary – this from a guy who said that we’d have any parental leave scheme at all over his dead body.
Labor introduced a fair paid parental leave scheme. Simply, it’s extravagant – his proposal – and it is a matter of their priorities.
What their priorities have been up to now is introducing schemes like that plus forgoing revenue. Their priority seems to be to giving the big miners a tax break by abolishing the Minerals Resource Rent Tax – a tax they (miners) say they can afford to pay and they are willing to pay.
INTERVIEWER: So where would Labor prioritise public transport funding? Would projects like a second Sydney Airport fit in?
ALBANESE: Well that’s obviously a priority as well because of the benefit it will bring to economic activity. So we’d take advice and the public funding and investment should go towards projects that produce the greatest benefit regardless of what modes they are and that should determine where investment goes as well as well as working with the private sector to make sure that we mobilise the private capital through initiatives such as mobilising superannuation funds into infrastructure.
INTERVIEWER: OK Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for coming in.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.