Transcript of Interview with Channel 7, Sunrise
Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
Subjects: Regional Partnerships; regional funding
May 28 2008
DAVID KOCH: Now to an issue on the ROSwall. We’ve been following the story of dozens of disappointed community groups who contacted us. For example, Ken Wilson and his team in Bundaberg, they wanted to build a playground for disabled children. They had funding approved before the Federal Election, under the Regional Partnerships Program, but in its first budget Labor cancelled their funding and left a lot of other projects in serious risk as well.
Well, Sunrise challenged the Minister to find a solution. I’ve got to say, since then a lot of these projects have received personal phone calls from Anthony Albanese just to talk through their issues, which has been terrific. He joins us this morning.
Minister, now have you got any news for us?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Morning. Well, yeah, after the discussion I did have a chat to Ken Wilson, along with a number of other community proponents. What was clear to me from that discussion was two things.
One, when I saw on your program that a sign had been put up on the project saying that it had been funded by the Australian Government and had a chat to Ken, it was quite clear that that this exposed, once again, the problems that were there with the Regional Partnerships Program; which is why we’ve abolished the program and are establishing a proper process to have a Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program from next year, which actually complies with the Audit Office guidelines and gets rid of the rorts.
That was one thing. The second thing though, was that people like Ken were victims. And that they shouldn’t be, in my view – common sense takes you a long way in politics and in life. And Ken quite clearly, given the sign was up there saying it was funded by the Australian Government, given the project is near to completion, given this is a genuine community project, Ken and others in the Bundaberg community have gone out there and raised funds through Rotary, we need to find a solution to it.
So what I’ve done is had a look at the 86 projects that were not for profit or run by local government, and what we’re doing is trying to put in place a process whereby they could have a grace period of time, a couple of months or thereabouts, with a final date in which they can send their contract back, get the process completed. What that will do…
DAVID KOCH: Okay. So you’ll sort of fast track those. So, there’s no doubt, I think a lot of people would agree, some of the projects were rorts. A lot of others were well meaning and well intentioned.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely.
DAVID KOCH: And you’ll fast track all the good ones?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, fast track isn’t a word that I’d use. What we’ll do is, those that were approved but not contracted, we won’t be picking out one or two, that’s why it’s taken a bit of time. What we want to do is set in place a process that doesn’t go back to the old National Party rorts of picking out ones we like and ones we don’t like, a process in which by a particular date, if the contracts are returned, the Government will add those to the 420 contracts that we’re honouring for Regional Partnerships.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. All right, that’s…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: So I think, what we’re looking at is a practical measure, but also one that stacks up in terms of some oversight by the Finance Department, some rigorous guidelines so that they, the projects, would have to comply with, but we do think that we need a common sense solution to this.
DAVID KOCH: All right. Father Chris Riley’s Youth off the Streets one at Macquarie Fields, that’s pretty close to our heart. Is that going to get the nod too?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, no. I had a chat to Father Chris – and under this process – Father Chris Riley’s a great man, he’s a good friend of mine. And I had a chat to him. It actually hasn’t been approved. The committee, which Father Reilly was on , actually was nothing to do with Regional Partnerships. It was actually a police and youth community committee, which was what he was talking about.
But I’m prepared, as are other members of the Government, and this is what I said to Father Riley , to sit down either with him or with Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Family and Community Services, and see what can be done.
DAVID KOCH: Terrific. Sure
ANTHONY ALBANESE: But we can’t actually have an open-ended process here. Projects that weren’t approved won’t be reconsidered this year, they are willing to apply to next year’s program.
DAVID KOCH: But if you’ve got a contract you can whip it in, get it done and your project will be completed. Really appreciate that.
Speaking of – just before you go, the proper process that you’re putting it through, all this spending in Gippsland for the by-election coming up, is that all going through that proper process as well, that you want to set up?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, in terms of Gippsland, of course, there were various election commitments given in Gippsland.
DAVID KOCH: Yeah. Some haven’t had departmental assessment though.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That wasn’t under – you can’t get departmental assessments when you’re in Opposition and you’re making election commitments. And that’s the process. The assessment process is you put forward what you are committed to do in government and if you’re elected to government, if you’re the Rudd Labor Government, then you fulfil those commitments.
DAVID KOCH: Yeah. Okay, but…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And I think the Australian public – the feedback I’ve had – is that the Australian public are extremely positive about the fact that we haven’t said there are core promises and non-core promises, we’ve fulfilled what we said we would do.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. But they’ve been properly assessed as promises.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: They’ve been assessed through our processes.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. Good.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: When you’re the Opposition, of course, you don’t have departments to look after you. It’s a bit tougher, as I think the current Opposition are finding out.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. All right. Anthony Albanese, appreciate your getting back to us. And, as I said, I’ve had lots of feedback from a lot of these projects saying you’ve called them personally, which is great to hear. Thanks for joining us this morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks, David. As I said, the process, hopefully, will have an announcement this week, but we want to make sure that due diligence is done.
DAVID KOCH: Terrific.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: But we’re looking towards those 86 not for profit and local government projects, putting in place a proper process.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. All right, thank you for that.