Subjects: Craig Thomson; NBN; Infrastructure; GST; Budget; Election campaign.
CHRIS SMITH: Look, I was planning to get the Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the program this week to talk about his plan to turbo-charge infrastructure. We noticed yesterday the word turbo-charged used on two occasions in Brisbane.
And, of course, this company tax rate plan from Tony Abbott today. And I will get to those issues in just a moment. But a story that has gained momentum today, the grainy photo of Anthony Albanese sharing a beer with former Labor MP Craig Thompson at the Bavarian Bier Café in York Street last night – we’ve got to get to that first.
Anthony Albanese, g’day.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day Chris, how are you?
CHRIS SMITH: I’m very, very well. What were you thinking?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh mate, at least they got my best side.
CHRIS SMITH: Oh, the backside?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: In the photo… Look, I was having a beer with someone from work next-door to the CPO here at – in the city, not in York Street, the place next-door to the Commonwealth offices.
CHRIS SMITH: Oh right, so this is a regular drop-off point for a beer after work for many in the party, is it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ve got new offices here, so we’ve just moved in. And it was – I’d been in Brisbane yesterday morning, had a busy day, went out to Manly for the Brookvale Oval announcement. Someone in my office suggested, you know, you look like you feel like a beer. We ran into Craig Thompson who was in the building, not unfamiliar for Parliamentarians to be in the Parliamentary offices here.
And he said, you know, g’day. He said where are you going, we were going for a beer. He came for one beer.
CHRIS SMITH: So you invited him for a beer?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: One beer. One beer, when I said I was going he was bolting to come, you know no big deal having beers between…
CHRIS SMITH: But you kicked him out of the party.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yeah, absolutely.
CHRIS SMITH: He’s facing 173 charges of fraud.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve had a beer with Joe Hockey, I’ve had – spent more time with Christopher Pine in the last three years than I’ve spent with my own family, unfortunately.
CHRIS SMITH: But Anthony, you got stuck in to Christopher Pine having a drink with James Ashby, remember?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And they’ve endorsed – well, the James Ashby case I didn’t get stuck into him for that, I got stuck into him for denying it – that it had occurred.
And mate, if there was anything improper going on, do you think I’d go into a crowded CBD bar after 5o’clock in the afternoon…
CHRIS SMITH: No, I’m not suggesting. I’m not suggesting – it’s just a reminder to everyone of the grubby allegations involving this bloke.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s a reminder because people have chosen to try and take an eggbeater to it. It was a 10 minute discussion – it was his Dad’s birthday. I spend a lot of time with people who are Parliamentarians as Leader of the House, particularly with the cross-benchers.
CHRIS SMITH: Yeah but… You don’t admit this is a bad call, and a bad look?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, people will make their own judgement mate, but…
CHRIS SMITH: What if Julie Bishop was snapped swigging a beer with Peter Slipper?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I’m sure that’s occurred from time to time.
CHRIS SMITH: You’d be outraged.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m sure that’s occurred from time to time too. And indeed – let’s get real here Chris, the Coalition, just like Labor in the last Parliament, spent a lot of time having discussions with all of the cross-benchers, Peter Slipper included, on legislation, and in Canberra, as you know Chris…
CHRIS SMITH: But you’ve invited this bloke for a social drink, it’s different.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, no, I was going to the pub next door to the office, he came for one drink, no big deal. If there was anything…
CHRIS SMITH: Did he pay?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No actually, I paid.
CHRIS SMITH: Oh did you, well good. You wouldn’t trust his credit cards as far as you could throw them.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I paid because I was having a drink with someone I work with, and it was 10 minutes, he was in town for his – he told me it was his dad’s birthday and he was going out to dinner with his wife and his dad. And that was it, no big deal, and if there was any big deal about it – mate, we’ve got offices here with security, if you want to have a private meeting with someone you can here.
So, you know, up front about it. Hold the front page: Albo likes a beer after work.
CHRIS SMITH: Alright, turbo-charging infrastructure projects. I think it’s fair to say, looking at the front page of The Australian today, new NBN contracts risk $5 billion blow-out, it’s turbo-charging in the wrong direction, isn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well mate, in April, The Telegraph said it would cost $90 billion. A couple of weeks ago The Australian said it would cost $60 billion. And today they say the over-run – in The Australian, the same newspaper – says that the over-run is $5 billion.
So it’ll be free if they keep going there.
CHRIS SMITH: But having construction partners running away is not a good look?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: But the truth is that construction partners aren’t running away, construction partners are continuing to make arrangements with NBN Co. on a commercial basis. Indeed, just this week, another extension to one of the contracts was made.
What you have is a major infrastructure project, the biggest in Australia’s history. And what you have is, with construction contractors, when one stops another starts, just like we deal with a range of construction contractors in roads or in rail, it’s not one construction contractor from now ’til 2021.
CHRIS SMITH: But if you read between the lines you’re squeezing the construction partners to get no margin out of their work for the NBN. That seems to be the problem here, right?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, well, NBN Co are making sure that they get value for money, and let me tell you, Chris, I reckon you’d be pretty critical if they weren’t doing that.
CHRIS SMITH: Yeah, fair call.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And that’s what they’re doing. These are commercial arrangements. I have as much influence over the details of these contracts as I do over contracts of the Australian Rail Track Corporation or the ABC, for that matter, or SBS or any of the other government entities which are at arm’s length from the [indistinct]…
CHRIS SMITH: But if it was going along swimmingly, this wouldn’t be happening.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what’s happening, Chris?
CHRIS SMITH: Construction partners are not signing back on for future contracts.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s not right. We had an extension this week, Chris. This is a normal process, and what is occurring here with the NBN is it’s continuing to be rolled out, it’s being rolled out on time and on budget, there’s audits taking place by companies like KPMG, did the audit of what the figures look like and found that the assumptions were all sound. We know…
CHRIS SMITH: But it’s missed its mark on many occasions in terms of being in as many homes as was promised, and this has occurred on a number of occasions.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, what has occurred, Chris, is that what took longer than what was anticipated was the negotiations with Telstra at the beginning of the process, and those negotiations around structural separation of Telstra that everyone now agrees is the right thing to do. NBN Co. made sure that they got value for money out of Telstra. If they’d have just gone in and said oh, let’s play politics with this, let’s get this done and not worry about how much it costs, then yes it could’ve been done quicker.
CHRIS SMITH: Okay, let’s talk about other infrastructure projects which are apparently turbo-charging, as Kevin Rudd indicated yesterday. You know that the frustration we have, especially people in Sydney, is that we hear about announcements, both from state and Federal Governments, over and over again about rail upgrades, high speed trains, you know, even second airports and then there’s a study done and then a study on the study and we get a study to look at the second study which was done on the first study, but nothing seems to be dug up and started.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, look, I agree, Chris. It’s one of the reasons why during the last election campaign, or in the lead up to it, we essentially had discussions with the New South Wales Government of what’s ready to go, like commence construction during the next term of the Federal Government, so before 2013 where can you actually get construction to commence, and then came up with the Parramatta-Epping rail link, because that’s a half-finished project which would make a big difference to Parramatta, Sydney second CBD.
CHRIS SMITH: And then F3 to M2.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Now, the state government changed and it didn’t happen. We’ve also put on the table the F3 to M2, now signed the agreement…
CHRIS SMITH: Outstanding project.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It will transform Sydney, because what it does, effectively, it’s a Sydney bypass. It means, because of the M7 and the M2, that for freight and other traffic, even passenger vehicles that are going through Sydney but not into Sydney…
CHRIS SMITH: No more…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …[indistinct] bypass the whole city.
CHRIS SMITH: Yeah, no more Pennant Hill Road or Pacific Highway, okay.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, it is a fantastic project…
CHRIS SMITH: We want more of that, though, because the place is in gridlock. One quick one before I let you go. Tony Abbott has announced a 1.5 per cent decrease in company tax. Labor says it’s a re-announcement, which is fair enough, but cutting company tax in a soft economy is a good idea, right?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, except for the fact that they’re not actually cutting company tax for the main payers, who are the big companies, because they’re increasing theirs by 1.5 per cent in terms of the paid parental leave scheme, so…
CHRIS SMITH: They’re saying it’ll affect 250,000 large businesses, though.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: So they get nothing and in terms of small business, because 70 per cent of small businesses aren’t incorporated, they get nothing as well…
CHRIS SMITH: Well there’s half a million incorporated small and medium-sized businesses, aren’t there?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And then, Chris, there’s the issue of how they’re paying for it. We know they’ve already got $70 billion worth of cuts they’ve got to find in education and health. We know today that they’re out there flagging, extending – increasing and extending the GST to food and, you know, the money’s got to come from somewhere and, you know, I think that Australians will be very concerned that an extension in the GST to food will be on the agenda, as well as an increase in the GST. As Joe Hockey has said yesterday, quoted today in the paper, it’s part of the equation.
CHRIS SMITH: Shouldn’t you get your Prime Minister to stop spending money, though? You don’t think that’s a major concern in this country?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have put out on Friday, just before the election was called, so a tough call to do it but we’ve done it transparently so everyone can see what the impact on revenues are. We’ve put out there a range of savings, and guess what? Every saving we come up with the Opposition say is a bad idea and that adds to the money that they’re going to have to find. And they’re now saying not only will they not submit their costings to Treasury, they’re saying they won’t even tell us what they think their figures and bottom lines are going to be.
CHRIS SMITH: Can you tell us how much the Manus Island project will cost?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is in the Budget and the cost…
CHRIS SMITH: No it’s not.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes it is.
CHRIS SMITH: It’s not in the Budget in terms of how much the expectation of the costs down the track. In five years time, we don’t know how much this project will cost.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s there in terms of all of the forward estimates are there, like everything else. It’s in the full economic statement that was put out…
CHRIS SMITH: I can’t help but think that we’re going to blow the Budget on what’s happening on Manus Island though, Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, you know – what I hope happens with Manus Island, and this is the design of what is happening, is that we cut off the people smugglers’ business model and no one goes to Manus Island. We need to stop people risking their lives at sea.
CHRIS SMITH: I hope it happens. You enjoying the election campaign?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, it’s always – it’s pretty interesting because what you have is a real engagement in politics, and that’s a good thing. I enjoy meeting people and yesterday I had an announcement at Brookvale Oval, out there in tiger country for the Labor Party, and yesterday morning I was in Brisbane. Tonight I’ll be in Newcastle and tomorrow I’ve got Newcastle, Hervey Bay, Mackay and Townsville. So it’s a big day and it’s a big country.
CHRIS SMITH: Hopefully you’ll run into other drinking partners other than Craig Thomson in the next four weeks, anyway.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Mate, I’d be happy to have a beer with you.
CHRIS SMITH: [Laughs] Well, that’s an even bigger call.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We should organise that and we should make sure that someone takes a photo of the back of my head and people can put it out and think about the conspiracy between Anthony Albanese and 2GB, and of course what we’ll really be talking about is the mighty Rabbitohs.
CHRIS SMITH: Yes, exactly. We can have a good conversation.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Hopefully they win on Friday night.
CHRIS SMITH: Hear hear. Thank you very much for your time this afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: See you, Chris.
CHRIS SMITH: The Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.