May 24, 2011

Transcript of interview with David Oldfield, 2UE

Subjects: Daily Telegraph’s M4 East article; NSW infrastructure funding; nationally-significant infrastructure projects

DAVID OLDFIELD: Closer to home, however, the matter of the M4, the traffic, the disasters, the simple fact of a whole series of allegations of the Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese. And whether, indeed, he is able to be in direct contact with Barry O’Farrell or whether Mr O’Farrell needs to go directly to Ms Gillard and circumvent him.

Allegations of whether, well, whether Mr Albanese is more concerned with the impact of a few people on his own electorate, the votes for the Greens. Keeping his wife, yes, keeping his wife, Carmel Tebbutt in the Parliament with the assault that we saw in Marrickville by the Greens in the recent State election.

These were all allegations that, until now, have not been addressed. Mr Albanese generally tends to not speak on his portfolio, it’s one of the allegations. We’ll find out more.

The front page of The Daily Telegraph has a headline that will anger readers on many levels. It says; highway robbery, what could that mean? It exposes, apparently, so it says, secret documents that show the former Labor Government here in New South Wales had drawn up plans to quite an advanced stage. What was considered a revolutionary upgrade of the M4 road system. The plans were said to be going to widen the M4, from Parramatta to North Strathfield. There were plans even for an ANZAC linked tunnel system starting at the M4 in North Strathfield, that connected, according to the report, to the ANZAC Bridge, the City Westlink at Roselle and finished at Parramatta Road, just out of Ultimo. The ANZAC linked tunnel would also have had a tunnel to Sydney Airport.

But the trifecta of the tunnels was what was said to be a tunnel link from Roselle to Victoria Road at the Gladesville Bridge. The Telegraph reports seeing its sources involved in the project saying Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, scuttled it because, as it was quoted, he wasn’t interested in anything that might impact his seat.

Strong allegations and Federal Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese has been kind enough to join us to put his side of the story. Thanks for your time, Minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning David, good to be here.

DAVID OLDFIELD: Good to have you with us. Look you haven’t been out and about much this morning, from what I understand. Has there been a need to defend yourself, given the circumstance of these allegations?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, the story is a complete fabrication and indeed the same document was used by the same journalist, Simon Benson from The Daily Telegraph in another exclusive, so-called, article on 24 February 2009. Except on 24 February 2009, the article said and I quote: “…that Labor Party officials had intervened to prevent tunnelling under sensitive electorates and blamed the then New South Wales General Secretary, Karl Bitar for scuttling the project.”

The document that they referred to is apparently a – it must be a Cabinet submission, or a Cabinet Briefing Paper obtained by the Telegraph, again, printed more than two years ago in this article, and it says, it said then that it was awaiting sign-off by Cabinet in September 2008, the week that Morris Iemma was dumped as Premier. Now it blames someone else in 2009. Two years later, the same document is used, allegedly to blame me.

The article also says that this was all prior to Infrastructure Australia being formed. Not true. One of the first pieces of legislation we did was to establish Infrastructure Australia. We introduced in the Parliament on 21 February 2008. It was passed on 20 March 2008. I was only sworn in as a Minister in December 2007.

DAVID OLDFIELD: Can you understand here perhaps is this a matter of believable rather than true, because certainly the suggestion of concern with sensitive electorates. Maybe it doesn’t so much relate to you in Grayndler, but you might understand the allegation that it did relate very much so to your wife Carmel Tebbutt, the former Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in New South Wales, who was under threat from the Greens in her seat of Marrickville, which is contained within your own federal seat.

So it’s certainly a believable allegation, isn’t it, that you would be worried about her losing her own seat?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it just doesn’t stack up. Yesterday, The Daily Telegraph reported on a couple of issues. The M5 they said ran through the – my electorate and the electorate of Marrickville. It does not. It takes cars and trucks off the – out of the suburban streets.

And if the M4 East was to proceed, what it would do is take cars and trucks off Parramatta Road and out of the middle of my electorate and actually provide benefit.

DAVID OLDFIELD: Are you essentially arguing that it doesn’t impact adversely your electorate, rather you would be in favour of such a proposal because it helps the electorate?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely and I’ve been on the record. I’ve gone back this morning and looked at what I said at the time.

DAVID OLDFIELD: In fact it’s suggested that you said that you were very supportive of the project, which was estimated to cost between $5.5 and $9.1 billion dollars. Is that a fair summation that you were very supportive of the project?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: And yes and in terms of…

DAVID OLDFIELD: Yet if that was the case, if you were very supportive of the project, as you’ve just reaffirmed, why did you only come up with $300 million dollars for an up to $9 billion dollar project?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because we came up with $300 million dollars in our first budget. That was what we committed to do, to assist New South Wales with the necessary planning work. That has never been drawn down by the New South Wales Government and indeed if you go back and look at what I said at the time and what the New South Wales Government said at the time, they were looking to the privatisation of electricity assets to fund the M4 East; that was one of the projects that they identified.

The electricity asset sale, of course, didn’t go through the Parliament – nothing to do with me, something to do with the decision of the New South Wales Parliament, including Barry O’Farrell. And therefore, the State Government funding that they’d anticipated wasn’t available to them.

DAVID OLDFIELD: So essentially you reject the allegations absolutely. You were supportive of the project and, indeed, you were willing to put money into it. But you just couldn’t see it coming to fruition because of the other players?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we had Infrastructure Australia. We had an independent process. Infrastructure Australia made assessments. The priority of the State Government at that particular time was, of course, the Metro Projects for federal funding. But Infrastructure Australia has not recommended that this is a ready to proceed project. We established that process at arms length to avoid the very issues of any allegations of political interference into those issues.

DAVID OLDFIELD: If you’ve just joined me, it’s David Oldfield, you’re on 2UE, thanks for being involved and I’m talking to Minister for Infrastructure Federally, Anthony Albanese.

Minster you have, in the last few days, been accused of many things regarding infrastructure generally. In fact the overall – the overall allegation is that you’ve been an impediment to infrastructure in New South Wales. Even the suggestion that your Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, has gone so far as to suggest to Mr O’Farrell to bypass you because you are a stumbling block; a speed bump, it would seem, to the building of all manner of things in New South Wales.

What do you say to that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s nonsense of course. We’ve allocated $12 billion dollars to infrastructure in New South Wales. We’ve allocated $3.5 billion dollars to infrastructure projects in Sydney. That compares with the record of the Howard Government, who allocated $350 million dollars over 12 years. So we’ve allocated 10 times the funding in half the time.

So it is a bit hard to see any basis whatsoever. We have major projects ready to go; we’ve had discussions, including the Northern Sydney Freight Line. We are awaiting the New South Wales Government to sign the Memorandum of Understanding. Now what that will do is, of course, provide separation between the passenger network and the rail freight network on that northern Sydney line.

So we have $840 million dollars for example, allocated to that project alone.

DAVID OLDFIELD: Minister, the suggestion that you don’t actually speak very much on your portfolio, perhaps, you know, this is a good thing that you’re out in the defensive mode this morning. Albeit, perhaps, forced as a consequence of all the allegations.

But can you understand that there’s even a suggestion that you are nominated as the Minister for Stirring, rather than Infrastructure. Because you seem to be on the blocks quite consistently, faced there, to all of the people but usually talking about something other than infrastructure – most recently about circumstances supposedly between Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey.

Should you be concentrating on your portfolio when it comes to announcements perhaps?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, in the last week David, I’ve been on the North Coast of New South Wales looking at the Pacific Highway, where we provided an extra billion dollars in additional funding through the budget. I then went to the New England Highway, up at near Tenterfield, looking at Bolivia Hill and a very dangerous spot there.

I was in Rockhampton, looking at the Bruce Highway and the issue with regard to flooding there. I was in Cloncurry in Western Queensland, looking at infrastructure, including water infrastructure projects there. I was in Townville, where I went and visited the site of the Townsville Port access road. I chaired…

DAVID OLDFIELD: Minster that’s all very well, what we’re really interested in is Sydney and New South Wales and of course you are a resident of Grayndler here in New South Wales, in Sydney, in a Sydney seat. Your wife Carmel, a lovely lady, is still very, very involved – an integral member of the New South Wales Labor Opposition.

We’re interested in Sydney and New South Wales. What can you see as being your Federal Government’s involvement and the future for the M4?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, indeed, in terms of Sydney, last week I launched the first ever National Urban Policy in Sydney at a Property Council of Australia…

DAVID OLDFIELD: The M4 Minister, the M4.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the M4, we await Infrastructure Australia. We have a process. If the State Government wish to submit proposals, they certainly can do so to Infrastructure Australia.

DAVID OLDFIELD: You’re open – are you personally open to consistently meet with Barry O’Farrell on these matters? Or does he indeed, as suggested in reports, need to go around you to get to Julia Gillard?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, the Prime Minister’s made it very clear and indeed after the Prime Minister met with Barry O’Farrell and said nothing more and nothing less than feel free to call me anytime, as she does with all Premiers and Chief Ministers, as indeed I do.

DAVID OLDFIELD: You’re also saying to Barry O’Farrell, feel free to call me anytime?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes and I’ve had two meetings with Barry O’Farrell. I’ve had a meeting with Gladys Berejiklian and I’ve had a meeting with Andrew Stoner, I’ve had a meeting with Duncan Gay.

DAVID OLDFIELD: And I thank you for our meeting this morning Minster, I am grateful for your time.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk with you David.

DAVID OLDFIELD: All the best to you.