Oct 24, 2012

Transcript of interview with Keith Conlon, 5AA Breakfast

Issues: Ports Australia conference; SA Senate Ticket; SA infrastructure spend; MYEFO

KEITH CONLON: Federal politics comes to town in a big way with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese in town for a national ports conference today.  That’s not his only task we understand though.
Mr Albanese, good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:Good to be with you.

KEITH CONLON: Now, we understand that you might have a word with the – whether it’s here or in Canberra with the power brokers over whether Penny Wong gets the number one Senate ticket or not.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is a pretty commonsense issue here in South Australia. Penny Wong is a pretty prominent figure.  She’s a prominent figure nationally, she’s a key economic minister and commonsense dictates that the Labor Party should have her leading the Senate ticket.

KEITH CONLON:  But it hasn’t dictated so far has it?  Don Farrell, Shoppers Union, number cruncher, king maker, he’s got it at the moment.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it looks as though that would occur if things stay the same, but I do think that the Labor Party has evolved into a modern political party. We’ve moved beyond this, sort of, left, right nonsense in such a regimented way, and commonsense dictates that when you’ve got someone who – if you asked any of your listeners who’s more prominent, they’d choose Penny Wong overwhelmingly.

KEITH CONLON: In a sense, Minister, it doesn’t matter in that both of them will get up, but so why do you see it’s important that Penny Wong is number one?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, look, both of them will certainly get up, but I just think it reflects commonsense in what the public would expect of the Labor Party, that where you’ve got a senior minister, they’ll lead the ticket.  In New South Wales we had this issue a few years ago with John Faulkner, and the last time around, John Faulkner, as the Senate leader, even though he was from the minority faction in the Labor Party, he led the ticket.

KEITH CONLON: Well, you say commonsense should prevail.  Is it going to take the national executive or, possibly, the Prime Minister to make it prevail?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m a member of the national executive.  I’d be prepared to raise it at the national executive if the South Australian conference doesn’t see commonsense.  But I’d hope that there’s enough maturity here in South Australia to just say, yep, let’s agree it should be one Wong, two Farrell and get on with fighting the enemy, which is not within the party.

We’ve got a big battle to maintain Government at the next election.  We need to put every ounce of our energy into that, not into internal games over who’s number one and number two on the ticket.

KEITH CONLON: Well, to the ports conference, we’ve got a wish list, of course, because we – when it – you’re going to tell people today that you need good infrastructure, you need not just the port, you need the highways in, you need everything to make it happen.  We’ve got a couple of bits that are missing, for instance.  If you want to send more wine out of the Barossa, is there a chance that you might be able to bring forward money for the Northern Expressway?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ve already put an extraordinary amount of funds into South Australian infrastructure.  We’ve just about tripled the spending from just over $100 per South Australian up to $300, and, of course, you know, there are limited funds, but we’re currently talking and I’ve got a meeting today with Pat Conlon, the South Australian minister, to talk about the next Nation Building Program from 2014.

KEITH CONLON: Of course, this is in the context though of the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook where the Treasurer has had to prune and has had to prune on both sides of the ledger, in a sense.  Cuts on the people’s side and cuts on the Government’s side.

We talked to Alan Oster, the chief economist for the National bank this morning, and he thinks that the Treasury estimates are pretty generous.  Is there a fear in Government that maybe you’ll have to cut again?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, we think we’ve got it right.  We’ve relied upon Treasury, the same people who’ve been doing figures for some time.  It, of course, couldn’t have been anticipated the fall in commodity prices.  That’s had an impact on the budget, it’s as simple as that.  So, we’ve managed to find savings to ensure that the budget will return to surplus.  But at the same time we’ve borne in mind the importance of productivity projects, such as nation-building infrastructure.

So, we certainly didn’t touch the funding that we’ve got in projects like the South Road Superway and the Dukes Highway, the Noarlunga to Seaford railway line, all of those going ahead.  All of those ahead of schedule, really.  They’re going very well.  We also have, in terms of freight, projects that will assist the port and look at the whole supply chain issues.  The Goodwood and Torrens Junctions project is really important.  We funded that, of course, in this year’s budget, and that was identified by Infrastructure Australia as a real priority.

KEITH CONLON: But another firm, Macroeconomics says, in fact, their figures suggest a bigger slowdown in the economy and, therefore, possibly even a blowout to $6 billion deficit.  That would mean that we can – the funds would dry up at this big infrastructure end for quite a while wouldn’t they?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re confident about the figures that we’ve put in MYEFO.  And we’ve shown, in spite of the fact that there have been real pressures on the budget, we’ve maintained our infrastructure spend.  And, indeed, we’ve had record spending in infrastructure, doubling the roads budget, increasing the rail budget by more than 10 times, and projects like the Noarlunga to Seaford railway line, projects that weren’t undertaken by previous governments as urban public transport projects, I think these projects have been really important in terms of what they will do to open up passenger rail lines and take pressure off roads as well, of course, particularly in the southern suburbs.

It’s no good cutting off your nose to spite your face, which is what happens when you cut funding for infrastructure.  I’ve been very pleased to have the support of the Treasurer and the Finance Minister in Mr Swan and Senator Wong in terms of corralling the big Nation Building Projects from these cuts.

KEITH CONLON: Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s been good to talk to you.

KEITH CONLON: Anthony Albanese, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport federally, in town today for a big ports conference.