Subjects: Labor’s $40 million freight support package for Tasmania; Tasmanian economy; Channel Highway upgrade; NBN.
LEON COMPTON: Let’s catch up with the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Anthony Albanese is in the studio after we’ve been talking to his people this morning as he’s been in Launceston and then, literally half an hour later, here he is. Good to talk to you think morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you again, Leon.
COMPTON: You’ve been talking about freight this morning, and coming up with your policy, but there’s no answer on a direct shipping service to Asia, why not?
ALBANESE: Because Australia doesn’t own a ship. We don’t have a government run shipping line. What you’ve got to do is listen to the industry, listen to the experts and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve listened to the experts on the Freight Logistics Council, we’ve adopted their recommendations.
This is a $40 million package from State and Federal Government. What it will do is enable $37.5 million – $25 million of which is frontend-loaded between now and Christmas – to provide grants for capital improvements that will increase the supply chain basically.
You’ve got to deal with the real issues, which is volume, and the three issues that we’ve done: one, the $100 million Jobs and Growth package to assist particular businesses to expand their supply and therefore expand volume. Secondly, dealing with infrastructure issues so the money to upgrade the Burnie Port, money for Bell Bay, the $120 million for rail freight. The third issue is the one we’re dealing with today, which is specific grants to deal with capital upgrades that will improve the logistics chain, and also $2.5 million enabling some of the smaller suppliers to better cooperate so we don’t have a situation whereby there’s empty boxes leaving and departing Tasmania, so you can get those efficiencies into the system.
COMPTON: Is all of this, or any of it, going to lead to a direct shipping service to Asia?
ALBANESE: Well you’ve got to, you can’t just wish that one appear. What you’ve got to do is create the economics for one to be viable. Otherwise the sort of option of saying well we’ll just fund a ship, what about all the other suppliers and exporters? What about Toll? What about the existing contracts that are there? It simply doesn’t work.
And that is what industry has recommended and today Phil Clark made some very strong statements at the press conference backing in the announcement, which isn’t surprising given this is what industry has worked on. And I give credit to them.
COMPTON: Okay, so you’re creating an environment for a direct shipping service possibly –
COMPTON: If the market sees fit to provide it, but there will be no subsidy for a direct shipping service to Asia?
ALBANESE: Well you can’t subsidise – the State Liberal plan is to subsidise one ship, essentially one particular supplier. How do you do that in a market based system without creating all sorts of legal issues, let alone the fact that you could have all the other suppliers say, oh well what about me? It’s like subsidising one product on a supermarket shelf in competition with all of the rest.
What you’ve got to do is create a system whereby you will get a return of shipping. The industry is very confident that this is the way to go. Those three issues; increasing supply and volume, increasing efficiencies of the whole supply chain and also improving infrastructure development, this is a comprehensive plan now that we have.
The alternative, Tony Abbott was here a couple of weeks ago, they’ve promised a Productivity Commission review. Well we know what the Productivity Commission thinks of TFES – they want to get rid of it. They said that in 2006, that’s what they will say again, and it’s now I think pretty stark that if you want a serious plan, Labor has a serious plan, we have serious money behind it, it’s being rolled out.
COMPTON: I want to pull you up on the serious money behind it. It’s $20 million from the Feds, $20 million from the State, and that will be rolled out over two years.
COMPTON: Is the money an election promise?
ALBANESE: It’s money that is in our budget. It’s in our budget –
COMPTON: Is it being allocated as of now –
COMPTON: Or is it an election promise?
ALBANESE: No it’s in our budget now. All of our commitments were in the Economic Statement. We received this report just in the last month. But we received it prior to going into caretaker.
We made sure in terms of our commitments that they are all fully funded and fully costed. That’s why the Economic Statement was put out prior to us going into caretaker mode.
So all of our plans including the $100 million plan of course was announced as well, and all of our Nation Building program – including the $120 million for rail freight upgrades – of course is also fully there in the budget in May.
COMPTON: So this is $20 million from you, $20 million from the State Government –
COMPTON: And both parties have committed the funding, it will happen regardless of what happens on 7 September?
ALBANESE: Well it certainly will happen, but Tony Abbott is going to have to make $70 billion worth of cuts. So he won’t say where his cuts are going to be. So it’s not up to me to speak for the Opposition.
But we have included it in all of our budget mechanisms and it’s all there for everyone to see in the Economic Statement.
COMPTON: It’s been an interesting election campaign, I think one of the reasons that many are arguing they’re disengaged from it is because both parties seem to be ignoring the serious economic realities that are facing Tasmania and Australia down the track while making serious spending (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well we’re certainly not. This isn’t a new spending commitment in terms of something that’s going to change the bottom line. This is something that we factored in when we put out the Economic Statement.
This also is a part of us having a serious long term objective. One of the reasons why this plan, today’s announcement, is going to make a difference is that projects that will be funded aren’t projects where here you go, here’s a dollar to shipper or a subsidy that’s then gone and spent. This is about capital upgrades.
To give a practical example that was given to us by the Chair of the Freight Logistics taskforce: salmon. At the moment, obviously Tasmania has at least three major suppliers of salmon. The value of that salmon is reduced and the demand for it when it’s fully frozen. Because people argue in Asia that the taste, that they don’t want the fish to be fully frozen.
So if you could have a capital grant to assist with semi frozen you will one, increase the value of the product, two, increase the demand for the product and therefore increase the volume.
So a practical measure, a practical example of how you make a permanent difference, which is what we have to do here in Tasmania.
COMPTON: We have to do it because unemployment is the highest in the country and our growth rate is terrible at the moment. Why is your party promising a corporate tax break for northern Australia, and I mentioned to you earlier and to the listeners that I just got back from time there yesterday, when it looks like a teenager that’s wearing three year old clothes; it’s absolutely booming at the moment. Why are you talking about corporate tax breaks for there, rather than sort of comprehensive policy approaches for Tasmania? Why there?
ALBANESE: I think in terms of Tasmania, this is my seventh visit to Tasmania this year, this is I think the third time I’ve sat here in your studio.
COMPTON: And the unemployment rate has risen every time that you have been in here.
ALBANESE: And what we have done is had a comprehensive plan. We’ve doubled infrastructure spending here in Tasmania. In a little while I’ll be with Julie Collins announcing funding for another road project in Huonville.
We have also had the $100 million Jobs and Growth package where we had consultation with the three consultation groups across Tasmania, they worked on the best way for that to make a long term difference. Today’s announcement is about –
COMPTON: But Minister, people are looking at the numbers, you’re being judged on your performance. The growth is bad and the unemployment is the worst in the country. That is what people are making their judgement on.
ALBANESE: Yes there are challenges in Tasmania. I remember having a discussion with you here in the studio about the Midland Highway. We’ve got $500 million on the table for ten years, you might recall, Tony Abbott said $400 million will fully duplicate the whole thing. He’s now had to back off and concede that that was essentially done on the back of a beer coaster. It wasn’t real.
What we’ve done is we acknowledge the challenges that are there, but what you need is real policies that make a real difference and create real jobs in the long term. That’s what we’re about, by improving the infrastructure here in Tasmania, but also improving freight logistics here is absolutely vital.
And you can’t just click your fingers. What you need to do is to make those structural changes to the Tasmanian economy and to industry. We believe today’s announcement is a part of that, as is the Jobs and Growth plan.
COMPTON: Tell me about the roads announcement that you will be making down at Huonville?
ALBANESE: It’s a $7.5 million announcement – it’s for upgrading a section of the Channel Highway near Huonville that’s been identified as being particularly dangerous. It will also allow for a new bridge over Skinners Creek.
So this is a part of our Nation Building program. It will be a grant, it’s a local road so it’s a grant to the local council, Huon Valley Council. It’s been identified and argued for by Julie Collins that this will make a big difference to that local community. And I’m sure that the Mayor and the Council will welcome this announcement.
COMPTON: Polling is still showing that you are facing the prospect of losing two, maybe more seats in Tasmania at the moment.
ALBANESE: Well the election of course is on 7 September. The various polls will go up and down. What I know is that over issues, and the most significant issue here in Tasmania – there’s many I guess you can argue which is more important that the others – but the ongoing rollout of the National Broadband Network. The Coalition’s policy is very clear, that it will stop wherever contracts haven’t been issued.
The NBN has the potential to transform the way that business operates here in Tasmania, the way that individual families communicate, to change education, to change the delivery of health services, even today talking to the industry players on the taskforce in Launceston this morning. One of the things that they’ve acknowledged is the idea of greater cooperation of small suppliers.
It’s the NBN, it’s new information technology that makes that possible.
COMPTON: And the Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull, are at pains to suggest that all contracts, or all existing contracts will be honoured and that –
ALBANESE: That’s right, and not all existing contracts have been signed for the whole of Tasmania. Exactly.
COMPTON: Not that you’re not a pretty face, but Tony Abbott is on the screen behind you talking in Hobart this morning. He’s here again. Where’s the Prime Minister?
ALBANESE: Oh, come on. The Prime Minister has been here in Tasmania. The Prime Minister will be here again in Tasmania before the end of the campaign. And I’ve been here as the Deputy Prime Minister – I think since I’ve been Deputy Prime Minister I’ve been here three times in the last month.
So in terms of my presence here; seven times this year. I’ve been round about 30 times as a Minister since 2007. We prioritise Tasmania. We now have in Julie Collins a Cabinet Minister from Tasmania as well.
COMPTON: When will unemployment come down in the state?
ALBANESE: Well one thing that we do know is that we’ll prioritise jobs and growth. And the other side won’t prioritise jobs and growth.
They are going to prioritise cuts, cuts.
COMPTON: For all of that it’s a simple question, but it’s one that you are not going to go near answering. When will unemployment come down in this state?
ALBANESE: As you know full well Leon, we don’t have a command Soviet-style economy. So hence you know that’s a question that in a market-based economy is dependent upon a variety of facts.
And one thing I won’t do is make pledges or promises out of the back of a Wheeties packet. So if you ask a speculative question, what I’ll do is give it an honest answer, which is that how you deliver jobs and growth in Tasmania is dependent upon investment in infrastructure, it’s dependent upon the National Broadband Network will be critical.
It’s dependent upon making sure that we continue to identify the enormous opportunities and advantages that Tasmania has and provide them with support. And you do have enormous advantages in terms of tourism, agriculture, the products you produce. Your image to the rest of Australia and to the world is second to none. And with projects such as Sense-T is a great example I think whereby using the NBN, identifying the best time to pick a grape, the best time to harvest a crop, the best time to plant, all of those issues driven by the NBN will mean greater efficiencies, greater productivities and what that means is more jobs.
COMPTON: Well it was minus two degrees when we were down at Huonville last Wednesday morning. I think you’re going to get the better end of that deal. Good luck, thanks for coming into the studio.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you Leon.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.