Issues: Three Capes Track project; passenger and freight equalisation schemes; international shipping; Federal infrastructure investment in Tasmania; Macquarie Point; marriage equality; local government reform
LEON COMPTON: Mr Albanese, good morning to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Morning.
LEON COMPTON: And thanks for coming in.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Terrific to be here.
LEON COMPTON: You’re here to promote a tourism venture – and one thing that people would like to see in tourism is more people coming to Tasmania.
Are you aware that it costs almost $2,000 to get a car and a caravan on and off the island at peak times of the year?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes indeed, but there’s no doubt there’s enormous potential here for growth in Tasmanian tourism.
The Three Capes Track Project was identified by the national body, the Tourism and Transport Forum, as their number one priority, which is why it received funding under our Infrastructure Employment Program.
The first section of it opens today, and when it’s fully up and running, it’s expected to create and sustain about 300 jobs including 70 directly on the Tasman Peninsula.
So this is quite an exciting project. I went there to announce the funding for the project, and it certainly is a beautiful part of Tasmania.
LEON COMPTON: Minister, it’s an exciting project, the question is we would love more people coming to the state to see it. Are you aware that it costs almost $2,000 to get [indistinct] and return?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well you’d like people to come for free, and you’d like all that to happen. But there is a limited amount of funds. There is no doubt if you look at flying, for example, to Tasmania it is much more affordable today than it was 20 years ago, or 10 years ago in real terms.
Tasmania has a lot to offer. And there’s no doubt that I think projects like this will bring more people to Tasmania.
LEON COMPTON: But it’s the cost of offering it, and the question, is it reasonable to ask the Federal Government to treat the gap between Melbourne and Devonport a little like they treat the distance between Melbourne and Sydney. It would cost you, what, 200 bucks in fuel to get up and back on the Hume. Is it fair to ask the Federal Government to treat this like the distance between us and the mainland like a major highway?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course, last time I looked, when you got in the car it cost you money to run the car as well. So we need to be reasonable about this and I’m not here to make funding promises on the run.
We already of course provide significant subsidies for transport across Bass Strait, and we already, in addition to that provide substantial funding through the Freight Equalisation Scheme.
So whether it’s passenger transport or whether it’s freight, there are already significant subsidies there.
LEON COMPTON: Do you acknowledge though that one of the imposts to growth of tourism in Tasmania is that cost of getting across from the mainland and back again – particularly when we’re talking about driving?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I acknowledge that in terms of petrol it costs you money to go from Melbourne to Sydney as well. So yes there are costs. But in terms of the attractiveness of Tasmania as a destination, if you’re bringing a car across to Tasmania you’re not staying for one or two days. That’s one of the reasons why the Government supports the encouragement of passenger vehicles coming across Bass Strait.
You’re staying for a number of days, and a small element will be the cost of crossing Bass Strait.
LEON COMPTON: Much of the export – we’re caught in something of a bind here not dissimilar I suppose, much of the export opportunity for Tasmanian agriculture and industry lies in Asia.
You’d be well aware that we’ve lost our direct shipping service to Asia, but our population makes it difficult to support that service.
Has the Federal Government in a sense failed the state in not offering to keep those shipping lines open?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, certainly not, because they’re no government shipping lines.
We don’t run a centralised state where the government runs everything; it’s the private sector that runs it. And the fact is what we’re seeing globally are larger ships carrying larger volumes. Now that’s placed pressure on a place like Tasmania that doesn’t have the volumes.
But what we have done is provide significant funding, $20 million announced earlier this year, and next week we’ll be calling for expressions of interests for the Freight Logistics Coordination Team that will be funded by the Federal Government with $1.5 million to look at the whole supply chain issue.
That’s a particular impact on the northern part of the State, and we acknowledge that.
But it’s also not as simple as giving a government directive that a ship must come to Tasmania and must export goods.
We live in a market system, we have to deal with that, we have to respond to that, and part of that is making the entire supply chain much more efficient. So we’ve provided over $14 million in direct subsidies to exporters but it’s also about getting the infrastructure right.
LEON COMPTON: The word attached to that, of course, is interim funding. So what happens next when that $20 million expires?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have got to get the infrastructure right. You can’t have a system that allows for just constant subsidies without getting efficiencies, and that is why we are establishing this Team. That is why Infrastructure Australia came here, worked with the Tasmanian Government, to make sure that we got those issues right.
LEON COMPTON: What sort of efficiencies are you looking at? I mean, do you mean efficiencies in the rail network, in the road network, what sort of efficiencies?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: In both. One of the weaknesses in the export performance is the inability to get the larger vehicles on the roads because of the state of the roads. So it might mean, for example, widening the roads so that you can get the larger vehicles there, so that you can get your containers to the port for export and encourage a greater use of shipping, and perhaps also international shipping.
But you need to look at what is occurring globally, in terms of the way shipping is operating. It is changing. It is using larger and larger ships and Tasmania has been impacted by that. We recognise that. But you have got to look at the entire supply chain, not just put your hand up for subsidies without getting those efficiencies, because then you’ll just be putting your hand up again, six months, 12 months down the track.
LEON COMPTON: The Tasmanian economy in a pickle at the moment, certainly trailing in the Federation at the moment. What about the prospect of bringing forward infrastructure investment for a bit of pump priming?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, we’ve already almost doubled infrastructure spending here in Tasmania to more than $800 million, or from about $150 per Tasmanian to above $260 per Tasmanian, in terms of this Government’s Nation Building Program.
We have also invested heavily in important projects like the Macquarie Point project. The last time I was in Tasmania, I was here for what is a really exciting project that could transform the waterfront, change the nature of the city of Hobart. You’ve got a beautiful city. It’s perhaps Australia’s most picturesque major city, and yet, you go down the waterfront and much of it is hidden and you’re not able to utilise it properly.
Now, the $50 million that we’ve put up for that project I think shows that this is a government that is prepared to bring forward infrastructure investment, and indeed we have.
LEON COMPTON: And what do you see as the key infrastructure needs for the state? I mean, when you look at what Tasmania needs, across its infrastructure spectrum?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it’s a matter of infrastructure development being linked with future productivity. So, for example, the Brighton Bypass and the Brighton Hub is a great example because that investment has opened up the opportunity for Macquarie Point to be redeveloped and for the City to be transformed. I think it is Australia’s most exciting urban redevelopment project.
So that is a good example of the sort of intelligent investment that is required, where you really get the bang from your buck.
Of course, there are also various road and rail projects. I will be looking at the Brooker Highway with Jane Austin, the Labor candidate for Denison, earlier this morning. And there’s a range of projects on the agenda.
I am in discussions with the Tasmanian Government about the next Nation Building Program on infrastructure. That will kick in from 2014/15 and I will be having a chat with David O’Byrne this morning about that.
LEON COMPTON: On the issue of gay marriage, of course, it was – was it as long ago as a fortnight ago that Tasmania’s Legislative Council were debating the issue? Were you disappointed at the way the vote went? For people who don’t know, you voted for same sex marriage on the floor of the House of Reps.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I was, but I am never really disappointed by a democratic outcome. I think people are entitled to have their vote, and I don’t think it would be appropriate for me, as a Federal parliamentarian, to lecture the Tasmanian Parliament on what it should do.
I myself have a strong view that recognition of same sex marriage will do nothing to diminish those people, such as myself, who currently have a right to marry. Therefore I think change will come. In ten years’ time, people will be asking what the fuss was all about. And I do think, talk about economic opportunities, if Tasmania was ahead of the curve here, there’s no doubt that that would present significant economic benefit for Tasmania with people visiting here.
LEON COMPTON: And just a final question for you this morning. You often talk with state governments about tying infrastructure investment that you’ll offer to improvements in their planning process. Many people say this is a difficult environment in which to get planning done because of 29 local government areas, a raft of contrasting planning schemes, the difficulties of competing environmental and business interests that often involve in [inaudible] fights that you’ve seen the other day. Is it a difficult environment, and are you trying to drive planning reform here?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We certainly are trying to drive planning reform. That is why, for example, we had the Capital City Strategic Plan process through COAG.
One of the ways that we are trying to drive reform nationally is by identifying really iconic projects which we will put substantial funds into, like the Macquarie Point redevelopment.
LEON COMPTON: Does the planning environment here have to improve?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think the planning environment is lacking in all of the states and Territories. I think we have 564 local government authorities throughout the nation. That is too many.
We need to make sure that we get the planning right. For example, Macquarie Point. One of the things we said was that we want to have an authority that looks after the entire precinct so that you don’t have a whole lot of time wasted in red tape and batting the ping-pong ball back and forth across the table, so that you actually focus on the development as a whole – how do you mobilise private sector investment, how do you maximise the opportunities that is there?
LEON COMPTON: Appreciate you talking with us this morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Glad to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.