May 24, 2013

Transcript of Interview with Steve Austin – ABC 612 Brisbane Mornings

Subjects: Cross River Rail

Steve Austin: I spoke with Scott Emerson, the Transport Minister in Queensland, earlier on about the Cross River Rail tunnel, why they were rejecting the $700-odd million from the Federal Government, saying it wasn’t enough for Cross River Rail, but then go and say that we’re not going to get a brass razoo out of the Coalition when they win office, but I’m still fighting.

Well, Anthony Albanese is the Federal Labor Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Anthony Albanese, good morning to you.

Anthony Albanese: Good morning, good to be with you.

Steve Austin: Is there any chance that Federal Labor could put up more money for the Cross River Rail project as is being requested by the state government?

Anthony Albanese: Let’s be very clear here, Steve: we are putting up exactly what the Queensland Government and Scott Emerson requested in writing. He requested $715 million from each level of government. There’s also, built into that, an agreement of 50-50 funding for the availability payment for the private sector financier of the project. That runs into billions of dollars over a number of years.

We also had an agreement with regard to the structure of the company, with the Queensland Government funding rail operating expenses for the project, and the final thing that they asked for was equal treatment of the Queensland Cross River Rail project just like other road projects such as the Bruce Highway and all the other projects that are funded by the Commonwealth Government, and we granted that. So they asked for funding principles, we agreed to every single one of them. Scott Emerson went into the Cabinet, got rolled by Jeff Seeney and hence we have this debacle whereby Queensland essentially is rejecting what it asked for.

Steve Austin: So this is—this amount of $715-odd million that you put in the last Budget is exactly what this state government asked for?

Anthony Albanese: It is exactly what they asked for in writing, in a letter that we’ve released that was sent on 30 April 2013.

Steve Austin: So they’ve rejected their own funding request?

Anthony Albanese: They’ve rejected their own funding request and, let’s be clear, I’ll read from you the end of it, Steve: “once I have your confirmation of the funding principles it is my intention to seek Cabinet approval to engage with the market to confirm the constructability and validate the business case estimates. I will also instruct my department to develop an MOU between our respective departments to detail arrangements moving forward.” Not only did we have that MOU drafted up and agreed to at the departmental level, we had the funding profiles agreed year by year of when the funding would be contributed.

So this was of extraordinary shock to me to then after this was all agreed. I mean, it had been through our processes and ticked off as the number one priority by Infrastructure Australia, not just for Queensland but for the entire nation, there was no project that was seen as more significant by the arm’s length body, Infrastructure Australia. I then engaged, very constructively, with the Queensland Government, as did my Department, to work out the funding principles because unless you do this project, Brisbane will be in gridlock, not just in terms of rail but also the roads. As people can’t get onto the trains they’ll transfer to their cars, and it will add to road congestion as well.

So it is quite extraordinary that because Tony Abbott, who has said he won’t fund any urban public rail at all, has said to them no, don’t do this, and because they’re within the Queensland Government, there are some members who don’t want any money to go into South East Queensland, you have them walking away from what they asked for.

Steve Austin: Let me play you just a brief excerpt from what Scott Emerson told me earlier this morning, if I can, Anthony Albanese.

[Excerpt]

Scott Emerson: Well, look, the reality is if we accepted 25 per cent for this project we’d be selling out Queenslanders, and it’s very sad to see the Federal Government offer only 25 per cent for this project, especially when the Treasurer is a Queenslander so he would know the issues here. Wayne Swan would know how important this project is. But traditionally, these kind of federal or nation-building projects would be paid—the lion’s share would be paid for by the Federal Government.

In fact, it’s not just us saying that. The state Opposition has also said that, because when they were in government they wrote to Infrastructure Australia and they were demanding 75 per cent from Federal Government for this project.

[End of excerpt]

Steve Austin: Essentially what you’re telling me, Anthony Albanese, that Scott Emerson when he says that is actually being misleading?

Anthony Albanese: Absolutely, and he knows it full well. This figment of his imagination, 25 per cent. I don’t mind people being misleading accidentally, but there are only two explanations: one is absolute ignorance of the way that John Howard’s GST formula and carve-up between the states is done. The second is that he’s being deliberately misleading, because what we’re talking about here is the Commonwealth Government giving $715 million.

What occurs is that none of that can be taken back. In the carve-up distribution between the states of the GST they take into account all the money that goes to states from the Federal Government. The misleading factor is it’s not just Queensland getting money; it’s all the states getting money, so essentially it evens itself out and it has a minimal impact on any distribution of the GST. It’s being treated not only exactly the way that every single national road project has been treated, but it’s being treated in exactly the way that Scott Emerson asked it to be treated in writing.

Steve Austin: Will you release that letter you’re quoting from, Anthony Albanese?

Anthony Albanese: I have released it and it’s been printed pretty much in full, attached to various websites, the Courier Mail and the Brisbane Times. I wouldn’t normally do that, except that Mr Emerson is being just so misleading with regard to this, and this is so important. I mean, I’ve been through a bit of argy-bargy between federal and state and between Labor and the Coalition, but where you have a project where both sides of politics agree is absolutely necessary, where the Queensland Government agree and the Federal Government agree, and we work out all of the proposals to the satisfaction of Minister Emerson and to the satisfaction of doing exactly what we were asked to do, and then they walk away.

We had a Ministerial Council meeting on the Friday before the Budget. The Queensland officials were there. They were rapt at this proposal and rapt that we would turn this vital project into a reality, and Mr Emerson will bear absolute responsibility, as will Premier Newman, for the consequences of this political game playing whereby they would rather this project not proceed so that they can try and score points against Federal Labor than actually do what they have a responsibility to do, which is to do the right thing by Queenslanders.

Steve Austin: So you’re also telling me that Infrastructure Australia rated the Cross River Rail tunnel project in its highest rating? That it was a project that should—must go ahead?

Anthony Albanese: It was the one project, indeed the only project, which last year on its list went onto the ready-to-proceed list, and I had meetings with the Queensland Government on that very day. This didn’t occur as a thought bubble. There has been two years of work. The Queensland Government did a terrific job in terms of its submission to Infrastructure Australia, both the former government under Anna Bligh and the current government. Both did a lot of detailed work and as a result, Infrastructure Australia prioritised this at the top level and recommended it for funding.

We came up with an innovative way of securing private sector funds by having a guaranteed return from both levels of government, and the Queensland Government have walked away from their own proposal.

Steve Austin: Alright, look, I have to move on, so now their position is 50-50 split, can you do that?

Anthony Albanese: They’ve got it, $715 million from each level of government…

Steve Austin: So that’s just a down payment as far as you’re concerned?

Anthony Albanese: Absolutely.

Steve Austin: So that’s just an up-front payment? You’ve already agreed to the 50-50 split that they say they’re now arguing—asked—in other words, you’ve—Scott Emerson has already what he was asking for this morning?

Anthony Albanese: Absolutely, and that is clear in both his letter and my reply, which have been released publicly.

Steve Austin: Okay.

Anthony Albanese: Fifty-fifty funding, both upfront payment and then the ongoing funding in the form of an availability payment to the private sector.

Steve Austin: We’ll go back to Scott Emerson. Thanks for your time.

Anthony Albanese: Good to talk to you.

Steve Austin: Anthony Albanese is the Federal Labor Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.