Transcript of John Stanley program on 2UE
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Member for Grayndler
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
Subjects: Sydney’s proposed North West metro; Infrastructure Australia’s assessment and selection guidelines; Building Australia Fund; cut to official interest rates
October 7 2008
JOHN STANLEY: As we have this announcement by the Reserve Bank confirming that the economy is slowing, and we do need to get the economy moving, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has been in Brisbane today, and all the focus has been on this $20 billion Building Australia Fund.
He and the Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, have been saying today that politics will be taken out of the equation in allocating this $20 billion, and I guess that’s a timely comment, because the front page of today’s Herald suggests that Kevin Rudd told the New South Wales Government North West Metro would not be getting any Federal funding because it doesn’t go through Labor seats.
Now, I did say earlier in the program a couple of things, this is more about someone in New South Wales trying to pin the blame for the decision to axe the North West Metro on the Federal Government. My understanding was it was always going to be funded out of the New South Wales budget, and my understanding also is a fair bit of it, the bits that go from Epping, a fair bit of it goes through the seat of Bennelong, which is held by Labor.
So someone’s been up to some sort of mischief, the Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, spent the day denying this, he’s on the line with me now. Anthony Albanese, good afternoon to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon, John.
JOHN STANLEY: I guess you can repeat your denial now, can you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, absolutely. Of course, you know, it is a fact that it runs through not just Bennelong, but other Labor seats as well, potentially even pretty close to mine, but certainly the electorate of Sydney, and potentially other areas, but that’s not part of the equation. As the article said towards the end, it was never part of New South Wales’ submission to Infrastructure Australia, because it was always envisaged that it would be funded by New South Wales, and…
JOHN STANLEY: Yes, and it was fully costed, Michael Costa said it was in the budget, when I spoke to him on budget day earlier in the year, but is it more a symptom that perhaps you may have people in New South Wales who want to blame you, the Federal Government, when they axe the North West Metro?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I’m not going to comment on speculation, I think there was…
JOHN STANLEY: Gee, it looks like that, doesn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: … probably a bit too much of that this morning. But what’s pretty clear is that it was never part of the Federal equation, New South Wales put together their submission, that’s a matter for the New South Wales Government, and it was rather a bizarre article this morning. I was contacted by The Herald very late yesterday afternoon, and said that it was nonsense.
It also ignores the way that the processes are working. The New South Wales Government, like other Governments, and like the private sector, have made submissions to Infrastructure Australia. This is the body that’s at arm’s length from the Government, in order to take the politics out of decisions. Today we’ve released the prioritisation methodology, that is, the cost benefit analysis that Infrastructure Australia will use for each and every project that it examines in an objective fashion, and so that they all get examined on the same terms. It’s unfortunate The Herald chose not to mention that, but chose to mention what was essentially a rather odd story, I thought.
JOHN STANLEY: The decision of the Reserve Bank today does confirm that we’re in a very serious economic crisis, they feel the economy is slowing, that it needs some stimulus. First of all, is that $20 billion still there, is there still no doubt that that money will be spent?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, it certainly is there. It comes from the surplus, and of course some of that surplus that has already been allocated. There might be some pressure on it, and that’s why we’ve been determined to get the budget carried in full; so that the $20 billion can be available.
We’ve said of course with Infrastructure Australia, this isn’t a plan for just a month, or indeed a year, this is a long term plan, so that we change the way that we’ve done investment for infrastructure in the medium and long term for the nation. So we want this to be a permanent reform, not something that’s just one-off.
JOHN STANLEY: But in the short term you’ve got this – you’ve got some calls on the surplus now, the $4 billion that’s going into the mortgage-backed securities market, that was announced last week, you’ve got the slow-down in the economy, is there a possibility that ultimately you may have to delay some of this, given the other calls on the surplus?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, we’re pretty confident that this can be fulfilled. We of course will be introducing legislation in coming weeks into the Federal Parliament, to create the Building Australia Fund. At this stage we’d call for bipartisan support from the Opposition for the creation of this fund.
This is the first time that any Australian Government has tried to develop a mechanism which encourages nation building in an objective sense. This has been extremely well received by the business community, as well as by local communities. At times such as this, of financial uncertainty, of course investment in infrastructure is very timely; because it doesn’t have as inflationary an impact as does other spending, because it’s an investment.
JOHN STANLEY: The New South Wales Government’s put their list of priorities to you, and the West Metro’s at the top of that, followed by the M4 extension. As a resident of Sydney, would you agree that they would be the two biggest priorities for infrastructure in New South Wales?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, it’s important having set up an objective process, that I don’t undermine that independent process. I wait for Infrastructure Australia to examine these projects. There’s no doubt that both of those are worthy projects, but I’m sure there’ll be others as well, and…
JOHN STANLEY: Just on the M4 East though, because a lot of our people are driving at the moment, you extend the M4, and the way I look at this list, in terms of road projects, the number one is the extension of the M4, which we all agree is needed, through to the Anzac Bridge, and my reading of this is that the next project is this link through to Port Botany and the Airport, which would run off the M4, probably via a tunnel, under your electorate. Now how does something like that get assessed at arm’s length? Is there any process whereby you tick off on it, or is it going to be independently assessed?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, it’ll be independently assessed by Infrastructure Australia. That’s why it’s important that these projects be assessed on the basis of their contribution to national productivity – being the number one assessment. The other criteria that are out there are: global competitiveness; how it develops our cities or our regions; what’s the impact on climate change; and what’s the impact on quality of life. It’s pretty clear that urban congestion does have to be addressed. It has to be addressed by a mix of road and rail projects, and for the specific assessments.
We’ve established Infrastructure Australia so that they can do that; come up with a proper cost benefit analysis of all the projects that have been put forward, whether they be put forward by State or Territory Governments, or by the private sector.
JOHN STANLEY: Because you talk about the truck tunnel it would be, I think the concept is of a truck tunnel either on to the M4 or the M5, where the trucks would essentially be taken off the streets, and they’d be able to get straight onto the freeways.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well there are a number of proposals, there’s a proposal for a duplication of the M5 as well. It’s important that there be an objective analysis of that. Infrastructure Australia will do that. They’ll take the input that’s been given to them by the New South Wales Government, and they’ll be releasing an interim priority list by the end of the year.
JOHN STANLEY: So will you accept their findings? I they come up with a finding that might not be popular in your electorate, will you accept it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I have a job, as a national Minister. If I did what some people would want me to do, there’d be no airport at Kingsford-Smith, there’d be no port at Botany, there’d be no roads, except for the ones that take people to their homes. The fact is that we need national infrastructure, there’s a range of projects, it’s important that they be assessed at arm’s length, and we’ve established a process to do that.
JOHN STANLEY: And you can be hand on heart you know of no comment that was made by anyone at the Federal level to any New South Wales official that the North West Rail Link wouldn’t be getting any funding, because it doesn’t go through Labor seats?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it doesn’t even make sense. The New South Wales Government made the decision to not include it on their list, and such a….
JOHN STANLEY: But the comment was made last February before this infrastructure fund was set up, so wasn’t it Morris Iemma, back at the stage in February, trying to find out how he was going to fund it, he went to the – based on the way I read the story, he went to the Feds, said can you fund it, got knocked back, and then decided to fund it out of the New South Wales budget.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, no, you see what that ignores as well, and the authors of the article should have known better, is that the Building Australia Fund was foreshadowed in our election policy. We put Infrastructure Australia out there, we campaigned on it for two years, having the exact process that we’re going through. So it was well known to the State and Territory Government….
JOHN STANLEY: But might the reason it wasn’t on its list, be that they were told that, you know, you’re not going to get funding for this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, absolutely not. You know, the truth is that there’s a range of projects been put forward on State and Territory lists, they add up to hundreds of billions of dollars, not $20 billion, there’s a range of issues have been put forward by State and Territory Governments, because they see them as their priorities.
The job of the National Government is to have an arm’s length assessment of what is in the national economic interest. We’ll be doing that. We’ll be receiving the report from Infrastructure Australia. Today, we’ve released publicly, so it’s available for all to see up on the website, what the methodology will be for assessing these projects.
JOHN STANLEY: And if it means in the national interest, tunnels under your electorate, with exhaust stacks, you’ll go out and argue for it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, in terms of the national interest for all these projects, of course, you will always have some opposition. There are a range of people of course, who would argue that having trucks underground, is better than having them on their local streets…
JOHN STANLEY: That’s right.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …so it’s a matter of making sure that there is a national test here, and we’re certainly setting up a transparent structure, the likes of which has never been seen before. I mean the previous Government didn’t have a structure. It didn’t have a process like Infrastructure Australia. They didn’t even have an Infrastructure Minister or department. It said, this is all someone else’s problem, and put it in the too hard basket. The new Government has a mandate for nation-building, and we’re putting in place the mechanisms to achieve just that.
JOHN STANLEY: OK, the Commonwealth Bank have dropped their variable home loan rate by .80 of a per cent, so they’ve just made that announcement, the Commonwealth Bank…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s good, given I’ve got a loan with them.
JOHN STANLEY: Yes, so have I, they’ve joined in with Westpac, they’ve gone .80 of a per cent, is that enough, should they have gone further?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, what we’ve said is we want to see maximum pass through, and you know, I think others will comment on the specifics, but it’s quite clear that people, families, are under pressure, and that the maximum amount should be passed through, of that which is feasible for the banks to do.
JOHN STANLEY: OK, the…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We do need to bear in mind of course, the economic circumstances of the time. I find it quite extraordinary that there’s been no acknowledgement that the world has changed in the last month. I think today’s announcement of a one per cent drop, which I don’t think there were many people tipping that, I’m at an infrastructure conference…
JOHN STANLEY: I don’t think any.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: ….well, I’m at an infrastructure conference in Brisbane, it was during – after I gave a speech, and I got it handed up to me during questions and answers, I made the announcement of the – told people the one per cent rate had dropped to…
JOHN STANLEY: They’d have been staggered.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there was quite a reaction from the audience.
JOHN STANLEY: I can imagine. Just quickly, you’re the Aviation Minister as well, responsible for aviation issues, are you aware at all of this situation in Western Australia, with this apparent mid-air incident, involving a Qantas flight?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I am aware of it. I have been given a very short brief on it, details are coming through. I think it’s important that I give a considered response, and I await a full report that I’ve asked to be given to me. I would expect to receive that in the next hour.
JOHN STANLEY: Was it one of those incidents where the plane dropped, have you got any information on just what may have happened?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I have been given a preliminary report, but as the Aviation Minister, I think it’s important that I have that confirmed before I speculate on it.
JOHN STANLEY: OK, all right, we’ll leave it there, I appreciate that. Thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks, John, good to talk to you.
JOHN STANLEY: That’s Anthony Albanese, who’s the Infrastructure and Aviation Minister.