Jul 31, 2013

Transcript of joint doorstop interview – With Tom Koutsantonis, South Australian Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Adelaide

 Subjects:  Adelaide’s first electric trains; Urban public transport funding; Fringe Benefits Tax changes; Support for the Australian car industry; Recognition of local government in the Constitution

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  It’s fantastic to be here with my ministerial colleague Tom Koutsantonis and also my parliamentary colleague Amanda Rishworth, and my future parliamentary colleague Annabel Digance.

In terms of this day, one of the big differences at the coming election will be the attitude towards cities and the attitude towards public transport.

Here in South Australia you have seen an investment by the Commonwealth in total of around $800 million into various public transport projects. Into extending the Noarlunga to Seaford rail line, in the Gawler line electrification, and of course the untangling of freight rail with passenger rail through the work that is underway in the Goodwood to Torrens section.

All of this work was recommended by Infrastructure Australia, adding to the works we’ve done in roads on the Northern Expressway, on the South Road. All of this infrastructure investment here in South Australia has been done in partnership between the Commonwealth and the State Government; investing in roads, investing in public transport to improve productivity, to cut down on travel times and to make a difference in terms of sustainability and liveability here in Adelaide.

All of this would not have happened were it up to our federal opponents. Tony Abbott says there is no role for the national government in urban public transport.

What I say is that if a national government does not invest in urban public transport, in vital projects such as the extension of this rail line here in southern Adelaide, then what you will have is increased congestion on our roads, increased pressure on our cities, and increased pressure on families who increasingly will spend more time stuck in traffic than they do at home with their kids, or indeed it is wasted time in terms of work given up.

So this is a vital project and it is exciting today to see these new train sets. Train sets is an odd term I think to use – it brings images of Thomas the Tank Engine!

But what we see behind us here is something that is great new infrastructure that will make a real difference to people’s lives, I’m told, taking travel times down to 35 minutes in the city. That’s making a huge difference.

So it’s a great day here in South Australia. It has been fantastic to work with Amanda over such a long period of time, and the State Government, to see this work progress.

With Annabel in Boothby, we believe we have a strong team going forward in joining the South Australian team in Canberra.

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: We have got the first of the three car sets put together here today. It offers passengers – about 500 is the total capacity – to get into the city in 35 minutes. It offers safer travel.

For the first time drivers can see through the entire three-car set, as opposed to our current diesel trains where it is much more difficult to see in the second car.

It offers greater seating, air conditioning for Australian standards; it offers world’s best practice.

And it’s fair to say that we wouldn’t be here today in Seaford at this new depot, going over a bridge that Mr Albanese and Ms Rishworth got built for us, we wouldn’t have these trains here today had it not been for the Commonwealth Government’s investment in public transport in South Australia.

Let’s be clear about this: if the Commonwealth lose, the outcome of the election, the investment in public transport in South Australia will decrease, which will mean more congestion on our roads.

If you are serious about relieving congestion on our roads, it’s important that Prime Minister Rudd be re-elected.

QUESTION: Minister why didn’t you consult the South Australian Government about the FBT changes?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: When you make tax changes, what you do is you make announcements. That’s what occurs in terms of budget processes.

We have certainly consulted now and we are working through issues with the car industry. There was a meeting just yesterday my understanding between the Treasurer and the South Australian car industry.

I have a very good relationship can I say as the Transport Minister with the automotive industry here in South Australia, and indeed around the country. And we will work these issues through in terms of ensuring the future of the car industry.

The only threat to the car industry here in South Australia is Mr Abbott and Ms Mirabella who would be the alternative minister.

I know they try to hide Sophie and try to not have her out there in front on these issues. And I can understand that because she represents a view that says you should cut support for the car industry; $500 million they will rip out of the car industry.

We know that they have a $70 billion black hole because Joe Hockey told us in terms of their costings. So I think that would be just an initial take out.

We know that they have to cut to the bone in basic services; education and health. And we know that they will also cut support for industry development.

QUESTION:So you are saying your policy to announce changes first and then consult with stakeholders?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I’m saying that tax policy is done in the normal way at all times.

QUESTION: Do you accept that this change will have a significant effect on new car sales, and in particular of locally built cars?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What I accept is that what we have done in terms of the FBT changes is to make changes to ensure that people who use their car for work and are claiming that will be able to continue to do so.

That is the process that occurs. And in terms of supporting the automotive industry and supporting new car sales, we are continuing to discuss, as we do on a regular basis, with all of the stakeholders concerned. Because we understand that the car industry is absolutely essential, not just because in of itself, but because of what it provides in terms of a spinoff, in terms of innovation, in terms of Australian manufacturing.

So I’m very proud of our record.

QUESTION: So had the Government considered the ramifications for the auto industry when it made these changes?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We considered all of the implications, as we do. If people want to say that people should continue to claim a tax concession that they are not entitled to, then it’s up to people to make that argument.

There is a very separate argument – a very separate argument indeed – about support for the car industry.

So support for the car industry is very separate from people claiming something that they are not entitled to. The changes that were made are perfectly consistent with ensuring – as we should do in all tax measures – that people can claim everything that they are entitled to and nothing that they are not entitled to.

That is the basis of a transparent tax system, and I am surprised that anyone who wants to be responsible and in charge of taxation policy, as Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey would like to, would argue anything differently.

QUESTION: Will the Government be moving then to close other fringe benefits tax loopholes?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What the Government does is ensure – and it’s important in terms of the fringe benefits tax system and the tax system in general – that people are able to claim what they are entitled to.

QUESTION: Do you concede though that those changes run contrary to what you are saying is the Government’s support for the car industry and those changes will have a detrimental impact on car sales?

You seem to want to decouple them completely.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because they are separate questions. They are very separate questions.

QUESTION: But the policy change does have an impact on car sales.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: They are very separate questions.

QUESTION: Do you concede that the FBT changes will have an impact on car sales?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  They are very separate questions. Very separate questions. There is a separate question in terms of individuals claiming entitlements. Every single individual who is claiming FBT for work expenses will legitimately still be able to do so. It’s as simple as that.

They can claim on the basis of a 12 week period over five years, which is not onerous. And it’s very important – one of the things that is important that it be understood – there is no impact of these changes whatsoever on your tradies who have the ute and use it for work. People who use their work vehicle for work on a regular basis will not be touched by this at all. People who use their work vehicle for 20 per cent of the time will be able to claim as well.

QUESTION: The auto industry is saying that this policy is causing the fleet sales to evaporate effectively – that’s not a concern for the Federal Government?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The two issues are very separate. Support for the automotive industry is something that the Government is supporting.

QUESTION:Your policy is causing car sales to dry up.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well if you don’t understand that there is a difference between individuals’ claims on tax through the tax system and industry support for the automotive industry, then I’d suggest that you have a good look at what industry policy is and what tax policy is.

QUESTION:  Minister, are you now looking at augmenting the support for the car industry to offset the negative impact of the FBT changes?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   We are always looking at ways in which we provide support for industry through industry policy.

Through industry policy that ensures that you have support for the automotive industry, but you also have integrity in the tax system. Integrity in the tax system is important. It is important that people are not able to claim something to which they are not entitled.

QUESTION: People have been entitled to claim that for 20 years. If you change that entitlement to-

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  We have not changed any entitlement. We have said that people should be able to claim an entitlement based upon producing 12 weeks of logbooks, or getting an app on their phone, which is able to now in a very efficient and easy way ensure what the car usage is in terms of work-related car use.

QUESTION: Politically do you concede that this change would make it more difficult for the ALP to retain or win particular seats in South Australia and in Victoria?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: South Australians and Victorians understand who stands up for them. They understand who stands up for the automotive industry.

They understand what we’ve done in order to provide that support for the automotive industry here in South Australia and in Victoria.

They also understand what the Federal Labor Government has done in partnership with the South Australian Government on projects such as the one here today, such as the South Road Superway, the Northern Expressway, the Gawler line, the Goodwood to Torrens junction project.

All of these projects they understand what they are about, and in terms of our prospects here in South Australia we are aiming to not only hold all of our seats with our very good local members, we’re also aiming to win Boothby with Annabel and we are also looking at the potential of other seats as well.

We will be out there campaigning in each and every seat right around the country when the election is called.

QUESTION: Jay Weatherill has said that the Federal Government’s FBT changes are bad for South Australia – he’s a Labor Premier – what do you make of his comments?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I don’t comment on the Premier’s statements, he’s entitled to his point of view. He’s expressed that and he’s entitled to it.

Our job is to make sure that we have integrity in the tax system, but also make sure that we provide appropriate support for the car industry.

We have in Kim Carr a minister who has the absolute confidence of the industry, who is respected not just here, but respected internationally.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the Premier’s comments Mr Koutsantonis?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS:  Of course I stand by the South Australian Government. Friends are allowed to disagree. Friends are allowed to have different points of view.

But I point to an alternative position where Steven Marshall, the Leader of the Opposition of this State, who agrees entirely with everything that Tony Abbott says and not once has disagreed with him.

This Government is entitled to put its point of view to the Commonwealth. We agree on a lot of things, we disagree on some.

What we are doing is we are working with the Commonwealth to come to a settled agreement. I’m very pleased that the MTA were able to meet with Treasurer Bowen yesterday. I’m very pleased that the Prime Minister met with the Premier when he was last in Adelaide, and of course I work with Minister Carr.

QUESTION: But you’re urging them to scrap their FBT changes?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS:  Minister Kenyon and the Premier will be dealing with this. I’m not the minister responsible. But I stand by what the Premier has said.

QUESTION: Minister Albanese doesn’t seem to even acknowledge the Premier’s suggestion that this will hurt new car sales?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS:  Mr Albanese is the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Jay Weatherill is the Premier of South Australia and I contrast Steven Marshall with the Premier.

Steven Marshall agrees with everything Tony Abbott says full stop. Our Premier is allowed to disagree with his friends.

QUESTION: And on this point, who do you agree with: Tony Abbott or Anthony Albanese?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS:  I agree with Premier Jay Weatherill.

QUESTION: So you agree that this is bad for South Australia?

TOM KOUTSANTONIS: I agree with Premier Weatherill consulting more with the Commonwealth Government about getting an outcome for South Australia.

Those consultations aren’t over yet. Everyone is trying to be [inaudible]. I think the fair thing to do is let the process work its way through.

When we get a resolution we will see the Prime Minister and Jay Weatherill standing together.

QUESTION:  Can I ask about the local government referendum – do you remain confident that that will happen or are you concerned that the no case has now built up to a sufficient level that it won’t?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  What’s the no case? I haven’t seen it. At all.

QUESTION:  The suggestion is the Victorian Government is now pushing quite strongly against it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I haven’t seen the no case. I haven’t yet heard an argument to say that local government shouldn’t be recognised in the Constitution.

We do have three levels of government here in Australia. The Constitution should reflect that reality, that’s point one.

The second point is I would take any state government seriously if they say we don’t want local government recognised in the Constitution and therefore we don’t want the Federal Government to be able to continue without question to fund local government. And you know what? We take that so seriously we are going to step up. We are going to fund the Roads to Recovery program, which is funded to the tune of $2.7 billion since I’ve been the Minister. We’ll fund the Black Spots program, we’ll fund financial assistance grants, and we’ll fund all the local community infrastructure projects that have been funded through local government.

When a state premier does that, I will take them seriously. Until they do that, they are just playing politics and I note that this went through the parliament with the support of the Federal Coalition and the cross benchers. There were only two members of the House of Representatives that voted against it, and single figure senators that voted against it as well.

This is the common sense change that should happen.

QUESTION: Is the Government considering a $3,000 rebate for locally produced vehicles?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t comment on any speculation. I haven’t seen that speculation. But anything you throw at me of what we’re considering will get the same answer.