Subjects: Infrastructure; Royal Commission into banking; Perth Freight Link
ALBANESE: It’s fantastic to be back here at the Torrens-to-Torrens section of South Road, the very place where, in August 2013, I came with Steve Georganas, the then-member for Hindmarsh and now the Labor candidate for Hindmarsh, when we looked at pre-construction work that was underway as a result of Labor’s commitment in the 2013 Budget to this project. We were here with the then Infrastructure Minister Tom Koutsantonis and work was underway. As a result of the incoming Federal Government’s stalling of this project though, this project is behind where it would have been had Labor been re-elected in 2013 because they stopped work here in order to pretend that they could commence work on the Darlington Interchange – the next section – which was always envisaged to be done after this section of the South Road upgrade. That follows of course projects like the South Road Superway that were promised, funded, built and then opened while Labor was in Government. Labor, when we were in government, more than doubled the infrastructure spend here in Adelaide and across South Australia. Projects like the Noarlunga to Seaford line were completed just after we left office. But we need further funding as well. The Gawler Line electrification is a necessary project that was stopped halfway through because of cuts of the Abbott and Turnbull governments. We need to fund road projects like this one here, but we also need to fund urban rail projects here in Adelaide in order to to make Adelaide more productive, sustainable and liveable. It’s quite clear that only Labor has a plan for our cities and only Labor has a plan for infrastructure investment. What the government seems to have is thought bubbles and no real progress on them, often dismissing them on the same day on which they are announced. Yesterday we saw on High Speed Rail down the east coast it announced in a splash on the front page of The Australian and yet later on in the same day Angus Taylor out there saying that they don’t really have a plan to announce a High Speed Rail project, which is not surprising given that they cut the $54 million that was in the Budget for the High Speed Rail Authority to ensure that the planning could get under way and the corridor could be preserved. So I am very pleased to be back here in Adelaide with Steve Georganas, someone who has always stood up for the interests of his electorate and the interests of South Australians.
REPORTER: The Gawler Electrification – that was budgeted in the state budget long before Tony Abbott was elected. It has been postponed several times on the imprimatur of the State Government. I mean, I am curious as to how you sort of sheet some blame home to the feds on that?
ALBANESE: Well, it has been postponed because of the cut that was put in place by the Abbott Government. We had an agreement in place – the Federal Labor Government and the South Australian Labor Government. When Tony Abbott came to office he made cuts of over $4.5 billion to public transport projects and said that there would be no funding of any new public transport projects by the government. And he immediately, as part of his incoming economic statement in late 2013 upon coming to office, took that money away from the Gawler Line electrification project. This is a vital project for Adelaide and for South Australia and it is a consequence of the Abbott Government’s cuts that have delayed the project which was actually under way as a result of the joint commitment that was there.
REPORTER: It might not have been had Labor State Government stuck to its Budget plan.
ALBANESE: Well, they were relying on Federal Government commitments and that Federal Government commitment was withdrawn. Federal Labor has always been committed to not just road projects, but public transport projects as well. If it was up to Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – Malcolm Turnbull likes of course riding on public transport, he just won’t fund it – the Noarlunga to Seaford line extension would never have happened were it not for the Labor Government. And the Gawler line electrification wouldn’t have been underway were it not for the Federal Labor Government that was elected and what I want to see and what we will do if were are elected to office later this year most likely on the 2nd of July, is commit not just to the road funding that we see under construction here, but also to public transport funding and to making South Australia more liveable and we know that South Australia has significant plans underway in terms of light rail here as well.
REPORTER: Just on another topic, why do you think a Royal Commission into the banking sector is so important?
ALBANESE: Well, a Royal Commission is necessary in order to defend the interests of those Australians who have been impacted by decisions of the banking and financial sector. What we know is that a number of people have invested their savings in good faith as a result of advice from the banking and financial sector that simply has not been up to scratch. Now, over a period of time now there have been legitimate complaints raised. ASIC quite frankly has not dealt with them in an adequate way and that’s why we have this groundswell of community support saying it is about time we looked at the sector as a whole. A Royal Commission will be able to do that. A Royal Commission will be able to hear from not just the victims of bad advice, but will ensure that the proponents of that bad advice will be held to account as well, and that is what is required, not out of some sort of historical exercise but in order to ensure that our banking and financial services sector delivers the support that Australian families expect from it.
REPORTER: What then are the pending issues concerning the behaviours of banks that need to be canvassed through a Royal Commission? Is there anything that is still to be discharged that hasn’t been through a court or by ASIC?
ALBANESE: I think that it is the whole range of issues that have arisen concerning not just the banks, but other sectors of the financial services sector that warrant this inquiry. And what is significant here isn’t just that I think that as Labor MP. It’s that at least eight of Malcolm Turnbull’s own team are calling for that as well. It shows how out of touch Malcolm Turnbull is: the fact that Australian families can see it; people in Steve Georganas’s electorate that he seeks to represent here again in Hindmarsh can see it; Malcolm Turnbull’s own backbench, and indeed some pretty senior people, can see it and are calling for it; but he just seems determined to just represent the big end of town. It’s about time that the big end of town were held to account. This is a government that seems to think that it’s OK to have Royal Commissions into the former Labor Government, but it’s not OK to actually have Royal Commissions into issues that are of serious interest to Australian families now and in the future.
REPORTER: I might just shift over to Perth now, Mr Albanese. The Government has announced funding for the Perth Freight Link. Would Labor support that spending?
ALBANESE: Well, the problem here is of course that the Perth Freight Link project has been held up in the courts and shown that the whole EIS process has been drawn into question. Now Malcolm Turnbull came to office knocking off Tony Abbott, saying that he would fund public transport; that the roads-only obsession of Tony Abbott was at an end. And since then what we have seen is a roads-only obsession from Malcolm Turnbull. Now Perth needs Metronet. Perth needs public transport and light rail. And this funding that Malcolm Turnbull is talking about is less than the $500 million that was ripped out of public transport funding for Perth from the Federal Budget that was put in there by Federal Labor and ripped out by the Coalition in May of 2014.
REPORTER: Back to ASIC again. You’re critical of staff cuts at ASIC. Why not increase their numbers in order for them to carry out the work to look at the banks?
ALBANESE: Well, of course there should be numbers increased at ASIC, just like the cuts in the Australian Taxation Office have assisted in tax avoidance industries getting a benefit. It makes no sense to have these sort of short-sighted cuts. But at the same time, what’s required is greater powers – the powers of a Royal Commission. Now this is a government that is saying it will run an election on the basis of the ABCC, which will allow ordinary construction workers to be called, to not have a right to silence, to have an abrogation of their rights, unlike other people in the work-force, but is resisting a Royal Commission where people who have been victims of the financial services and banking sector will be able to present evidence, but importantly, some of the people who have been the perpetrators of actions that have resulted in families losing their savings, will also be held to account. And that’s why a Royal Commission is required as well as of course making sure that ASIC is properly resourced in the long term. And I am sure that that would be one of the recommendations of a Royal Commission that would therefore have that authority of that Royal Commission.
REPORTER: On trucking rates there is a bit of friction in the industry as to the new minimum rates. Do you think the Government’s got a point about abolishing the new regime?
ALBANESE: Well, they have no point about throwing out completely an independent tribunal. If there needs to be modifications with the particular determination that has been made then Labor has indicated that we would be prepared to look at that. But this tribunal is there to ensure safe rates. Safe rates are important not just for truck drivers who, in terms of their suicide rates and the impact on their families, have an incredibly difficult job. It’s also there for other users on the road. Three hundred and thirty fatalities last year from accidents involving heavy vehicles. That means that people who use our roads need safe rates as well as the truck drivers because most of those fatalities weren’t truck drivers, they were people going about their business, on holidays, driving to and from work in their family cars who had impacts with heavy vehicles. That’s why this is a road safety issue and it is outrageous that the Government is seeking to politicise this when they know full well that they failed to make a submission to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal when they were giving consideration to making this determination. They couldn’t even be bothered doing that. That’s how significant it was for them. This is a tribunal that has been in place since 2012 and now, on the eve of an election, a desperate government, a desperate government without an agenda, is seeking to play politics, trying to find a reason for its existence because Malcolm Turnbull had a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott but it is very clear that he simply doesn’t have a plan to govern.
ALBANESE: Well, we will have a look at any proposition, but at the moment there isn’t legislation before the Parliament, let alone draft legislation out there for anyone to see for a tribunal that has been in place since 2012. They have been the Government now for three years. What have they been doing besides plotting against each other for those three years? They certainly haven’t been building infrastructure. They certainly haven’t been dealing with education or health. They certainly haven’t been dealing with upskilling our nation. What they have been doing is sitting back, encouraging job losses, particularly here in Adelaide, telling the industries like the car industry you can just go somewhere else, we are not interested in supporting you, making cutbacks not just to ASIC but of course to other important public sector institutions like the Australian Tax Office and the CSIRO and then they come up with these sort of plans without having any legislation without having any clear idea. It should be seen for the political action that it is.
REPORTER: (Inaudible) … the Royal Commission into the banking sector. Why now?
ALBANESE: Because this is an issue that has built up over a period of time. You don’t do a Royal Commission lightly, unless you are the Coalition, for which case you sit down and you think where were Labor involved when they were in government and we’ll have a Royal Commission there and try and play politics and use taxpayers funds to try and score political points against our opponents. That’s something Labor never did between 2007 and 2013. If you look at the Royal Commissions that we established, particularly into institutional abuse of young people, if you look at the impact that that has had on those institutions that have a shameful past, much of which was hidden, if you look at the impact on the victims of abuse in those institutions, be they schools or boys’ homes or other institutions, who have been able to get some relief in coming forward and the exposure of that has done their mental and physical health, I believe, a great deal of good. Julia Gillard deserves enormous credit for her courage in making sure that that Royal Commission went forward. It served a purpose, We believe that it will serve a positive purpose as well to have a Royal Commission into the banking and financial services sector which will strengthen the sector, make sure that people can have absolute confidence in it, take the lessons that have been made by people who have lost their savings and ensure that positive recommendations can be made going forward.
REPORTER: On the steel issue in Whyalla, which is a big story in South Australia as you are probably aware, the Prime Minister is going to China and we understand intends to raise the issue of steel. What approach should he take to the Chinese Government about the issue of cheap steel coming to Australia?
ALBANESE: Well he certainly should be standing up for the national interest. Now it would make a change for a Coalition Prime Minister to do that. But he needs to. China won’t be backward in representing its national interest and nor should we. The Australian national interest is served by having a steel industry. It is served by having a steel industry here in Whyalla, not just for those workers and their families, but there is a national economic interest test here, which is why we should have a bring-forward of infrastructure projects. I mean one of the reasons why there is less steel being used in Australia is the cancelling or deferment of projects like the Melbourne Metro, like Perth public transport, like Cross River Rail, like the Inland Rail project, all of which have either been cancelled completely or have had no additional money in them. So that ongoing process whereby you had a pipeline of rail projects being rolled out like Noarlunga to Seaford here that benefitted the local industry as well as benefitted public transport users, needs to be borne in mind. Malcolm Turnbull needs a positive steel plan. It’s not good enough for in one term for them to have walked away from the car industry and now to be acquiescent about the issues that are there in the steel industry.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.