Sep 16, 2016

Transcript of media conference – Canberra

Subjects: Badgerys Creek Airport; Stephen Conroy, value capture

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yesterday the Government released the environmental impact statement into Badgerys Creek Airport. I was pleased that the Government,  having criticised Labor’s policy during the election, has now adopted it; adopted it so that planes can be kept away from communities and residences during night-time periods by using the location of the airport and the south-west flight path for arrivals and take-offs. So – effectively having a no-fly zone over communities in Western Sydney.

It also adopted Labor’s policy of ensuring a sharing of the noise. And today they have issued a discussion paper with 10 options in terms of rail for Badgerys Creek Airport. A discussion paper with community consultation is never a bad thing. But now into its second term of office, years after the Badgerys Creek site was chosen as the preferred site, they need to get on with the business of ensuring that public transport is available for Badgerys Creek Airport from day one. This is a greenfield site. It is an opportunity to drive jobs and growth in Western Sydney. It’s an opportunity to use value capture because of the employment lands just to the north of the airport. It’s an opportunity that cannot be missed. And with this wide range of options for rail around Badgerys Creek Airport, I’m concerned that by putting out so many options they will end up not actually progressing the project.

What is needed for Western Sydney isn’t just rail to assist in terms of Badgerys Creek Airport; but rail access along the north-south corridor to ensure that people have access to the high-value jobs that will arise as a result of Badgerys Creek airport being there. And it needs to be got done by 2025.

Labor during the election campaign put money on the table for this project. Today’s announcement is absent of any financial contribution by the Government and any commitment to actually have the rail line operating from day one. What we need is that commitment from the Government.

Labor has not played politics with this issue. We have been constructive. But the Government has got to do its bit. It’s got to do its bit to make sure that Western Sydney’s airport is as good as the people of Western Sydney, that it drives that jobs and growth, that it provides that opportunity for a sustainable vision for the airport.

Happy to take questions. Hang on, one at a time.

JOURNALIST: Were you aware that Senator Conroy was planning to retire and was it strange in the way that he’s gone about it?

ALBANESE: Look, it’s a matter for Stephen. I have spoken to Stephen this morning. Stephen Conroy has been a friend of mine for a very long time. We haven’t always agreed on every issue. But I do want to pay tribute to Stephen Conroy and his service that he has done in the Senate since his election, at the same time that I came into Parliament.

Stephen Conroy has been a Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in the Senate. He’s been part of the leadership team under a succession of leaders. He’s been a senior minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments, and I think in terms of his capacity to engage with crossbench senators, to get reform through, he has an outstanding legacy.

But can I say this – when history looks back at Stephen Conroy, they will regard his vision of a fibre-to-the-premise National Broadband Network as being one of the great policy initiatives that we have seen this century. Stephen Conroy understood what was needed to bring Australia into the 21st century.

Since Malcolm Turnbull took over, Australia slipped from 30th to 60th in terms of the broadband provisions in the world ranking. That says a lot about Malcolm Turnbull. The fact is that Stephen Conroy understood that to drive our economy, to drive education, to drive health, we needed access and it needed to be universal, not on the basis of just an ability to pay. And I pay tribute to Stephen Conroy for that vision but also for his contribution to our party.

JOURNALIST: Should Stephen Conroy have informed the Acting Labor Leader? She looked slightly blind-sided this morning.

ALBANESE: It’s a matter for Stephen Conroy. I am a friend of Stephen’s. I am certainly not surprised by this. I know how much all of us miss our families. We give up a lot by entering into either the House of Representatives or the Senate. I know that the greatest joy in Stephen’s life has been the arrival of Bella and he will now have more time to spend with his wife and daughter. That is what he wants to do. That is a personal decision. He is perfectly entitled to make that decision.

JOURNALIST: When and how did you find out, Mr Albanese?

ALBANESE: You would be shocked if I broke what I have had for 20 years, which is I don’t discuss conversations one on one between friends, or with individuals.

JOURNALIST: Have you known for a while?

ALBANESE: Frankly, it’s none of your business.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

ALBANESE: That is a matter between myself and Stephen Conroy.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) details about when he was leaving?

ALBANESE: That is a matter for Stephen Conroy, frankly, and I’m sure that Stephen Conroy will make those statements and I don’t think – and you would regard it as pretty rude, frankly – if I spoke on behalf of Stephen Conroy and told you what the details of his intentions are.

JOURNALIST: Should he not have just retired at the election? Why wait until now to do it?

ALBANESE: That is a matter for him. One of the advantages of being in the Senate  rather than the House of Representatives of course is there will be a smooth transition to a new Senator from Victoria at no cost to the taxpayer at no inconvenience.

JOURNALIST: Why is he going Mr Albanese?

ALBANESE: That is a matter for him, frankly. That is a matter for him to tell you, not for me to speak on his behalf.

JOURNALIST: You don’t think it’s important that when someone retires they say they are retiring?

ALBANESE: I think it’s really important that people be treated with respect. I am treating you with respect by giving you an honest answer that that is for Stephen Conroy to announce, not for me to announce.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

ALBANESE: Stephen Conroy has always – Stephen Conroy has always treated the party with respect, he’s treated the Parliament with respect by informing the Parliament and, you know, if that’s got a nose out of joint from the media, well, you know …

JOURNALIST: Is he treating Shadow Cabinet with respect? I understand some Shadow Cabinet members didn’t know of his decision.

ALBANESE: Stephen has always treated the party with respect. The national executive has just passed a resolution unanimously paying tribute to his service. Stephen Conroy has been a giant of modern Labor, in the last 20 years. I am sure he has an ongoing political contribution to make. He hasn’t resigned from the Labor Party. He will continue to be active, I am sure. But Stephen Conroy has been an outstanding senator. I am sorry if the whole world doesn’t revolve around you people. I regret it. I feel your pain! It’s tough for you, I know!

JOURNALIST: Does that respect include Tanya Plibersek, because she appears to have been taken by surprise?

ALBANESE: The fact is Stephen Conroy has always treated the party with respect.

JOURNALIST: Can you say that there has been absolutely no bad blood in Labor that might have weighed into Stephen Conroy’s decision?

ALBANESE: Absolutely, absolutely. This is a personal decision for Stephen Conroy, as much as it might cause you people a little bit of pain, we’re people. We’re people. People move on. You moved on from a job. You’ve been in a couple. You’ve all moved on for different jobs, that is what you have done. You have been in a couple of jobs too, over the years, I suspect.

JOURNALIST: Does he have another job lined up that you know of?

ALBANESE: I am not speaking on Stephen Conroy’s behalf. I know I feel your pain, but I am not Stephen Conroy. He is a Collingwood fan!

JOURNALIST: Can you just not appreciate that it does look strange that the way he announced it, the fact that he hasn’t come out yet to explain more of the reasons behind it and that Tanya Plibersek didn’t seem to know this had happened?

ALBANESE: That is your problem. No-one else’s. Stephen Conroy told the Senate last night.

JOURNALIST: He didn’t actually give the speech, though.

ALBANESE: You have to pay attention, you people. If you were paying attention, you would have known a little bit earlier clearly than you did.

JOURNALIST: He tabled the speech. It didn’t come up until Hansard was released this morning.

ALBANESE: He didn’t ring you! That is tough! That is really difficult. That is really tough. I am a friend of his. I will remain a friend of his. I look forward to continuing to be a friend of his. Over the years I have tried to convert him to being a South Sydney supporter and supporting rugby league. I look forward to now being able to focus on that now that Stephen won’t be distracted by distracted by activities in the Senate. Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on plebiscites and Malcolm Turnbull this morning for the first time has conceded that there may have to be negotiations with the legislation that is being proposed at the moment. What do you make of that?

ALBANESE: The fact that Malcolm Turnbull is a flexible fellow. You know, he says he has commitments on superannuation but they’re thrown out the door. He says that he had commitments which were in the Omnibus Bill and he changed that in accordance with, to make it fairer, and it was improved through that process. I think the more Malcolm Turnbull adopts Labor policies, the better the Government will be and the better Australia will be.

So I think Malcolm Turnbull, with his statements, surely has to acknowledge, he knows – he never supported a plebiscite. A plebiscite was imposed on him by Tony Abbott. One of the questions we asked this week was what is the difference between Tony Abbott’s policy on marriage equality and Malcolm Turnbull’s policy on marriage equality? The answer to that is nothing.

And the big issue with marriage equality is that second word – equality. Why is it that this issue is being singled out for a $170 million opinion poll, when issues of education and health and the economy and jobs, infrastructure are not subject to that process – issues that impact on every Australian? Marriage equality doesn’t impact on every Australian; it just gives a small group of people the same rights as the overwhelming majority of Australians already enjoy.

JOURNALIST: Would you support land value capture on principle to fund potentially a more expensive or expansive option for the airport?

ALBANESE: Of course value capture will be a part of, as it has been for 100 years in terms of projects. And in terms of the rail line, one of the benefits of the rail line if it goes through the Western Sydney employment lands, and Badgerys Creek Airport is expected to provide 9000 jobs by the year 2030; if you have that going through the Western Sydney employment lands, then what you have is those businesses that establish themselves there as part of a aerotropolis around Badgerys Creek Airport, that land value will increase. There is no reason why it should be a windfall gain to the developer. Some of that should be captured and used for the infrastructure development. That is an essential component, just like it’s been a component of other projects. It is a part of the Melbourne Metro, it’s a part of the Brisbane Cross River Rail proposal. It has been used on a range of projects over the years, and that makes common sense and I am sure it will be factored in. But value capture – one thing it doesn’t do is provide things absolutely for free and be a recipe for solving all of the issues. The government has to show leadership on this at the moment, in spite of the fact they now have a consultation paper, many years into this process, they need to get on with the business of making it a reality. Thanks very much.