Jan 7, 2016

Transcript of media conference, CPO, Melbourne

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning. It’s good to be here in Melbourne and there is nowhere better to outline why there is an absolute need for the Australian National Audit Office to undertake an audit into the Government’s infrastructure program. I wrote to Grant Hehir, the national auditor, yesterday calling for just that. And I did it in the context of a complete breakdown in the Government’s infrastructure agenda.  I think it is quite notable that Tony Abbott used to talk about himself with regard to infrastructure. But when he departed the scene as Prime Minister, in terms of any claim of achievements, infrastructure doesn’t get a mention. And that’s because it’s a sorry record indeed that can be traced back to the 2014 Budget.

This government came to office promising proper cost-benefit analysis and published business cases for all projects of value above $100 million. Today, that commitment is in tatters. You have here in Melbourne the East West Link where, as a result of my writing to the Auditor General last year, the ANOA report was very critical of the fact that it provided money from the Commonwealth for a project that would produce 45 cents of benefit for every dollar invested.

Worse than that is the fact that money was taken from projects that do stack up, projects like the Melbourne Metro, the  M80 ring road project here in Melbourne and the Managed Motorways program on important freeways such as the Monash.

That result is that Victoria is receiving 8 per cent of the infrastructure investment in terms of the Commonwealth budget. Victorians are being punished for voting Labor and electing Daniel Andrews as the Premier of Victoria in spite of the fact that the Federal Government said it was a referendum on the East West Link.

With regard to the Perth Freight Link, it’s a complete disaster. This is a project that surprised even the WA state Coalition Government when it was announced in the May Budget. Indeed, in June, just one month after that occurred, the person in charge of the project in the upper house – the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Jim Chown, said, in June 2014: “At this stage we have not actually got plans that are worthy of public scrutiny’’.

What an indictment on the government.

And of course their third project is Westconnex in Sydney that they said would cost $10 billion but is now at a cost of $16.8 billion – a $6.8 billion blowout in the project before anything has actually been built. All that is occurring during this term of the Federal Government is a widening of the existing M4 for which there will be a toll put on it for western Sydney residents – a toll put on a road that they have already paid for. We believe very strongly that there shouldn’t be new tolls on old roads.

And to hide all of this we now know that they are actually diverting infrastructure funds – $18 million in the next six months in an election year – to have an advertising campaign on their infrastructure agenda – taking money from the existing infrastructure budget that should be about building roads and rail lines and ports and using it instead on government propaganda.

Well, no amount of government propaganda can hide the fact that infrastructure investment has fallen by 20 per cent under this government if you compare the September 2013 quarter with the last quarter available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That means less jobs and less economic growth in the future.

Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: There’s already been a federal Auditor General’s probe into the East West Link and a very through state investigation. Why do you need this wider investigation?

ALBANESE: Well what’s clear is that the problem with the East West Link has been replicated with the government’s infrastructure program nationally. The problem with the East West Link was that funding was provided for a project that didn’t stack up – that didn’t have a business case.  Now, Perth Freight Link is a good example whereby a minimal examination of this project, that was about putting a road through a wetland that had already been taken off the agenda from the former WA State Government was put back on the agenda, it would appear without even without consultation with the WA Government of the time, indeed, with senior members of the WA Government and without any business case.

Now that project has been knocked over in the WA courts. It’s been knocked over on environmental grounds and anyone who had ever looked at what used to be called the Roe 8 project would know that it was unlikely that it would receive approval, given the environmental consequences of this project.

But what the government has is two sets of infrastructure projects.

One is a part of their Magical Infrastructure Re-announcement Tour, where they go around Australia and they pretend that projects that were funded by the former federal Labor Government, such as the Regional Rail Link project here in Melbourne that is open, that is up and running – funded in our 2009 Budget  – that they had something to do with them.

They’ve got to do that because all of their own projects are in trouble – simply don’t stack up – which is why the audit office needs to look at why it is that not just an advance payment was made for the East West Link, an advance payment to make the Federal Budget look worse in the 2013-14 financial year but make the Victorian Coalition Budget look better in the lead-up to their election.

The same thing of course happened in NSW with an advance payment for the Westconnex project where almost all the funds for that project have already been delivered – $2.75 billion. Now the government said that it would make milestone payments. This are taxpayers’ funds that should be paid in accordance with actual delivery of actual infrastructure – roads that people can drive on, trains that people can ride on. And what we are seeing instead is the budgets being manipulated in order to produce political outcomes. Now the Auditor General found that with regard to the East West Link .I think it is the case across the board when it comes to the Government’s infrastructure program, which is why we are asking that it be looked at.

REPORTER: Don’t you think it’s a bit rich though to criticise the Turnbull Government over wasting taxpayers’ money when Daniel Andrews here blew $800 million of taxpayers’ money?

ALBANESE: Daniel Andrews kept to his commitment. Daniel Andrews did exactly what he said he would do. What the commonwealth government should do is what they said they’d do, which is …

REPORTER: Yes, but Daniel Andrews didn’t say he was going to blow $800 million.

ALBANESE: Daniel Andrews said he would not proceed with the East West Link because it doesn’t stack up. And it didn’t stack up. Forty-five cents for every dollar. Now, if I go to someone, anyone at random around here in Treasury Gardens or anywhere in Melbourne and I say to them: If you give me $100; if I say to you, sir, you give me $100 and next time I see you I will give you $45 back, I’m happy if you accept that that is a good deal. It’s a dud deal, which is why Daniel Andrews rejected it, which is why Daniel Andrews is getting on with construction in terms of level rail crossings, which is why he is getting on with important infrastructure projects here in Victoria. But he’s doing it not just without the support of the Commonwealth Government but with the hindrance of the Commonwealth Government. Every Victorian should be outraged that Victoria, with one on four of Australia’s population, is receiving 8 per cent of the national infrastructure budget.

REPORTER: Just on that Perth project, would a federal Labor government scrap funding for it if it does make it through the courts?

ALBANESE: Well, it’s unlikely that it will get through the courts. That’s the fact. This isn’t a new idea. This is essentially Roe 8. The important part of the project has been the subject of environmental scrutiny in the past. And the other thing is that this is a road which is about taking freight to Fremantle Harbour that’s at capacity. The issue for Fremantle and for WA is the outer harbour and it is extraordinary that the Federal Government isn’t playing a role in proper cities planning.

I mean we did have, of course, a Cities Minister. He is no more, in Jamie Briggs. And the government – it says a lot about the government’s policy the fact that they haven’t even bothered to replace Jamie Briggs because after all he didn’t have a department, there’s no Major Cities Unit, there’s no urban policy of the Federal Government. All they have now – well they used to have a title that was a consolation prize because Bruce Bilson couldn’t be bothered doing the job -.Jamie Briggs has now departed and it says everything that they don’t need to replace him because he didn’t have a real job because this is a government, whether under Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull, that’s abandoned good policy and good planning when it comes to our cities.

I notice Colin Barnett making the extraordinary plea to the Federal Government to fund the airport rail link and the light rail project in Perth. We had $500 million that was in the Budget and was cut for those very projects in the 2014 Coalition Government Budget.

And Colin Barnett was silent about that cut. He should have complained at the time about the $500 million that was ripped out of public transport, just like there was $3 billion ripped out of the Melbourne Metro here.

Bear this in mind with regard to the East West Link: There wasn’t a single extra dollar put in by the Commonwealth Government for Victorian infrastructure. There was $3 billion ripped out of the Melbourne Metro, more than $80 million ripped out of the Managed Motorways program including for the Monash that Greg Hunt tried to announce as new later on, and then $500 million ripped out of the M80.

REPORTER: Malcolm Turnbull has said though that the funding for the East West Link and other projects can be spent on public transport. So he’s sort of putting it in the hands of state governments in some ways isn’t he?

ALBANESE: No he’s not. He’s being duplicitous. He’s saying that the $1.5 billion that has already been paid to the Victorian Government, that was put in the Victorian Government’s bank account in the financial year of 2013-14 can be spent (because the Commonwealth Government can’t get it back – they’ve already made the payment to the Victorian Government), can be allocated for infrastructure projects. But it’s for infrastructure projects that they have already said that they would fund.

And the duplicitous nature of this commitment is shown by Greg Hunt’s splash that was made at the end of last year with regard to the Monash Freeway funding. So you cut funding in 2014, you then give a little bit back in the lead up to 2016, pretend it’s a new project and pretend it’s new money.

What about the other $1.5 billion that they cut from the Melbourne Metro that they are not saying they will proceed with to allocate to new projects in Victoria? What about the funding that they have cut from the Metro, the M80 and the Managed Motorways Program? That’s just to get it up to what was already in the Budget in 2013. They need to do that and then they need to add additional funding for vital projects like the Melbourne Metro. Or they could fund level crossings. There’s plenty of projects here that the Victorian Government have requested assistance for.

REPORTER: So I take it that what you are saying this morning as we go into an election this year is that infrastructure will be high on the agenda for Labor?

ALBANESE: It has always been on the agenda for Labor. We are the nation Building Party. We are the party that historically, from the Transcontinental Railway through all the major road and rail projects throughout this country are responsible for. The Snowy Mountains Scheme was opposed by the Coalition way back in the post-war period and they opposed of course the creation of Infrastructure Australia.

I’ve noticed some rhetoric out there from the Government about Northern Australia. Well Infrastructure Australia under this government completed the audit that was asked for on Northern Australia. It has been ignored by the Government. They are ignoring proper advice and what they are doing instead of having proper advice and funding real projects that create real jobs is spending $18 million on propaganda.