Feb 17, 2016

Transcript of media conference – Marrickville

Subjects: Infrastructure Australia report; public transport; High Speed Rail Authority Bill; road user charges

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today’s release of an update of Infrastructure Australia’s report serves to underline the absolute failure and three wasted years of the Abbott and Turnbull Governments. Infrastructure Australia went more than a year without a Chief Executive Officer.

The report goes through a series of policy recommendations that will examine, as well as identify 93 projects that are worthy of support. What the report highlights is the need for cost benefit analysis and proper economic decision making when it comes to which infrastructure projects are chosen by government and the need for proper planning. All of that has been absent from the Abbott and Turnbull years.

What we know is that upon coming to government, Tony Abbott cancelled funding for construction of all public transport projects that were not already underway. Cancelled funding for the Melbourne Metro, cancelled funding for the Gawler Line Electrification, and cancelled funding for the Cross River Rail projects as well as public transport projects in Perth, both light and heavy rail.

This report serves as a condemnation of those actions of the Abbott Government. Now, into its third year of office, we finally have a report that should have been produced two years ago. A report that says you need to fund public transport projects as well as road projects.

A report that says you need a National Freight Strategy even though one has already been produced by Infrastructure Australia in 2012 when it produced both the National Ports Strategy and the National Land Freight Strategy.

The problem is this Government has ignored those important recommendations just like it ignored the important work done by Infrastructure Australia on northern Australia’s infrastructure needs that was produced on its watch just last year.

This is a government that has talked big about infrastructure but has failed to deliver. And when Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott just six months ago, he said that he would prioritise cities.

What we’ve seen is the dumping of the Cities Minister last December and a failure to replace him in the reshuffle of just last week. A downgrading to just merely a Parliamentary Secretary role. A failure to reinstate a Major Cities Unit or any bureaucratic structure to support cities policy.

A failure to reinstitute the Urban Policy Forum that was established by the former Government. A failure to fund public transport projects in our capital cities or our major cities around the nation with the exception of a small amount of funding for the Gold Coast Light Rail Project StageĀ 2 that was taken from savings that have been made from the Moreton Bay Rail Link.

What we’ve seen from this government is three years of infrastructure failure. This report should be a wakeup call because it serves as a reminder of a failure to invest, a failure to have proper analysis before projects are supported. A failure to ensure that we have good public transport as well as good road projects to deal with the scourge of urban congestion in our cities.

So we believe that this report should be examined and should be responded to by the Government. It should be the basis of action after proper analysis and we’ll be examining all of the recommendations in this report following as it does from previous Infrastructure Australia reports.

REPORTER: So to emphasise what you’ve said, is this just building on previous reports that there’s been a complete failure to act on this current Government’s standing?

ALBANESE: Well, this is building on previous reports. But what we’ve seen from the Government is ignoring those reports in its actions. It chose to cancel projects that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia such as the Cross River Rail project, the Melbourne Metro and the Gawler Line Electrification and instead fund projects that hadn’t been through proper analysis. Projects like the East-West road project in Melbourne that we now know had a benefit of just 45 cents for every dollar that was invested.

We know that it walked away from supporting our cities and of course, the infrastructure portfolio remains in the hands of the National Party who historically have been concerned simply with regional roads and not interested in what is going on in our cities. The failure of the Turnbull Government to have a Cities Minister for more than two months is quite extraordinary.

It highlights that Malcolm Turnbull has been all promise and no delivery. People were quite excited by the fact that Malcolm Turnbull, when he swore in his new Ministry, approvedĀ a Cities Minister.

He said that they’d be engaged in urban policy and instead of that, we’ve had no change in policy direction and we’ve had a failure to appoint a minister with responsibility for cities or to establish a structure of government such as a Major Cities Unit to make recommendations on these issues.

REPORTER: From a Sydney perspective at least it looks like there’s a huge focus, an overwhelming focus on public transport to ease congestion and to free up some of those at least inner corridors. Is the federal government lumping too much responsibility onto the states in this setup?

ALBANESE: No, I think it is reasonable to say, as Infrastructure Australia has, that the states and territories have not done the work that’s necessary in terms of planning work. But also the Commonwealth has a responsibility to assist that process

Take High Speed Rail. As Infrastructure Australia has emphasised, High Speed Rail will require the cooperation of the Queensland, New South Wales, Victorian and ACT Governments if there is to be a high speed rail line down the east coast of Australia.

The Commonwealth has a role in coordinating the preservation of that corridor. The proper planning today so that we can get the infrastructure that we need of tomorrow. That’s why I have a High Speed Rail Authority Bill before the Parliament.

A High Speed Rail Authority is needed to coordinate intergovernmental action, to make sure that the preservation of the corridor occurs, so that High Speed Rail, which after all is being rolled out in Europe, in South America, North America and in Asia, can occur here in Australia particularly in the densely populated corridor between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

This would be a game changer in terms of regional economic development as well as boosting productivity of our east coast capital cities. That’s why the corridor should be preserved.

Instead of that, the Abbott Government took the money that was allocated for the Authority as a saving in its first Budget and hasn’t proceeded with the recommendations that had previously been made by the committee that included Tim Fischer and Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia.

When Australians in the infrastructure sector have a look at this report, what they’ll be reminded of as they read it on issue after issue is how much time has been wasted by the Abbott Government’s ideological approach.

Infrastructure Australia should be given the support that it needs and yet in the last Budget the Government has cut the future funding for Infrastructure Australia from next year.

Infrastructure Australia should be upgraded, not downgraded.

REPORTER: So have they got this right, the plan?

ALBANESE: What this shows is the three lost years of the Abbott and Turnbull Government. This report, which emphasises the need for public transport funding, not just funding for roads if we’re going to deal with urban congestion, is vital for our capital cities including Sydney.

REPORTER: Is this just another plan, are we going to see anything out of this?

ALBANESE: Well, the problem is of course that this report, when you read it will serve to remind everyone of the lack of action by the Abbott and the Turnbull Governments. We’ve had all funding for public transport projects cut.

We’ve had the Major Cities Unit abolished. We’ve had the appointment of a Cities Minister for just two months and then Malcolm Turnbull not bother to replace Jamie Briggs in that position and downgrade it to a Parliamentary Secretary role.

What we need to do is to take these reports seriously as a guide for action, not just as an academic exercise.

REPORTER: Are the states doing enough?

ALBANESE: The states clearly need to do better. And this report highlights the need for proper planning to take place and for the work to be done so that you have proper funding of projects that have been through cost-benefit analysis. Here in Sydney we’ve seen a blowout of the WestConnex project from $10 billion to $16.8 billion.

In Melbourne we saw the East-West project funded even though it would produce a return of 45 cents for every dollar that was invested. That shows that the Commonwealth Government must accept responsibility for getting it wrong. For not doing the planning first, before the funding was allocated.

And indeed in many cases, transferred to the state governments before any cost-benefit analysis had been produced, which is why it’s been criticised so strongly by the national Auditor-General.

REPORTER: What does this mean for high speed rail?

ALBANESE: It emphasises what Labor has been saying. That we need to preserve the corridor for High Speed Rail between Brisbane and Melbourne. That’s something that Labor put funding in the 2013 Budget to achieve and was cut by the Commonwealth in 2014.

If we don’t plan today for the infrastructure of tomorrow, we’ll rule it out by inaction and by the development that will occur along that corridor. This is a common sense plan which should be adopted by the government and they can just vote for my High Speed Rail Authority Bill that’s already before the Parliament.

REPORTER: In terms of priorities for the country, how does Sydney come out of this? Is it getting enough attention?

ALBANESE: Well, clearly, we need to deal with urban congestion in our capital cities. That means support for public transport and the Commonwealth Government has failed to deliver a dollar for any new construction of public transport. Indeed, they’ve cut more than $4.5 billion of money that was already in the budget for such projects.

REPORTER: Finally, we’re a bit late here because we were stuck in the good old Sydney traffic, there’s talk of overhauling the way it’s done, a user-pays system essentially. How do you think Sydney would cope with that?

ALBANESE: Well, that’s worthy of discussion but what we need to make sure is what the impact of such a change would be, and the concern that I have is that it’s people in the outer suburbs of Sydney, who don’t have access to public transport who’ll be forced to pay more tolls.

We need to make sure that we examine very carefully what the impact of any change would be to make sure that those people who can least afford it aren’t hit with an extra bill and those people who don’t have access to public transport don’t get hit with an unaffordable bill just for driving to and from work or looking after their family.

REPORTER: Thanks Mr Albanese.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much.