Subjects: Public transport; Melbourne Metro, Malcolm Turnbull, police action against maritime workers in Newcastle; Labor costings.
MICHAEL DANBY: Can I welcome you all today and thank my good friend Anthony Albanese for being here. This is a key piece of public transport infrastructure behind us – the proposed Domain Interchange. This is where many people from all over the east and the south-east of Melbourne trying to travel into the universities and hospitals from this place and connecting to the trains and the trams is such a great idea. Some people have photo opportunities taken on trams when they visit Melbourne. Other people are interested in making sure that there are funds for public transport in Victoria and we are very pleased this morning to have Anthony Albanese, who is the Labor spokesman on infrastructure and who has developed a reputation as Mr Infrastructure all around Australia. Great to have you here this morning Anthony and also with our candidates for Goldstein, Matthew Coote and Carl Katter from Higgins. Over to you Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much Michael and it’s great to be back in Melbourne with Michael Danby, our member for Melbourne Ports, Carl Katter, our candidate for Higgins and Matthew Coote, our candidate for Goldstein at the upcoming federal election.
The Melbourne Metro will be Labor’s number one priority for federal funding for Victorian infrastructure if we are elected to government in 2016. Labor understands that you need good road as well as public transport infrastructure if our cities are to function effectively. And there is no project more important than the Melbourne Metro and that’s because it will provide an increase of capacity for the entire network.
I understood that when I negotiated with previous Victorian governments about support for the Melbourne Metro. Of course, the Coalition Government here walked away from the Melbourne Metro when Tony Abbott said that an incoming coalition government would not fund public transport infrastructure.
We’ve had a change of government but we haven’t had a change of message or, more importantly, a change of funding. It’s the same old policies. And Malcolm Turnbull likes riding on trams. What the people of Melbourne and Victoria want isn’t someone who travels on public transport; they want a Prime Minister who will fund public transport and Bill Shorten will do just that.
And we stand by our record. We funded the largest indeed funding of any public transport project in the nation since Federation – was the federal contribution to the Regional Rail Link, that was opened in June of last year – opposed by the Coalition as part of the Economic Stimulus Plan but supported and funded by Labor and built and now opened and functioning as a result of that investment.
But unless you fix the Metro, you won’t fix the capacity constraints on the Victorian system, which is why this is such an important project. It’s quite extraordinary that upon coming to office the Abbott Government cut funding for all public transport projects that were not already under construction. But it’s even more extraordinary that Malcolm Turnbull has kept those policies in place. He had a Minister for Cities for a while. He’s gone and not even replaced because, of course, that minister didn’t actually have area real job. There was no department; there was no Major Cities Unit; there was no program of funding for him to deliver. It is very clear that if Australians want to tackle the challenge of congestion in our cities and the need to fund public transport, then it is only Labor that offers that support at the Federal Government, in partnership of course with state and territory governments, in partnership here with the Andrews Government that has made it clear their support for the Melbourne Metro but also of course upon the recommendation and consistent with the position adopted by Infrastructure Australia that said that this was a priority project prior to our funding in 2013 that was placed in the Budget.
REPORTER: How much are you prepared to offer them?
ALBANESE: Well we’ll be sitting down, we’ll be making our full budgetary announcements at an appropriate time. But what we will do is take advice from Infrastructure Australia, sit down with the Victorian Government and ensure that this project can proceed. But we’ve made it clear that this is the number one priority. It was in the Budget in 2013 and taken out of the Budget and it is simply unsustainable that Victoria is receiving 8 per cent of the national infrastructure budget. That’s 8 percent at a time where public sector investment in infrastructure has fallen by 20 per cent since the change of government federally. Now that means at a time where you have the mining boom coming off, where infrastructure investment should be increasing, not decreasing, that’s having an impact on jobs in the short term, but it’s also having a significant impact on future economic growth.
REPORTER: There’s a big gap there. It’s about $6 billion to $7 billion. How much of that are you prepared to fund?
ALBANESE: Well I’ve said with respect to your question, and you’ll get the same answer, that we’ll make funding announcements after discussions have taken place and when they are fully funded as part of our program. What we are saying though, is that this is the number one priority for federal Labor. That’s consistent with the approach that we had in government. It’s consistent also with the announcement that Bill Shorten made in Brisbane when he gave his speech to the Media Club where this was identified as one of our top priorities. And we believe that you can also get some private capital to invest in this project. We put together that prior to 2013, because there’s no doubt that governments alone can’t fulfil the requirements that are there in terms of infrastructure investment. There needs to be that private investment as well and we would give consideration to appropriate funding mechanisms in partnership with the Victorian Government.
REPORTER: So would you consider paying a third?
ALBANESE: You’re not going to get a figure from me today because what we do is not make announcements on the basis of the media timetable. We make announcements on the basis of having them fully funded and that is what you would expect.
REPORTER: What do we tell the public? I mean, should we tell them that you care going to put in a big whack or a small whack? I mean how do we phrase this? Is this billions of dollars or just hundreds of thousands?
ALBANESE: You can tell them that it’s our first priority in terms of funding of investment in Melbourne and you can point to, as we will be doing, pointing to our record of investment. What Victorians will be saying to themselves is: Why is it that we are being punished for having a Labor Government? It is quite unsustainable for a Federal Government to have the attitude that if you are Labor we won’t negotiate with you. They cut funding for the Melbourne Metro. They cut funding from the M80 project. They cut funding for the Managed Motorways Program in terms of Monash and here we have a circumstance whereby on the Melbourne Metro, we’ve seen no response from the Federal Government. Some of the other projects – take the Managed Motorways Program when it comes to the Monash Freeway – that was funded in the 2013 budget, they cut it in the 2014 Budget, in 2015 Greg Hunt made an announcement as if it was a new idea and there was new funding when they put some of the money back and pretended it was a new project.
Well, Victorians are on to this government. They recognise that fact that in spite of the fact that here has been a change of prime minister, there has been no change when it comes to their attitude towards funding infrastructure here in Melbourne and, indeed, throughout Victoria.
REPORTER: Do you think Malcolm Turnbull may beat you to the punch? He may come up with a figure and you’ll have to go above that.
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see. He is the government. He can do it tomorrow and, indeed, should do it tomorrow. I mean, you have the $1.5 billion that was paid in advance of the East-West Project that was the subject of the scathing report of the federal Auditor General and the ANAO that was tabled in parliament just this week. And what they found was that there was no request or no need to fund that in the 2013-14 financial year because even if that project had gone ahead, it wouldn’t have gone ahead for some period of time. And $1 billion of that advance payment was for Stage II. So it’s little wonder that the Auditor General was scathing of that approach.
Now there’s another $1.5 billion that they committed for a project that isn’t going ahead. They should do something with that funding. They should commit to increased activity in Victoria as we did when we were in office when we doubled the roads budget and we increased the rail budget, in terms of passenger rail, by more than ten times. We delivered on jobs. That feeds through to increased economic growth and productivity.
There was a sigh of relief when Tony Abbott was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull last year. Now I think Australians are increasingly starting to ask themselves well, what was that about? There’s been no change on climate change, no change on public transport funding, no change on marriage equality, no change on a republic. They are starting to ask themselves what was that about other than having a different person occupying in the Prime Minister’s chair. And the reports over the last two days of more than 100 jobs going of climate scientists working for the CSIRO, is something that Tony Abbott would be proud of, but it is beyond belief that Malcolm Turnbull, who says he cares about climate change, is presiding over that cut just as the actions that occurred this morning in Newcastle where police frog-marched off seafarers off the Melbourne, that was docked there – people who were told that they had lost their jobs, that they would be replaced by foreign workers on a foreign-flagged ship, just as occurred here in Victoria in the Portland just a couple of weeks ago.
This is industrial relations conservative style under Malcolm Turnbull. It’s an extraordinary action for the people of Newcastle who understand the importance that seafarers and Australian shipping have played in that city and as we speak there are protests going on against that action this morning and against the decision of the Federal Government to allow this to occur by granting a temporary licence to a foreign ship to do the work that is domestic freight, previously undertaken for many years by an Australian ship, with an Australian flag with Australian seafarers.
REPORTER: Have you and Bill Shorten discussed how much you will put in or promise for the Melbourne Metro?
ALBANESE: Well Bill has made a very clear commitment, as he made at the Brisbane Media Club. We’ll make our funding announcements at the appropriate time. I mean, there is a Budget between now and when the election is, unless they hide from the Budget in terms of a with a double dissolution election. So you would fully expect for that Budget and those economic figures to be in place and for us to be able to examine them before you get final figures about funding for particular projects.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.