Subjects; Pacific Highway funding; asset sales; electricity privatisation
REPORTER: You were here when this was officially launched, I heard?
ALBANESE: I was indeed. Construction began here in 2012 and this was a part of the $7.6 billion that the former Federal Labor Government put into the Pacific Highway. Projects that have been completed like the Banora Point upgrade to the north, the Ballina Bypass just to the south. But throughout the Pacific Highway we invested $7.6 billion over 6 years. That is more than 6 times what the Howard Government invested in half the time. They had $1.3 billion. And now that the Coalition are back in charge federally, the investment has dropped.
In 2013, our last Budget, there was $1.023 billion for the Pacific Highway. This year in the Abbott Government’s first Budget there’s just $357 million – a fall of 65% in investment. That says it all about the National Party who continue to take this area and these communities for granted, which is why I’m here today with Justine Elliot and Janelle Saffin, our former Member for Page and our current Member for Richmond, but importantly with Paul Spooner, who’s our great candidate for Ballina.
What you have is federally the record of Labor as opposed to the Coalition, but statewise since the Coalition came to office, they’ve cut their contribution to the Pacific Highway, and last year we saw the extraordinary decision by the State Government to take money that had been allocated for the Pacific Highway and use it for a walkway across Moore Park to the Sydney Cricket Ground. That says everything about the National Party taking this community for granted.
REPORTER: So what does that lack of investment in Northern Rivers roads mean for locals?
ALBANESE: What it means is you don’t get big new projects under the National Party. It took Labor to get the Ballina Bypass done, to get this project underway, to do the Alstonville Bypass. On the way here I drove past the Byron Bay Parklands – a fantastic project once again funded by the former Labor Government. In Ballina when I arrived yesterday, I was reminded as I drove along the coast of the Surf Life Saving Club upgrade that we did in Ballina. It’s taken Labor Governments to invest in the North Coast. The National Party are tired politically, but they’re asleep when it comes to putting in new investment, whether it be local community infrastructure, whether it be for schools or hospitals, or whether it be for investment in road infrastructure. That’s important for all those people who travel on it, not just for locals, but it’s particularly important for safety.
REPORTER: And you’re also here today to talk about poles and wires?
ALBANESE: I am indeed. We have a state government that is determined to sell off assets that the people of New South Wales currently own. Now you only sell assets to private operators if the private operator thinks they’re going to make a windfall gain. And what we’re seeing with the preparation for that sale is government decision making deliberately trying to increase electricity prices in order to up the sale price.
REPORTER: Mike Baird has come out and said that the sale of poles and wires would only go ahead if they guaranteed in the next 5 years that it would decrease the cost of electricity.
ALBANESE: Well, he has no Plan B. That’s Mike Baird’s problem. With regard to that, there are two possible outcomes. One is the sale will not go ahead, in which case every one of his promises turns to dust instantly. Or second, the sale does go ahead, in which case there’s no real guarantee. What are they going to do, send a nasty letter? Once you have a for-profit system of a natural monopoly such as electricity, then prices of course can go up. You only need to look at what is happening South Australia whereby there’s more than $400 being made by the private owners of electricity from every household in South Australia. That’s $400 per household which could be put into education and health. The problem with electricity privatisation is that if the government says that they have a fiscal issue with long term funding of state government responsibilities, how does it make sense to sell an asset that is producing a return of $1.7 billion that can go into schools, can go into hospitals, can go into community services and go into local road upgrades? It makes no sense whatsoever which is why privatisation has been rejected by the people of Queensland and it should be rejected by the people of New South Wales. They have a big opportunity on Saturday March 28th to put electricity privatisation off the agenda for good.
REPORTER: Another point the Government did make though was that electricity prices went up 60% under Labor.
ALBANESE: There were some issues relating to infrastructure costs and gold-plating. They were federal issues and they were dealt with when we came to government through the reforms that Julia Gillard put in place. They were to do with the national electricity market and the failure of the Howard Government to put in place the appropriate regulatory measures. We fixed that when we were in Government.
REPORTER: So that wouldn’t happen again, there are reforms in place to stop prices rising again?
ALBANESE: Absolutely, the reforms are in place. There are two threats which could result in electricity prices rising. One is with regard to privatisation whereby you move to a for-profit system, but the second is the Abbott Government’s attacks on renewable energy. Their attacks on the Renewable Energy Target mean we’ve seen a flight on investment in renewable energy. The way the market works is like other markets – if you have greater supply you will have a decrease in price. What we’re seeing with the Abbott Government, supported by his best mate, here in NSW, Mike Baird, is we’re seeing pressure placed on the renewable energy sector. We’re seeing international investment shift offshore from Australia. We’ve seen an 88% decline in that investment – left already due to the uncertainty.
REPORTER: So would there be more investment in renewable energy under a state Labor Government or even a federal one?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. We supported the renewable energy sector. Under the former Labor Government, we saw an enormous growth in jobs, an enormous growth in renewable energy with the Target ready to be met. What we have with Tony Abbott coming into government is the remarkable situation whereby they had a review. That review found that the RET was successful, that it was creating jobs, that it was putting downwards pressure on prices. But they found it was too successful, so they want to wind it back. That is the decision of the Warburton review – that the Renewable Energy Target was too successful. It’s a bizarre logic that suggests that. One of the things that it butted up against was the determination of ideology for ideology’s sake. The people who will benefit from this sale is the owners, and also the lawyers and accountants in Sydney who will benefit from the actual process of the sale. People in regional areas such as this will cop it in the neck compared with people who live in metropolitan Sydney, and that’s why people who live in regional New South Wales are right to be particularly opposed to this measure.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.