Nov 21, 2016

Transcript of media conference – Parliament House, Canberra

Subjects: High Speed Rail; Paul Keating biography, Albanese: Telling it Straight, Malcolm Turnbull leadership deficit, Scott Morrison.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Today I have introduced the High Speed Rail Authority Bill to the House of Representatives and I am calling upon the Government to allow time for it to be debated in the current and then the next session.

High Speed Rail has the potential to transform regional communities and also to be a significant productivity booster for the capital cities down Australia’s east coast.

We know that transport needs will accelerate as the population accelerates, particularly down the eastern corridor. We could have train travel from Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane in under three hours. That would make it more convenient, better for the environment and better for the economy in terms of competing with air travel.

We know that both Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane are in the top ten routes in the world and indeed at one stage last year Sydney to Melbourne was the busiest air route on the planet.

Australians are great travellers. They travel to Europe, They travel in our region and they travel in North America. And what they know is that if they want to go from London to Paris, or Beijing to Shanghai or Madrid to Barcelona, chances are they have done that on High Speed Rail. As High Speed Rail has been rolled out around the world it is cheaper and it’s more efficient.

We need to get with the program. Australia is good enough to have High Speed Rail technology and we know from the study that was conducted when I was the minister under the former Labor Government that the cost benefit for example from Sydney to Melbourne is $2.15 for every dollar that is invested.

Companies such as the Japanese have had a presence right here in Australia with the Sydney office for decades now, waiting for this promise to become a reality. But in order to make it a reality the planning needs to be got right now. The corridor needs to be preserved right now and to do that in accordance with the recommendations of the High Speed Rail Advisory Group that I set up to promote bipartisan support for this project, including people like the former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia Jennifer Westacott and the former CEO of the Australasian Railway Association, the late Bryan Nye, that they found that this was economically viable.

There are people who say they support it in this Parliament and indeed Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, from time to time has said positive things as well.

This is the sort of nation-building project that could create jobs in the short term but boost productivity in the long term. We know we have the current and the previous Governor of the Reserve Bank saying that at a time where infrastructure investment is falling at precisely the time when it should be increasing, we know that they have said that monetary policy can’t do all the hard yards in terms of economic stimulus and that infrastructure investment, given how low interest rates are at the moment and indeed long term interest rates into the future, is something that should be done by the Government. We saw last year instead of $8 billion being spent on infrastructure that they said they would spend in the 2014 Budget, a $3 billion underspend on infrastructure at precisely the time when that investment should be going up, not going down, So I’d call upon the Government to support debating this legislation. Allow the Members who support this project to get on board, particularly those in regional communities like Newscastle, like here in Canberra, like Albury Wodonga, Shepparton, Wagga Wagga, Taree, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour – all of these communities that would be transformed and would take pressure off the big capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

REPORTER: Apart from the Bill, what sort of things are you doing to build bi-partisan support for this authority?

ALBANESE: Well, we’ve participated in the parliamentary inquiry of the House of Representatives. We have continued to meet with international companies. Indeed, I met with companies who were here just in the last sitting week from China.

There was a high speed rail conference held, a global conference held, in Kyoto last week that I know was attended by the Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Mike Mrdak. We have continued to support this project, but it needs a vehicle to drive it forward. The way to drive that forward is through an Authority.

There are inter-jurisdictional issues, because it runs across New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT and Queensland. And of course, state and territory governments have responsibility for planning. So that’s why an authority that involves those governments, that involves local government, that involves the private sector would be a way forward. And of course, if the Government adopted this, they’d get to make the appointments, and they’d get to advance the project. It is something that has strong support in the community.

REPORTER: You’ve got a problem and it’s called Sydney, on two levels. One is the cost of resuming land and tunnelling, that is going to be prohibitive isn’t it? Secondly, there are protests in the street over a couple of lousy tram lines. What do you think the disruption would be if you start carving up the city for a High Speed Rail?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the costs are substantial and the costs, the high speed rail study found that there would be approximately 82 kilometres of tunnelling required. Sixty-seven kilometres of that would be in Sydney. So, in terms of cost as well, I note that there are some who say that value uplift can provide all the money for this project. That’s not the case. We shouldn’t pretend that that is the case because you won’t get value uplift for example through Sydney. It will have to be through tunnelling. There will be some people who say they support high speed rail in abstract, who will oppose the construction. There is no doubt about that. But that is why we need to have this debate. It is clearly in the national economic interest to have this debate. It is also, might I say, as we move towards a carbon constrained economy, it will more and more become viable as the issue of emissions gets factored in, as it inevitably will, into the cost structure of our economy.

REPORTER: The House of Representatives committee, there’s been some talk they may recommend a broad expressions of interest process. Do you think that is the best way forward, along with this Authority to see what’s out there in terms of proposals?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s a matter of you have to have a vehicle to do that. We have argued, indeed, on the pages of The Australian, in an excellent opinion piece prior to the election that the High Speed Rail Authority would be asked to request expressions of interest from international consortia, to have these international companies to come forward. It’s very clear we don’t have to start at the beginning here, because international companies have been successful. They have been successful at construction, and also operating these High Speed Rail lines in Italy, Spain, France, the UK, China, Japan, Korea, the United States. So we know there is expertise out there, and we also know that they are desperate to participate here in Australia. They understand that this is an exciting project and one of the things that we said should happen is the High Speed Rail Authority to call for these expressions of interest. See, unless you have state and local government planning cooperation then you will run into all sorts of issues. That’s why it needs an Authority to drive it forward. That’s why it was recommended by Tim Fischer, Jennifer Westacott and others on the advisory group.

REPORTER: Just on another issue.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Any more on this? OK.

REPORTER: There’s a new book on Paul Keating that is out today, and he says, Mr Keating that is, says there is a leadership deficit and he points to Bill Shorten not having embraced the Hawke-Keating legacy. Do you think there is something more Labor can do to embrace that legacy and perhaps move to the centre?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the book is out today, as you say, and I have not had the opportunity this morning to read the book. Gosh, I’ve been busy doing the High Speed Rail legislation.

REPORTER: Has your house that you grew up in being pulled down?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, my house is still there, and is on the front of an excellent book, might I add, the photo on the cover of Karen Middleton’s Albanese: Telling it Straight, available in all good book stores, is out there for all to see and my house, which is still there, that I got to visit. It is still run by the NSW Department of Housing. Whilst there has been a lot of changes around that community of Camperdown, my home is still there and it’s being occupied by a very lovely woman and her family.

REPORTER: So a leadership deficit?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look I think in terms of the leadership deficit that is here in this country, it is Malcolm Turnbull who has a leadership deficit. Malcolm Turnbull is someone who came to office, as someone who promoted action on climate change, supported marriage equality, supported public transport and we’ve seen him turn around on that and indeed Malcolm Turnbull’s biggest conflict isn’t with Tony Abbott and the right wing of his own party, Malcolm Turnbull’s biggest conflict is with himself. It’s with the comments that he has made over decades in public life and prior to that. He has even turned around on the republic, so I think that is one of the reasons there’s a great deal of disappointment in Malcolm Turnbull. People are looking for leadership, they are looking for authenticity and in Malcolm Turnbull they are getting neither.

Thanks very much.

REPORTER: Can I just ask quickly about the Deloitte Access Economic report. Scott Morrison has said that it further bolsters the Government’s case for corporate tax cuts. Is the Labor Party for turning on this given the forecasts?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Scott Morrison is all of the shop of course on this. I notice that this morning he was walking away from the Budget figures that say we will be back in surplus in 2021. Now, what Scott Morrison has to answer is, is there a greater chance of getting back into surplus sooner if these tax cuts for big business go through. That’s the question that he has to answer. This morning, Scott Morrison, actually said, quite remarkably, that the Budget papers, he referred to as not his, he disowned the Budget papers that he brought down himself in his first budget. It’s no wonder that is looks increasingly likely that it may well be his first and only Budget, given the disunity that is there in the Coalition, and the disappointment frankly, that his own backbenchers are saying about the Turnbull and Morrison takeover, that promised so much to their backbench, but has delivered so little to the nation.

Thanks very much.