Subjects: Infrastructure investment; corporate tax cuts, High Speed Rail; climate change.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has repeated the comments that he has made and that were made by his predecessor Glenn Stevens, that what Australia needs is a significant increase in infrastructure investment. This would create jobs in the short term, but also, by boosting productivity, boost economic growth and employment, and revenue indeed to Government in the long term. He correctly has identified the fact that borrowing can be made and funds made available at a very cheap rate at the moment because of the record low interest rate environment that is a feature of international circumstances.
This comes at a time whereby we have the Federal Government cutting investment in infrastructure. They have cut investment in important public transport projects, like the Cross River Rail in Brisbane, and Melbourne Metro. They have slowed down the investment in places like the Pacific Highway and the Bruce Highway. They haven’t invested in the railways, roads and ports that Australia needs. What we’ve seen indeed is that for the 12 quarters in which the Coalition has held office, since 2013, every one of those 12 quarters is less than every single one of the 21 quarters in which the Labor Government was in office, between its first budget in 2008, right through to September of 2013.
The highest of the Coalition quarters of public sector infrastructure investment is less than the lowest under the former Labor Government. That is having a real impact on economic growth. It’s also meaning that the Reserve Bank is saying very explicitly we can’t continue to do the heavy lifting to keep the economy going by ourselves. It requires the Government to engage in infrastructure investment.
The Government has continued again this week to speak of its fantasy of a $50 billion investment program that they announced in the 2014 Budget, the same budget that cut the Cross River Rail, the Melbourne Metro, Perth public transport projects and other projects around the country. The fact is that the Infrastructure Department, through Senate Estimates, has indicated that the value of its program, at best, is $34 billion, up to 2018-19, and $8 billion for further into the future, at some unspecified time. So this is a nonsense. The Reserve Bank Governor is belling the cat, again and again and the Government needs to listen.
Here in Sydney, they need to commit to having a public transport railway line to Badgerys Creek Airport, from day one that the airport opens – a project that everyone knows is necessary for the success of Sydney West Airport at Badgerys Creek. They should get on with the planning of that project.
They could also get on with High Speed Rail. High Speed Rail would transform inter-city travel, between Sydney and Brisbane, and Sydney to Melbourne, cutting it down to under three hours. It would also transform regional economic development, throughout New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT in particular.
I have a Private Members Bill before the Parliament to create a High Speed Rail Authority, that a unanimous recommendation of House of Representatives committee has again acknowledged this week is a necessary feature in order to advance that project.
Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: How much do you think the Federal Government should be pouring into infrastructure and what projects do you want it to start with?
ALBANESE: Well what they should be investing in is the projects that are ready to go and the projects which are positive. They shouldn’t invest in just any infrastructure; they should take the advice of Infrastructure Australia and other experts. Now the Brisbane Cross River Rail project has been on the priority list since 2012. It was in the 2013 Budget. It’s ready to go, and just last week the Government again came up with more excuses; they haven’t got all the information. It’s been there since 2012. That’s why we put funding, joint funding with the Queensland Government into the 2013 Budget.
The Melbourne Metro project. It is outrageous that Victoria is getting 8% of the national infrastructure investment when they represent one in four Australians, or 25% of the population. Victoria’s population is growing faster than anywhere else, and Melbourne’s in particular. The Melbourne Metro is an essential project that is worthy of funds.
In Adelaide, the light rail projects through the AdeLINK system are necessary. The roads are there, the corridors are there where the light rail could be extended. We know that it would be successful. That’s a project that could be rolled out, in steps, over a period of time.
In Perth, the METRONET project is ready to go. Instead, what the Government has done is fund the Perth Freight Link project, that doesn’t even take freight to the port. It stops 3km short of the port, it will destroy the Beeliar Wetlands, which is why the Roe 8 project, as it was called, has been rejected in the past.
This is a Government that has simply gone on a magical infrastructure renouncement tour, pretending that projects like the Regional Rail Link in Victoria, the Redcliffe Rail Line in Queensland, the Gold Coast Light Rail project are somehow new projects. They’re not. They were already funded. Or it has sometimes changed the name of projects that were already funded and were underway, such as here in Sydney the F3 to M2; a vital project, which they renamed NorthConnex. But it was already funded. It was already underway, as a result of the agreement between the Federal Government and the NSW Government that indeed was signed between myself and Duncan Gay right here at the NSW Parliament House. In Western Australia, they’ve renamed the Swan Valley Bypass Northlink. That again, a new name doesn’t make it a new project. So they need to get on with projects like Perth METRONET; railway to the airport at Badgerys Creek, which would open up also the employment lands. It’s not just about the airport, it’s about the employment lands, the Science Park to the north, all those jobs that will be created as a result of the airport infrastructure.
In Brisbane, the Cross River Rail Line. In Melbourne, the Melbourne Metro. In some cases as well they did cuts, such as cutting the M80 project in Melbourne, the outer ring road, which could have been just about completed by now if they hadn’t cut it in 2014, then put the money back in 2016, and somehow pretended that it was new.
So there are valuable projects, including the Bruce Highway upgrades and the Pacific Highway upgrades, which should be increased in terms of the speed in which they are being rolled out. Instead, they are being slowed down.
REPORTER: What do you think, speaking of cuts, the RBA Governor backed corporate tax cuts, we’ve got the US pretty much set to do so themselves in the next few weeks. How can Labor stand in the way of this happening here?
ALBANESE: What we say is that at a time where the Federal Government, for example this week, has been pursuing legislation that will rip money away from families; one million Australians will be impacted by their family benefit cuts. That given that; given the need to fund education and healthcare, given the need to provide support for the economy, that what the Government shouldn’t be doing is pursuing the $50 billion of cuts, most of which as a result of the structure of their proposal, will go to the very large corporations
Now we also say that there’s a whole bunch of corporations, particularly multinationals that aren’t paying any tax at all. So it’s a matter of your priorities. This Government has got its priorities all wrong. They’re prepared to continue to pursue tax cuts for the big banks at the same time as you’ve had cuts to family payments that are being pursued. They’re proposing that young people will be left without any income support whatsoever whilst they are looking for work or training for a period of weeks. It’s unclear what they are expected to live on, and to pay for food and clothing and housing that will assist them to get into employment during that period of time.
And of course we’ve seen the Centrelink fiasco whereby, for example, they pursued people in my electorate, including a cancer victim who had a bill of $4600 from the Government. The Government has now conceded that the correct amount should have been $400, not $4600. So given those circumstances, we believe this is a Government that’s just got its priorities wrong.
REPORTER: You mentioned High Speed Rail before. Obviously the debate about building that has been around for decades. Is it actually viable at the moment?
ALBANESE: It is viable and we did a $20 million study that went into a great deal of detail. We established an advisory group that included Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council of Australia, Tim Fischer, the former Deputy Prime Minister, the late Brian Nye from the Australasian Rail Association and other leaders in this field. What it showed was, for example, for every dollar invested between Sydney and Melbourne, there would be a return of $2.15.
So this is a transformative project. This is a project where the opportunity is there right now to advance this project. It makes sense to invest in a major nation building project at this time because of interest rates being so low. We said at the time that the recommendation from that advisory group was to establish an authority to deal with the inter-jurisdictional issues, because you have NSW, Queensland and the Victorian Government as well as the ACT, and local governments, to get on with preserving the corridor, to get on with the planning that is required for this project. Now the Government has failed to do that.
Again, a House of Representatives report just this week has recommended that it be supported, that they get on with the business of having a body, an authority that would coordinate that activity and advance the project and the time is right now. Every Australian who travels to Europe and goes on the London to Paris line, or Rome to Milan, or Madrid to Barcelona, or goes to our region of Asia and travels from Tokyo to Osaka, or travels from Beijing to Shanghai, knows that High Speed Rail is a major form of transport that’s being rolled out all around the world.
Here in Australia the truth is that it’s not viable for most of Australia. But we, in spite of the fact that we have a relatively small population across our vast continent, that population is concentrated in the Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra corridor. Therefore, down that corridor is absolutely viable and it should be a project that is advanced.
REPORTER: Would a big project like that be a good legacy for the Prime Minister?
ALBANESE: Malcolm Turnbull needs some sort of legacy, because what Australians are asking themselves is what is the purpose of Malcolm Turnbull’s Government? He said he believed in climate change for so long and he’s now out there advancing coal as the solution somehow to climate change. I think that Australians are about to get a reminder of the impact of warming over the next few days. He said he believed in marriage equality, but he’s walked away from that and won’t even support members of the Coalition having a conscience vote, even though they say in the next breath that they have a conscience vote on every issue.
He said he supports public transport. What Malcolm Turnbull has done is take selfies on public transport. We want him to fund public transport investment. So High Speed Rail is something that the Government cut. We had $54 million in the budget for the authority in 2013. That is funding that was cut by the incoming Government. We need to progress this project. It has the support of Australians, it has the support of serious economists, it has the support of the business community and we should get on with doing it. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.