Subjects: Turnbull Government funding cuts; Government advertising campaign; Pacific Highway upgrade; Luke Hartsuyker; Coffs Harbour bypass
ALBANESE: Well it’s great to be back here at Coffs Harbour, the Big Banana, for a statement about Pacific Highway funding. What we saw from the last Budget was a cut of $130 million in Pacific Highway funding based upon the Government’s own figures from its first Budget in 2014. Funding for this financial year is now down to some $542 million from the Federal Government. It was $1 billion in the last year in which we were in office for that financial year. And what that has meant is a slowdown in construction. All of the actual construction projects which are now underway or are completed on the Pacific Highway were funded by the former Federal Labor Government.
And what we see now, rubbing salt into the wounds, is an $18 million advertising campaign coming from existing infrastructure funds that were confirmed in Senate Estimates of last week. Now, it is one thing – and I think it would be pretty cynical – to fund $18 million in an advertising campaign during an election year over just a few months. But the fact that that money has been taken from the Budget that was allocated to actually building infrastructure makes it even more offensive.
Now, we have a new Infrastructure Minister who will be sworn in on Thursday – Darren Chester. His first act should be to cancel this advertising campaign because every time that North Coast residents see that ad on their TV screens or read it in their local paper they will know that that funding has come from existing Budget funds that were allocated to actually build things, not advertise the fact and try and claim projects that had very little to do with the Federal Government.
REPORTER: Where did the funding for your road advertising during the last election come from?
ALBANESE: We didn’t have an infrastructure advertising campaign. We didn’t have one. We spent money on actually building infrastructure, not on a massive advertising campaign to claim projects. Whether you go south of here to the Kempsey Bypass, north of here to the Woolgoolga to Arrawarra section – all of those projects of course were funded by the former federal Labor Government. Again, the projects around Urunga were funded by the federal Labor Government.
What we will see here is a campaign that purports to suggest that the funding has somehow come in the last couple of years. Residents aren’t silly. They know, and I notice in a survey done by the Coffs Coast Advocate, that most residents recognise that it is the former Labor Government that actually put money into infrastructure in this region.
REPORTER: The Labor Government actually only wanted to do a 50-50 split (inaudible) for the highway build.
ALBANESE: Well, let’s be very clear here. There was a mix of projects. The Howard Government instituted the 50-50 funding. What it has meant is because projects like the Frederickton to Eungai section, the projects around Warrell Creek and Urunga, are all 50-50. They are proceeding on the basis of 50-50 funding.
What it means is that the Commonwealth Government haven’t put any additional money into the projects and the State Government won’t have to contribute any money at all for the further upgrade of the Pacific Highway. Now this was the National Party rolling over federally to their mates in the National Party in the State Government. Now, Duncan Gay if he could get away with that, good luck to him. But he played Luke Hartsuyker and the other National Party members for fools and it is little wonder that Luke Hartsuyker was dumped by his own party, because you don’t gain respect if you just roll over and don’t fight for your electorate.
The fact is: Labor – $7.6 billion for the Pacific Highway, allocated during the six years that we were in office; the Howard Government – $1.3 billion over 12 years of neglect. They are the facts that are there. That’s why people on the North Coast won’t be fooled by an advertising campaign.
REPORTER: Just on that advertising campaign, Luke Hartsuyker says it’s in the public interest to know what is going on.
ALBANESE: Well, nothing’s going on. It’s in the public interest for something to happen, not for an advertising campaign pretending that something is happening. There isn’t a single new, major infrastructure project that has been funded on the Pacific Highway that has begun since the change of government in 2013 that wasn’t funded by the former Labor Government. And that compares with the sort of work that was going on from the north down to Newcastle – Banora Point, Glenugie, Devil’s Pulpit, Woolgoolga to Arrawarra, Kempsey Bypass, Buledelah Bypass – all of the work that was going on along the highway – new projects beginning each and every year – that has not happened since the change of government. The people of the North Coast and the Far North Coast know that that’s the case. And that’s why spending 18 million is a massive campaign – that is more over than period of time than Coke or major companies will spend on their advertising during that four months of the rollout of this intensive campaign.
REPORTER: Mr Hartsuyker says you spent double that or more.
ALBANESE: Well, it’s an absolute nonsense. This is $18 million and people will know, people will know just like they know that Mr Hartsuyker has failed to represent the people of the North Coast, the people of his own electorate – it was all funded by the former Labor Government after the years of neglect when the Howard Government was in office. I mean, Mr Hartsuyker, of course, has made one promise that then withdraws then he makes and then withdraws. I expect it will be made again in the lead-up to the election for the Coffs Harbour Bypass. And then, in the world’s shortest ever policy commitment, Tony Abbott came to this electorate, promised it in the morning and reneged in the afternoon. That’s the sort of record that they have. People will know when they see the saturation advertising that will occur if this goes ahead, that that is their taxpayers’ funds. But what’s more they will know that that came because money that was allocated to infrastructure was reallocated.
REPORTER: (Inaudible) the Bypass is the major issue for Coffs Harbour. Everywhere else has got a bypass. We’ve got sort of a through pass. I mean the highway goes right through the middle and the congestion is just terrible. At Christmas time it’s 50 minutes to get just through a few kilometres through town. If you win, what are you going to do about the bypass in Coffs Harbour?
ALBANESE: Well, the first thing we will do is do what we said we would do over a long period of time – not make promises in the morning and then renege on them in the afternoon – which is the full duplication of the Pacific Highway. We will accelerate the process. We will ensure that the State Government does its fair share – not refuse to put in any money. I stand by our record on the Pacific Highway. People of Coffs Harbour know that prior to 2007 there was no action around Coffs Harbour whether it be to the north or the south prior to my swearing in as the Infrastructure Minister.
REPORTER: So will it be before 2020 if you get in – the Bypass?
ALBANESE: I am not committing to the bypass today. I am not making commitments that will be made, like the Abbott Government made them, in the morning and then reneged in the afternoon. What I have said is the full duplication of the Pacific Highway is an absolute priority. We showed that when we were in government. And what the Federal Government has done is given the State Government an absolute leave pass.
The fact is that projects like Frederickton to Eungai, that were begun after the Kempsey Bypass was completed under us, construction begun – are 50-50 funded projects – welcomed by the State Government at the time. Now somehow what the Government has done federally is try and make the issue of whether the State Government should make a common commitment with the Federal Government the issue, whilst winding back and slowing down the process. They have slowed down the process. There isn’t a single infrastructure project on the Pacific Highway that they can point to that was not funded by the federal Labor Government. What that means is that we have had three lost years between 2013 and 2016. We need to do much better than that. And they could start – there’s $18 million additional funding that could be available right now if they stopped this absurd advertising campaign and put it where it was meant to go – put it into actually building infrastructure, not advertising.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.