May 9, 2014

Transcript of press conference


Subjects: Infrastructure Australia’s independence, Tony Abbott’s broken promises, Budget 2014-15, offshore processing; WestConnex  

Today I’m releasing Labor’s amendments to the Infrastructure Australia Amendment Bill 2013. They’re aimed at ensuring that Tony Abbott’s plan to destroy the independence of Infrastructure Australia is not successful. This legislation was rushed through the House of Representatives last year. But it will be debated in the Senate next week.

Labor will move amendments consistent with the recommendations and the input and submissions from the Business Council of Australia and from the Urban Development Institute of Australia, from TTF, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia. Right across the board there has been concern at this attempt to take away Infrastructure Australia’s independence. Our amendments will do two fundamental things.

Firstly it will ensure that the minister can’t direct Infrastructure Australia to not look at certain classes of infrastructure. We know that that’s code for IA not being able to look at public transport projects. If you’re about raising productivity in our cities, then you have to look at an integrated transport agenda. You can’t look at just roads or just rail. You have to look at how a city functions and ensure that you invest according to what will produce the best benefit. Infrastructure Australia was designed to do just that.

What’s more, we will ensure through these amendments that IA processes are transparent. That the publication of the cost-benefit analysis is available for all to see. This isn’t just an academic exercise. It’s about making sure taxpayer dollars as well as private sector investments is directed to where it will produce the most economic benefit. These are common sense changes. These are changes that are in line with the policy that the conservatives took to the last election and therefore they should support them in the Senate. If not, we will pursue them and seek the support of the crossbenchers.

Can I say also that this occurs in the context where we’re seeing some of the consequences of the government’s flawed approach to infrastructure policy being played out in the budget process. In the budget what we’re seeing is a pattern of behaviour. It’s a pattern of broken promises. Day after day leaks have occurred showing that this is a government not committed to keeping the fundamental promises it made prior to the election.

They don’t like public servants, so they’re going to get rid of them. They don’t like public education, so they’re trashing the Gonski reforms. They don’t like public healthcare, so they’re introducing a new tax every time someone visits the doctor, and therefore undermining the universality of Medicare. They don’t like public broadcasters, so they’re attacking the funding and independence of the ABC and the SBS. And they don’t like public transport, so what we’re seeing is all funding already committed in the budget being withdrawn. There’s a pattern here. It seems they just don’t like the public.

What’s more, we’ve seen another one of these broken promises today through the imposition of the fuel tax increase. That is a change that would have an impact on every single Australian family. Every time someone gets in the car to go to work. Every time someone gets in the car to drive the kids to sport on the weekend. For a government which has railed about carbon pricing, this is carbon pricing on steroids. It would have a far greater impact than the existing process, which has no carbon pricing on motor vehicles for personal use. What’s worse about this is that every time we see a broken promise, Mr Abbott is saying that he’ll keep his commitments.

It’s a bit like a Monty Python sketch. Arms lopped off, legs lopped off like the Black Knight, saying ‘it’s just a flesh wound!’. Well there’s more than a flesh wound to Mr Abbott’s integrity because of these broken promises. He can’t keep saying he’s keeping his commitments when legs and arms of his policy fundamentals are being lopped off at a rate greater than a Monty Python sketch. We will hold the government to account in their budget next week.

Today we’ve seen an example of what the implications are behind their infrastructure funding changes. Because the government has ripped out $3 billion of funding for the Melbourne Metro, we now have a situation where the Victorian Government have announced a budget with a metro that’s an inferior proposal, about which their own advocates and infrastructure minister have now confirmed there is no business case made.

He says the business case is just ‘the common sense case’. Well what Australians want is for the state governments, the private sector and the federal government to work through processes led by Infrastructure Australia to make sure there is proper cost benefit analysis. Not flawed projects or second rate projects for first rate cities like Melbourne and Brisbane.

This is very similar in Brisbane where I expect that Tuesday’s Budget will rip away money that’s been allocated for the Cross River Rail project, because the state government is going with an inferior BaT proposal that and won’t solve the urban congestion issues of that growing city.

We do need to get serious about infrastructure, but getting serious about infrastructure means not cutting all public transport funding, not re-announcing previously existing projects that were already funded in previous budgets, and then on the one or two new projects that are being funded, including the Victorian East-West road project, refusing to publish any business case or analysis that says that the project stacks up.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the Budget, where would you have been looking for cuts? There’s not that much to be trimmed. The public service is already meeting efficiency dividends. Where would you find savings?

ALBANESE: The first thing I would have done is not take away the savings that had been made by previous Labor Government decisions. We have to remember that due to the Abbott Government’s decisions an extra $86 billion has been added to costs. They came into government and made a number of changes to tax regulations that had been implemented by the former Labor Government, they then found additional money for the Reserve Bank, and they found $5 billion, growing each year, for their expensive Paid Parental Leave scheme. So the argument about the need to cut does not stack up when at the same time they’re adding to expenditure through a program like the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned what you wouldn’t do but what cuts would you agree with?

ALBANESE: We made some decisions to ensure we were a responsible government. This government has taken away some of the tax measures that ensured compliance in terms of tax policy. What we will do is look at the Budget and determine as a party what our position on individual items in the Budget will be. We’ll do that after Tuesday night when we’ve seen the Budget, but what we’ve seen already is the failure of the government to have a coherent approach when it comes to infrastructure. Even in terms of some of the infrastructure development that’s there.

Take for example the Swan Valley Bypass project, which we had agreement with the WA Government for 50/50 funding. They are saying that they’ll fund 80/20 even though the State Government of WA only requested half the funding for that project. But then they’re taking half a billion dollars out of public transport projects in Perth. The problem for the government is that you can’t deal with urban congestion in our cities if you say that the government’s role is just to fund roads. They say that frees up money for the state governments to fund public transport.

But if you are a Treasurer sitting in any state government of any political persuasion today, and you know that you have a billion dollar road project and a billion dollar rail project and the road project you’ll only have to put in $200 million because the Commonwealth will fund 80%, or $800 million, so it’s $200 million on the State Government’s bottom line, but if you agree that the rail project is the priority, you have to pay the entire billion dollars, then you are distorting where the investment goes.

And you are not dealing with urban congestion in a way in which Infrastructure Australia, the Business Council of Australia, Urban Development Institute, everyone in this country who is concerned about cities and urban congestion understands that it has to be dealt with.

JOURNALIST: Today there will be a high court challenge to offshore processing. Recently we’ve had the tragic death of Reza Berati. Is it time for Labor to have a rethink of its policy and what it introduced in government seeing as we’ve seen situations like that unfold?

ALBANESE: What needs to happen with regard to immigration policy is transparent. The tragedy of Reza Berati’s death needs to be properly examined. We need to have responsibility in terms of what occurred there.  Confidence in the system requires a transparent process that acknowledges the people smugglers business leads to tragedy at sea, and we need to do what we can to ensure there’s an orderly migration process. I believe we can fulfil our international obligations and at the same time ensure we have due process, and respect every person rather than the way it’s been conducted in recent times, which is a real lack of transparency from the government. So it’s hard even for the Opposition to make some judgements when we’re not being told the facts.


ALBANESE: Our Immigration spokesperson, Richard Marles will talk about the detail. But we don’t know, at least as far as I know, about how many of the applicants have been approved, how many have not been approved, what has happened to the people who have been approved, and what has happened to the people who have not been approved. They’re all details that I can’t comment on because we don’t know what the facts are. The government needs to be transparent about this if people are to have confidence in the system.

JOURNALIST: Can I just take you back to the Budget for a minute. The fuel excise, do you think that it should be linked to spending on roads, and if not, any other specific areas [inaudible]

ALBANESE: The Federal Government at the same time is saying ‘we won’t fund Cross River Rail, we’ll rip out $715 million dollars from the budget. We’ll rip out $3 billion from the Melbourne Metro project. We’ll rip out $500 million from Perth public transport light rail and the airport link. We’ll rip out money from public transport in Adelaide. We’ll do all of this which will mean that less people have the option of taking public transport, and at the same time we’ll put up the  cost of private motor vehicles.’

I think there’s a pretty obvious contradiction there. One of the concerns with tax is you have to make sure that it’s equitable. If you are a working family who needs to get to work and you don’t have any other option than a car to get to your workplace, or to travel from an outer suburban community, their petrol costs are higher than people who live, for example in my electorate of Grayndler where there are public transport  options.

So I’m concerned about the equity component here as well. I want to see what the specifics are of the proposal next week. But I firmly believe that there’s a contradiction if the government is increasing the cost of private motor vehicles at the same time they’re ripping money out of public transport and therefore not just making sure that federal government money doesn’t go into public transport, but resulting in inadequate public transport solutions being implemented by state governments as well.

The consequences for the way our cities run really needs to be examined and we’ll be holding the government to account for any proposals that they put forward in Tuesday’s Budget.

JOURNALIST: The budget looks pretty good for NSW in terms of WestConnex and in terms of infrastructure for Badgerys’s Creek. Would you agree?

ALBANESE: Well when’s the money flowing? And with regards to  WestConnex, we have yet to see a business case for a proposal. It also has issues that Labor has raised in government and we continue to raise them in Opposition. WestConnex needs to deal with two issues. One is getting people into the city. The other is getting freight from the port. At the moment the proposal doesn’t get people into the city and doesn’t get freight from the port. So you need to make sure that you take into account proper solutions. That’s why the advice of bodies like Infrastructure Australia, at arm’s length are so important.  The NSW Government set up Infrastructure NSW and the Chair’s gone, the CEO’s gone, and the process has stalled. When was the last time anyone heard from Infrastructure NSW? I think that’s a pity.