Apr 23, 2012

Transcript of press conference – Canberra

SUBJECT:  Moorebank Intermodal; Peter Slipper

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Thanks for joining us. It’s my pleasure to be here with the Finance Minister, Penny Wong, to announce that the Australian Government has committed to facilitating the delivery of the Moorebank Intermodal project, including a freight terminal with a port shuttle to Port Botany to open by July 2017.

This is a project that was first proposed by the Howard Government back in 2004. It’s been recommended by Infrastructure Australia as a national priority. It has taken a Labor Government to make it happen.

This decision follows a comprehensive feasibility study which has considered in-depth Sydney’s growing problems in managing freight movements through the city. The statistics are stark. Port Botany is Australia’s second biggest container terminal, and it is experiencing record growth in container movements: around 7 per cent every year for the past five years, forecast to grow at around that figure every year for the next 25 years.

The vast majority of these containers move through Sydney’s congested road network by truck, exacerbating congestion for commuters trying to get to work or home. The city has become a freight bottleneck, and this is inefficient and costly. It’s estimated that truck traffic at Port Botany will increase by 400 per cent by 2029-30 if the current rail mode share is not improved.

That’s why we’ve decided to relocate Defence from the School of Military Engineering site at Moorebank to an expanded Holsworthy Barracks by the end of 2014. This will make available a 220 hectare site that can provide for the Intermodal Terminal facilities required now and into the future. The Moorebank Intermodal Terminal would deliver both a port shuttle in July 2017 to address shorter-term capacity constraints, as well as an interstate terminal after 2029 to meet future growth requirements.

We expect the project to cost approximately $2 billion, with a considerable amount of funding coming from private sector sources who will design, build and operate the facility.

The project will provide an enormous injection into the local and national economy and a range of other environmental and social benefits.

The detailed business case indicates that the value to the economy will be around $10 billion, with an injection of $135 million a year into the local economy of south-western Sydney alone. It will create 1,650 jobs during construction, and a further 1,700 ongoing jobs in the region through the operation of these facilities. This is a great boost to the economy of western Sydney.

However, this isn’t just about jobs. There will be a wide range of beneficiaries. For the average commuter stuck in Sydney traffic there are big benefits: 3,300 fewer trucks on the road every day from 2020. Two fewer trucks a minute. This is a big difference in terms of congestion on the M5 and on Sydney’s road network. We know that at the moment two-thirds of freight that goes into or out of Port Botany is for or from Western Sydney.

Business and industry, through reduced costs, will also benefit through faster and more efficient freight movement. This is a big part of the Government’s productivity agenda. It means that rail will be more competitive with road, building on the Government’s $4.8 billion commitment towards improving the national rail freight network.

Finally, the environment will be a big winner. For every million containers transported to the port shuttle by rail, 3.5 million litres of fuel and 9,500 tonnes of CO2 greenhouse gases will be saved annually.

This is a great project. I’m very proud that this is addressing in a very practical way the question which has been raised by the infrastructure sector for some time, which is: how does the Commonwealth use its land holdings to unlock private financing to get vital infrastructure that Australia needs? This project and the way that we’ve structured it does just that.

PENNY WONG: Thanks very much Anthony. Well I’ll just take you through a couple of the issues in terms of process and the financial aspects of the project, and then we’ll take some questions.

This project is all about productivity. It’s all about productivity for the nation and productivity for Sydney and the other additional benefits that Anthony has outlined. Its benefits over the 30 year period are valued at $10 billion, including reduced road congestion and improved reliability of freight services.

Let’s be clear about what we’re announcing today. Today we’re announcing our intention to call for tenders from the private sector to design, build and operate an intermodal terminal at Moorebank. The Government will clear the way for the private sector to develop and operate this terminal on the Commonwealth site.

In coming to this decision, and in structuring this project in the way we have, the Government has gone back to first principles. How do we best ensure the greatest productivity benefits for Sydney and for the nation? To do this, to ascertain this, we have undertaken a detailed business case study over two years, including advice from KPMG, Deloittes, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Ashurst, and we’re making this business case public today. This study looked at over 25 different models, including surrounding sites, before recommending the proposal the Government is announcing today.

The cost-benefit analysis shows conclusively that an IMT is vital for Sydney and national productivity, and identified the SME site as best able to meet this need. It’s the best situated, the best able to accommodate the port shuttle, and a full-service interstate facility. And as you know, the Government has also ensured that this business case has been peer reviewed.

The feasibility study that we have released also demonstrated that maximising private sector investment was the best way of delivering the Moorebank IMT. Let’s be clear, despite some media speculation, it is not the Government that is intending to build or operate this facility. What we will do is clear the way for the private sector to develop, construct and operate the facility. We want the private sector to deliver this project for the nation.

We’ve accepted the advice from our business case study and we are announcing an open tender process which will be running in 2013 to attract private sector operators to build and operate the Moorebank site. This will be a competitive process, an open process, which will be conducted in a fair and transparent matter so as not to favour any particular proponent.

The Government will continue to have a role as landlord at Moorebank as the site is developed and becomes operational, and will do so through a Government Business Enterprise to ensure that project outcomes are met and that a commercial focus is maintained. And that Government Business Enterprise will be responsible for running the tender for private sector involvement which will obviously be at arm’s length from the Government to ensure the best outcomes. We will provide further details on this in the upcoming Budget.

Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Yes, my question is, why is it – going on (inaudible) reports here – why is it that the Business Council of Australia and other private developers prefer a site across the road to the one you’re (inaudible)?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  It is the case that there has been an issue which has raised in the media with SIMTA, which is a consortium which currently have an arrangement to operate across the road from where the SME site currently is, across the other side of Moorebank Road. What is not the case is that that can be done cost-free. There are a range of costs involved, including the moving of Defence, including the upgrade of Moorebank Road, including access in terms of the rail line that would have to be built around to that site.

There is also the issue that Defence currently are on the SME site but are also on a large portion of the site across the road from Moorebank Road next to the SIMTA site. Defence currently have a lease on that site until 2013. They have an option of extending by five years to 2018, and then a further option of extending until 2023. What’s clear from Defence is that they regard their ability to continue to function on the SME site as being hindered by the idea that somehow you’d have a smaller facility operating in conjunction while Defence remained on the site. So the analysis in the business case makes it very clear that essentially if you want the site to operate properly you had to go for the bigger proposal, that gets it right not just for five years but for five generations and beyond. This is a long-term solution.

In Sydney already you have intermodal facilities at Enfield and Chullora. They essentially are full. You need to build in the capacity to get this right for the entire east coast. And what this will be is the most significant freight facility for the east coast. Because it can be not just a port shuttle, but it can be the interstate facility as well that’s so vital. The site that we’ve chosen is also on the railway line. The business case is out there. It’s been peer reviewed. It is the case that there are different views from the business community about this proposal. One of the issues that have been of concern is ensuring there is an open-access arrangement. That is that this provides a facility for all the players in the freight and logistics industry, not just a select group. This proposal ensures that that occurs.

This proposal also, as Minister Wong said, there has been some confusion out there suggesting that this was about private operation versus public operation. That’s a false delineation. The Government fully intends today – and with today’s announcement, the details are out there for all to see – in terms of, we want the private sector to operate this facility, to build the facility, to be engaged all the way through. We do think this is a great opportunity to partner, through the fact that the Government has the land, with the private sector.

But the idea that you could do it quicker than this proposal – the business case makes it clear as well – that is not the case. You can’t simply wish away the Defence facilities. The Defence facilities have to be managed in terms of moving, and also that move has to be funded.

PENNY WONG:  Can I just add to that? I’d just make a couple of points. We had to determine which site would yield the best productivity benefits. And as a result of the detailed study we’ve done, it’s clear that it is what I’ll call the Moorebank site, or the SME site. That was the superior site because of location and size, and in terms of the capacity in the years to come to handle greater freight movements. So the decision in relation to which site – which is a different decision to who will design, construct and operate it – is a decision that’s based very clearly on which site has the capacity to yield the greatest productivity benefits.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, if you’re setting up a GBE, does that mean that the expenditure is going to be on the budget or off the budget?

PENNY WONG: Remember the GBE will effectively act as landlord. And obviously there will presumably be some remediation or preparation of the site. But the design, construction and operation is intended to be the private sector and we are announcing today our intention to call for tenders for that, in a competitive process.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to people in that area who are going to cop more traffic congestion?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is about taking trucks off the road of Sydney. That is what this is about –

JOURNALIST:  But not in that area, there’ll be more –

ANTHONY ALBANESE: – 3,300 a day. At the moment, in terms of that area, this is a site that was chosen by the Howard Government. This is a site that is on the north-south rail line, the east-west rail line to the Port, is close to the M7, close to the M5. This is a site in which when the business case was done and all the options examined, it was pretty clear that this was the way forward.

Infrastructure decisions are hard. There is no infrastructure project where I will be able to walk in here and say there is no one impacted by it, by its very nature. But governments have a responsibility to get these big decisions right in the interests of productivity. We certainly have got, I believe very clearly, we’ve got this decision right. This is right for Sydney, it’s right for national productivity, it’s got good environmental outcomes as well. And in terms of number of trucks off the road, I think out there if you do a survey in terms of punters out there and say do you want more trucks on the road or do you want more freight on rail, I think there is a very clear case that we need to get more freight onto rail.

PENNY WONG:  Is there anything else?

JOURNALIST:  Senator Wong, what advice have you got from your Department about how long it will take to assess these CabCharge dockets…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Can we finish with this maybe first?

WONG: Are we finished with Moorebank?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PENNY WONG: I think perhaps at the outset we were very interested in a very important infrastructure project that benefits the productivity of the nation.

JOURNALIST: You were very comprehensive.

PENNY WONG:  (laughs) Oh, thank you. Good answer.

JOURNALIST: I did ask a question.

PENNY WONG: You did. Paul Bongiorno gets a star.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  You have an hour-long news, Paul.

WONG: At the outset I think it would be useful for people to be aware of what the role of the Department is and what the role of Ministers is in relation to any allegation about entitlements. I want to make it very clear that Ministers are not involved in the investigation of any allegation made against any Member of Parliament about entitlements. That’s a long-standing position that has been the case under both parties of government. And the reason is to ensure that the process is at arm’s length from Ministers.

We have what is called the ‘Minchin protocol’ which is something my predecessor Senator Minchin put in place, whereby any allegation in relation to an entitlement being utilised by a Member of Parliament is dealt with by the Department. If the Department determines there should be any referral to the AFP, it is the Department that makes that decision. The relevant Minister, who is in fact the Special Minister of State, would be advised, but only after such referral has been made. And that’s appropriate because you would want to ensure that it is arm’s length from any political office. Of course, the Special Minister of State has delegated responsibility for these matters.

In relation to any specifics – as I’ve said, they are issues that are dealt with by the Department not by Ministers.

JOURNALIST: So are you suggesting it hasn’t been referred to the AFP yet? Because the AFP have told reporters that indeed they are looking at –

PENNY WONG: No, what I am saying is if there has been a referral it is not for me to make public comment on that. That is something you should be asking of the AFP.

JOURNALIST: But the Minister next to you has said, Minister Albanese –

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m here you know, you can ask me. (laughs)

JOURNALIST:  Hello.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  (laughs) It’s just a thought.

JOURNALIST: These documents are from January 27, February 5 and February 11. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think that it’d be quite easy to check or verify that these CabCharges have been filled out properly?

PENNY WONG: Are you asking him or me?

JOURNALIST:  Either of you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I stand by the statements that I have made which is just a commonsense thing that there have been allegations made. Someone should check them and I’m sure that will occur in the normal process. The allegations are that Mr Slipper has given a blank CabCharge to a hire car driver to fill out. And that should be possible for whoever to check. But I’ve been very clear also to not try to give instructions to the AFP or Finance or indeed even to Mr Slipper.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, is it protocol for the Department of Finance to prepare a report of any sort. Who does that go to? If the investigation isn’t referred to the AFP, what’s the natural conclusion of the process?

PENNY WONG: As I’ve said, generally the Minister who would be advised of outcomes is the Special Minister of State. That’s been the case for I think about a decade, that they deal with entitlement matters and matters in relation to staff. But the Departmental committee which considers any allegations is independent of Ministers. We would normally expect there might be advice after a decision has been made.

JOURNALIST:  Minister Albanese, as Leader of the House, I have two questions. The first is: have you spoken to Mr Slipper in the past 48 hours since all this has happened, and what was the nature of those conversations? And the second is: Tony Abbott has said today that when the Government offered him the position of Speaker last year, certain things were known. He’s been a bit vague on that. Did you know anything about any of this, including past practices or past allegations when the Government offered him the position of Speaker?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Two questions, I’ll answer them in order. Yes, I have spoken to Mr Slipper. I don’t detail my conversations with any of the independent Members of Parliament as you’d be aware, just as a matter of course. But as Leader of the House, yes, I have had conversations with Mr Slipper.

In terms of what was known, what we knew was that Tony Abbott – I do note his comments this morning. I also note the comments of my counterpart, the Manager of Opposition Business, who said that Peter Slipper was asked to stand aside when allegations were raised while he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister John Howard. That is not true. He did not stand aside. He remained as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and went on to be Parliamentary Secretary to Senator Minchin.

What I did know is that the Liberal and or National Party had endorsed him at nine consecutive elections. What I did know is that Tony Abbott relied upon Peter Slipper for the one vote that he won the leadership of the Liberal Party by, and that he is only Leader of the Liberal Party as a result of Peter Slipper’s support. What I did know is that Peter Slipper made that support for Tony Abbott very public. What I did know is that Tony Abbott attended Peter Slipper’s wedding. Therefore, indicating a certain comfortable and relaxed nature to the relationship between Mr Abbott and Mr Slipper.

So I think it’s a bit rich, frankly, for Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne or other members of the Coalition to say now that they knew a whole lot of information which Mr Abbott has said. Well, if he knew certain information that he thought was inappropriate, why wasn’t anything done? Why did Tony Abbott say, during this term of Parliament , ‘Peter’s a good strong member of the strong member of the Coalition’ down in Canberra on 3 September 2011. Why did Tony Abbott say at the time of the last election ‘I’m satisfied that Mr Slipper has acted within his entitlements’ on 20 August 2010?

Mr Abbott can’t have it both ways. He can’t have someone as a member of his team, including Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister – it’s a very serious position to hold indeed and Mr Slipper held that position with the support of the Coalition, as he has held the position in terms of nine consecutive elections as a Coalition candidate …

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, the question wasn’t what Tony Abbott did, it was what did you know of the nature of these allegations? And just as Mr Abbott can’t have it both ways, nor can you. So, what did you know of these allegations at the time you recruited him as Speaker, and do you have any regret about the decision?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I only knew what was on the public record and the Coalition’s comments on the public record in terms of those issues. With regard to his position as Speaker, I think that anyone who looks at the way that the Speaker has conducted himself on the floor of the chamber of the House of Representatives would conclude that he has – and indeed a number of commentators in the of commentators in the press gallery have concluded that, as well as colleagues from across the political spectrum – have concluded that he has been doing a good job as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just getting back to your contact with him, can you at least tell us when you spoke with Peter Slipper and did you advise him to stand aside?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, he makes his own decisions, and it is inappropriate for anyone to make decisions on behalf of him.

JOURNALIST: But did you advise him…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I had discussions with him. I do not have any intention of detailing the discussions that I have with Mr Slipper or Mr Windsor or Mr Oakeshott or Mr Crook or Mr Katter or any of them. I am in regular contact with Members. In the interests of transparency I’m making it clear that I spoke to them. But you can only have private conversations with people if you keep them private. I’m someone who does that.

JOURNALIST: It’s clear, though, that you didn’t try to clear you didn’t try to talk him out of it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not commenting on the nature of the discussions.

JOURNALIST:  Senator Wong, does the different outlook for the numbers on the floor of the House change your thinking about individual budget measures, if you’ve got spending cuts that could be more difficult to get through the chamber?

PENNY WONG: The first point I’d make, as I always make in relation to the budget or any vote in the House and the Senate, is that the crossbenchers are only relevant if Mr Abbott continues to be a complete wall of negativity.

As long as Tony Abbott says ‘no’, that is the only thing that makes other votes relevant. And Tony Abbott says he wants a surplus, well, he’s going to have a chance to demonstrate it. He says he wants a surplus. We will present a Budget that shows our path to surplus, and he will decide if he’s going to be serious and either back the Government’s saves or if he doesn’t agree with them, come up with some alternatives.

JOURNALIST: Minister Albanese, are you curious as to the motivations behind the inclusion of matters that aren’t related to the sexual harassment claim in the affidavit? Indeed, things that date right back to 2003 which are, by one account at least, regarded as consensual.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I haven’t read the documents or seen the documents. I have read excerpts in the very extensive coverage, I must say that was in The Daily Telegraph a mere matter of a short period of time after the documents were lodged late on Friday afternoon, and people can draw their own conclusions on that. So, I haven’t gone to all of the detail, but certainly it’s the case that the allegations that have been made by this gentleman go back to the former Government, and to allegations of Tony Nutt being notified.

As to the details of that, I don’t know what the details of that are, or the veracity of that, and it’s not up to me to determine that. The appropriate thing is that we have arm’s length investigation of any allegations that have been made. But certainly there is a very clear distinction in my view between issues that could lead to charges being laid, and issues that have been raised that clearly are not of that category.

I note that in terms of hence, I think there is an important distinction to be drawn between criminal proceedings and civil action. If you argue that people should step aside in terms of civil proceedings there will be a lot of civil proceedings going along and a lot of people stepping aside, because people will just go into the court. Anyone can lay civil proceedings against anyone else. Common sense tells you that that distinction is there.

JOURNALIST: When you referred to the Telegraph, where you were saying people can make their own conclusions, are you implying that it’s a stitch-up, a political stitch-up?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, not at all, I’m not making statements in terms of … people draw their own conclusions about such things. I have no knowledge. I found out about this at the same time other people did. In terms of … there was very extensive coverage, a lawyer established, and people will have a look at those issues and draw their own conclusions.

JOURNALIST:  Damages are being sought against the Commonwealth. Senator Wong, will the Commonwealth defend itself?

PENNY WONG:  I understand the Commonwealth was served formally on Friday. And obviously the issue raised relates back to the 2003 allegations. We’ll take legal advice and deal with the matter accordingly.

JOURNALIST:  Mr Albanese, you’ve declined to detail your conversation with Peter Slipper, and you say that’s because you don’t talk about conversations with the independents. Surely he is in a different category now that he’s a holder of a high Parliamentary office, nominated and endorsed the Government. Doesn’t that justify us asking you what you said to him?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: You can ask, that’s fine. I have a policy that is absolute. You won’t find me talking about private conversations that I have with people. In terms of, as I conduct myself in political life, when I leave political life, people will give, regardless of the frustration that you might have, I hope I get a bit of a tick for my integrity.

JOURNALIST: Do you still have confidence in Peter Slipper as Speaker?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think he has been a very good Speaker.

JOURNALIST:  But do you have confidence in him to stay –

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, I think he’s been a very good Speaker. I think it is appropriate that he has stepped aside whilst these criminal issues are being dealt with. But once they are dealt with, then as a result of that either he will return as Speaker, or take some other action depending what the findings are. But it’s not up to politicians to pre-empt that process.

JOURNALIST:  Do you think you’ve made the right decision?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly don’t think that allegations against someone are the basis of drawing conclusions before they are proven. If that was the case, as you are aware and as other people are aware in this building there are a lot of rumours that go around. There are a lot of rumours that go around. If we want to start down the road of rumours being on the basis of, or allegations being on the basis of action being taken, then I think the consequences for our political processes are dire indeed, I think in terms of the important processes of the rule of law.

And giving people the right to defend positions which are put is important. There are a range of statements that have been made by members of the Coalition, such as by the Manager of Opposition Business today, that are simply not correct in terms of any analysis.

And Tony Abbott’s position that he has said today is completely inconsistent with the position that he put whilst Peter Slipper was a member of the Coalition for nine terms. As I said, Tony Abbott would not be the Leader of the Opposition today without him securing the support of Peter Slipper for that position.

Thanks very much.