Subject/s: Infrastructure; Asset Recycling Bill; National security; NBN.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s great to be here on this beautiful if slightly chilly Hobart morning and I’m here with Brian Mitchell who is our candidate for the federal seat of Lyons and my parliamentary colleagues: my shadow ministerial colleague Julie Collins and Parliamentary secretaries Carol Brown and Lisa Singh. I’m here to talk about Tasmanian infrastructure. I made many visits as a minister here – in the order of 20 visits and each and every time I was here to either look at the construction of new infrastructure here in Tasmania or announce funding for Tasmanian infrastructure. I’m quite proud of the fact that we almost tripled funding for infrastructure here in Tasmania: projects like rail revitalisation, projects like the investment in the Midland Highway, investment in our ports, investment in our roads. What we saw from the first Abbott-Hockey Budget was a debacle for Tasmania – not one new dollar for any new infrastructure projects in Tasmania. Worse still, we saw $100 million ripped off from the Midland Highway. Remember Tony Abbott coming to Tasmania saying I have $400 million that will fully duplicate the Midland Highway? Well we had $500 million in the Budget and he took $100 million out. He’s now not saying it will fully duplicate the Midland Highway. Why? Because that was an absurd claim. We also have the ongoing debacle of the funding for Cadbury and we see in terms of this morning’s reports in the Financial Review that we’ve released advice from the library that goes to the heart of the falsehoods being peddled by Joe Hockey about infrastructure and this Budget. On Budget night the Government announced with some fanfare the so-called asset recycling fund. What that should be called is a we’ll-bribe-states-to-privatise-essential-assets fund. It’s taking money from funding that was already in the Budget for infrastructure – the Building Australia Fund and the Education Investment fund – renaming it so the only thing that has been recycled is that money but putting pressure on state governments to privatise assets in order to get access to any new money. The Senate put some important amendments through to that legislation – some 41 Amendments.
Eighteen of those were the Government’s own amendments. Their legislation was so flawed that they had to make 18 changes to it. The other changes that were made were to make the Government accountable and make them fulfil their promises: One, that essential services couldn’t be a part of this process; secondly that all projects above $100 million had to have proper cost-benefit analysis associated with it. That is the same provision that was always there for the Building Australia Fund where the money was being taken from. They were the essential keys to our amendments. Now they’ve been rejected by the Government and now, over the past week, Joe Hockey has been saying: Don’t worry about that. We’ll just rename it to be a part of a Budget appropriation and therefore the Senate will have no choice but to vote for it. Well Labor has said very clearly, as have the Greens political party as well I note, that we wouldn’t block supply. But you don’t make a Bill a part of an appropriation simply by renaming it. It’s another example of Joe Hockey being slack when it comes to paying attention to detail. No wonder he got the nickname of Sloppy Joe in Opposition. It’s a real problem though when you have someone who pays so little attention to detail when it comes to being the Treasurer of this nation. And here we have pressure being put on then Tasmanian Government to flog off Tassie Hydro. That would have devastating consequences for jobs here in Tasmania. But importantly also it doesn’t make economic sense because we know that almost $200 million was given to the Tasmanian Government in the form of a dividend last year. If you flog off this asset then you won’t have that dividend stream in order to fund education and health and essential services over a long period of time. So no-one has a mandate for it. The opponent of my friend here the Member for Lyons Eric Hutchinson has come out and said it should be looked at, it’s a good idea. Well where did Eric Hutchinson and the other second-rate people who’ve been elected by the Liberal Party to the House of Representatives as part of Eric Abetz’s team, where did they have a mandate at the Federal election to flog off Tassie Hydro? The State Government here have at least said that they didn’t have a mandate for it. But Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott are saying if you don’t privatise Tassie Hydro there’ll be no new money for any new infrastructure here in Tasmania. They have taken Tasmania for granted after the Federal result and the state result and Tasmania is losing out as a result.
QUESTION: Are you going to block the Asset Recycling legislation?
ALBANESE: We’re going to support our position. The fact is that there were 41 amendments carried. We believe that this is flawed legislation. We’re not going to give a blank cheque to Joe Hockey to privatise assets, use the money to incentivise projects that have had no cost-benefit analysis. Joe Hockey has been out there talking today about the East-West Road in Melbourne and Westconnex in Sydney. Well on the East-West Link they’ve already paid $1.5 billion in advance when there hasn’t been a sod turned, a contract signed. There are different figures – I note against today another study has been thrown out because it shows that it doesn’t stack up, this project. And yet they’ve given an advance payment. So much for the Budget emergency. In Westconnex in Sydney the NSW Government can’t tell you where is going to start, let along where it’s going to finish. Vince Crowe, a constituent of mine in Haberfield, received two letters signed by the same person on the same day. One said we’re going to buy your house, the other said we don’t need your house. This is a farce. This is why you have proper planning in place. This isn’t an academic exercise or a political exercise by the Australian Labor Party. This is an exercise in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is well spent by making sure that the investments that are made in infrastructure are the right investments.
QUESTION: Joe Hockey says blocking the Asset Recycling legislation will cost jobs though. Is that a risk you are willing to take?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s a nonsense. What jobs? Nothing is happening. Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott said there would be cranes in the sky within one year of the Abbott Government being elected. Well it’s now less than one month until September 7. There not only aren’t any cranes, there aren’t any contracts, there aren’t proper plans and people don’t know where these roads are going. So in terms of processes, Joe Hockey when it comes to infrastructure and creation of jobs, what they’ve done is go around the country on Warren Truss and Joe Hockey’s magical infrastructure re-announcement tour. They go around – whether it’s the it’s the Huon Valley, whether it be the Midland Highway, they go round and they see a project and they see here we go, this is what we’re doing. They are all old projects that were begun by the Federal Labor Government. There isn’t a project anywhere in the country that is a new project announced by them that has begun – not one – and we are almost one year since the last election. Nothing on the Toowoomba Bypass, nothing on the Perth project that they announced where they say Freight Link might start around 2019, nothing on East-West and nothing on Westconnex. This is a mirage. Jobs need to be created by the pouring of concrete, the forging of steel and the construction of roads and highways. This is a government that isn’t doing any of that.
QUESTION: The State Government have ruled out selling Hydro. Is keeping the issue in the media cross hairs scaremongering?
ALBANESE: You have a federal Liberal member Eric Hutchinson, saying that this should be considered. You have a Prime Minister and a Treasurer saying that if you want any new money you have to sell assets. Now if you look at what assets are going to be sold here in Tasmania, is it hospitals? Is it schools? Is it Tassie Hydro. Hydro is the one that’s been identified by the Government itself. We are holding the Government to account for what it is saying.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] Could there be opportunities in other states that they should have the opportunity to access a scheme like this .. [inaudible]
ALBANESE: There’s no new money here. They are taking money that was already in the Budget – the Building Australia Fund and the Education Investment Fund – calling it something else and saying you’ve got to flog assets in order to get investment in infrastructure. What we did through the Nation Building Program was make sure that nation-building investments in infrastructure happened. They happened here in Tasmania. They were quite happy to coming for example to the opening of the Brighton Interchange – quite happy to do that. That didn’t just happen. It didn’t happen by selling something off. It happened because the Federal Government invested money here in Tasmania to create jobs and boost the economy.
QUESTION: The Tasmanian Premier and Treasurer are getting ready to hand down their first Budget so what advice do you have for them?
ALBANESE: Id’ say don’t be bribed into doing something by the Federal Government that you have no mandate to do. I think the people of Tasmania will hold them to account for their own promises. What’s extraordinary is that Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott don’t seem to care less about whether there is a mandate, whether anything was promised. Who heard the Federal Government say before the last election that states would not get any money for infrastructure unless they flogged off essential assets that they own? And therefore, worsen their balance sheet in the long-term because they get that one-off gain, but in the long-term they lose that revenue stream. Now we’re not against all privatisations. We believe that you should look at it asset by asset on whether it stacks up or not and that’s why we amended the legislation and then voted for it. It’s the Government’s that’s actually voted against this legislation because they weren’t prepared to support it with accountability mechanisms around it.
QUESTION: When it comes to the federal Budget, do you feel as if Tasmania’s Premier Will Hodgman stood up to Abbott and Hockey and what the state needed or did he just toe the party line?
ALBANESE: Well he rolled over and had his tummy tickled. What’s Tasmania got out of this Budget? They got nothing. They’ve got cuts to education, they’ve got cuts to health, they’ve got the National Broadband Network here being cut – rolled back. They got not a dollar for new infrastructure development. They’ve got less money for training, their pensioners – of which Tasmania has more pensioners as a percentage of the population than other states – they’ll miss out, They’ll have people who if they are in the workforce will have to work longer. This was a a shocker of a Budget for Tasmania and if Premier Hodgman had an ounce of ticker he’d be out there screaming from the rafters. Other premiers like Colin Barnett certainly have been from time to time but Hodgman seems to be quite happy to get less from this government
QUESTION: Just in terms of the advice that Labor is using in the Senate to back up its position on asset recycling, isn’t the Clerk the appropriate person to provide that advice?
ALBANESE: Well the Clerk of course provides advice in terms of procedural matters that are before the Senate. The Parliamentary Library is an entirely appropriate, independent, arms’-length body. So if Joe Hockey wants to call that into question, we’ve released the advice, unlike Joe Hockey. He doesn’t release anything. Remember all of the detail of the Commission of audit – all kept secret. We asked for the advice, we’ve got it and common sense tells you that if you have a Bill that’s called the Asset Recycling Bill and it gets amended in the Senate quite properly – no-one is suggesting it wasn’t amended properly – that Hoe Hockey is saying: We’re going to change the name of the Bill and that will fix all the problems. Common sense tells you. You don’t actually have to be an expert. Common sense tells you that that’s just a manipulation. The Parliamentary procedures don’t allow for manipulation in just changing the name. Otherwise you could call every single thing an appropriation. Supply is about the business of the Government. It was carried in June. That’s why public servants are being paid and pensioners are being paid. That’s about the normal processes of government and this advice is very clear. Common sense tells you that it’s the right advice as well
ALBANESE: [Inaudible] … sanctions against Russia. Do you think that Australia should go further?
ALBANESE: Oh look, I’ll leave foreign affairs to our appropriate people.
QUESTION: But has the action been tough enough so far?
ALBANESE: I have no criticism of Tony Abbott in his performance regarding these issues. This is an issue where Labor does not seek to have any distinction between our position and the position that the Prime Minister has held.
ALBANESE: Labor does not seek to draw a distinction. We’ll have proper briefings and we’ll work with the government. What’s important about this tragedy and all the associated issues including the quite outrageous behaviour of Russia is that we work together as a nation and that it be above party politics. I intend absolutely to do just that.
QUESTION: What do you make of claims that the current GST carve-up is scandalous and unfair?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that Western Australia of course was the great beneficiary of it for a long period of time. Now they seek to change the balance. Why is that the case? The problem is that Tony Abbott, we know that he doesn’t have a great understanding of the Internet and we’ve seen in the last week I think the debacle that is the Abbott Government’s knowledge of all things technological. But they should have got the idea that if you say something in Western Australia then people in other states might hear about it, just as it’s possible that someone outside of Hobart knows what I am saying here this morning. They don’t seem to get that and so Colin Barnett, who quite clearly is on a promise from Tony Abbott of additional GST revenue – that has to come from somewhere. Where does it come from? It has to come from Tasmania and the problem is that Tony Abbott, when he has been in Western Australia has said you should get more, but when he has been in Tasmania has said something quite different. I believe the system of horizontal fiscal equalisation is an important principle. It’s an important principle that those states who can pay more according to the system do so. We are a national economy and we need to represent the national interest. That’s what I’ve always done and that’s what the former Labor Government did and Tony Abbott really has to respond to this once and for all. This is speculation that can’t be allowed to continue and certainly should be cleaned up by the Government prior to Tasmania bringing down its Budget. Otherwise that Budget could go into disarray.
ALBANESE: I think that photo is just beyond comprehension. As a parent the idea that children would be involved in something like that … you know you shake your head and wonder how that could possibly happen in terms of just common humanity. And look, Labor has always been very strong on issues relating to terrorism. These also are issues that should be above party politics. We’ll take proper briefings though about the process. We saw last week what happens when you don’t have proper briefings. You had a national security committee and then arising out of that frankly a debacle that has still not been cleaned up by the government. If the government doesn’t know what it’s doing – senior government ministers in the Cabinet including portfolio ministers like Malcolm Turnbull didn’t know what was going on – he read it on the front page of the Daily Telegraph – various proposals that relate directly to his portfolio – then Labor needs to have proper briefings. We’ll get that and we’ll respond accordingly, constructively, but also in a way that is responsible and makes sure that we also defend the rights of innocent people. You don’t defend freedom by giving it away so it’s very important that proposals be looked at in that balanced way.
ALBANESE: We will have a proper process and we’ll respond. The briefings weren’t even given to the Opposition at all for a number of days. I certainly haven’t been privy to any briefings. As a former member of the National Security Committee I regard these issues very seriously. I regard them as ones that should be considered rather than there just being simply a political response of saying what we are for, what were are against. Let’s see the detail, examine it, come to a position.
QUESTION: The reports on the NBN released last week said that the rollout in Tasmania was shambolic and without a business case. What’s your take on those reports?
ALBANESE: The fact is you have to take a step back. The National Broadband Network was about fibre to the home for every Australian, both in terms of homes but also to businesses. Here in Tasmania it was due to benefit substantially by being the first state that would receive that rollout gaining it first mover advantage. That’s one of the things that has been criticised in many of the reports. I make no apology for the fact that given Tasmania is the southern island in our great continent – suffers from the tyranny of distance – it made absolute sense for the Tasmanian roll-out to be done first. It also made sense to choose a number of different sites – be they major sites in capital cities or places like Scottsdale, to also make sure that you roll it out, you get that experience and you improve the rollout as it goes on. This is, I believe, an exciting project. Did we make the right decisions on the National Broadband Network in terms of having fibre to the premise? Yes we did. It’s world’s best practice and Malcolm Turnbull – all he has done is have I think it’s up to about nine different reviews costing tens of millions of dollars. How about he get on with what his policy is and what the future of the NBN is here in Tasmania instead of this absolute concentration on politics – looking backwards. This is the problem with the government. They have no vision looking forward. It’s all about going backwards, whether it be the various Royal Commissions that are on, all these inquires. Why don’t they get on with the business of governing? Why? Because they had a plan to get into government by they don’t have a plan to govern. I go back to where I began. This is a Government that was elected that has not invested a single dollar in any new infrastructure project here in Tasmania. They’ve cut $100 million from the Midland Highway and they say if you want anything at all, and we won’t tell you what the infrastructure projects would be, that you’ve got to flog off you assets like Hydro. Thank you very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.