Subjects: Bass Highway; Tasmanian infrastructure; Labor’s record on infrastructure; Brussels attacks; energy crisis; Midland Highway; Labor’s Tasmanian candidates; election timing
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s great to be here with Senator Anne Urquhart, but also Justine Keay, our candidate for Braddon and Brian Mitchell, our candidate for Lyons, and we are here today at the invitation of Ian and Trudy, of Caltex here, who have collected petitions of more than 2000 people about safety on the Bass Highway, not just here, but in this entire stretch and region. When we were in government we increased infrastructure investment for Tasmania by more than double. We invested along this highway, on the Midland Highway in rail, freight – right across the board – we invested in Tasmania.
Since the change of Government to Abbott and Mr Turnbull we’ve seen not a single new infrastructure project of any significance funded here in Tasmania. Indeed, we’ve seen $60 million cut from the rail freight revitalisation scheme and $100 million cut from the Midland Highway that was allocated in the Budget.
Now this needs to be a priority because this is an issue of safety. And I pay tribute to Ian and Trudy for doing the hard yards collecting the petition, making sure that this is a public issue. And if I am the Transport Minister, this is an issue that will be addressed in partnership with the State Government, because we need to do something about this dangerous stretch which I have witnessed firsthand this morning, right here today.
JUSTINE KEAY: Thank you Albo for coming to Braddon and to Lyons to talk about the importance of this road. The Latrobe Council has spoken to me and told me this is probably one of the most highest volume pieces of the national highway in Tasmania. We have a fantastic highway between Devonport and Burnie but this stretch of road has been neglected. We’ve got an industrial area that can’t grow at the moment because the Latrobe Council have no certainty about what going to happen in the future. It’s about time that the State Government and the Federal Liberal Government actually do something. There’s nothing planned. They have nothing in the wings around fixing this road for safety, for development for this state. We need a fix for the future and I am really proud that Labor are here today to ensure that if we get into government we can look at it and ensure that it is ready for the future.
BRIAN MITCHELL: Nothing could be more important for infrastructure than safety. Road safety is paramount. This is a dangerous highway and needs to be fixed. We’ve got truck here barrelling up the backside of cars that are turning into this service station. That’s just not safe for the motorists or the truck drivers involved. We need a safer road and it’s time to get on with the job.
ALBANESE: Thank you very much. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: How will you improve the safety here?
ALBANESE: Well, what we will do is work with the State Government along of course with the Latrobe Council for appropriate safety works to take place. I am very familiar with this part of Tasmania, as I am with all of Tasmania and when I was the minister, every time I came to Tasmania it was with announcements, announcements for road funding, rail funding, the National Broadband Network, community infrastructure such as the upgrade at Aurora Stadium. What we have seen from this government is neglect and we want to make sure that these issues are fixed. We’ve seen a freezing of Financial Assistance Grants to local government, including in the current financial year. Now that has placed more pressure on local roads. But this is a part of the national highway. This is a major road and it’s a major freight route as well and one of the concerns that I have is the fact that the cuts to rail freight have meant inevitably that there are more trucks on the road rather than freight being carried on rail – a short-sighted approach from the Federal Government of which the State Government here of course have refused to stand up and refused to speak up for Tasmanians.
REPORTER: So do you have a funding commitment to fix this?
ALBANESE: Well, we will fix it. We will fix it. And I stand by my record as a minister and our record in government. We fixed problems where they were identified and we more than doubled funding for infrastructure here in Tasmania. It went from $146 per Tasmanian to $270 per Tasmanian just while we were in office – that extraordinary increase where we identified what was needed. And that’s just road and rail. That doesn’t take into account the other funding increases that we had through things such as increasing the Black Spots Program, increasing the Roads to Recovery Program and community infrastructure funding to local government.
REPORTER: How much would this section of road cost the Labor Government if elected?
ALBANESE: Well of course we would need to do the proper assessments. The planning would need to take place and that would need to take place from the State Government. But what is the cost of not doing this road? The cost is bad for road safety, bad for productivity. I’ve driven along here this morning. We know that trucks accelerate as they are about to go up the hill here and if they are then confronted with a vehicle waiting to turn that is a very dangerous situation which anyone who has a look at this part of the road can identify and that’s why it needs to be fixed.
REPORTER: There are big delays at the moment at the nation’s airports due to the Brussels explosions in the airport there. As Transport Minister would you call on members of Border Force to call off their industrial action at this time?
ALBANESE: Well in terms of aviation, let’s do one thing and one thing very clearly, which is prioritise safety and prioritise national security, not play politics with it. So I won’t be playing politics with it or answering questions that are aimed at making an issue political that should be above politics. We have a bipartisan commitment in this country and today we stand together with the people of Belgium and indeed the people of the world in opposition to what has happened in Brussels, which is an atrocity. These people hate us because of our way of life. These people want to damage our way of life. They want to instil fear but I remain very confident that the Australian people – every one of us – stand against this atrocity and when it comes to national security it has always been bipartisan. I as a minister undertook measures such as introducing full body scanners into our gateway airports – a no-scan, no-fly system – the toughest in the world that I am pleased received bipartisan support and we stand ready to cooperate on any national security issue with the Government and the Government should respond to appropriate advice.
REPORTER: Back to the highway here. If elected, what would you like to see? Can you provide us with an example on the Bass Highway?
ALBANESE: Well, politicians shouldn’t design the safety measures, engineers should. We should take proper advice from the engineers and the people with expertise and make sure essentially that you have a separation is what is required here of turning traffic from the through traffic. So making sure that you don’t have circumstances whereby a truck, heading forward is all of a sudden accelerating but confronted with a turning vehicle into the station here. But it’s not just here. There are other parts of the highway in this section of road that need to be addressed. That’s why the appropriate thing is a full safety audit and then a response from all the levels of government to make sure that it gets fixed.
REPORTER: The biggest issue in Tasmania at this time is the energy crisis. You are the Infrastructure Minister (sic) and the Basslink Interconnector is a piece of infrastructure. Would an elected Labor Federal Govenrment fund or help fund a second Basslink Interconnector?
ALBANESE: Well, show us the business case. If you’ve got it, I’d be happy to see it. What you need to do is to have a business case and the State Government it seems to me, are completely asleep at the wheel here. It is the State Government that isn’t providing a business case. There’s no transparency. So we of course would have to look at any issue of energy security, but the Start Government needs to provide that information to the Federal Government and to the Federal Opposition given the circumstances of where we are in the timeframe and that we’ve got a Prime Minister because he doesn’t have an agenda or a plan for the nation seems to have a plan for an election on July 2.
REPORTER: Would a Federal Labor Government consider financial assistance for Tasmania if the energy crisis drags on beyond the election?
ALBANESE: Well, what does that mean? What does that mean?
REPORTER: Well, I suppose has the ALP at the national level had discussions about the Tasmanian energy crisis?
ALBANESE: Well I’m not the energy spokesperson.
REPORTER: But you are the Infrastructure Minister (sic).
ALBANESE: I’m not the energy spokesperson, I am the Infrastructure Shadow Minister and it would be nice if the Tasmanian Government gave us the courtesy of – they’ve given no briefings and there is no business case and if you’ve got a business case, it should be published and we should actually act upon that. What I did as Infrastructure Minister was act upon independent, expert advice and I acted with funds. I acted with real money, on real projects that created real jobs and made a real difference. This Tasmanian State Government need to do that in a submission to the Federal Government and the Federal Opposition and I call upon them do so.
REPORTER: You mentioned that you thought July 2 – possible double dissolution election. Is this the beginning of the Tasmanian candidates’ election campaign?
ALBANESE: Well, we think in Justine and Brian we’ve got two outstanding candidates for Braddon and Lyons. Their seats we want to see returned to the Labor fold at the next election because I think Tasmanians will know that between 2013 and 2016 the members who they elected in good faith to the House of Representatives simply haven’t delivered. They haven’t delivered a major road project or a major rail project. All they have delivered is cuts and the other big infrastructure project of course where Tasmania was put first by the former Labor Government was the National Broadband Network. And they will know that under the Coalition they promised that the NBN would be in place to every home and every business right now – that it would be in place. So everyone who doesn’t have the NBN is entitled to send a big message to this government at the 2016 election that I am pretty sure will be on July 2 and say well you ignored us, we’ll send you a message back. And let alone anyone who has a young child at a school, or a grandchild, is entitled to say you promised that you would equal the funding for schools that Labor had committed to and that hasn’t happened. That’s why we’ve had to commit to $4.5 billion in years five and six that were identified by the Gonski reforms. And we have committed a 10-year plan – $37 billion to make sure that every single child gets the best opportunity in life and an education is critical to that.
REPORTER: One major proposal for infrastructure in Tasmania at the moment is by DP World for an international port project in Burnie. Are you aware of that project?
ALBANESE: We haven’t been approach by DP World but certainly we, when I was the minister, provided from memory it was $5 million for an upgrade of the Burnie port. That’s consistent with the work that we did in this part of Tasmania and indeed throughout Tasmania. So we would look at any proposal. We established National Ports Strategy – the first of its kind and a National Land Freight Strategy, which envisaged not just viewing ports as islands, but how you get goods to and from the port. We had a $100 million commitment to projects that were aimed at increasing the export capacity of Tasmanian businesses – projects like making sure that Tasmanian salmon could be semi-frozen in a way that would increase the value of that salmon when it was exported. So we had a range of measures in place aimed at essentially ports and aimed at improving Tasmania’s export capacity. Since the change of government all of that has stopped, the government has been not too bad at going around and trying to claim projects that were funded under the former Labor Government as its own. That has been its major contribution – has been re-announcement and claiming the former Labor Government projects as its own.
REPORTER: Prior to the last election he Labor Government had committed $500 million to upgrades to the Midland Highway. Will you be matching or increasing that commitment at this election campaign?
ALBANESE: Well, we certainly have indicated, and Bill Shorten has indicated that the $500 million commitment stands when he spoke to the Brisbane Media Club. It’s extraordinary that you will remember, as I am sure Tasmanians will, that when that when Tony Abbott promised $400 million he said that would duplicate the entire Midland Highway. Now he obviously did that on the back of a light beer shandy coaster somewhere here in Tasmania because that was always a nonsense commitment. So we have $500 million –we had in the budget. That’s just one of the cuts that have been made to infrastructure here in Tasmania along with the cut to the rail revitalisation program and other projects.
REPORTER: Are there any other projects that, if elected, Labor will commit to?
ALBANESE: Oh, certainly we’ll be making announcements during the campaign. We are here today in the area covered by Braddon and Lyons, but I think Labor’s record, whether it be the stadium upgrades, the road upgrades, the rail upgrades, the $50 million for Macquarie Point as a great example of how you revitalise our cities, the funding for the Launceston bypass, the funding for roads and infrastructure right throughout Tasmania, the working with businesses that we did to increase export capacity. I think we had an outstanding record here in Tasmania and were we in government, we would prioritise Tasmania as well and there is no better example of how we were prepared to acknowledge the fact that as the southern island, it has disadvantages with those of us who come from the northern island. That’s why the National Broadband Network was being rolled out here in Tasmania first – to overcome that tyranny of distance and it is extraordinary that Malcolm Turnbull, who is now the Prime Minister, has presided over a con on the people of Tasmania because he said, as the Shadow Minister for Communications and then as the Communications Minister, that it would continue to be rolled out. We know that hasn’t happened.
REPORTER: If there is a double dissolution election all Tasmanian senators I suppose will be having to pitch for their hobs again. How will it be decided what order they are listed on the ballot paper?
ALBANESE: We’ll deal with that through the ALP’s organisational processes but we have an outstanding team here in Tasmania, not the least of which is Anne Urquhart here, who is so good that her Twitter handle is @AUSenator, recognising that, you know, she could do the Senate job by herself I think. But in Tasmania we have an outstanding team and we’ll sort through those things if and when Malcolm Turnbull announces an election for July 2. But you’ve got to ask yourself this: The Senate as well as the House of Representatives have just finished sitting for five weeks out of seven. During those five weeks at any time there could have been a debate and a determination of the ABCC legislation or any other legislation that the government wanted voted on. Indeed the Government voted against that legislation being determined last week. So this is a con. The Greens were conned by Malcolm Turnbull into going down the road that they did last week. They could have got reform to donations down to $1000, they could have got a range of things through. They went along with the Government and now we have this farcical proposition whereby the government is recalling Parliament because it couldn’t get its act together to run the Parliament. I ran a Parliament as a Leader of the House in the House of Representatives for three years with 70 votes out of 150. You know what, you talk to people on the cross benches. You talk to them and you get discussion and treat them with respect. This is a government that hasn’t treated the Senate with respect. More importantly is hasn’t treated the Australian people with respect. Tony Abbott promised no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions, no cuts to the ABC or the SBS and walked away from that. Malcolm Turnbull is implementing Tony Abbott’s policies, including all of those cuts and I think the Australian people are entitled – entitled – to say this is not the government we voted for and to change their vote at the 2016 election whenever it is called. Thank you very much
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.