Subjects: Orange by-election; infrastructure investment, tourism, asylum seekers, Labor Party.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s fantastic to be here today with Bernard Fitzsimon, Labor’s candidate for the Orange by-election that takes place in just two weeks’ time. That is a critical opportunity for the voters of Orange to make sure that no longer can they be taken for granted by the Coalition. I have been a regular visitor to the Central West. As a Minister I came here to the Central West with funds: funds for the Orange Bypass; funds for the airport upgrade that we see behind us; funds for the upgrade of the aquatic centre here in Orange; funds for the Inland Rail; funds for bike paths.
We delivered in Government for the Central West and for the Orange electorate in particular. But the National Party have just taken it for granted. We saw their arrogance when they intervened to say that they would stop greyhound racing without any consultation and any process whatsoever. And we see at the Federal level as well them taking Orange for granted and taking the Central West for granted. It took a Labor Government to fund the upgrade of the Great Western Highway, the Orange Bypass and the Inland Rail Line.
This Government have failed to put a single dollar into Inland Rail since they came to office. We had $900 million – almost $600 million for the upgrade of the existing track that will form part of the line and $300 million for new investment, which the current Government has continued to spend but claim as its own without putting in any additional funds in their first budgets.
So what we see in two weeks’ time is that Labor has a candidate who’s a local who is committed to delivering for the Central West in this by-election and beyond. And it’s a real opportunity to send a message, a strong message, that the people of the Central West don’t like being taken for granted. And can you imagine the effort that will be put in if Labor is successful in two weeks’ time in winning this by-election? You will have regular visitors for a change here in Orange from the Coalition state and federal governments and you might actually get some investment and some action because up to now that certainly hasn’t been the case. I might ask Bernard if he wants to add anything.
BERNARD FITZSIMON: OK. I think Anthony has covered it pretty comprehensively here. The problem is that Labor are committed to rural and regional development, committed to delivering infrastructure in rural and regional areas – the problem lies in the Nationals. They are not the men for the job. They have proven that consistently since March 2011, when the Baird-Grant Government was elected. It is time to shake the regions up and Labor are committed to doing it.
REPORTER: We’ve seen a slew of both Coalition and Labor – everybody under the sun members – have come out here in the lead-up to this by-election. I guess the truth of it is you wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a close contest there. Will you show up after this by-election?
ALBANESE: Well, I think I can stand on my record of when I have been here before with major announcements of funding for the aquatic centre, for the bypass. There’s a child care centre right in the centre of Orange with a plaque with my name on it, funded through the local community infrastructure program.
When I was the Regional Development Minister and Local Government Minister we delivered for regional Australia. What has happened under this Government is that they take it for granted. They think it’s automatic that they will get elected and that they don’t have to do anything to earn or keep that support from voters here in the Central West or indeed voters anywhere throughout regional Australia.
So the fact is that I have come here not just at election time, but regularly. I came here at least five times as a minister during the Rudd and Gillard governments. We brought the Cabinet here to regional Australia, here to the Central West, when we were in government. We were regular visitors and we gave support for good projects here to create jobs in the short-term but also to deliver long-term economic productivity, to improve road safety. All of those projects – the bypass, the aquatic centre – none of those were election commitments. That’s just what we did when we were in government. And I know that Luke Foley, if he has Bernard Fitzsimon in his team, he will deliver for this region as well. I know Luke is here tonight at a public meeting at Molong and that is typical of his commitment to engaging one on one.
This morning I have a round table with the tourism sector that follows tourism round tables I have been having right throughout Australia, but particularly in regional Australia. I mean, you had under this Government the backpacker tax introduced at the federal level. Not a squeak out of the National Party at the state level saying that this was a bad idea. They just all went along with it. Now they are scrambling for some sort of compromise in order to dig themselves out of a hole because they know that in the agriculture sector people were saying that they weren’t going to plant crops because they didn’t know if they could be picked. And in the tourism sector, it was having a big impact as well. They rely upon backpackers and yet this Government, this Government federally, in partnership with the Baird-Grant Government in NSW, were quite happy to ignore those issues.
REPORTER: We’ve talked a lot about what Labor has done. But what would you look to do if Bernard was elected?
ALBANESE: Well, what we would do is have someone at the state level who could talk to state Labor and the federal Labor oppositions but also talk to the Government – get them jumping. I think you would see if Bernard is successful in two weeks’ time, enormous resources being put into this seat and a focus being put into this seat. So this is a one-off opportunity when you have a by-election to ensure that the focus of the NSW Government, as well as the focus of the Federal Government, is on this region over the next at least two years in the lead-up to the next election which is way off of course, in March, 2019.
So you have two and a half years for Bernard Fitzsimon to deliver for this seat and I am sure it will have attention.
And If I was someone who was weighing up what way to vote in two weeks’ time and I wasn’t a card carrying member of the National Party, or maybe even if I was, I’d be thinking very strongly about casting a vote for Labor and doing this because it will have such a strong impact if Bernard is elected in a couple of weeks’ time.
REPORTER: You mentioned infrastructure and a few of those things – Inland Rail and highways (inaudible). Obviously no commitment from the Nationals or no development. Can you give us any solid commitment on any of those, like such the Inland Rail?
ALBANESE: What we can give a commitment to is we’d get on with building it. I was the minister who commissioned and completed the study into the Inland Rail line and route. That was completed way back in 2010. We immediately then put funding towards the project – $600 million which has already been spent while we were in government – that was about straightening the existing parts of the line that will form part of Inland Rail. And what’s more, we committed $300 million for the new sections. Now the National Party have now been in Government for more than three years. This is their second term. And what they are saying isn’t that any commitment to construction be given this term because they held off and had more studies with more National Party former leaders leading the study. The only jobs that have been created by the National Party are jobs for former National Party ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers being appointed to have committees to tell us what we already know. The Inland Rail line is ready to go. It is up to this Government to proceed with construction. That is what Labor would be doing. If Labor had been been re-elected in 2013 the project, in terms of the new parts of the project, would be well under construction by now.
REPORTER: There’s a parliamentary inquiry begins today into (inaudible). What do you think about that?
ALBANESE: Look, I’ll leave that to our members of the committee to participate in that. Parliamentary inquiries are important to get information through those processes. What we know is that there have been big problems in the NSW Health system under Jillian Skinner. And it’s not just Labor saying that, it’s her own colleagues and I think Jillian Skinner will be moved on soon enough.
There is a crisis of confidence in the Baird Government and it’s not just from the people of NSW, it’s from their own internal members. That’s why you have chaotic decision-making taking place. The extraordinary decision to ban greyhound racing without any notice whatsoever, then the extraordinary backflip, having said that that wouldn’t occur.
Across a a range of issues, be it health, be it education where the State Government is brawling with the Federal Government over the Gonski reforms that will have a particular impact on regional Australia. Or be it the federal cuts to Financial Assistance Grants to local government that are having a real impact here in regional NSW. Because local government relies upon Financial Assistance Grants for the maintenance and upkeep of its local road system. Now the freezing of grants at a saving of billions of dollars to the Federal Government has come at the expense of that local roads maintenance and yet you have the State Coalition not prepared to have a squeak out of them about these cuts.
REPORTER: Talking of regional development, we just saw recently that in the latest round of Stronger Regions funding, $28 million out of $40 million went to metro areas. Do you think that’s fair?
ALBANESE: I think this is a government that has made its Stronger Regions funding, like other funding, simply politically based. When I was the Minister for Regional Development we had a system whereby every one of Australia’s 565 councils got funding for regional economic development and for local programs. And on top of that, there were programs specifically designed to do major upgrades above $2 million. Now the Orange Aquatic Centre was one of the beneficiaries of that program. And in addition Orange Airport here was another beneficiary of that program. We funded regional economic development because, we believe that it is absolutely critical. And it is extraordinary the neglect that has been there for Orange from the Federal Government and they need to do much better.
FITZSIMON: Can I add a comment to that? You can’t cut funding for public services; you can’t compromise people’s education and health outcomes in rural and regional NSW and say that you are committed to solving the problem. The Nationals are not doing it. You can’t decimate these small communities, compromise the integrity of small businesses and compromise the employment of local people like the tradies contractors suppliers etc. They are not spending the money out here. Despite the rhetoric, the money is not being spent.
REPORTER: So will you and Labor back the Government’s proposed asylum changes that impose life bans on those who try to reach Australia illegally?
ALBANESE: Well of course we haven’t see the change so we can’t be expected to make final determinations without seeing the proposals. Because what we have seen in the past is that what they say is going to be in legislation actually isn’t in legislation. But I am somewhat perplexed and I think the Government has got a major question to answer, which is: Why is this legislation necessary? We went through an election campaign whereby they said they had solved the issue of people smuggling and now just a couple of months later, they say that wasn’t the case. What is that is needed to be fixed? That is a question that the Government has to answer. Otherwise, were they not telling the truth in the election campaign when they said that they had got the policy right?
REPORTER: The idea of a life ban though. I mean the concept of it …
ALBANESE: Well we’ll wait and see what the proposal actually is. But the truth is there are two facts here. One is the government said that it had the policy settings right. It appears now that it is contradicting what it told the Australian people before the election. Second is, they need to explain to the Australian people what their actual plan is for the people on Manus and on Nauru. They need to have a plan. Labor is opposed to indefinite detention and they need to solve that practical problem before they engage in politics, which is what we are seeing here given the lack of detail and the lack of explanation from the Government about why they think this change is necessary.
REPORTER: What’s your response to the Morgan Poll suggesting Tanya Plibersek is the most popular choice for Labor Leader?
ALBANESE: Well look, we have a process of the leadership. Tanya is a fantastic member of our team led by Bill Shorten.
REPORTER: Do you think it is good to see women coming to the forefront here?
ALBANESE: I think that we have a leader and that leader is Bill Shorten.
REPORTER: There’s no plans to change that any time soon?
ALBANESE: That leader is Bill Shorten.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.