Aug 1, 2013

Transcript of press conference – Sydney

Subjects: Coalition’s infrastructure policy confusion

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Today we have seen the latest example of Tony Abbott demonstrating to anyone who was in any doubt that he is simply not up to the job of being the alternative Prime Minister of Australia.

Today we have seen once again that Tony Abbott is lazy when it comes to policy development. That he hasn’t done the hard yards, that after four years as Opposition Leader he simply doesn’t have a clue when it comes to infrastructure policy development or the needs of the nation.

One of the great divides at the next election will be the attitude towards public transport. The Labor Government believes that the national government has an important role to play in our cities, and we need to address issues such as urban congestion and make our cities more productive, more sustainable and more liveable.

That’s why we’ve been prepared to partner with state governments on public transport projects. Public transport projects like the Regional Rail Link in Victoria. Like the Noarlunga to Seaford Rail Line in South Australia, where just this week we launched the new train carriages for that particular line. And the Perth City Link project, which is uniting the CBD and Northbridge and transforming Perth.

The Gold Coast Rapid Transit system. Also in Queensland the Moreton Bay Rail Link, for which we issued contracts just today; a partnership between the Federal Government, the State Government and the local council.

Today Tony Abbott gave quite an extraordinary press conference. And it followed the Premier of Victoria Denis Napthine saying this morning:

“I certainly had some discussions about Tony Abbott’s issue with the rail tunnel and he softened. He’s indicated to me they are prepared to have ongoing discussions on key infrastructure like the Metro rail tunnel.”

That was the Premier of Victoria just this morning.

Hours later Tony Abbott said:

“I would dispute that’s the case. What I say in public and what I say in private is the same. We will not be committing to the Metro rail scheme – I’ve made that absolutely clear.”

So just hours after the Premier of Victoria suggested there might be some hope and some rational thinking coming from Mr Abbott when it comes to urban public transport, Mr Abbott has repudiated the Premier of Victoria and has reconfirmed his statement that he is not interested in funding one cent for any public transport project.

This follows the failure of the Howard Government – of which he was a senior minister – to commit a single cent to urban public transport.

In the last budget, the Federal Government committed $3 billion to the Melbourne Metro project. That follows the $40 million we provided in 2009 to develop the business case following the recommendations of Infrastructure Australia that this was a project that was ‘ready to proceed’ and was worthy of Commonwealth funding.

At the same time we have Tony Abbott saying don’t worry about cost benefit analysis, don’t worry about whether it stacks up or not. If it’s a rail project, I’m not interested in it.

He was also asked about his commitment to the East West Link – the road project for Melbourne. And in that he said, when asked three times had he seen the business case:

“There are lots of things that I haven’t seen but I know that there is a business case for the East West Link.”

And he went on to say:

“Infrastructure Australia, as I understand it, has recently published one and it’s $1.40 worth of benefit for every dollar of spending.”

Of course, that is simply not the case. Infrastructure Australia have been unable to conduct the benefit cost analysis of the project, and have asked the Victorian Government for further information – something that the Victorian Treasurer Michael O’Brien confirmed just yesterday when he said: “We’re quite happy to provide further information to Infrastructure Australia.”

As far as the Federal Government is concerned, the proposed East West Link is a potentially worthy project. But it is still in the early stages of development, and we’ve asked through the Infrastructure Australia process for the Victorian Government to provide additional information.

But what we’ve had here is either Denis Napthine verballing Tony Abbott or Tony Abbott saying one thing to the Premier and another thing publically.

What we know is that Tony Abbott is simply not on top of his brief. It was in Melbourne, the site of the Regional Rail Link project where the Commonwealth Government is giving $3.225 billion that Tony Abbott said that the Commonwealth Government should stick to its “knitting”, that the Commonwealth Government wasn’t involved in any urban public transport projects.

So we know that when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to these projects, Tony Abbott makes it up as he goes along. He’s not on top of the detail. When detail is asked for he simply says things that aren’t the case because he hasn’t done the hard work on policy development.

The Government is very proud of the process we have established for infrastructure, where regardless of the mode – whether it’s road or rail or ports – we have a cost benefit analysis, we listen to Infrastructure Australia, which is why we have provided funding for 15 out of the 15 projects that have been recommended by Infrastructure Australia.

And we engage in our cities in both road infrastructure but also rail infrastructure.