Subjects; Infrastructure cuts; Bureaucrat’s advice to cruise company to replace Australian flag with foreign flag; lack of rail to Badgerys Creek airport; China free trade agreement
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve just addressed the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Conference. This is an important body for the construction sector and other parts of the Australian private sector who are engaged in infrastructure development. What we know is that there’s been a massive decline in public sector infrastructure investment since the election of the Abbott Government.
In the order of 19 per cent since 2013. We also know that for 12 consecutive quarters there has been economic growth below trend. We know that unemployment is rising and now has a six in front of it, getting closer to seven than it was to six. Indeed, there are more unemployed people now than there were during the global financial crisis. That’s why it makes sense for governments to invest in infrastructure, to support growth, to support jobs and to make sure that over the longer term, you actually get a fiscal and economic return from good infrastructure investment.
That’s why you need to draw a distinction between governments having capital investment in our roads, our railway lines, our ports, our airports and other infrastructure, that will produce a return to government, and the issues around recurrent expenditure that clearly need to be reduced if we are going to deal with the issues of budget deficit. That is what sensible investment would produce, and that’s part of what I outlined in the speech today.
Secondly, today I emphasised our continued opposition to the Government’s support for changes to shipping legislation. That legislation would do two things. Firstly, it would remove any preference for Australian flags on the back of ships. Secondly it would allow any ship competing with the remaining Australian fleet to pay foreign wages rather than Australian wages. That means that the Australian industry would be uncompetitive.
This week we’ve had revelations from Bill Milby, who operates the True North ship in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. He was advised that in order to stay competitive he should remove the Australian flag, replace it with a foreign flag and foreign registration, and replace his Australian workforce with foreign workers that would reduce his wage bill but also remove any requirement for training of Australians to undertake that task. Now, Mr Milby is not a political person. He’s made it very clear that these are the changes that will occur as a result of this legislation that’s before the Parliament if it’s carried.
Today we’ve had revelations of a Tasmanian operator who has invested $100 million in a new ship, backed by ANZ Bank, funding secured, investing in Australian jobs, investing in the future and particularly in Tasmania. That investment is jeopardised by these changes that are before the Parliament and I’d call upon the Federal Government to rethink its strategy. This is ideology before common sense. It makes no sense to replace the Australian flag and Australian jobs with a white flag when it comes to supporting Australian jobs.
REPORTER: In light of your address, how would you characterise the State Government’s decision not to provide a rail link to the airport at Badgerys Creek?
ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly that is a very short sighted approach. Badgerys Creek airport needs a rail line. It needs a rail line for the airport to function effectively. But more importantly, the Badgerys Creek site needs to be more than just a runway and a terminal. It needs to be a driver of economic growth for Western Sydney.
It needs to be a precinct similar to Macquarie Park precinct in terms of creating high value jobs in the logistics sector, in the tourism sector, in the transport sector, in other areas engaged in our trading sectors as well. And it can certainly be that with a bit of vision.
Part of that is connecting up the rail line from Leppington through Badgerys Creek to the western line. That will create a loop line around Sydney and that would create benefit not just for those who work at the airport, those in local industries and those who are travelling to and from the airport, but for other people in Western Sydney and for the Sydney transport system as a whole. It’s time that the State and Federal Government ended their blame game on this and understood that there was a need to invest and make sure that western Sydney airport does have a rail line operating from day one.
REPORTER: This morning Martin Ferguson criticised the CMFEU and criticised people from all parties who attack the China free trade agreement. He said it had racial overtones. What’s your response to that?
ALBANESE: I didn’t hear his address, so I’m not going to respond to it. I’ll say this though about the free trade agreement. Labor supports free trade. Labor supports relations with China being improved, as we always have.
It is Labor that recognised China. I was in China just two and a half weeks ago. One of the things that happens when you meet with people in any region of China is that they always go back to the courageous decision of Whitlam.
Here in New South Wales, the courageous decision of Wran, where he made agreements leading to coal exports going to China.
We believe in free trade. We also believe that if the government says that Australians will benefit in terms of jobs, why is it they’re not prepared to have a discussion about how we can ensure that when jobs are created through a free trade agreement, Australians will be able to benefit from that through Labor market testing as it has to occur currently under 457 visas. That is what Labor is saying.
The current government should not look for conflict where it isn’t there. I think people are sick of that form of politics and I believe that we need to make sure that we get these arrangements right and that’s what Labor is saying.
REPORTER: I suppose, in light of your visit to China, do you think Labor’s opposition to the FTA could damage Australia’s reputation?
ALBANESE: Labor hasn’t said it’s opposed to the FTA. Labor has said we support free trade. Labor has said that we support our relationship with China. What we’ve said though, is that we need to get the details right and we need to make sure that the arrangements benefit the Australian community, the Australian workforce, and assist in creating jobs for Australians arising out of this agreement. That’s what we’ve said. At no stage have we said that we’re opposed to this agreement.
REPORTER: Are you concerned that there are elements of the Opposition, that there are some sort of racial overtones to it? Do you see that at all?
REPORTER: You’ve been critical of the government’s boat turn back policy before. How do you think it’s had an impact on our global reputation given the New York Times?
ALBANESE: We had a debate at national conference. Those issues were resolved. We had an opportunity as ALP members to state our views about what should or shouldn’t be in the ALP platform, but can I just say this about the ALP platform. It would provide for a much more humane response to the issue of asylum seekers than the current government and that is why the platform, indeed the amendments that were adopted at the national conference are something that I support.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.