Feb 14, 2016

Transcript of press conference – Sydney Town Hall


Subjects: Darren Chester; Government’s infrastructure propaganda campaign; cities portfolio downgrade; political donations

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for coming. I want to make some comments about the appointment of the latest Turnbull Government Ministry. Firstly, I congratulate Darren Chester on his appointment as the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

If he’s going to have credibility what he needs to do as his first action is cancel the $18 million propaganda campaign, where money was taken from an allocation in the Budget that was meant to build infrastructure, in order to fund a campaign about what the Turnbull Government hasn’t done when it comes to infrastructure.

$18 million to be spent between March and August of this year. It is no wonder that Australians are cynical about politics when you have this cynical move by the Turnbull Government, which on top of its failure to actually build infrastructure is actually taking some of the money that was allocated for construction and spending it instead on an advertising campaign to hide that very failure.

Secondly, when it comes to the appointment of the Cities Minister. Malcolm Turnbull said that one of the big differences between himself and Tony Abbott was attitude towards cities and urban policy and his attitude toward public transport.

What we saw was the appointment of Jamie Briggs as the Cities Minister. And people welcomed that. But what we know now was that that was just window dressing.

The fact that Malcolm Turnbull has downgraded that position to that of a Parliamentary Secretary and appointed someone who doesn’t live in one of the major cities of Australia, where 80% of Australians live, says it all.

It’s gone from a position of a ministry to just merely being a Parliamentary Secretary, even though Malcolm Turnbull is calling it an Assistant Minister.

What’s extraordinary isn’t just that I think that. Kristina Keneally sent out a tweet earlier today condemning this downgrading and it was ‘liked’ by the former Cities Minister, Jamie Briggs.

It says it all when Jamie Briggs knows that the rhetoric used by Malcolm Turnbull to ascend to the Prime Ministership, that he would take cities policy seriously, he would take urban policy seriously, has now been downgraded to just a Parliamentary Secretary who also has responsibility as Parliamentary Secretary for Communications.

There’s still no cities department. There’s no major cities unit. There’s no urban policy, and there’s no funding of urban public transport except for a small allocation from the Moreton Bay Rail Link in Brisbane towards the second stage of the Gold Coast Light Rail project.

This shows graphically how Malcolm Turnbull was all about just grabbing the job for power’s sake, not to actually change any of Tony Abbott’s policies and if he was fair dinkum, why bother having a Parliamentary Secretary in that position?

REPORTER: The money that you say was taken out for what you describe as propaganda purposes, how do you know that?

ALBANESE: It was put in the Mid Year Economic Forecast at the end of last year and in questions in Senate Estimates we confirmed that that $18 million was taken from the existing infrastructure budget.

It was done by a committee that was overseen by Christopher Pyne. He chaired the Cabinet committee that decided that money should be spent on propaganda and advertising. It will go across television and print advertising. There will be advertising nationally but also regional campaigns.

We know that millions of dollars has been spent of that $18 million on research, on testing of the ads which has all been done, and the ad campaign will conveniently be rushed out between March and August.

Now, if the Government was fair dinkum about a long term infrastructure advertising campaign, then it wouldn’t be during just the lead up to the federal election. That shows how cynical that campaign is.

The fact that it was approved by Christopher Pyne, who has nothing to do with the infrastructure budget, and the fact that the money was taken from the Budget that was meant to be for actually building infrastructure, instead, in a cynical manoeuvre, is being used to advertise the government’s failure when it comes to infrastructure development.

REPORTER: Can I just ask, there are some anonymous quotes in Fairfax Media today about Shorten’s leadership. Do Labor MPs still think he can win?

ALBANESE: I certainly am committed towards winning the next election and I believe we can win. I think people are very cynical about Malcolm Turnbull. We have a reshuffle every couple of weeks. We’ve had Ministers come and go. Malcolm Turnbull said that he’d make a difference.

When Tony Abbott lost the Prime Ministership, Australians were entitled to breath a sigh of relief. They expected something different on climate change and they haven’t got it. They expected something different on social policy such as marriage equality, and they haven’t got it. They expected something different on urban policy and cities, and with the reshuffle, they now know that Malcolm Turnbull isn’t even pretending that this is a priority.

REPORTER: But the polling doesn’t suggest that voters are cynical.

ALBANESE: People gave Malcolm Turnbull the benefit of the doubt. Increasingly, we know that there’s chaos within the Government’s ranks on personality issues. More importantly, there’s chaos when it comes to issues of substance.

We saw last week the leaking of documents and letters to Tony Abbott from Stuart Robert that showed that he didn’t identify what the purpose of his visit to China was. That came from within the Government.

But we’re also seeing when it comes to policy issues, cities go from being a big distinction between Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. Now, I think those people in the sector will be very, very disappointed with the announcement that’s been made over the weekend that Malcolm Turnbull is walking away from any pretence of engagement with our cities.

Fixing urban congestion. Dealing with urban design. Dealing with the amenity and quality of life for those 8 out of 10 Australians that live in our cities is no longer a priority for the Turnbull Government. There’s a bit of window dressing in appointing Jamie Briggs as the Cities Minister. They failed to replace him for two months and now we know they’ve failed to replace him at all.

REPORTER: Do you think Coalition ministers have learnt not to misbehave now, after everything we’re seeing after Jamie Briggs and Stuart Robert?

ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see, but there’s a certain arrogance behind the Coalition. The fact that Stuart Robert thought it was acceptable to just stonewall answers in Question Time this week. The fact that we had ministers wait until the gap between Christmas and New Years for the announcement from Malcolm Turnbull about the replacement.

There was no need for an inquiry into Stuart Robert because Stuart Robert gave himself up. His defence was ‘I was acting in a personal capacity’. Well, it’s that very defence that breached the ministerial guidelines which says that you can’t be a minister and go and make representations on behalf of a private company. And it just happens to be a private company with a key figure, who’s swanning around at these private meetings in China, who donated more than $2 million to the Liberal Party.

REPORTER: Can we just ask, Foley’s announcement today about real time political donation disclosures, so-called real time, should that be implemented federally, do you believe?

ALBANESE: Luke Foley’s announcement today is a very significant one indeed. It follows Bill Shorten’s announcements that Labor federally supports a reduction in donations and declarations to $1000 from the $13,000 where it is at the moment. It follows the significant reforms that federal Labor has supported about disclosure.

We’ll have a look at this proposal which has only been announced by Luke Foley, but Labor consistently has supported transparency when it comes to declarations of donations and when it comes to all of these issues.

It’s the Liberal Party that have changed those positions and have failed to come to a consensus. These issues need to be dealt with.

REPORTER: [inaudible] musical chairs at the moment, would you be surprised if we saw another reshuffle before the election?

ALBANESE: I wouldn’t be at all surprised. These are a group of people who don’t have any policy coherence, who don’t have any agreement with each other. These are people who don’t like each other, who are sitting around the room, who are fighting over who gets to sit where.

It’s musical chairs when it comes to the Turnbull ministry and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the leaking continues, if the undermining continues and if we see the policy and organisational chaos continue under the Turnbull Government. It’s been a chaotic period since Malcolm Turnbull took over.

REPORTER: I just want one more question on the donations. Do you think it has merit?

ALBANESE: Of course, any transparency measure has merit. I think the challenge from Luke Foley today is for Mike Baird to support this transparency. And he should.

After all, the first period of the Coalition Government of which he was a part saw ministers and backbenchers lose office as a result of the lack of transparency around donations. Thanks.