Apr 4, 2016

Transcript of press conference – Townsville, Queensland

Subjects: Townsville Stadium; Labor’s record on infrastructure; Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to cut public education; National Broadband Network; Bob Ellis

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s fantastic to be back in Townsville with Cathy O’Toole, Labor’s candidate for Herbert at the election that, apparently, is going to be called for the 2nd of July.

Time’s running out for the Coalition to back the Townsville Stadium. This is a great project and I’m proud to be supporting it as both the Shadow Infrastructure Minister and the Shadow Tourism Minister.

Federal Labor will make a contribution if we are elected to Government of $100 million to match the State Government contribution.

What this Stadium is about is more than just backing in the North Queensland Cowboys, as important as that might be. It’s important for jobs; something like 700 construction jobs created by building this new piece of infrastructure, and importantly because the stadium will be just one kilometre from the centre of the city, rather than 17 kilometres in a residential area, it will transform Townsville.

It will bring people to Cowboys home games. It will bring thousands of people every single time. And that’s of great benefit, because what we know is that people who travel for sport tourism stay. They don’t just come for the game, they come for the weekend, or they come for the week, or indeed the fortnight or longer. And that’s why this project would be a huge boost to jobs and tourism here in Townsville.

It’s about time that the Federal Coalition Government got on board with this project. It’s about time they stopped ignoring Townsville and taking far-North Queensland for granted. Because what we’ve seen since the election of the Coalition Government, whether it be under Tony Abbott or Malcom Turnbull, is cuts; a slowdown in the Bruce Highway projects.

When I was the Minister, projects like the Cardwell Range, the Vantassel upgrade, the Port Access Road, the Townsville Ring Road, were all funded by the Federal Labor Government.

The Coalition, including Ewen Jones, has been happy to attend openings and, as part of their magical infrastructure re-announcement tour, claim projects that were started and funded under the Federal Labor Government as their own. But there’s been no new initiatives whatsoever of any significance when it comes to the Bruce Highway right throughout Queensland.

Just last week you had Warren Truss, the former Minister, claiming the section of Cooroy to Curra on the Bruce Highway in his own electorate that was ignored during the 12 years of the Coalition Government, of which he was the Transport Minister, somehow had something to do with the Coalition.

But what we know is that Federal Labor while we were in Government contributed $5.7 billion to the Bruce in terms of funding, compared with $1.3 under the Coalition during those 12 years. So we saw four times the funding in half the time. That’s consistent with Labor’s nation building agenda.

It’s consistent also with the rollout of the National Broadband Network that I turned on here in Townsville in 2013. But of course the Coalition with Malcolm Turnbull, stuck in the past as he is; wanting a 1940s tax system, wanting to abolish all funding for public education, and now in terms of the National Broadband Network, when he was the Minister, wanting to instead of having fibre having copper – the technology of the last century. It’s quite absurd.

So here in Townsville I’m very proud to be supporting Cathy O’Toole. Cathy O’Toole will actually stand up for the interests of Townsville and the region. She’ll stand up to Canberra – she’ll be a strong voice. And she’ll be an advocate for infrastructure and tourism. I think the pledge of Federal Labor for $100 million for the Townsville Stadium is due credit to Cathy O’Toole and her ability to be a strong advocate for this region.

O’TOOLE: It’s fantastic to have Anthony Albanese with us this morning and as Anthony has said the Stadium is absolutely crucial for our city. Labor last year, in September with Bill Shorten, I stood by him as we announced $100 million that Labor would give to the Townsville Stadium to match the State Government’s bid to ensure that we got this vital piece of infrastructure. It’s absolutely crucial for us to have this infrastructure built – the 700 jobs it will provide, shovel-ready.

It also means we will draw more people into our city for the football games, the basketball games it will house. It also means that our small businesses will have greater opportunity for growth and development, which means of course that we create more jobs in our community.

And that is absolutely what our community needs right now. Our community needs a government that will stand up and say we care about your employment, we care about your families, and we’re absolutely committed to the growth of your economy. I’m really proud to be standing as the Labor candidate for the seat of Herbert because Labor has a plan for Townsville. We have a very clear plan that will see our economy grow, job creation, protection of jobs and infrastructure builds will continue after six years of lying in the doldrums.

JOURNALIST: Anthony, obviously the State Government is saying that they won’t put any more money towards the super stadium. You’re promising that if Labor gets in you’ll contribute $100 million. There’s still a shortfall just to build the stadium – a $50 million shortfall, you’re still not concerned about where that money might come from?

ALBANESE: Look I’m very confident that $100 million is a significant contribution that I’m advised will ensure that the project can go ahead. This is a project that is shovel-ready. This is a project that will transform Townsville.

As the Minister for Regional Development and Infrastructure, I provided funds for stadiums such as the one at the Gold Coast where we contributed $37 million. What we know is that people who attend sporting events stay for longer than the event and make economic contributions. And by changing the venue from one that’s outside the city to one that’s here in the centre of Townsville it will mean that the experience of going to the football, or the basketball, or other activities, as well.

And of course an upgrade of a stadium such as this with world class facilities will also have benefit for the local community including school sports as well. What you find is that when you have a top class facility, it makes an enormous difference to a city.

It’s also about pride. Why should a great regional city such as Townsville, which is the most significant city outside of Brisbane in Queensland, and one of the most significant regional cities in the country, not have a first class facility? It will, I believe, make an enormous difference to jobs and the economy here in Townsville in the short term, during construction, but importantly on an ongoing basis.

JOURNALIST: But if the Stadium’s to be built first, and just the stadium, not the integrated component, that’s $250 million, where do you think the extra $50 million should come from?

ALBANESE: Well it’s not up to me – I’m not the proponent of the project.

JOURNALIST: Are you not concerned though that it mightn’t get off the ground if there is that shortfall?

ALBANESE: I’m very confident that $100 million contribution from the Federal and State Governments would ensure that this project would go ahead.

JOURNALIST: So you would then like the State Government to look at filling that shortfall?

ALBANESE: I’m very confident that the project will go ahead. We have a $100 million commitment. Out there, very clear, unambiguous. You know how much the Coalition and Ewen Jones and Malcolm Turnbull have got? Zero. Absolutely nothing.

The Budget is on the third of May. The Federal Government needs to have in the Budget, on Budget night, a declaration of at least $100 million to match Labor’s commitment on Budget Night. Otherwise it won’t be taken seriously by the people of Townsville.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think the Government is so reluctant to commit to funding this project?

ALBANESE: Well I think they take this area for granted. I think when you look at the funding in terms of infrastructure funding for this entire region of North Queensland far-North Queensland whether it be the Bruce Highway, whether it be the Cape York Roads, whether it be the health facilities and infrastructure, whether it be the NBN, you have not seen a significant contribution from the Coalition Government.

I think Malcolm Turnbull just doesn’t get it. I mean, the Cowboys he probably thinks are a rodeo event. That’s Malcolm Turnbull’s problem and the Cowboys of course, are a significant source of pride after their fantastic victory in the Grand Final last year, something that was cheered on by everyone I think who wasn’t a Broncos supporter was on the Cowboys that night and I had the privilege to be there, which I enjoyed almost as much as I enjoyed the Grand Final the year before, which I’d waited 43 years to see, just by the by.

But I think in terms of the commitment that we’re making, it’s very significant and it’s up to the Government to explain why is it that they’re not prepared to back this project in.

JOURNALIST: Will you be calling for the Council or the NRL to provide that extra $50 million and will you be telling State Government, here’s $100 million get the project started and then look for the shortfall.

ALBANESE: No, it’s up to the proponents of the project to have discussions with other interest groups. It’s not up to me, with respect, as a Shadow Infrastructure Minister to do that. What we are doing is putting the $100 million on the table, confirming once again that it’s here. We made the commitment with the Labor Leader Bill Shorten and Cathy O’Toole last year.

It is now many months since then, we’re well into the 2016 rugby league season and still we have nothing but silence from the Federal Coalition Government.  Well that’s not good enough. What we do know is that we need certainty for this project. Let’s get on with it, let’s get it done. Let’s have a Federal contribution along with a State contribution to ensure that this project can go ahead.

JOURNALIST: Malcolm Turnbull has said that the Labor Party is making fantasy promises in terms of funding and promising money that the Federal Government doesn’t have. What do you think of that?

ALBANESE: Well we put out very clearly our plan for education funding. For example; $37 billion properly costed, over the ten years, $4.5 billion in year five and six of Gonski. Malcolm Turnbull is saying that now. What he and every Coalition member said including Ewen Jones at the last election with their corflutes saying that every school will get exactly the same level of funding, regardless of who was elected.

Every time Malcolm Turnbull makes a comment about education policy, he makes a lie of the commitment on which he and every Coalition member were elected in 2013. Education is about an investment.

The problem with Malcolm Turnbull and the toffs in his party is that they don’t understand how significant education is in creating opportunity – opportunity for every kid, no matter how humble their beginnings. To make the best of their lives and that is in the interest of that individual child, but it’s also in the interest of our nation.

If we’re going to compete in the 21st century, we need to compete on the basis of our capacity, and that is dependent upon education: education in terms of innovation, education in terms of providing that opportunity for people to make the best for themselves, but also for the nation.

And Malcolm Turnbull gave it up last week when he said he was in favour of no funding for education for children who went to public schools, but the Commonwealth would still provide funding for private schools.

If there’s any doubt about how out of touch Malcolm Turnbull is from struggle street Point Piper there, looking out over the rest of Australia, than that said it all –quite happy for the Commonwealth to provide additional funding for private schools and those people who can afford it, but abandoning any commitment to public education.
Imagine what the right wing commentators would say if Federal Labor came up with a policy that there would be no funding for private schools and just funding for public schools. Quite absurd.

The benefit of David Gonski and his review was that it was about ending the decade’s old debate about public versus private. It was about providing funding for every child, regardless of what school they went to, on the basis of need and ending that debate.

Malcolm Turnbull, instead of embracing that, embracing the future, embracing education as being about opportunity, has turned the clock back to the stale old debate and we know now that if he had his way, there would be no funding from the Commonwealth for any public school student anywhere in the country and that is a disgrace that the Prime Minister of Australia could raise such a policy.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about a Grattan Institute report which has found that road funding has been spent on marginal regional electorates ahead of city projects.

ALBANESE: I am indeed, but I’m not surprised. In terms of when we were in Government we provided funding based upon Infrastructure Australia’s recommendations. It recommended projects like the Pacific Highway, like the Bruce Highway upgrades. It recommended projects of which 15 out of 15 priority projects we funded.

What the Federal Government has done is basically slow down funding on projects like the Bruce Highway and provide advance payments that have been identified by the Grattan Institute. Advance payments of $1.5 billion for the East West Link in Melbourne that had a 0.45 return, or 45 cents return for every dollar that was invested. We know now that that’s the business case. But they provided it without a business case and they provided funding for Westconnex in the form of a grant and a loan in Sydney without any business case being seen or ticked off on by Infrastructure Australia as well.

So the Grattan Institute have pointed quite rightly, that this is a Government that has funded road projects including the East West link, Westconnex in Sydney and the Perth Freight Link project based upon politics not based upon a need and an analysis of what’s best for the economy.

JOURNALIST: On that argument though, isn’t it a good thing then that the government is taking its time on a super stadium funding, letting Infrastructure Australia evaluate the project instead of just jumping into it based on politics?

ALBANESE: This isn’t jumping into it. This is a project that has been around for a couple of years. This is a project that is needed. This is a project that we know in terms of the multiplier impact.

Infrastructure Australia doesn’t look at stadiums. That’s not their job. They have never looked or come up with a stadium project yet. So that’s an excuse by the Federal Government. We know that this will have enormous benefit and we know that it is worthy of support. It has the State Labor Government support; it has Federal Labor’s support. The only thing it’s lacking is support from Malcolm Turnbull.

JOURNALIST: The Government has said the budget position is tight and that we have to live within our means and that Labor’s proposal will mean an increase in taxes. What’s your reaction to their comments?

ALBANESE: Well that’s nonsense. All of our commitments have been fully costed and we’ve said exactly, precisely where the money is coming from. This is a government that doesn’t like public education, that doesn’t like public health, that doesn’t like public transport and still isn’t funding it, that doesn’t like the public broadcaster – they just don’t like the public. There’s a theme here.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any comments on the death of Bob Ellis?

ALBANESE: Bob Ellis was someone who I worked with in Bob Carr’s office prior to going into parliament. He was a larger than life character. He was an eccentric but great Australian. He was an extraordinary writer who was capable of evoking images of this great country which he loved. He at times could say things that any reasonable person would disagree with and that was I guess part of his character.

He was part of that old Australian ethos of just say what you think and damn the consequences and Bob Ellis was that but he was always sincere. And he had a great love for Australia. He made a great contribution to the Arts here in Australia and many people, his friends and family, and those he had contact with will miss him greatly. There was always a witty anecdote and he was always a fun person to be around.

He used to haunt the corridors of parliament there, whenever there was a crisis, Bob Ellis would appear and it is very sad that that won’t be the case in the future but my since condolences go out to his family and to his friends.