Subjects: Victorian infrastructure investment, Regional Rail Link, Penalty rates, Fair Work Commission
NICK MCCALLUM: Mr Albanese, thanks indeed for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
MCCALLUM: Your chance to speak to him, and obviously about anything about Federal Labor and federal politics. The big issue here in Victoria is infrastructure. I presume you’ve hopped on a tram, have you? Like the Prime Minister always does when he comes to town?
ALBANESE: The difference is I support funding public transport, not just riding on it. I did catch the 86 tram here from up the top, Spring Street, and it got me here on time, efficiently. It’s a good system and I think it’s a fantastic decision that the Andrews Government made to have free tram travel around the city. It should be matched in other cities.
MCCALLUM: Now, Mr Andrews and Mr Turnbull have been having a long running war about infrastructure and the fact that Victoria doesn’t get its fair share of the tax pie, the Federal tax pie. Do you agree with Mr Andrews?
ALBANESE: I certainly do. Victoria is getting 12 per cent, even after the Regional Rail package that was, I guess, forced upon the Federal Government out of the asset recycling money. Victorians, if you look at what’s ahead, it’s even worse. Over the next four years funding will decline from $791 million this year down to $280.7 million. That’s the total funding. Now when we were in Government the funding for each and every Victorian was $201 when we were in office and it falls down to $46 by 2020-21. That is four out of every five dollars gone. And that’s not fair, Victoria represents 25 per cent of the population, Melbourne is Australia’s fastest growing city. The regional cities are growing and it’s simply not on that Malcolm Turnbull seems to have punished Victorians for having the temerity to vote Labor.
MCCALLUM: Do you think that, in a nutshell, you’re from Sydney yourself…
ALBANESE: I am.
MCCALLUM: Clearly the New South Wales Government doesn’t have the same problems, do you think it is as simple and as shallow minded as, we don’t like the Andrews Government, or is it East West?
ALBANESE: No, well when they first came into Government in, prior to the 2014 Budget, they cut money out of, $3 billion from the Melbourne Metro project that had been put aside. They cut $500 million from the M80 road project. We’d funded the first couple of stages of that project. They cut funding. The Melbourne Metro was a part of Tony Abbott’s view that there shouldn’t be any funding for public transport from the Commonwealth. He also cut funding in Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane for the Cross River Rail line. But what that meant is that Victorians missed out.
We funded projects like the Regional Rail Link here in Victoria that goes of course from Southern Cross Station, across the road, to Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. That was the largest ever Commonwealth funding for a public transport project and that was completed under the current Government, in the last year or so. But essentially there has been no new funding. There was an obsession with the East West Link that didn’t stack up; it produced 45 cents return for every dollar that would have been invested. And then there wasn’t a consideration of projects like Melbourne Metro. In some cases, the M80 project, funding that was cut was put back and they pretended it was a new announcement.
MCCALLUM: So will, if you win the next election, whenever that will be, presumably around about 2019, will you then look at helping out with the Metro tunnel?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. We’ve said at the last election campaign, just last year, we committed funds. We of course will make the 2019 announcements closer to the date, rather than this far in advance. But certainly we’re committed to working cooperatively, not just with the Victorian Government, but with all State and Territory Governments. That’s what we did when we were in office. I was able to work cooperatively with the Baillieu and Napthine Governments and it’s a pity that the Turnbull Government, like its predecessor, the Abbott Government, haven’t been able to do that.
MCCALLUM: Okay, Steve is on the line. Steve you’ve got a question for Anthony Albanese?
STEVE: Yes, good afternoon gentlemen. Mr Albanese, just a question in relation to, and no disrespect intended, but all sides of politics, you have to divide by two and half again sometimes what you guys say. Now, I think back to the penalty rates issue that’s going on at the moment. Now please correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that the Labor Party was in Government at the time that the review was commenced and sanctioned by the Labor Party. They then lost the next election and the Liberal Party or the Coalition ends up in power and leading on to the next election that Mr Turnbull and the Coalition won 18 months ago or whatever it was, 12 months ago.
I was listening to this station and Mr Shorten was asked a direct question by Neil Mitchell, it was will you accept the umpire’s decision in regard to penalty rates if you become the next Prime Minister? And Mr Shorten, black and white, categorically said it, two or three times if my memory serves me correctly, yes I will support that decision.
MCCALLUM: Okay, that’s a very good point Steve.
ALBANESE: Of course it’s the case that we’ve had industrial arbitration in this country for 100 years since the Harvester Judgement. There has never been a decision before this one that took wages away from a group of people without putting anything in return, without any compensation.
MCCALLUM: But that’s not the question, though Mr Albanese. The question is why did Mr Shorten say he would abide by the umpire’s decision and renege on that?
ALBANESE: What Bill Shorten would have thought I’m sure, like other Australians thought, like the Labor Government thought, there were reviews of industrial conditions all the time, would have thought that they’ll either be a neutral decision or an improvement. There’s never…
MCCALLUM: He didn’t take into account that the umpire could have actually gone against him?
ALBANESE: Given that it hasn’t happened for 100 years that you’ve had actual real wages cut. That someone earning $200 is told, no you’re going to earn $150. That hasn’t happened in any of the decisions that have been made by arbitration commissions, no matter who was in government over 100 years. Common sense tells you that at a time when real wages are falling, when the Reserve Bank Governor has said that we need to increase wages, indeed Ministers in the Government have said that, that it’s an economic problem. The idea that you’d take money from some of the poorest people is something that wasn’t countenanced at the time.
MCCALLUM: Okay, a lot more people want to speak to you Mr Albanese, we’ll be back after the break… Anthony Albanese, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure is in the studio. Your questions for him. Hi, Tim?
TIM: G’day. Mr Albanese, I’m a bit disappointed that you’re just pushing this spin about the East West freeway. You know as well as I do, I’m sure, that Mr Andrews repeatedly lied about the state of the fictitious legal advice over the contracts before the election and that the reason for cancelling it was to try and sandbag inner city seats from being lost to the Greens.
ALBANESE: That’s not right. He made it very clear. I was here, I’m a regular visitor to Melbourne and I know full well that before the election he made it very clear that it wouldn’t go ahead if he was elected and indeed there were front page stories here saying that he would cancel it beforehand. So he made it quite clear. And what’s extraordinary is that the Coalition Government rushed to sign contracts when they were virtually in caretaker mode. There was a fixed date for the election and to sign a contract to commit another Government to something was, I think, not on.
MCCALLUM: But Mr Andrews did say the contract was not worth the paper it was written on and clearly that was wrong if he ended up having to pay a billion dollars.
ALBANESE: Well he didn’t pay a billion dollars, that’s an exaggerated amount. But yes, there were some payments necessary, but he made it very clear that he wouldn’t be supporting the project and the analysis made very clear there was 45 cents return for every dollar invested. With regard to the Commonwealth funding the National Audit Office has been scathing in a report about advance payments, not just for stage one, but there were advance payments for stage two as well. A total of $1.5 billion forwarded to Victoria in the 2013-14 financial year, so basically in June, which is contrary to the Government’s policy. That is, that you should make milestone payments, that is pay for infrastructure as it’s being built, not give this advance payment for stage two which was years away.
MCCALLUM: James has a question; hi James.
JAMES: G’day Nick. Mr Albanese, Mr Shorten obviously a potential Prime Minister. My question is; how can we accept that he can come across as an honest individual when on this radio station there has been two instances where he’s said something that hasn’t been the truth and also I mean in terms of the royal commission, the questionable answers he gave. I don’t want any finger pointing as far as what the other camp are doing, but coming back to (inaudible)…
MCCALLUM: About the interest rates in particular…
ALBANESE: I’m not sure…
MCCALLUM: Penalty rates, sorry.
ALBANESE: Well I’ve answered that. Bill Shorten is an honest man. I’ve known Bill Shorten for a long period of time. He’s someone who is very committed to making a difference in this country and in particular to working people. He has spent his life defending working people when he was Secretary of the AWU. He’s now gone into Parliament and is, I think, making a difference.
MCCALLUM: But there is no doubt he said, I mean it’s on tape here, he said he would abide by the umpire’s decision on penalty rates and he’s reneged on that. There’s no doubt, you can caper around it but there’s no doubt.
ALBANESE: I’ve given what I’ve heard him say his response was and his reasoning for saying that at the time. That he didn’t envisage a circumstance and I can understand that as someone who has followed industrial relations as he has for a long period of time, that he just didn’t envisage the possibility that you would have a decision that would cut the real wages of some of the poorest people in our community.
MCCALLUM: Okay, we are going to have to wrap it up but it was great to have you in the studio.
ALBANESE: Great to be here.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.