Subjects: Tourism, Great Barrier Reef, infrastructure, State of Origin
JOHN MACKENZIE: Just a few months ago I had this bloke in the studio for a ten minute interview, a ten minute chat and it went for an hour and 20 minutes and I almost lost my bloody job. And now he’s back in town again. Albo, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day John. That was, I think, the world’s longest interview but it was very enjoyable, mate.
MACKENZIE: I thought so too. I thought it was bloody fascinating and funny. Now, where are you at the moment? What are you looking at?
ALBANESE: I am sitting in the cafe here at Green Island and I’m looking at jobs in the form of tourists walking past, particularly there’s a very large school group from Japan here and that of course is good news for Cairns. Every visitor means money for the local economy and for jobs.
MACKENZIE: I’m so pleased you’ve given me the perfect introduction because one of the problems we’ve got with preserving our jobs on the reef is this bullshit that’s being spread particularly through Europe but all around the world by people in the Green movement, let’s call them unscrupulous people in the Green movement who say the Great Barrier Reef is dead, and I’m counting on someone with the persuasive abilities of yourself to get out there after you’ve seen some beautiful coral out there and say it is far from dead. The reports of the death of the Great Barrier Reef are grossly exaggerated.
ALBANESE: I met yesterday with Tourism Tropical North Queensland there, just round the corner from your studios and I think the tourism sector’s Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef proposal is incredibly exciting. The idea that what you’ll have is people signing up as global citizens to support the Great Barrier Reef, to get that message out there that yes, it needs protection but it is a wonderful asset for this region. One of the Seven Wonders of the World and with good reason.
I think engaging people directly, which is what the tourism sector want to do, is a good thing. I met the chair and the people who’ll be running it. It’s a pretty lean, mean, outfit. Just a few people I met with last night from the Citizens idea. It’s not a campaign.
It’s more a permanent presence so that people can, one, get the message out there around the world that this is a wonderful place to visit, that the reef remains a fantastic natural wonder, but of course at the same time we do need to make sure that we protect it. There have been a couple of bleaching incidents in the last couple of years.
We met with the ranger here this morning, Pat, and talked with him. The numbers coming out here to Green Island of course remain very positive. They’re on average almost 1000 people every day and of course international visitor numbers to Cairns are up, which is a good thing and domestic numbers are a bit down unfortunately, but the international numbers are continuing to increase and direct flights from southern China, from Guangzhou through China Southern Airlines are going to be a big boost for this region as well.
MACKENZIE: There’s a lot of good news out there, I know, but I hope you take on board what I asked of you to begin with.
MACKENZIE: In fact, if you don’t mind. You’re renowned as being even handed, Albo and also have a very good antenna for ideology sometimes impacting on what masquerades as fact. So I’m going to send you an interview, in fact, it will be on your internet when you get home, from a gentleman who was on this program I think it was last Monday week actually.
He’s very highly qualified, in fact, he’s a Professor of Physics for the Marine Geophysics Laboratory at James Cook University, Professor Peter Ridd and it’s a real eye opener because some of the information that’s getting out there masquerading as scientific fact is dodgy and I’d like you to hear it and it’ll be on your internet when you get home.
ALBANESE: Thank you for that, John. Look, one of the things about this visit as well is that there’s Mark Butler, our climate change spokesperson and Tony Burke, our environmental spokesperson. Claire Moore was here yesterday as well, the Duty Senator for the electorate of Leichhardt and a good Queenslander.
One of the things is sometimes people say oh, well, is it the environment or tourism and one of the reasons why we’re all here together is to send a message that it’s not one or the other but the two assist each other. That we do need to protect our natural assets.
One of the ways that we protect them is for people to be able to see them. To understand why it’s important that it be preserved so that protecting the environment leads to stronger tourism, which leads to protection of the environment, if it’s done properly.
There’s a synergy there and you live in a wonderful part of the world and it is a great asset but you are so reliant upon tourism which is why we need to get the message out there, particularly in the wake of the cyclone as well that occurred earlier this year that in terms of the reef and the assets that are here, this is a fantastic place to visit. We need to give support to the operators who are working damn hard, who are employing Australians, who are contributing to the national economy.
MACKENZIE: Well I’m thrilled to realise you’re not delivering the sermon that we so often have from visiting politicians, Albo. Now, I need to take you to another front and centre matter. I was really enthused to read on page 8 of today’s Cairns Post that Anthony Albanese will head to Smithfield to see where the National Highway comes to a screeching halt.
This has been an issue for years because when we’ve needed funding at the federal level, of course, it doesn’t comply with the requirements, it’s not part of the Bruce Highway, it’s a missing link if you like and there’s some wonderful things that could develop if indeed we had some access to some federal funding, eg. there could be some help in getting the Smithfield bypass underway and easing the gridlock that so many of those northern beaches motorists cop every weekday through the year.
ALBANESE: That’s right. One of the things about Cairns that I think our national parliament sometimes doesn’t recognise is that you have a population of a little bit under quarter of a million up here, a bit over 200,000 but the visitor numbers on any particular day there can be 50,000 people here. Now, the ratepayers of Cairns can’t afford to pick up all of that bill.
There needs to be a recognition that that is a contribution to our national economy and without Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef and Far North Queensland we’d gew far fewer visitors, not just here, but in other places as well, when they combine a trip to Brisbane or Sydney or the rock, or somewhere else in this fantastic island continent that we live on. So there is, I think a national responsibility.
When I was the transport minister as you’d recall John, we put record funding into the Bruce Highway, we put $6.7 billion in under those 6 years. The Howard Government put $1.3 billion in over 12 so we more than quadrupled the funding over half the time.
But it has historically stopped around – it’s been seen as access essentially to Cairns Port. And with the growth that’s there in the northern beaches, used not just by locals with an expanding population but of course tourists travelling on the road up to Port Douglas and to Mossman Gorge and other areas of FNQ.
There is I think an argument about extension and that’s why I’m meeting with Craig Crawford. He’s organised for the main roads officials to brief me this afternoon or at lunchtime and I think that has to be borne in mind.
The study’s been done by the State Government, the one of the Smithfield bypass has been done by Building Queensland and that has either been released or is about to be released, but essentially the planning’s been done so that’s ready to go.
In general I think there’s an argument that Advance Cairns have been advocating for extending the definition of the M1, the idea of that east coast highway into the northern beaches at least in order to secure some federal support in terms of funding.
MACKENZIE: So if we get you over the line hopefully that will tip the Coalition Government over the line. It’ll be our salvation.
ALBANESE: That’s right. It’s another example I think of Labor leading from opposition. This government’s been relying upon for the last four years on opening projects that were funded when I was the minister so they need to do a bit more.
There were figures out yesterday from the Parliamentary Budget Office which show that the proportion of money spent on infrastructure as a proportion of GDP will fall over the coming decade by half, from 0.4% to 0.2%. That’s a disaster for Australia. We need to invest in roads and railway lines, not just as an end in itself because they create jobs while they’re being built of course, but for the long term health of our national economy.
We rely upon that infrastructure and I’ll certainly be putting pressure on the current government but also preparing I would hope for a change of government but regardless to put that pressure on to get those jobs being created in the short term when they’re needed.
MACKENZIE: Albo, I reckon you’re old enough to remember the Newcastle Song and the message of the Newcastle Song was never let a chance go by.
ALBANESE: It was a very good song indeed. I think it was in brackets, the Newcastle Song.
MACKENZIE: His name was Bob Hudson, I think.
ALBANESE: Yeah. Bob Hudson, that was a cracker of a song, never let a chance go by.
MACKENZIE: You’ve been living by the message ever since.
ALBANESE: I do my best, John, because it’s always fantastic to be able to talk to your listeners about the issues in Far North Queensland. This is an important part of the world and one of the reasons why we’ve put tourism together with infrastructure and transport is because of the link that’s there.
We’ll have a successful tourism industry when people can get around and people have good infrastructure. That’s what people look for when they come into the great city of Cairns.
MACKENZIE: Now, next time you’re up here, for God’s sake, put ten minutes aside and we’ll go for another hour and 20 minutes and I’ll risk my employment again.
ALBANESE: Well indeed. I’ll certainly be paying attention. There’s a very important tourism event in a couple of weeks where my beloved South Sydney Rabbitohs are having a home game here in Cairns.
MACKENZIE: You should come up.
ALBANESE: I’ll be watching that on the telly. I think that’s Sunday week. That’s a great example of innovation in tourism. I happen to know that up to 3000 Souths supporters will come up here, and they’ll come up not just for a day, they stay for a week or two.
MACKENZIE: It’s a wonderful atmosphere.
ALBANESE: It’s been a fantastic initiative and it’s an example of the private sector, essentially, using non-traditional ways of getting people to come here and of course, once you come here, you come back because it’s such a fantastic part of the world. It’s just a pity I’m only here this time for one day.
MACKENZIE: It’ll help you recover too, watching the Bunnies on television next week after you’ve lost the Origin series yet again.
ALBANESE: Oh, John. No Jonathan Thurston. You know, I think that will have a real impact on…no JT and no GI.
MACKENZIE: And no Matt Scott.
ALBANESE: And no Matty Scott. A good North Queensland local. Although Greg Inglis of course is hardly a local given he’s actually from near Kempsey in New South Wales.
MACKENZIE: So you’ve been listening to the words of that silly song, too.
ALBANESE: That’s In Queensland, that’s a great song.
MACKENZIE: Albo, it’s been a pleasure as always but come into the studio next time you’re in town.
ALBANESE: I certainly will mate, great to talk to you.
MACKENZIE: Anthony Albanese, he’s the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Cities and Tourism.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.