Subjects: Infrastructure, Perth Freight Link, WA state election.
HOST: My guest now in the studio is the Federal Shadow Infrastructure Minister, transport and tourism also part of his portfolios, Anthony Albanese. Good morning to you Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
HOST: You are in Perth. You’ve been here for about a day and a bit. Why have you come to visit on this occasion?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well this is my fifth visit to Perth in the last year. People would know I am no stranger here to Perth and to the West and I have been here talking about infrastructure – particularly I had a meeting earlier today with Rita Saffioti and I was with her yesterday at the Northlink project. That’s a project that was funded when we were in government in our 2013 Budget when it was called the Swan Valley bypass, but of course a new name doesn’t mean it’s a new project. Having a look at that and also I had meetings and went down to East Fremantle yesterday talking about the Perth Freight Link and infrastructure is a big deal. WA of course has rising unemployment, it has increased debt. It has to have a plan for job creation and for future economic growth and I think infrastructure is one of the keys to that.
HOST: Mr Albanese, you now this issue well – you mentioned the Perth Freight Link. It’s going to loom large in the state election campaign that we are going through at the moment here in Western Australia. We go to the polls on March the 11th. The Liberal Party on the issue of jobs and infrastructure say that the construction of Roe 8 and then Roe 9 as part of a Perth Freight Link, is what they are calling it, will create jobs and it will improve connections between Perth’s road system and the Fremantle Port. Now, Labor – Western Australian Labor – oppose the construction of Roe 8. They say that it is too expensive, that it doesn’t get the job finished and that you would be better off spending that money on investing in a new port further south. Now this is an issue that you were engaged in as Shadow Minister during the last couple of Federal budgets where the Federal Liberal and National Party have committed money to this project. Why do you come down on the side that says well, we don’t think this road should be built?
ALBANESE: Because it doesn’t achieve its objectives. It doesn’t actually get freight to the port. It stops about 3km short of that so we are talking about a project that is about $1.5 billion that doesn’t achieve any aims. It will just dump trucks close to the port but not actually at the port, and at the same time will cause enormous environmental problems due to the location of Roe 8 through the wetlands. And I’ve got to say – I was of course the Infrastructure Minister for six years, I had a reasonable relationship with people like Troy Buswell and ministers that I dealt with in the WA Government. Not one of them, not once, at a bureaucratic level, at any level, was this Perth Freight Link proposal raised with me and so I was shocked when just months after we lost office in their first Budget they came out with this project and of course the WA Coalition Government said at the time that it wasn’t a proposal that had plans that were worthy of public scrutiny and they have been making it up essentially over the last three years, which is why very little has happened up to this point. They took money from public transport that we had allocated for the airport rail link that should have been well under construction by now and allocated it, or reallocated it, to this road project that is just a bad project and if you do that you can’t then have money to do METRONET that is necessary for public transport, but also important road projects that we would prioritise and that State Labor have said they will prioritise, like the overpasses at Wanneroo, the Armadale project further south as well.
HOST: Anthony Albanese, when you were the Federal Infrastructure Minister, Infrastructure Australia was a very important part of the way that you and your government, the Labor Government, decided to fund infrastructure priorities across the nation, not just in WA, but across the states. Infrastructure Australia has looked at Roe 8 and at the Perth Freight Link and it’s said that it is a worthwhile thing to do. Infrastructure Australia says that the Perth Freight Link is a piece of infrastructure that is required to help keep WA’s economy moving. Why is Infrastructure Australia wrong on that?
ALBANESE: Well what they have said is that it would produce a very small positive return. But you’ve got to look at what the opportunity cost is, the opportunity cost of not proceeding and getting on with the planning work of the Outer Harbour port that is necessary further south and the road and rail connections to that port. We know the Freo Port is going to be at full capacity in the early part of the next decade, by around about 2022. So the idea that you would prioritise that project, I think, is a wrong priority and that’s why when we were in government – I’m certainly not against road projects – we funded 80 per cent of the Gateway WA project, we widened the Great Eastern Highway, the Swan Valley Bypass – all of those projects were ours. The projects to Bunbury Port and Esperance Port were important projects; Port Hedland, the Great Northern Highway up there. All of that work was important. But the Perth Freight Link Project simply doesn’t add up as a priority and that’s why I think Mark McGowan and his team have got it right in prioritising public transport and other road projects that will make a real difference.
HOST: Anthony Albanese, four years ago when we last went through a state election. Federal Labor was in power, Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister. I covered that campaign and appearances by Federal Labor politicians were few and far between and they were pretty thin on the ground at that point.
ALBANESE: I think I was here pretty regularly, you might recall.
HOST: Certainly the Prime Minister wasn’t and there was a real effort from Mark McGowan to distance himself from the former Prime Minister, who at that point, it’s a matter of history, was unpopular here in Western Australia. Do you think that enough water has passed under the bridge, that Labor has put enough distance between that period of its history to become re-electable here in WA?
ALBANESE: I think that certainly is the case. I get a feeling here in Perth, and as I said, this is my fifth visit over the last year, that the Barnett Government is out of time, after two terms that they are out of ideas and out of steam and that people are looking for a change and I think that Mark McGowan has shown himself to be quite a formidable leader. I know Mark very well and I think the people around him, his team in senior roles like the Shadow Treasurer Wyatt and Shadow Transport Saffioti and that team would make a good government indeed. And it think federally, what we saw at the last election, where you had a vacating of the field essentially of Labor sitting members, it was quite remarkable. Not only did we hold on to those seats but we added Anne Aly in Cowan and of course Matt Keogh in the new seat of Burt. So we increased our representation and what’s more those people are all having an impact. Tim Hammond has already of course been made a Shadow Minister. But I was with Josh yesterday and I’ve been here with Madeleine down looking at the issue of the port down in Brand and they are a formidable team and I think Labor is certainly back in WA. We wait and see. The voters will have a big decision to make in just a few weeks’ time.
HOST: Anthony Albanese, you say Labor’s back and I’m sure I’m sure we can expect to see you back as the campaign unfolds. We appreciate you joining me in the studio today on the Morning Show.
ALBANESE: Great to be here.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.