May 11, 2015

Transcript of radio interview – ABC Brisbane, Mornings with Steve Austin

Subjects: Cross River Rail project, public transport

STEVE AUSTIN: You may have forgotten that Treasurer Joe Hockey boasted once that he would fund the equivalent of eight Snowy Mountain schemes in new infrastructure in Australia over the next decade. Prime Minister Tony Abbott once declared that he would be the Infrastructure Prime Minister of Australia. Well tomorrow night we’ll get a chance to see if they’re delivering on that with this Budget. Once we had an agreement with the federal government to fund the Cross River Rail project. When Anthony Albanese was the Labor Minister for Infrastructure he reached a deal with then Premier Campbell Newman to build it. But since Tony Abbott became Prime Minister the project was shelved. Let’s go to the man who is now the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese. Anthony Albanese, good morning to you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Steve.

AUSTIN:  Whatever happened to it?

ALBANESE: Well, what happened was that Campbell Newman got rolled by his own Cabinet. There was an agreement, we even had the press conference organised for the Friday after the 2013 Budget. We had $715 million allocated by the Federal Government but the Tony Abbott obsession with refusing to fund any public transport project because he believes that, in his own words, people don’t, not enough people want to go from a particular destination to another at a particular time to warrant anything other than roads, means that all public transport funding from the Federal Government was going to be canned if he became Prime Minister and that’s exactly what happened. So in anticipation of that, the Queensland Government walked away form that agreement.

AUSTIN:  Now the Treasurer Joe Hockey once did say he would fund the equivalent of eight Snowy Mountain schemes over the next decade and I’m quoting him. Is there any indication or talk in Canberra that any of this at all will be delivered in the Budget?

ALBANESE: Of course (in) last year’s Budget all they did was take money from projects like Cross River Rail and commit it to a road project in Melbourne that hadn’t been through any proper process and we now know would have returned 45c for every dollar that was invested. That was the East-West project. So they took money out of Queensland and gave it to election commitments in other places. There’s no new infrastructure for South-East Queensland. All the projects for which there’s some funding, like Gateway North, was committed by the previous Government, was already in the Budget. The Bruce Highway funding is actually less over the forward estimates than was committed by the former government and of course the withdrawal of public transport funding means that projects like the Moreton Bay Rail Link, that’s gone gangbusters, and importantly the Gold Coast Light Rail project where I noticed just a couple of weeks ago that they tipped over for five million journeys on that light rail project. This was a project that was also opposed by the Coalition. You can’t deal with urban congestion unless you invest in public transport. Roads are important, we invested in the Ipswich Motorway and of course the Legacy Way tunnel as well had $500 million of Commonwealth funding, but you also need to deal with public transport and Cross River Rail was identified by Infrastructure Australia as the best project in the country, bar none.

AUSTIN:  I’d forgotten that. So just remind me what it would look like if we went ahead with it Anthony Albanese, the Cross River Rail project that is now shelved for Brisbane?

ALBANESE: What it is essentially about is increasing the capacity of the rail line. So you had a second river crossing plus in addition to that new stations, urban redevelopment around either side of the river and importantly by dealing with that congestion issue if you like, in terms of the rail system, you’d increase the capacity not just for people in Brisbane but for the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast commuters as well.

AUSTIN:  Could we still build it? Is there any impediment to it other than political will?

ALBANESE: There is certainly no impediment to it. Taking Teresa Gambaro’s comments and I note that she has in the past and reaffirmed today what a great project it was and said that she supported it. Well, she’s the local member who would benefit from this along with the people that she represents most importantly. But you can’t just say that and then say, oh we will wait until we get back into Budget surplus given that Joe Hockey has said that might be a long time into the future. The important thing about infrastructure investment is it’s not just a cost. It produces a return to the government to increase productivity in the economy and allowing the economy to grow as well as of course the jobs that would be created during the construction phase, just like a lot of jobs have been created in the northern suburbs through the Moreton Bay Rail Link project.

AUSTIN:  I’m talking with Anthony Albanese. He was the Minister for Infrastructure when he struck deal with then Premier Campbell Newman to build the Cross River Rail project. As we know there was a change of heart in Cabinet and things changed, there’s been a change of government federally and more. Anthony Albanese is now the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. It’s two minutes to nine, Steve Austin’s my name and this is 612 ABC Brisbane. How much would have it have cost, Anthony Albanese, what was the planned start date had it gone ahead, your agreement with Campbell Newman?

ALBANESE: The construction was due to start in the current financial year, it would have been underway now in 2014-15 was when funding was due to start. There was $715 million committed from the federal government, $715 million from the state government and we were looking for just like the Gold Coast Light Rail project, looking for some private sector funding to supplement that as well. The costings at the time were around about $6 billion and it would have taken around about eight years to be fully completed. But over that period of time there was also, at the request of the Queensland Government, a guarantee built into the project from the Federal Government. It had been worked out in a great deal of detail, but of course part the benefit of the project was going to be what economic pointy heads refer to as the uplift factors – which essentially means that when you build a new railway station all the land around that railway station is worth more money because developers, of course, want to build higher urban density and residential as well as commercial close to having that access to the public transport corridor. So this was a project that had been worked at in great detail and it was supported originally by Anna Bligh’s government, Campbell Newman came into government and continued to support it and importantly Infrastructure Australia, just like the Queensland Government has Jackie Trad, is sending it off to her equivalent.

AUSTIN: I’m going to have to go, Anthony Albanese thank you very much for you time.

ALBANESE: No worries, thanks very much.