Subjects: Darwin infrastructure; City Partnerships; Leadership spill; Scott Morrison; Tony Abbott; Emma Husar; Darwin Port; Ports Australia; China; freight.
ADAM STEER: After a tumultuous week in Canberra the MPs are making the most of a non-sitting week and getting away from the scene of all that political madness. And today Darwin has received one of the leaders of the ALP – Opposition spokesperson for Transport and Infrastructure and Opposition spokesperson for Cities, Anthony Albanese. Anthony, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
STEER: Let’s start with the Cities Deal. Darwin has been waiting for a Cities Deal with the Government now for 16 months. Three sitting members have had the control of the portfolio. How would a Labor Government handle the cities deal?
ALBANESE: Well what we wouldn’t do is make a promise 498 days ago, which is what they did and then have nothing happen. We’ll work with whatever it is that comes through this process. But we will have what we’re calling City Partnerships, which is a much deeper relationship with local government and with the state or territory governments to have a truly strategic plan for the city rather than – what it’s been in a couple of places is essentially one or two projects with the City Deal title knocked on the top of it.
The other thing that’s going on though, here in the Northern Territory, at the same time they’ve been talking about the City Deal, you see infrastructure investment from the Commonwealth fall off a cliff. From $222 million in the current financial year – it falls away to $61 million in 2021-22. So at the end of the Forward Estimates. So commitments like Central Arnhem Road upgrades – Buntine Highway, are really off in the never never. And I think people want to see progress in the immediate term. We’ve seen minister after minister now promise things into the future that they just haven’t realised.
STEER: Well, the Gunner Government wants $100 million out of the Federal Government as part of this City Deal. Part of that money will be spent to move some of Charles Darwin University into the city. If Labor were to be successful at the next election would you be giving the Gunner Government an extra $100 million as part of some sort of cities deal?
ALBANESE: What we’ll certainly do is honour any commitments that are made between …
STEER: Well there hasn’t been one yet, obviously.
ALBANESE: We expect that there will be one at some stage, given that it’s almost 500 days. So I would expect that there will be a commitment some time later this year. But certainly we think that the idea of moving CDU into the city and some of the visions that we had – I met with Minister Lawler yesterday and we had a really good constructive discussion about what was required for the city, about the vision that’s there in terms of greening up the city, bringing life back into the city; the idea of making sure that it’s an attractive place to do business and indeed to visit. And I know that Luke Gosling has been relentless in making sure that the Federal Government is fully aware, everyone in the Parliament is aware, that the City Deal here in Darwin hasn’t been delivered and I’ll be meeting with Luke later today.
STEER: The Gunner Government also wanted $50 million at some stage for a new museum at Myilly Point. Was that something that you would entertain, that you might …
ALBANESE: We’ll give consideration to all the proposals which are there. Minister Lawler is a new minister – I’ve also met, of course, the Chief Minister about these issues before. And we will, as I say, take whatever it is that comes out of the City Deal but build on it by sitting down and working these issues through.
STEER: Well from one city to another let’s move to the crisis that’s been happening in Canberra over the last week or so. What do you think of the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to make Tony Abbott the Indigenous Envoy, given we already have an Indigenous Affairs Minister in Senator Scullion?
ALBANESE: If I was the Indigenous Affairs Minister, I would be pretty unhappy, I guess perturbed by it. I think that the statements that people like Pat Dodson have made on our side are quite right. What is the role going to be? It’s very unclear. If it’s about just keeping Tony Abbott busy and away from his fellow caucus members. I can understand why Scott Morrison would want that to happen. But it’s a bit strange, we already have ministers, we have assistant ministers, for the life of me I’m not quite sure what an envoy is.
STEER: Labor is calling for an election as soon as possible. What do you see are the dangers of having Scott Morrison as the Leader of the party you’re up against?
ALBANESE: Look we, you know, bat back the balls from whoever’s bowling them down. But it’s a revolving door. We now have the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government, having a common policy thread through no action on climate change and indeed no energy policy now. No real action on cities, no action when it comes to education and health. We just have cuts. Cuts to the ABC and SBS. So whoever the Prime Minister is the policies haven’t changed. And we think that it is right that the Australian people get a say in who the Prime Minister is and that’s why there should be an election. Last Thursday, of course, the Government stopped Parliament sitting which was quite extraordinary.
STEER: Let’s turn to your own party. The outgoing MP Emma Husar has pointed to slut-shaming as the reason for her step down from Parliament. Do you think that’s a fair characterisation by her?
ALBANESE: Look I’m not going to comment on those issues. I think they have been very difficult for Emma. They have been difficult for her staff members, who made the complaints. And I think it is not surprising that Emma has a right of course to speak out. And certainly I think that the journalists who chose to publish what were allegations, that were immediately rejected as being untrue, I think need to show greater professionalism.
STEER: Twenty former staff members have come forward with allegations against her, but there is still an investigation underway. Is the investigation result, regardless of how it falls, going to be too little too late?
ALBANESE: Look the process was established and I think that was appropriate, given that people had come forward to the party office. People were able to put their views forward. Mr Whelan came up with a report and of course Emma Husar chose to indicate that she wouldn’t run at the next election. I wish Emma all the best. It has been a very difficult time for her, but it obviously has been difficult for some of the staff members involved as well.
STEER: You’re in town at the moment for the Australian Ports Conference with a major focus on that conference is security. How comfortable are you with Darwin Ports, well, a major port, being owned by the Chinese?
ALBANESE: Well I wouldn’t have supported the leasing of a major port. I would have kept it in Government ownership, frankly. When you have a port that is so strategically important for Australia’s north, but that decision was made by the Government …
STEER: It has been leased to Landbridge for the next 99 years …
ALBANESE: It has been leased.
STEER: How comfortable are you with that deal?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll work with it. It’s a reality. And if I’m the Infrastructure Minister I’ll work with whoever the owners are of all of the ports right around Australia.
STEER: What do you hope to get out of the conference this week?
ALBANESE: What I hope is that there’s a strategic approach to our national ports; that we have an emphasis about protecting corridors around ports – rail and road corridors; that we acknowledge that ports aren’t islands that are isolated from the communities around them and the transport networks around them. I think that’s been the big failing. Anything we can do to boost productivity in our ports is important given that 99 per cent of our exports and imports come through our ports. Australia has the fifth largest freight task in the world.
STEER: Of course Darwin Port, it’s the closest to Asia out of all of the Australian ports. We’re seeing a massive expansion through South-East Asia by the Chinese for the One Belt One Road Scheme. Should we be jumping on top of that? Should we be part of that?
ALBANESE: Well I think we need to engage with China constructively. They’re a very important partner for us. I don’t buy into some of the China phobia that has been out there. I think there’s no doubt that in the future – what we’re seeing with the rise of China is essentially the lifting of 25 per cent of the world’s population out of poverty. And that’s been a good thing. It’s a good thing for China, but it’s also a good thing for the world because that is leading to economic growth and job creation here in Australia.
STEER: Anthony Albanese thanks for your time today, appreciate it.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
WEDNESDAY, 29 AUGUST, 2018
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.