SUBJECTS: Federal election; flights from Darwin to Asia; refugee resettlement; NAIF; fracking.
ADAM STEER, HOST: Politics is a game that moves quickly. Two months ago the prediction was that Bill Shorten would be leading a Labor government while the Coalition licked its wounds after years of leadership instability. But instead Scott Morrison has won the race to the prime ministership and Anthony Albanese has become the Leader of the Opposition. And now he’s come to Darwin as part of his tour around the country to find out what went wrong. Anthony Albanese, what have the people of Darwin told you so far?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, FEDERAL LABOR LEADER: Well the – I’ve met with a range of people last night at the Motorboat Club there, a great spot here in Darwin and what they are obviously, many of them were Labor supporters, and they were disappointed with the outcome because the NT delivered three Labor members, two in the House of Representatives and Malarndirri McCarthy back to the Senate. And so we had a good outcome here. But unfortunately it certainly wasn’t mirrored around the country and it was disappointing that that occurred. And their resilience, it was interesting last night that over a hundred people turned up just one month after what was for many a very disappointing result.
STEER: Three as you say of the four politicians the Territory sends to Canberra are with Labor. What can those members realistically expect to achieve for the Northern Territory whilst in Opposition?
ALBANESE: Well, being an Opposition doesn’t mean that you don’t have a voice and they will have a strong voice. I today am appointing Luke Gosling to chair a Regional Trade Taskforce. Luke of course speaks Indonesian, he’s engaged in the region, he’s a former presidential adviser in Timor Leste. And he set up a charitable organisation there as well. There are enormous prospects in our region and it is somewhat surprising I think for most people but Indonesia, this vast nation just to our north isn’t in our top ten of trading partners and nor is Malaysia. So I think there’s a real prospect for growth and Luke will be doing work and we quite frankly are quite prepared to work with the Government on areas where we can agree. I mean the Government at the moment is looking at an economy that is very soft. We’ve had interest rates decreased because the Reserve Bank wants to stimulate the economy. And they’ve also indicated they want government action in terms of fiscal policy to help stimulate the economy. Now the ship left here in Darwin would be a major contribution for industrial vessels to be serviced here in the Top End rather than in Queensland or WA. It makes absolute sense and I think that the Government should look at proposals like that, look at a whole range of the roads package that we put forward. We did the announcement just a month ago I think the last of all just a bit probably six weeks ago since I’ve spoken to you and the Mango roads and other roads that would boost the local economy here and support jobs. We could bring those projects forward as well and that’s one of the things that I know Luke and Warren and Malarndirri will be arguing for.
STEER: You say that Indonesia and Malaysia will be a focus you would like them to become – increase the relationship we have in terms of being a trading partner. One of the keys there would be get more flights. Would you be supportive in trying to encourage more routes in and out of Darwin into those key Asian areas?
ALBANESE: Oh absolutely. The direct flights will be critical and there’s been some progress there. I met with the NT airport on my last visit here and I’ll be seeing them again I think tonight at a function that’s being hosted by the Chief Minister where I’ll be engaging with community leaders and with business leaders here. I met with a range of business leaders yesterday at the race there and they were all concerned about the softening in the economy here in Darwin and want more activity. I certainly think that tourism has an enormous potential here in this beautiful city of Darwin. Today I spoke to my family back in – my son – back in Sydney earlier on, it’s cold and wet and miserable there.
STEER: It’s always glorious up here.
ALBANESE: It is absolutely fantastic here. I’ve never been here where I haven’t enjoyed the visit.
STEER: It’s 21 to 9. ABC Radio Darwin Adam Steer with you. You’re also hearing from the Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Manus and Nauru are in the news again today 300 people are still there what do you think should be done with them?
ALBANESE: Well the Government needs to settle these people. It’s extraordinary that yesterday Peter Dutton revealed that in spite of the fact that we have an agreement with the US to take 1250 people, that doesn’t look like being fulfilled – that number. We have offers there from New Zealand that are on the table and have been on the table for years. You can’t keep people in indefinite detention. And there’s another issue today of course which is the issue of the Paladin company.
And this is a company that got a $420 million contract without an open tender process when their office was a beach shack on Kangaroo Island. It is just quite extraordinary that the Government is now talking about once again, it would appear, without any proper process just extending that contract at a time when they’re supposed to be in a negotiation with that company and potentially others as well. They just gave up their bargaining position yesterday with Peter Dutton on the Insiders program said that he expected the contract to continue.
STEER: Labor campaigned on the back of scrapping – scraping – the NAIF or the North Australia Infrastructure Facility. But now the Coalition is back in government NAIF sticking around. Where would you like to see it spent to help the Northern Territory economy?
ALBANESE: Well spending it would be a good idea. Full stop. But the problem with this program is that they allocated $5 billion for a fund that essentially just provides loans, not grants. And the truth is that for projects which stack up commercially then capital finance is available for those projects. So it’s not surprising that because the very idea, I think, behind the NAIF was flawed, it’s been a failure and it’s been around for something like five years and hasn’t really had any impact at all. What we need is a genuine program for the development of northern Australia. And there are projects like the ship lift which are available right now to progress that would make a difference and would lead to ongoing jobs. And I’d encourage the Government to actually contribute some real money for real projects that create real jobs here in the Northern Territory.
STEER: Well we asked, Anthony Albanese, our audience earlier this morning if they had some questions for you. Paul called in on 1300 057 222 to ask about royalties from offshore gas. He says WA gets 30 per cent, the Northern Territory gets nothing. He asks Is that true, and if so what do you make of it?
ALBANESE: Well certainly one of the issues which has been ongoing is the issue of maximising the value from our resources. And in a range of other countries there are funds established that – essentially in places like Norway – that have been very effective at building up a massive amount of funding that would be available for future governments, because you of course can only use a natural resource like that once. So in terms of the Northern Territory’s contribution, of course the NT have benefited and are continuing to benefit substantially from the Inpex project here in Darwin. Of course firstly in construction and of course that has…
STEER: Although we are suffering an economic cliff at the bottom of the economic cliff afterwards.
ALBANESE: No that’s right. Which is why you need a transition in terms of employment of other projects coming in. Now the city deal is a start here in Darwin but it essentially just revolves around the Charles Darwin University, which is the important project but there were other projects that could happen here as well. I mean, the idea of an Indigenous cultural centre for example that would create jobs in construction but ongoing jobs in terms of tourism. The ship lift projects, roads projects. How do you actually revitalise construction in the short term because of the drop off that’s occurred?
STEER: Well one of the projects…
ALBANESE: …build going on into the future.
STEER: One of the projects that the Northern Territory Labor Government is pinning their hopes on is fracking. It appears federal Labor appears to have essentially washed their hands of the onshore gas or fracking debate, writing it off as purely local Northern Territory issue. What is federal Labor’s position on supporting Northern Territory fracking with exploration due to start this week?
ALBANESE: Well of course during the election campaign we announced a Northern Australia gas plan which would have taken some of the funding from the NAIF to help build the infrastructure in terms of gas pipelines across across the north. Our view is that that there needs to be rigorous environmental assessment of any proposals once those proposals are done by both Federal, State, and Territory, then projects can proceed on the basis of private investment.
STEER: Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese good to hear from you today. How long are you in the top end for?
ALBANESE: I’m here just today and tomorrow. I arrived up yesterday from Adelaide and today I’ve got a pretty busy program and finishing off tonight with a reception hosted there at Parliament House.
STEER: Well I appreciate your time this morning. We’ll talk again next time you’re in town.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.