Subjects: Coalition’s lack of investment in infrastructure, NBN, Centrelink
RAF EPSTEIN: Welcome to the studio.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
EPSTEIN: Look I want to start with what we were talking about. I know you’ve seen the flowers in Bourke Street. What was it like just being down there?
ALBANESE: It’s very solemn. People standing around, paying their respects. People are trying to figure out how such a tragedy can occur. At a time like this people’s thoughts are with the families and friends of the five victims, but the many more of course who are injured. But also at a time like that you think about, a ten year child dies, I think about what would happen with mine, I’ve got a 16 year old.
The three month old baby is just beyond belief, but all those young lives cut so short and it’s so inexplicable and hard to understand. Now is a moment for us to just reach out to each other and to come together as a community. It was great that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were there yesterday and it’s great that the people of Melbourne are coming together in the way that they are.
EPSTEIN: Anthony Albanese is with me. Part of Bill Shorten’s Federal Opposition. Twenty minutes past four. You’re listening to ABC Radio Melbourne. You’re trying to make a point today about infrastructure spending. I had a look at the numbers on your press release. You say that you spend more per quarter under the two Labor Prime Ministers than this Government have under their two Prime Ministers. Do you think people trust Labor on infrastructure? I just don’t know where you feel people are – Federally the NBN, Statewise the East West Link the contract was dissolved and that cost around a billion. Does that stop people trusting Labor on infrastructure spending?
ALBANESE: No I think they know that Labor is the party of nation building, whether Federal or State. The Andrews Government of course was elected with a commitment to not go ahead with the East West but to build the Melbourne Metro and of course the contracts were signed on the eve of an election.
EPSTEIN: Yes we’ve been over this territory a lot on this station.
ALBANESE: We won’t go over all that again, but the figures are starker than that, Raf. For 21 quarters from our first Budget in June 2008, that first May 2008 Budget, through every single quarter up until September 2013, if you then look, which is 21 quarters. If you then look at the 12 quarters in which the Turnbull and Abbott Governments have been in office, there isn’t one of them that is as high as the lowest figure while we were in Government. And I think Victorians, for example, know that the M80 project, in terms of roads, they know in terms of some of the rail infrastructure that we did, particularly the Regional Rail Link, which was the largest ever Commonwealth investment in a public transport project in history. The projects around Bacchus Marsh, around Bendigo, the Great Eastern Highway, the Geelong Ring Road, all of these projects took place…
EPSTEIN: Look I know that you can reel off the projects, and I think people like things like the Regional Rail Link but it’s a very, maybe I’m asking you to be too much of a political commentator, rather than a politician, but if you ask people about infrastructure, maybe their eyes glaze over. Ask people about the East West project, or a level crossing, they are passionately involved. I just wonder if they are only; people have already made up their minds maybe on infrastructure. And if you try to make an appeal on, hey we spend more, is that going to attract any attention do you think?
ALBANESE: Well what I’m trying to do is illustrate the gap that’s there between the Government’s rhetoric and their action. This Government said, Tony Abbott said, well I’m going to be the Infrastructure Prime Minister, and nothing’s happened.
Victoria is getting under eight per cent of the Commonwealth infrastructure spend. One in four in the population. I mean that is just not fair, and the Government, and Malcolm Turnbull, Essentially what’s happened is Tony Abbott got elected, he doesn’t like public transport, he said that in his book, ‘Battlelines’, and why it’s sort of an ideological thing in the car, man as king in his own domain, using his language, driving around.
So he cut all public transport infrastructure spending. The Melbourne Metro; we had $3 billion in the Budget. So that was cut and so that all got delayed and similar things happened right around the country; the airport rail link in Perth, the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane. But Malcolm Turnbull, when he came to office, people had a great deal of faith in him originally, and part of that was that he’d jump on a tram or a train, take a selfie and say that he was going to be engaged with it. But he hasn’t funded any; that’s the problem.
EPSTEIN: I understand the criticism. I suppose I’m wondering do we place too much store actually in infrastructure? I know we need all these things, but isn’t one of the problems, the only really significant job growth we’ve got in the calendar year last year appears to have been Victoria? Most likely because of public spending and infrastructure…
ALBANESE: By the State Government.
EPSTEIN: Understood. I’m not arguing about the value of the projects, I think a lot of those projects are needed. Is it one of our problems; is it that politicians rely on infrastructure to create jobs? We don’t really have much, nearly enough, private sector job creation going on.
ALBANESE: I’m an infrastructure nerd so I’ll take up that argument. One of the things about infrastructure though if the investment is right, if it’s productivity boosting infrastructure like the Melbourne Metro would be, what it does, it creates future jobs. It facilitates private sector investment and it facilitates private sector jobs growth as well.
At the moment urban congestion is a handbrake on our productivity that Infrastructure Australia has assessed if we don’t do something about it by 2031 it would cost $53 billion to the national economy in terms of productivity lost. So I think people are certainly interested in infrastructure because they know that it affects their lives. And the NBN, people who don’t have access to high speed broadband desperately want it.
EPSTEIN: I’m not arguing, I mean I’m a big fan of infrastructure as well. I tell you what my fear is; I’m not sure that either of the major parties have ways of significantly boosting private sector job creation. I think one of the figures, the entire time the LNP have been in power, is that one in twenty of the jobs created are in the private sector and fulltime. One in twenty.
ALBANESE: Sure and so much of that is casual work. The other issue is security of employment.
EPSTEIN: That’s my issue. Isn’t the big problem that no one’s really got the answer about how to create a large number of full time private sector jobs?
ALBANESE: I tell you one of the things that do create full time jobs in terms of infrastructure. Well two examples; one is the NBN, is high speed broadband. If we’re going to compete in our region, the fastest growing region of the world, we have to have high speed broadband. And the benefit is that it can overcome the tyranny of distance that Australia has from the rest of the world but also from each other. So you can create jobs.
I remember when I was briefly the Communications Minister going to, having a forum in Bendigo, and the sort of jobs that are being created there with lower overheads in terms of rent and all those issues, are more able to attract staff to Bendigo, because of the cheaper costs of living that were there as well. A range of private sector companies doing really exciting things.
The other thing is whenever a public transport project has been opened in recent times, whether it be the Regional Rail Link, or whether it be the Mandurah Rail Link in Perth, or the Gold Coast Light Rail, whatever the issues that have been there about its construction, and whenever you build infrastructure there are some, patronage always has exceeded forecasts. Unlike toll roads, it must be said. The patronage always just goes through the roof. People vote with their feet and they’re people going to work. They’re people making a contribution to the economy and that assists in private sector jobs growth as well.
EPSTEIN: Look 1300222774 is the number. Anthony Albanese is with me. We’ll get to your calls very soon. People hate politicians, Anthony Albanese. I think they hate them a little bit more after …
ALBANESE: They don’t all love the media either, Raf, it’s got to be to be said.
EPSTEIN: One hundred percent.
ALBANESE: And there are some people don’t like the ABC.
EPSTEIN: I am fully aware. We are probably regarded with the same (inaudible). Here is my question though, and of course in the wake Sussan Leys’ entitlements, or work expenses as the Prime Minister would like to talk about them, is it deserved? Do you think there is meat on the bones of people’s real disregard for politicians? There seems to be no ending of examples of politicians spending money on travel – taxpayers’ money.
ALBANESE: I think that the overwhelming majority of politicians go into office with all the right motives. I don’t think they abuse their position. I think they try and assist people. I’ve just got news out in your foyer about the Centrelink debacle that has happened. A constituent I have taken up – someone who was a cancer sufferer who got a $4600 bill has had that reduced to just a few hundred as a result of representations. That’s the sort of thing that really keeps you going and gives you a lift and I am sure for my colleagues, regardless Labor, Liberal, National, Independent, they would think the same thing. It is unfortunate there is such a concentration of course on the negative. It’s really hard getting up an issue like infrastructure and investment I’ve got to say, in terms of ……
EPSTEIN: Rather than talking about Chopper Gate.
ALBANESE: Of course, because it’s immediate and it’s easily identifiable and people scratching their heads about why do you get a chopper from Melbourne to Geelong. I scratch my head myself, I’ve got to say. And so many trips to the Gold Coast from Sussan Ley. But you know I think that politicians – certainly senior politicians – work very hard. I saw George Brandis was criticised on the weekend for going to some country show.
EPSTEIN: And he took his son.
ALBANESE: … or what have you. Well, you know frankly, he’s a minister. He’s going out to, I think it was Quilpie, in western Queensland, to the show.
EPSTEIN: It’s a long way out.
ALBANESE: He had to get back to Canberra. I mean really. Steven Ciobo, is the Tourism Minister, he’s in the US promoting Australia today. That’s a good thing, that’s very good thing that he is doing that.
ALBANESE: So I think though that once it starts then the media jump on it. But I want to discuss the issues that are confronting our country that are just so much more significant. The issue of security of employment is a big one, infrastructure challenges, the challenge of education and health, the challenge of how we get the Budget back on track, they are the big issues that I think will dominate but it seems to be during this period of time as well that …
EPSTEIN: It’s the summer break, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: It seems to, well it’s come up a couple of years now, I’m not sure if it was in a row but the first was of course Bronwyn Bishop and then Sussan Ley.
EPSTEIN: Thank you so much for your time.
ALBANESE: It’s been great to talk to you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.