Jul 12, 2017

Transcript of radio interview – ABC Gippsland Drive

Subjects:  Victorian infrastructure investment, Regional Rail Link, Fuel standards

NICOLE CHVASTEK: Well the fight over infrastructure funding for Victoria is in the spotlight again today, ten days after the Prime Minster announced a $1.6 billion injection into Victoria’s ageing regional rail network:

MALCOLM TURNBULL: It’s about $1.6 billion going to regional rail right across the state and I think we should be, I think everyone should be, delighted. I think that Victorians will be delighted.

CHVASTEK: Well someone who isn’t delighted is Anthony Albanese, who is in Victoria. He is Labor’s Transport and Infrastructure Spokesperson, Anthony Albanese, good afternoon.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon, good to be with you.

CHVASTEK: $1.6 billion dollars into regional rail, that’s a pretty good outcome.

ALBANESE: Thanks to the Andrews Government that was money, of course, that the Federal Government reluctantly handed over. It wasn’t that amount. They are counting the state contribution there. But that was reluctantly handed over as part of the asset recycling agreement that was a signed agreement between the Commonwealth and Victoria. The Commonwealth took a couple of years to actually hand it over and that has lifted the Commonwealth contribution to Victoria to 12 per cent of the national infrastructure budget.

Now one in four Australians live in Victoria. Melbourne is Australia’s fastest growing city. You have fast growing regional centres throughout regional Victoria, and what you’ve had is a lack of funding across the board. When we were in Government we funded the Princess Highway East Upgrade, duplicating sections between Traralgon and Sale, we funded upgrades of bridges across Gippsland, 44 black spots, $3.5 million for boom gates at high-risk level crossings.

CHVASTEK: But how about you contextualise it, you’re saying that according to your analysis Victoria is only getting 12 per cent of the federal infrastructure budget, even though it has a population which is 25 per cent of the Australian population. How much of the infrastructure budget did Labor fund?

ALBANESE: We funded more than 25 per cent of the budget went to Victoria including, to put it in context; we put $3.225 billion into the Regional Rail Link Project, into one project. That was vital to the largest ever Commonwealth contribution to a public transport project anywhere in Australia. We had $3 billion in the budget for the Melbourne Metro Project, that was of course important not just for inner Melbourne, but that increases the capacity of the entire rail network throughout Victoria. We funded projects like the Geelong Ring Road, projects like the Princess Highway East and West, projects right around Victoria including the M80, the Outer Ring Road here in Melbourne, we had substantial funding.

Indeed, when we were in office each and every Victorian received $201 to put it in real terms, actual dollar terms, for every Victorian, that was our infrastructure investment. By 2020-21, that figure will be $46, or almost four in five dollars being cut out, compared with when we were in office.

CHVASTEK: Darren Chester, who is the Infrastructure Minister and the Member for Gippsland, says that you are scaremongering and Victoria does not only receive 12 per cent of the Federal Infrastructure Budget. It receives around 21 per cent.

[Broadcast Interrupted]

CHVASTEK: The Federal Government has offered Victoria $3 billion if it builds the East West Link and it says that this is included in its infrastructure spend.

ALBANESE: That’s just nonsense. There is nowhere in the Budget Papers where that appears in terms of forward estimates at all. This is a con. The East West Link Project is not going ahead. It had a cost benefit of 45 cents for every dollar. I have said to Darren Chester, if he gives me $100, next time I see him after that, I am happy to give him $45 back, if he thinks that is a good deal.

It’s nonsense, and it is an insult to Victorians, for them to say that this money is available at some time in the future, when quite clearly the project is not going ahead. The Andrews Government was elected with a mandate for it to not go ahead and it is just extraordinary that they are playing politics with that issue, as they have done for four years now.

CHVASTEK: The Andrews Government wasn’t elected to not build a road and then pay $1 billion…

ALBANESE: They were elected on a mandate that it wouldn’t go ahead. It is quite outrageous that the Coalition Government here in Victoria, signed a contract in the dying days of the Government knowing full well that this was a controversial issue, knowing full well that Tony Abbott and the Victorian Premier had said that the state election would be a referendum on the East West Link.

CHVASTEK: Still, Daniel Andrews prior to the election also said that he wouldn’t be providing a cent to the consortium, and it ended up blowing $1 billion of our money.

ALBANESE: He wasn’t privy to all of the side deals and arrangements that clearly had been made by the Coalition Government, in a desperate attempt to get contracts signed. Outrageous contracts it must be said. It would normally be the case that there certainly wouldn’t have been any compensation given. That the project had never been through a proper business case, it was underprepared and, as I said, it would have produced 45 cents for every dollar that would have been invested in it.

What we need is investment in good infrastructure projects and of course the Commonwealth funding for that project was taken away from the Melbourne Metro. It wasn’t new funding; it was cut from the Melbourne Metro, cut from the M80 and cut from the Monash Freeway and other freeways Managed Motorways Program.

CHVASTEK: What sort of undertakings are you giving if you are elected as the opinion polls say you will be? What sort of undertakings are you giving to Victoria to redress what you say is an underfunded infrastructure spend by the Federal Government?

ALBANESE: Well the last election campaign we committed funding for the Melbourne Metro. We also committed funding for a range of road and rail projects, and we would work cooperatively with state government and also with local government. When we were in office last time, we established a direct relationship with local government and we think that local councils are in a good position to know what the priorities are in their local communities.

CHVASTEK: You complain about a 12 per cent infrastructure spend by the Federal Government, by the Liberal Coalition. What will the percentage be under a Labor Government?

ALBANESE: Roughly the percentage should reflect the rough population demographic across the nation…

CHVASTEK: You’re guaranteeing a 25 per cent…

ALBANESE: No, I said exactly the words, deliberately; that you wouldn’t say 25.0 per cent would go to Victoria. What you would say is that roughly the proportions would be appropriate according to population. But that also you would take into account whether projects had been through proper business cases, been through Infrastructure Australia. In East West Link’s case, they took money from a project that had been through Infrastructure Australia, the Melbourne Metro had a business case, and gave it to one that didn’t.

So you do want proper accountability to be made, you also want milestone payments to be made, so an end to this idea of advance payments being made. Such as what happened with the East West Link, I stopped that when I was the Minister. Here you had $1.5 billion made in a cynical fashion, just as the Government signed off on a contract cynically at the state government level. Federally, money went out the door in the 2013-14 financial year, as an advance payment, simply to make the Budget deficit from Labor’s Budget of 2013 look worse and make the future Budgets look better.

Now that sort of manipulation does nothing to actually build anything.

CHVASTEK: I’m speaking to Anthony Albanese, the Opposition Transport and Infrastructure Spokesperson. Anthony Albanese can I ask you about fuel standards? The Coalition has denied today that it’s considering a carbon tax on cars.  Can you tell me whether or not you would or wouldn’t support financial penalties for car manufacturers who don’t reach emission reduction targets?

ALBANESE: To go to how this has happened; there was a review that was handed to the Commonwealth Government in 2014. They’ve sat on that review and then had a period of consultation with industry, and then this paper – that I haven’t seen – that just arrived at the automobile dealers; was sent to them with a plan that had never been raised as part of the proposals for emissions reductions.

What the original proposals were doing, as I understand it, is to essentially align us with American standards.  Now they’re not overly onerous, and that is where the world is moving. There are US standards and there are European standards – or Euro standards as they’re known – and what the review was doing was seeking to align Australia with those standards.

Given that Australia doesn’t produce now, or won’t be producing very soon, our own light vehicles, our own motor vehicles, for passengers, then that would appear to make some sense. Now the way that the US system works though is that it’s a bit like a trading system; if some vehicles are over the emissions amount that can be balanced out with vehicles which are under. I think what might have happened here is that some bureaucrats have gone; oh no, that looks like carbon trading, I know, we’ll whack a penalty on them.

I was the Minister for six years, for transport, I never had a proposal past my desk saying that we should whack penalties on car dealers for selling a particular type of vehicle in relation to emissions, to have a punitive regime. So I don’t know where this idea has come from. It is typical of a Government that doesn’t seem to be able to organise anything at all in a competent way and be able to consult any sector about any change.

CHVASTEK: Anthony Albanese, thank you for your time this afternoon.

ALBANESE: Great to talk to you.