Subjects: Pacific Highway, Coffs Harbour Bypass, Federal election, Banking Royal Commission.
CAMERON MARSHALL: I spoke earlier to Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Andrew Woodward is a very good candidate I think, our Federal candidate for Cowper. He is a serious candidate. It remains to be seen whether Rob Oakshott will have another crack as an Independent or what will happen in this seat. But I think people in Coffs and Port Macquarie are sick of being taken for granted frankly. If they compare what we did when we were last in office for this region, particularly the work we did on the Pacific Highway where virtually the entire area covered by your listening audience was funded, the duplication and the construction, either completed or at least begun when we were in office during that six years.
The Howard Government spent $1.3 billion over 12 years. We spent $7.6 billion over half that time. And people know that. The Pacific Highway is an area that was dear to my heart. I was named Anthony after my young cousin who died just before I was born at Halfway Creek so I was always very conscious about the Pacific Highway. I had relatives at Halfway Creek and used to go up there for school holidays, catch the train, or go up if one of my cousins was driving up I would go up on the highway. And it was as shocking road. I well remember Tony Abbott before he became Prime Minister coming up here and promising the Coffs Harbour Bypass. During the first term it was going to be underway and of course it hasn’t happened.
MARSHALL: Is that going to be a priority if Labor were elected, to get that job done?
ALBANESE: Well what we want is for the Government to actually deliver on its own commitments. We’ve got a Budget coming up in just a few weeks and we will wait and see what is in the Budget. But frankly they have done very little for this community. There has been no advance on issues like High Speed Rail where we did the study that showed that these communities would be transformed by having stations at places like Taree, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. The study was done. The High Speed Rail between Sydney and Brisbane would transform the regional communities along the route.
MARSHALL: Now you represent business as well. What about small business? Is there anything on the table for small business? What do you think needs to change to improve or help small business?
ALBANESE: Well there is a range of things. Firstly, in terms of the policy that we have allowing for greater depreciation of any capital investment and allowing that instant write-off of 20 per cent of any new investment would make a huge difference. One, it would encourage that investment which would tend to be from local suppliers as well, so it has a multiplier effect. I think small business would really benefit from that change that we have announced.
Secondly, the ongoing issue of the National Broadband Network – making sure that business can be connected up and can have access to those markets is critical. And thirdly, in terms of our overall approach to the economy, one of the reasons why I think the economy is going slower than it should be is the decline in real wages. When you have effectively wages not being able to keep up with inflation, what that means is there are less people spending money in local shops, in retail, in hospitality, in all of those areas which are critical.
My area of tourism as well is I think an area where you could see substantial employment growth here on the coast. This presents a wonderful opportunity to attract visitors from all over the world, but particularly from our region, where you have this explosion in the middle class. People want to visit Sydney and they want to visit the big capitals. But they also I think want to have access to areas that are very different than the crowded Asian cities where they are from and a place like Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbour or some of the smaller places – Urunga – would provide I think very attractive destinations.
MARSHALL: The Banking Royal Commission underway at the moment – you are somebody that advocated for that. Are you surprised by the revelations that are coming out daily?
ALBANESE: No I am not. This is why we wanted a Royal Commission – precisely this. Good policy comes from evidence and what we are seeing here is the evidence of the abuse of their market power of the big financial institutions whether it be the big banks or institutions like AMP where we have seen the CEO resign and fall on their sword. Now we had more than 20 attempts to have a Royal Commission that were voted against by Malcolm Turnbull and by all of the Coalition. We kept the pressure on. We campaigned on it in the lead up to the last Federal election and since then we kept the pressure on because we knew that market power was being abused, that consumers were suffering. And what we have seen are reports about consumers being charged for products that they never received, consumers being charged and losing money after they had died – just breathtaking really the activity. And one by one we have had these financial institutions in the dock having to be accountable for their actions. What we haven’t heard from as much yet is from the victims and when that happens, I think people will be truly shocked.
I just know that over a period of time I have got more and more local people coming in who were victims of scams but also just victims of what seems to be everyday practice of these financial institutions. It is not good enough and it is extraordinary that they have had to admit lying to ASIC. That is a breach of the law and now we have the same people who said it was a waste of time, it was a stunt, doing press conferences – Scott Morrison and Kelly O’Dwyer and the rest of them – described it as reckless, our support for a Royal Commission. What was reckless was pretending that a Royal Commission wasn’t needed. Out of this will come real change and these institutions being held to account for the first time in a long while.
MARSHALL: The next Federal election – what do you think it will be decided on and what role do you think this Mid North Coast region might play in the outcome?
ALBANESE: Elections are always decided on the economy and in part the next election will be about: Is your priority for tax cuts for big corporations which will benefit shareholders, many of which are sitting in Washington or London or Rome or Beijing or whether it is about a priority of education, health, child care. Aged care will be a big issue. We have seen essentially increasing reports of mistreatment. Issues like nurse to patient ratios in aged care – an issue that needs to be dealt with, an issue though that costs money. So the next election will be about priorities, whether if you give tax cuts – $65 billion – to the big end of town, it will trickle down and people will be better off, or whether you are better off saying: No, that won’t work, we need to properly fund education. We need to properly fund health care and aged care. We need to properly fund child care and early childhood education. We need to fund infrastructure that builds the economy for the future. That will be, I think, will be the fundamental divide that we are seeing take shape now.
The Mid North Coast will be very important. Luke Hartsuyker has represented Cowper for a very long time. I think people are entitled to say: What has he achieved during that period of time? Could we do better? I think people are entitled to have a look at what happened when the seat of Lyne wasn’t held by the National Party. Was there more focus on the seat then than there is now? Were more resources given to schools, hospitals, infrastructure, the airport? I think the answer to that is yes and there is a message there which is that if the region just elects a National Party people because they think that is what is best for the region, then they need to actually look at the experience and think about those issues and I know that is something that Andrew Woodward will be campaigning very strongly on as the Labor candidate for Cowper.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.