Subjects: Infrastructure; tourism; Orange by-election.
(First question inaudible.)
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well of course it took a Federal Labor Government to do important infrastructure projects like the Orange bypass – talked about for decades by the National Party local members – but it took a Labor Government to actually get that project going. It took a Labor Government to build local community infrastructure such as the upgrade of the Orange Aquatic Centre. It took a Labor Government to upgrade and build a new child care centre in Orange.
So when we were last in government I, as Infrastructure Minister and Regional Development Minister, was a regular visitor to the Central West including to Orange and we contributed much needed support for projects.
It’s an area that has been taken for granted by the Coalition and my visit today, along with the Orange candidate in the by-election Bernard Fitzsimon, is an opportunity to reinforce that as well as to have a tourism round table today at the end of the Orange Wine Festival.
REPORTER: So in effect you are here really with your tourism hat on and your regional development hat on?
ALBANESE: That’s right. I’ve been getting out and about since the election as the Tourism Shadow Minister. I’ve hosted round tables right around the country including in important regional centres like Cairns, Darwin, Alice Springs and now in Orange today.
It’s important that we look at where the jobs of the future are going to be and I think the Central West has enormous opportunity to expand its tourism. Orange is known of course for its food and wine and that provides I think a real opportunity to build on significant events such as, of course, the Bathurst races that were just held. But we need to look at how we attract people to the region and that’s what I will be talking to tourism providers about today.
REPORTER: I understand you will also be holding a doorstop though on infrastructure investment. Can you tell us more about that?
ALBANESE: Well in terms of infrastructure I will be talking about what we’ve done. We are doing the doorstop at the airport, where the former Labor Government also put in significant funds to support the airport there. We had a program – the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program – that worked with local government on local priorities whether it be even bike paths that were funded there in Orange, as well as of course major infrastructure, including directly the Orange bypass, but also projects that benefited Orange such as the Great Western Highway.
I’ve been very concerned about the delays to the Inland Rail project. We put in $900 million when we were in government. Up to now there hasn’t been a single dollar put in by the Coalition Government that wasn’t already in the Budget for that project and that will benefit of course the entire Central West region and it’s important for agriculture but also important because of the job creation that will come out of that process.
REPORTER: Do you see that as the key issue regarding infrastructure for Orange and for the Central West?
ALBANESE: It’s certainly critical and as well that support for local communities. We funded significant projects through local government and I am concerned at the ongoing freeze of Financial Assistance Grants for councils that has particularly affected local road maintenance and improvements. That’s been in place now since the 2014 Budget and it’s about time that was lifted. We managed to secure an extra $1 billion for the Roads to Recovery program for local government from Opposition and we managed to show, I think, that even if you are not part of the Government, you can make a difference. And certainly in terms of the State Opposition under Luke Foley has shown that they can make a difference with their campaign that they held about greyhound racing and about in general the neglect that has happened from the National Party as part of the State Coalition Government. We’ve seen, I think, regional communities miss out on funding because of the very Sydney-centric, and particularly North Shore of Sydney-centric Government that we have in Macquarie Street. And that’s why I’ll be very pleased to be with Bernard Fitzsimon today – a local born in the region, has worked in the region, active in the community and someone who would make an enormous difference. Were he in Macquarie Street, you’d certainly see some action and some funding for the Central West if Bernard is successful in the by-election in a couple of weeks’ time.
REPORTER: You spoke of the Nationals and the Coalition perhaps neglecting the electorate of Orange. Is it fair to say though, that perhaps Labor has also neglected the Central West at a state level and a federal level, given that it is such a safe Nationals seat. It certainly hasn’t been until recently that we have seen so much attention from Labor politicians arriving here in the electorate of Orange to talk about issues.
ALBANESE: Well, I did a little check and I visited there as a minister in the Federal Government on no less than five occasions. We had an entire cabinet meeting come to Bathurst for the Federal Cabinet. I have visited on a range of occasions, since our loss. This will be my third visit to the region as a shadow minister. So certainly we have taken the issue of the needs of the Central West seriously. Quite clearly Like Foley and the Labor Opposition in Macquarie Street are taking the Central West seriously and that’s why there’s a real competition on for the seat of Orange in a couple of weeks’ time and if Bernard Fitzsimon is elected you’ll see the Coalition pay a lot more focus to the needs of the Central West.
REPORTER: What do you think in terms of Labor’s efforts? Will it change or refocus its efforts on the Central West in the next federal election if this seat is won by Bernard Fitzsimon or at least if the margin ends up being a whole lot closer and it’s not such a safe Nationals seat?
ALBANESE: Certainly, I think you’ve seen an effort. In the last year you’ve seen visits from people including myself and Chris Bowen as the Shadow Treasurer I know have visited in recent times. So we have continued to focus. But obviously if there is a State Member of Parliament there to keep us informed of events, then that will provide an added impetus. But Labor, when we were in government, one of the things that I ensured as Regional Development Minister was that all communities received funding through the local community infrastructure program – 5500 projects right around Australia successfully implemented, projects like the upgrade of the Orange Aquatic Centre. I’m very proud of that effort. I worked closely with people like John Davis and others in the region who were involved in the council to make sure that support was given and tonight I know Luke Foley’s in Molong talking to the local community there as well. So I think it is a positive development that you have such a focus on the Central West. But an election victory by Bernard Fitzsimon in a couple of weeks would ensure that continues.
REPORTER: Finally I’d like to draw you on the Prime Minister’s comments on asylum seekers that will not be granted residency in Australia if they come via boat and are residing on Manus or Nauru. Does this announcement come as a surprise to you?
ALBANESE: Well, what it comes I think is as a bit of a repudiation of its own policy by the Government. I thought that their argument was that they had solved all the problems. So the Government needs to identify what has motivated it for this change, what it is aimed for and are they saying that their policies up to now don’t provide enough of a disincentive for people smugglers’ activity? I think it’s a confused message from the Government and it is up to Malcolm Turnbull to explain that.
REPORTER: What will Labor’s position be? I mean, you have said what you think, but what is Labor’s official position regarding a response to the Prime Minister’s suggestions?
ALBANESE: Well we haven’t seen the legislation yet. All we have seen is a statement from the Prime Minister and what Labor does is we look at legislation and we have a discussion and then we determine a positon. And this won’t be any different. But it would be I think appropriate for Malcolm Turnbull to explain to the Australian people why this change is necessary given that in the election campaign, which finished just on July 2, he was stating that they had all the policy settings right. What is he saying about the existing policy settings that require further legislation?
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.