Subjects: Labor’s infrastructure plan, Infrastructure Australia, penalty rates, police raids in Sydney.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is today unveiling a $10 billion plan to fund major infrastructure projects around the country. Under the plan, Infrastructure Australia would be turned into a government-backed infrastructure bank – providing loans, loan guarantees or equity to jumpstart projects, including rail and road upgrades. An initial short-list of 11 projects Labor wants to kick-start include the Melbourne Metro, the Airport Rail to Badgerys’s Creek in Sydney, and the Gawler line electrification in Adelaide. Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, joins me on the line now. Are you planning to fight the next election on infrastructure?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Labor is the party of nation building. We’re the party of jobs and we’re the party of growth and what we know is that under the Coalition we’ve seen infrastructure investment from the public sector fall by 20 per cent since it was elected to office. We’ve seen an end to any funding of public transport projects, indeed cuts to projects that we already ready to proceed like the Melbourne Metro and the Cross River Rail in Brisbane; and we’ve seen absurdities such as arguing that you can have a second Sydney airport in Sydney’s west without having a public transport access. Now the rail line connecting Leppington in the south-west to St Mary’s in the west would make sense to create a rail line even if the airport wasn’t there. So this is a project worthy of support and what we want to see is a facility that would encourage not just public sector investment, because that won’t be enough, but encourage private sector investment and we know that that’s possible.
TREMBATH: But by picking this theme, infrastructure, hasn’t Malcolm Turnbull cut you off at the knees? He’s already a well-known advocate of public transport. We see pictures of him riding trams and buses. It’s his theme already.
ALBANESE: No, it’s one thing to take selfies when you’re hunting down an elected prime minister, as Malcolm Turnbull did as part of his campaign to undermine Tony Abbott; it’s another thing to actually fund projects. And since the change of leadership we’ve still had senior ministers arguing that the East-West Link in Melbourne should go ahead, that the one and a half billion dollars that’s been quarantined, that’s been sitting in the Victorian Government’s bank account not this financial year, not last financial year but since the year before that, should remain quarantined for the East-West Link. When projects that are actually ready to go, like the Melbourne Metro, or projects indeed, road projects where funding was cut from such as the M80 project in Melbourne, have been not supported by the current government. What we want to see is action, not just rhetoric, because the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the June quarter released just last week show that greater than 20 per cent decline in public sector investment. What that means is not just less jobs in the short term in terms of construction, but in the long term, less jobs and slower economic growth.
TREMBATH: You talk about engaging private sector partners; this has been problematic in the past. Take the link from the city of Sydney to the airport. That was taken over by government after private sector partners started it. How do you guarantee it will work this time?
ALBANESE: Well, there are successful models. When we were in government, take the F3 to M2, now known as NorthConnex, in Sydney. That was a project that was on the drawing board and discussed for literally decades but it took a $405 million contribution to mitigate risk from both the Federal Government and the State Government to ensure that that project could ensure that something like ten times of that $405 million investment could occur. Now that’s moved from a project that everyone supported, that was under discussion to a project that’s now under construction as a result of an innovative financing model that we put in place when we were in government …
TREMBATH: Why change Infrastructure Australia?
ALBANESE: … the Gold Coast light rail project similarly.
TREMBATH: Why change – sorry for the interruption. Why change Infrastructure Australia? Labor started it but you want to turn it into a infrastructure bank now?
ALBANESE: No, what we want to do is to expand its facility and to ensure that it moves to the next logical place, which is one from recommending priority projects to the government, to one that actually plays a role in the facilitation of the construction of those very projects, and at arm’s length from government – and that would be, I think, a very positive role for Infrastructure Australia to play. We know that bodies such as the Reserve Bank and independent bodies play an important role in our economy. We believe Infrastructure Australia should be at the heart of the roll-out of infrastructure development for this nation.
TREMBATH: To other pressing topics – Labor is opposing penalty rate changes, but would you be in favour of a tax credit system if it showed workers wouldn’t be left out of pocket?
ALBANESE: Well, what we’re opposed to is the system whereby the Coalition have never seen a worker’s entitlement that they don’t want to see cut, and what they’re about is changing the balance between wages and profits in the economy, let’s be very clear, and they’re about undermining the living wage. Working families rely upon the issues that are a part of their working life – such as overtime – to pay their mortgage and to put food on the table and the idea that you can’t change that is of course isn’t true either. Under enterprise bargaining it is possible to come to agreements between employers and employees whereby the employee is not worse off. That is available right now. What we’re seeing, though, is a government that is trying to undermine worker’s entitlements because that’s what Coalition governments do.
TREMBATH: And just in the last few days we’ve seen a 15 year old extremist shooting a police employee, police raids around Sydney to do with this. Is the Government doing enough to fight youth radicalisation?
ALBANESE: Oh look, we don’t want this to be a partisan debate. This is important that government, opposition at all levels, as well as the community – and particularly the community leaders have a role to play. And I think it’s important that the statements that have been made in recent days by both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, the leaders of the Islamic community, the police force, the Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird and Luke Foley as Opposition Leader, I think have been entirely appropriate. This is a challenge, it does have to be met and it has to be met with a moderate language but ensuring that we act as a united community to make sure that we deal with these issues.
TREMBATH: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much. The Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.