Subjects: Public transport; Backpacker tax; Penalty rates.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Cities will also be on the agenda for the major parties today, as they commit funding to improving access to the Adelaide and Darwin CBDs. Labor is promising to start work on six tram lines extending from the Adelaide CBD to the suburbs to ease road congestion. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says a Labor Government would commit $500 million to the $3 billion project which will create 2,000 new jobs. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is starting his day in the Top End where he’s committing $29 million to a road link to improve access to the Darwin CBD. For more on all of this, I am joined live on the line now with the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese. Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Michael.
BRISSENDEN: Can we just start first with the backpacker tax, as you heard the Government looks like they are going to certainly put that off, delay it and potentially not introduce it all. What’s your position?
ALBANESE: Well putting it off doesn’t fix the problem. What we have here is an ill thought out policy, they’ve banked $500 million in savings but what they haven’t taken into account is the flight of backpackers that will happen, which means they don’t pay any tax at all because they’re not here. This is creating real issues for the tourism sector as well as for the agricultural sector and the Government needs to say exactly what its position is and provide certainty.
BRISSENDEN: So your position is you wouldn’t have it at all is that right?
ALBANESE: Our position is to say that the Government has stuffed this up. We’ve been sitting down with the tourism sector and the agricultural sector to come up with an appropriate solution.
BRISSENDEN: But what’s your position on the tax? Should they be taxed or not?
ALBANESE: Well, our position is we’d sit down with the sector to come up with a solution. We are concerned that the $500 million is a false save from the Government and we’ve asked for questions in terms of what the Government’s modelling is and we’d need to see that before we finalise our position. But this is something that we wouldn’t have done. We said that clearly when the Government announced this – with no notice in terms of the Budget.
BRISSENDEN: But doesn’t sitting down to come up with a solution create more uncertainty, more continuing uncertainty.
ALBANESE: Well, we are not the Government Michael.
BRISSENDEN: Well no, but you may be after July the 2nd.
ALBANESE: That’s right and what we’d do is sit down with the Government, with the appropriate sector, and come up with a solution. The NFF (National Farmers’ Federation) came up with one and the Government flagged that perhaps it would change the rate of tax that was paid to a mid-point. What we are concerned about here is that the people who earn money in regional Australia, by and large spend money in regional Australia and we are concerned about the impact on jobs.
BRISSENDEN: OK. Let’s move to your announcement on Adelaide transport. This tram link line has been debated in Adelaide for decades, what confidence can the residents of Adelaide have that this time it will get off the ground?
ALBANESE: Well, they can have a look at what happened with the Glenelg tram line; the expansion that is being embraced has had patronage figures that exceeded the forecast and that’s the history of public transport. When you build a rail line or a light rail line it is almost without exception that the number of people travelling on it and using that infrastructure is higher than what was forecast.
And the great benefit here is that you don’t have to dig a tunnel, you don’t have to widen a road, these are all thoroughfares that are available now. With the six projects that have been proposed, the cost relative to the benefit is very small. The benefit will be great, we know that. Left unchecked, the cost of delays in terms of traffic congestion in Adelaide has been estimated by Infrastructure Australia to increase from $1 billion in 2011 to $4 billion by 2031. We know that there will be additional benefit as well for steel in terms of South Australia that’s so important, that will go into these new lines. This has been already on the Infrastructure Australia priority list as a priority initiative over the next five years and this $500 million will kick start the project.
BRISSENDEN: Yeah exactly, let’s go to the cost though, because it will only kick start the project won’t it? Because the conservative estimates of the total cost is around $3 billion. Where’s that money coming from?
ALBANESE: Well this will kick start the project and that is what’s required. This is over the forward estimates. So this is over the coming four years, this is obviously a project that will extend beyond that. This has been welcomed by the South Australian Government, it’s something that was announced without a figure on it in Bill Shorten’s budget reply and it’s a part of our plan for dealing with cities, for dealing with urban congestion. The difference between Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull is that both of them like riding on public transport but only Bill Shorten is prepared to fund public transport.
BRISSENDEN: On another issue can we just try and clear up you position on penalty rates because the Greens are targeting your seat particularly hard, they are putting pressure on you with their announcement that they’ll legislate to protect penalty rates.
ALBANESE: I don’t think it’s aimed at me Michael.
ALBANESE: I don’t think it’s aimed at me because I don’t get penalty rates, the politics is aimed at me and that says it all about the Greens. This isn’t the party of Bob Brown, this is a political party that’s more interested in playing politics than it is with issues of principle.
BRISSENDEN: But on the issue itself.
ALBANESE: This is another example where they are just playing politics. They know that penalty rates go to the core of Labor’s values. It is the labour movement that have fought for penalty rates. It wasn’t given by any government, it was fought for in the workplace, argued for, had overwhelming support in the community and in terms of our position is very, very clear on that.
BRISSENDEN: Well you say you’ll defend them but at the same time you say you’ll respect whatever the Fair Work Commission decides, even if they decide that Sunday rates for instance are too high. How does that work?
ALBANESE: We’ve said we will, if we are in Government – we’ve already made a submission, unlike the Greens who didn’t bother to make a submission, didn’t bother to actually do the hard, practical work that’s required. And we’ve said if we’re the Government, the case clearly has not been made for any changes to penalty rates, we want to end the constant attacks that are there.
BRISSENDEN: So you will –
ALBANESE: On take home pay and we would intervene to make another submission to make the Government’s position clear as opposed to just the opposition’s position.
BRISSENDEN: So you won’t accept the Commission’s ruling in the first place then?
ALBANESE: No, we’d intervene in the process to make another submission to make it clear what the Government of the day’s position is, a Labor Government, which is supporting penalty rates and supporting or opposing any attempt –
BRISSENDEN: But didn’t Bill Shorten say he would support the Commission’s rule?
ALBANESE: Well we will – Bill Shorten has made it clear that he would intervene in terms of after the election immediately to make another submission to make it clear what the Government of the day – the Labor Government’s – position is.
BRISSENDEN: I thought that he made it clear that he would accept the Commission’s ruling.
ALBANESE: He made it clear, you’re not listening Michael. He made it very clear that he would make another submission if we were the Government, to make it clear that the case has not been made, that we don’t support a tax on workers’ take home pay and that is the best way. If you just simply have a blunt instrument of saying you will legislate, the danger in that is that any time there is a Liberal Government you’d legislate to get rid of it. And it’s far more difficult to recreate the penalty rate structure as part of modern awards than it is to get rid of them with one piece of legislation. That is why Bill Shorten has put the position that he has. It’s a practical position, it’s a position which people who know about industrial relations support, and it’s one that’s in the interest of workers.
BRISSENDEN: Okay, Anthony Albanese thanks for joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
BRISSENDEN: Anthony Albanese, Labor’s shadow infrastructure spokesman.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.