Transcript of Radio Interview – ABC Radio Darwin, Mornings with Jo Laverty and Adam Steer – Wednesday, 17 April 2019
Subjects: NT roads, NT infrastructure investment, NT tourism, NT flight prices, NT self-government debt
JO LAVERTY: Well we know now that the Budget repair report has been released yesterday that we have a long 10 years ahead of us. And working with the Federal Government is imperative to the success of the Northern Territory. If the Labor Party wins Government, one man will most likely be in charge of deciding how the Federal Government shapes the Northern Territory for years to come. And that person may very well be Anthony Albanese, who is the Labor spokesperson for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, and Mr Albanese is in town at the moment. What brings you to the Top End?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m here this morning – we’re announcing our $173 million road package. That deal, in addition, to what was announced in the Budget by the Government. I’m on my way this morning out to the mango industry to announce their strategic growth project which would essentially upgrade what’s now just a dirt road to an industry that is contributing some $90 million to the NT economy at the moment, but is held back by a lack of infrastructure, so it’s a major announcement this morning with Warren Snowdon and Luke Gosling and Malarndirri McCarthy.
LAVERTY: Alright let’s talk about roads. Have you had a chance yet to go down Barneson Boulevard?
ALBANESE: I’m not sure exactly every single road that I’ve been on.
LAVERTY: This is one that’s very familiar with people in Darwin at the moment because huge amounts of money were spent building this particular bit of infrastructure in the city, and there are a lot of people who say it actually made things worse, and if the Federal Government had consulted with Territorians, then that it wouldn’t have gone there and that’s not how money would have been spent. So what kind of interaction will you have with the locals to make sure they get what they want?
ALBANESE: Look, we’ll make sure we get it right. When I was last the Minister for Infrastructure, we doubled infrastructure investment here in the Territory and in particular, we of course delivered Tiger Brennan Drive, which I haven’t had anything but compliments on in the time that I’ve been coming to the Territory and I’m here of course about three times a year.
LAVERTY: Yeah – Tiger Brennan Drive is getting a bit of a makeover as well at the moment.
ALBANESE: Well, Tiger Brennan Drive’s a critical artery for Darwin and I’m very pleased that we began the upgrade there when we were in Government after considerable lobbying by our local NT members. Today we have announcements about roads in the Top End, roads in the Katherine region, and also in Central Australia. And we’ve been talking with the NT Government about how the so-called “City Deal” could actually be given some weight. About how improvements could be done, in what we’ll call the City Partnership – an ongoing relationship of improved planning between the different levels of government. I had a very successful dinner last night with industry, talking about what their needs are, how some strategic infrastructure investments could make an enormous difference. Investments like the Ship Lift, which would bring investment on an ongoing basis and economic activity here to the Top End.
ADAM STEER: Well let’s move further down. The Coalition gave the troubled Barkly region in Central Desert $78.4 million to address the issues in their part of the world. Under Labor, would we see similar investments in other regional areas like Arnhem Land, like Katherine? And I’m not talking about roads. I’m talking about bigger investment than that.
ALBANESE: Yeah look, we will certainly honour the investment which has been announced for the Barkly region around Tennant Creek. And of course we were in advance of the investment in Kakadu. One of my concerns about a lot of the Government announcements are they’re often in the never never. And what the NT needs right now is investment. We’ve seen since the INPEX Project got to where it is, we have seen a decline in some of the economic activity. I was talking to the CEO of the airport last night for example, and we’ve seen a four per cent decline in activity at that airport over the last year. So what we need to do is to work on economic activity in terms of job-creating infrastructure, but also, I have responsibility for tourism, and I think there’s enormous opportunities for tourism here in the Territory.
STEER: Well of course, it is a big deal in this part of the world – backpackers, grey nomads, international tourists. How can you steer them all to come to the Territory?
ALBANESE: Well one of the things we can do is task Tourism Australia with much more specific international advertising. One of the issues we were talking about last night was how we actually maximise the benefit of the direct flights that are coming in from Shenzhen in China. Actually go and engage in China to encourage people to participate in those direct flights, because unless you have the numbers coming, then that won’t continue.
STEER: What about cabotage though for Northern Australia? There’s been a push from many senior politicians here to get some kind of exemption on cabotage so that international flights can pick up and deliver domestic tourists within Northern Australia. Would Labor consider a relaxation of the cabotage rules?
ALBANESE: No we certainly wouldn’t, because we see it as incredibly counterproductive, and that what you would see is a retreat from Australian-based airlines. And certainly if you talk to your Air Norths, or Virgin or Qantas – they’re strong supporters of cabotage and there’s a reason for that. We already have a very open system. Anyone can come to Australia, establish an airline, and engage in business activity. The problem is that what you would have, and evidence shows this because they tell us this would happen, would see a retreat of the number of flights, particularly a complete withdrawal of flights to smaller destinations like Nhulunbuy.
LAVERTY: This is ABC Radio Darwin. Anthony Albanese is Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities, Regional Development, and for Tourism as well. And if Labor wins the next election, will probably have a very big hand in Northern Territory issues. One of the issues and complaints that we often hear in the Territory is it’s just so hard to get tourists here because it’s so expensive to fly anywhere. Does Labor have a plan to make flights cheaper not only to Darwin but other parts of the Territory?
ALBANESE: Well we initiated the inquiry and Malarndirri McCarthy’s played a critical role in that inquiry in the Senate to see what we can do to reduce airfares. I was quite pleased that last night, the CEO of the airport told us that there were fares available recently at just over $100 between Darwin and Brisbane for example. So airfares have come down from when we saw the height of activity with the INPEX Project, and in part, it is a product of supply and demand. But it’s also a matter of the Commonwealth having consistent policies available. And part of the problem we’ve had – I’ve shadowed 13 different ministers – a revolving door of Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers hasn’t been limited to that. There’s been a new Transport Minister every few months in recent times. And you actually need to develop relationships between the airports, the airlines, work out ways in which you can encourage cheaper fares, and certainly that would be one of the immediate objectives if we came into Government to do what we can. You can’t just wave a magic wand. We do have market economies, and we don’t own airlines, and that limits the capacity to intervene in those markets. But there are things that Government can do.
LAVERTY: And just finally – you acknowledged right at the beginning of this conversation that the Northern Territory has a lot of work to do in order to get the Budget back into balance. One of those things, speaking to our Chief Minister Michael Gunner, is to approach the Commonwealth and say “can we please have a reprieve on the debt that was incurred by the Commonwealth when we took self-government in the Northern Territory?” Can you make that happen if you end up in power?
ALBANESE: Well certainly what I can’t do is give commitments like that on the run, even on ABC Radio this morning. But look, we have a good relationship with Michael Gunner and with the NT Government, and we would want to work through as well through our three local members who we hope are all re-elected come May 18 to do what we can. This is an area that does have issues, but it also has enormous opportunity, and the opportunities are almost endless for the north of Australia. We’re located here in the fastest growing region of the world in human history. And with that, we should be able to seize those opportunities, and I want to work with the NT Government to do just that.
LAVERTY: “Almost endless”. “Boundless possible” you might say Mr Albanese.
ALBANESE: Well you can use that term as well.
LAVERTY: Lovely to speak with you, and good luck for your visit in the Northern Territory.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much for having me on the program.
LAVERTY: Bye bye. That’s Anthony Albanese – Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities, Regional Development and Tourism. And this is ABC Radio Darwin.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.