May 12, 2014

Transcript of radio interview – ABC Radio National with Ellen Fanning

Subjects: Budget, roads funding, WestConnex; fuel excise; home insulation; Royal Commission

FANNING: Well as we just heard the Federal Government is promising the biggest increase in roads funding in Australian history.  $40 billion will be spent over six years on new road construction, matched by another $42 billion from the states and the private sector.

But the Opposition believes that little of that money will be new, and it says three road projects will be funded by taking more than $4 billion out of urban rail projects.

Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and he’s in our Parliament House studio this morning. Good morning to you.

ALBANESE: Good to be with you Ellen.

FANNING: Mr Albanese, isn’t the proof that this is new money the fact is that it’s funded by measures that previously didn’t exist – Federal and State Government asset sales and private sector money, as well as that regular increase proposed for the petrol tax.

ALBANESE: Not at all Ellen. If you have a look at the announcements that the Government’s been making, they’ve been re-announcements of projects that were already included in the budget. Projects like the F3 to M2 which they’ve just renamed in Sydney- the Northern Link.

Producing a new name does not create a new road and what’s we’ve seen is a series of re-announcements.  They’re ripping billions of dollars out of public transport: $3 billion from Melbourne Metro, $715 million from the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane,$500 million from public transport in Perth, additional money in South Australia and in Victoria they’re ripping money, $500 million out of the M80 road project, now that had been through the Infrastructure Australia process, it has a positive benefit-cost ratio, that is, it will actually boost productivity- and they’re giving it to a road that, the East-West, that has not been through that process, has not received the approval of Infrastructure Australia.

And as a result what we’re seeing, potentially, I’m not convinced there will be any new money tomorrow night, that there won’t simply be more shuffling.  It’s interesting that they’re talking about six years rather than four years of the forward estimates.

Wait for the spin tomorrow night that says, oh yeah the money is there but it’s out five and six years away, rather than actually there in the forward estimates.

FANNING: Nevertheless there are three enormous projects that Labor never funded when you were Infrastructure Minister, the East-West Railway, the WestConnex and the Toowoomba Range Crossing.

ALBANESE: Well that’s not right Ellen. Take WestConnex for example, we funded the work in terms of planning.  $25 million was already spent from us and $1.8 billion was included in last year’s budget for the WestConnex project.

FANNING: The Federal Government leaks this morning suggest the Federal Government is going to announce its share of the funding for Stage One and Stage Two of that road. Now they’re massive new commitments, as well as the East-West and the Toowoomba Range Crossing. They’re new projects.

ALBANESE: Well that’s $1.8 billion for WestConnex. But we did say this Ellen; that it needed to go through the proper planning process as the Government said they would for all projects above $100 million.

And we want to make sure that WestConnex actually took people into the city and freight to the port. At the moment it’s a bit of a road to nowhere, it does neither of those things.  It moves the congestion just down the road from Strathfield on the M4. It puts a new toll on an old road, the existing M4, and it doesn’t go anywhere near the port.

Now, the role of the Federal Government through Infrastructure Australia is to make sure that we get bang for our buck, that we get better value, that you have that proper analysis.

And what we’re seeing from this Government is an abandonment of that, and an ideological position that means that they’re cutting all funding from public transport. Now if you do that, you’re cutting the options that are there, that are necessary, to deal with urban congestion.

And what’s worse, they’re then, whilst taking away the option of public transport for those in our outer suburbs, they’re putting a new tax hike on petrol so that every time working families fill up to get to work, or fill up to take their kids to footy or sport on the weekend, they’re paying an additional tax to the Government.

FANNING: Just very briefly on this, we were speaking earlier to the Australian Automobile Association; the NSW Government has done all the reasonable surveys on WestConnex. It would seem from the outside, that notwithstanding a full cost-benefit analysis by Infrastructure Australia, these roads are needed and that once they’re completed in four stages, one, two, three and all the rest of it, they will do what is necessary.

ALBANESE: Well Ellen, what is necessary, with regard to WestConnex, is that freight gets to the port. If the road doesn’t go to the port, indeed dumps out traffic the other side of the airport, an already congested area, than it won’t achieve its objective.

We’re fully in favour of infrastructure investment, that’s why we put aside the $1.8 billion for the WestConnex Project. But we do say that it’s got to be got right.

And of course the East-West project in Melbourne as a result, we now have a very inferior rail project being proposed in Melbourne that appears to have been done on the back of a napkin, as opposed to the Melbourne Metro project where we’d already spent $40 million on getting it right, on making sure that it dealt with the congestion that was there and the city rail line.

Now if you don’t deal with rail issues, you cannot possibly address urban congestion in our capital cities by a roads-only approach. And by the Federal Government not funding rail, that leaves that to zero.

But what’s worse is that it’s saying to State Governments, if you want any Federal money, then invest and prioritise roads not rail. That’s leading to a reduction in rail investment from State Governments. And we saw that in last Friday’s budget in Western Australia where they walked away from previous commitments that they had to rail as well as to light rail.

FANNING: Let’s skip through a couple of issues in the 90 seconds we have left, if you’ll be brief. Will Labor block the increase in the fuel excise in the Senate?

ALBANESE: We’ll have a look at the budget and we’ll make our decisions collectively, as a Shadow Cabinet and as a Caucus.

FANNING: The budget is proposed will abolish or merge another 70 plus Government agencies. Mathias Cormann says Government is way too big. Did it become too big under Labor, just briefly?

ALBANESE: Well the theme of this budget is they don’t like the public sector, they don’t like public health, so they’re walking away from universality of Medicare, they don’t like public transport.

There’s a theme Ellen, it’s that they don’t like the public.

FANNING: The Home Insulation Royal Commission, Kevin Rudd will appear as a witness this week, so too Greg Combet and Peter Garrett.  Is it appropriate they should front up and answer those questions?

ALBANESE: Oh look, they’ve already been eight inquiries on these issues. The Queensland Coroner’s inquiry has gone through extensive examination. What we’ve had is recommendations that have all been adopted. This is a Government that is addicted to playing politics, and they’re continuing to do it on a range of areas. What we will do is not be distracted and continue to hold the Government to account in its budget week.

FANNING: And very briefly, and finally, the Royal Commission into alleged union corruption will hold its first hearings today.  It’ll hear from Ralph Blewitt, the former union official, evidence about the slush-fund scandal that dogged Julia Gillard. How much peril do you foresee here for Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten, just very briefly?

ALBANESE: Well, and again Ellen, the day before Parliament goes back there’s this hearing. One wonders why when apparently it’s then going to adjourn for some time. We’ll be concentrating on the issues of concern to Australians, which is about the cost of living, which is about the impact of the broken promises that will be sprayed out for all to see tomorrow night, and we’ll be concentrating on that and won’t be distracted on what happened sometime at the end of the last century.

FANNING: Thank you very much Mr Albanese.