Transcript of Radio Interview with Leon Delaney
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
Subject: Sir Rod Eddington to chair the new body, Infrastructure Australia
February 27 2008
LEON DELANEY: Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Leon.
LEON DELANEY: How are you today?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m very well.
LEON DELANEY: That’s the way. The new body, Infrastructure Australia, has now been thrust into the limelight with the appointment of its new chairman, Sir Rod Eddington. The first order of Infrastructure Australia is to draw up a list of priorities, I believe?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right. We’re very pleased that Sir Rob Eddington’s taken on this task. He is extremely experienced, he’s the author of the Seminal 2006 Study into British Transport, he’s on a number of boards. He’s run global airline companies, he knows perhaps better than anyone we could have thought of infrastructure and transport issues.
And we’re very pleased that the first thing that Infrastructure Australia is going to do, if the legislation is passed which we hope it will be during this session, is to have an infrastructure audit and draw up a priority list.
It’s extraordinary that we don’t have a list of what we have in Australia in terms of infrastructure assets, let alone a coordinated attitude towards what we need to do over five, 10 and 20 years.
LEON DELANEY: Yeah. Infrastructure and skills training are the two major short-comings in the overall economic picture, aren’t they?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, absolutely. The Reserve Bank warned the previous government on 20 separate occasions that we needed to deal with our infrastructure and skills deficits. And certainly that’s proving to be a major capacity constraint on our export performance at our ports.
It also, in terms of infrastructure, holds back economic productivity through urban congestion through accidents on our highways.
We need to address these issues and to recognise that there’s a real impact on people of infrastructure failures, the most notable of which is that many Australians are spending more time commuting in their cars than they’re spending at home with their kids.
LEON DELANEY: Interestingly the body will have the power, apparently, to override state governments and withhold Commonwealth funding. This is reminiscent of some of the Howard Government aggressive Federalism, isn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we want it to be a cooperative body. It won’t have that power in itself but it will have the ability to make recommendations to the Commonwealth Government. It’s a statutory advisory council, it’ll be making recommendations both directly to myself and to the Federal Government, but also to the states through the Council of Australian Governments.
We’ve established an Infrastructure Working Group; we’ll be having our second meeting in Brisbane next Thursday. And we want to get all three tiers of government working together with the private sector to address these infrastructure shortfalls.
LEON DELANEY: At the same time the Opposition suggests that you’re preparing the ground for budget cuts in transport specifically relating to a half-a-billion dollars cut from Bruce – the Bruce Highway in Queensland, and also the scrapping of a link road in the Hunter Valley?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it – that’s absolute nonsense, of course. The truth is the Opposition over-promised at the last election between three and six billion dollars for their road funding.
We made commitments under the Auslink Program. We will fulfil each and every single one of the commitments that we made, whether it be the Bruce Highway, the Princes Highway, the Pacific Highway, the Stuart Highway, we’ll be fulfilling each and every one of our commitments.
LEON DELANEY: What about that F3 to Branxton in the Hunter?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we never promised that, of course, the previous…
LEON DELANEY: Well the Opposition claims you did. [Laughs]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we didn’t. And we submitted our costings. The Opposition, of course, the then Government, promised in the dying days of the election campaign to contribute an amount of money that was less than half of what it will actually cost. Less than half.
So it didn’t add up in terms of their promise, having done nothing about the F3 to Branxton link, which was costed in the order or around about $300-$400 million when it was first suggested a decade or more ago. Now they did nothing about it for 12 years. It would cost in today’s dollars $1.7 billion and yet they promised less than half of that and pretended that that would enable the road to be built, in the dying days of the election campaign.
I think we do need real solutions to these issues, and I’ve asked my department to come up with proposals which would be considered by Infrastructure Australia to deliver some easing of the congestion that’s there, particularly now the congestion is east-west rather than north-south in terms of the Lower Hunter Valley.
LEON DELANEY: So it may still be back on the agenda after the Infrastructure Australia body has put together its audit?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we need to, yes, but these assessments need to be made based upon real funds. It’s not much good going out there and promising roads based upon half of the funding that’s required in the dying days of an election campaign when you’ve sat on your hands for 12 years and done nothing. And the commitment was into the never-never as well.
LEON DELANEY: Yep.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: So I think the people who’ve been supportive of that particular road link understand that the previous government actually did nothing about it.
LEON DELANEY: Now, I think the electorate is getting two different messages from the government at the moment. On the one hand we’re being told that Wayne Swan’s budget is going to feature expenditure reductions in real terms in order to attempt to contain inflation and result in a massive – a more massive than ever surplus, some saying as much as $30 billion.
Shouldn’t that money be put into the things like infrastructure that we need?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, look, one of the things that the new government has inherited is a very dangerous inflation environment. We’ve got inflation running at 16 year highs and unless we put that genie back in the bottle then we won’t be able to deliver on our economic and social policies into the future.
LEON DELANEY: But investment in infrastructure wouldn’t be inflationary, would it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, investment of infrastructure is certainly different from investment in recurrent expenditure through grants or what have you. But we do need – we do need to be cautious in terms of our approach towards spending in the budget.
We’ve got substantial commitments that we made on infrastructure, and we’ll be making clear in the budget that we will fulfil each and every one of them, not the least of which is a $2.5 billion allocation that we’ve got to fix the Pacific Highway, for example. A more than three-times increase on the $800 million that was allocated by the previous government under the first Auslink program.
LEON DELANEY: Yes, well I see that the Pacific Highway has been highlighted as a priority even before the audit has been undertaken. When will we have that four-lane highway completely linking Sydney to Queensland?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, that will be a matter for Infrastructure Australia to deliberate on. What we will do, though, is commit ourselves to that – that $2.5 billion of funding that will be available between 2009 and 2014. That will make a substantial difference.
We know that the work done to date has already reduced travel times by about 80 minutes, and full duplication will take that to double, up to 150 minutes saved.
LEON DELANEY: And finally, switching hats for a moment as Manager of Business in the House, what’s the benefit of requiring the Parliament to sit on Fridays when the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers don’t have to show up?
[Interview continues, discussing matters unrelated to Infrastructure Australia]
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.