Subject: Infrastructure, Budget
FAUZIAH IBRAHIM: Let’s move onto other news now and funding for roads, rail and other major infrastructure projects is expected to be fast tracked in next week’s Budget.
The ABC understands that much of the $50 billion infrastructure plan for last year’s Budget will be brought forward. Well, joining me now is Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese – thank you so much, welcome to the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
IBRAHIM: It all sounds like really great news, you must welcome it.
ALBANESE: Of course, there is no $50 billion program. That’s a fantasy. The fact is that Budget estimates show that it’s actually $34 billion. What we’ve seen is a decline in infrastructure investment so if further infrastructure investment occurs in the next fortnight’s budget, we would welcome it.
They could start by funding projects like Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, Melbourne’s Metro project, that were all approved by Infrastructure Australia and funded way back in the 2013 Budget before they were cut.
They could fund Perth’s Metronet project, rail for Western Sydney including through Badgerys Creek Airport, and of course Adelaide’s AdeLINK project, a light rail project that’s ready to go and approved by Infrastructure Australia as well. So we want to see the reality rather than the rhetoric.
IBRAHIM: Alright. Well before we get to these particular projects, and I do want to take you up on those particular projects and what’s actually going on with them, it does seem that the government seems to be sidelining the states in regard to boosting these infrastructure projects.
We’ve seen the Treasurer Scott Morrison says that the Government gets involved, and I’m quoting here, where he says “where we think we can invest in infrastructure that has national productivity outcomes and benefit.” Do you agree with this, sidelining the states?
ALBANESE: The fact is that what they’ve sidelined is proper process and Infrastructure Australia. They haven’t sidelined the states. What they’ve done is sideline states that have had the temerity to elect Labor governments.
For example, Victoria, where 25% of the population lives, receives 7.7% of the national infrastructure budget. Now that’s in spite of the fact that Melbourne is Australia’s fastest growing city, the fact that Victoria is a fast-growing state in terms of its population, the fact that projects like the M80 road project in Melbourne, the outer ring road was cut in the 2014 Budget then put back in last year. The Melbourne Metro project is absolutely essential. They haven’t put a dollar into that project.
So I think the problem here is that Scott Morrison has sidelined proper process by taking funding away from projects that have been approved by Infrastructure Australia that were ready to go in favour of projects like Perth Freight Link and the East-West Link in Victoria, that frankly just didn’t stack up and that’s what explains the 20 per cent decline in infrastructure investment over the first two years of this government.
IBRAHIM: But you just said that the projects that they will be focusing on are national productivity lifting outcome and benefits, he said it’s for the good of the country, rather than the good of the states.
ALBANESE: The truth is that state governments run our road networks and our rail networks. There are very few projects that are purely national, Badgerys Creek Airport of course is one of those. The Inland Rail project that they’ve done nothing on for four years is another one.
But if that is an excuse, if they’re setting up rhetoric here to pretend that they’re doing something when actually they’re not investing in road and rail, then that will be a tragedy.
The government is setting up an infrastructure financing unit in the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. That’s the job that Infrastructure Australia was set up to do. To identify and to support productivity boosting infrastructure.
If anything shows the government’s failure on infrastructure and productivity boosting infrastructure, it’s the fact that they stopped the roll-out of the National Broadband Network being fibre to the home and business, and instead they’re rolling out copper to millions of homes which is last century’s technology.
So they need to get with the program. They’ve started to at least acknowledge it, after years of going on about debt and how debt is all bad. Now they are saying there is good debt and bad debt. That’s because, of course, the deficit has increased by so much on their watch.
IBRAHIM: I want to take you up on the issue of good debt and bad debt. You know Treasurer Scott Morrison has been talking about it. Is it just a case of moving one issue, or one project from one column to another column? Is that what’s happening?
ALBANESE: That appears to be what it is. It’s just the Government essentially softening its arguments. For years they’ve argued that debt is all bad. Now they are changing. It appears their argument really is that when Labor is in Government debt is bad, but when they are in Government and have doubled it, then somehow debt is good.
IBRAHIM: But I’ll take you up on something else that Scott Morrison has said and he says to rack up Government debt to pay for welfare payments, Medicare costs, or other every day expenses is not a good idea. What’s your reaction to that?
ALBANESE: There is a distinction to be drawn between infrastructure investment that produces a return and recurrent expenditure by the Government. And so drawing a distinction in the Budget papers; there’s an argument for that. But you’ve got to invest in the right projects and the Reserve Bank Governors have been very clear about that.
The current one, and his predecessor Glenn Stevens, have been very clear that you need to get the proper advice from Infrastructure Australia, otherwise it simply is the case that this Government hasn’t invested in the right projects, and they haven’t invested enough. Malcolm Turnbull likes taking selfies on trains; he just hasn’t funded any train lines.
IBRAHIM: But you know the Coalition is talking about boosting infrastructure, getting more projects on. Labor is having some sort of a push back as well. I’ll quote the west- east gas pipeline. Now the Federal Government is proposing the west -east gas pipeline. One, is this a feasible project? And the fact that WA’s new Premier, Mark McGowan says that he’ll use the proposal as a bargaining chip for higher GST. Now why use it as a bargaining chip when, really, it’s a project that would benefit the nation?
ALBANESE: Mark McGowan is quite frustrated as the WA Premier because he knows that he has seen a Government pluck out the Roe 8 road project as the only project that they’ve funded in WA; the only new project in four years and it’s a dud project. He has abandoned it, but for four years that is all they’ve gone on about since the 2014 Budget.
He knows that WA has just seen Coalition Government Ministers come and open projects like Gateway WA, the Great Eastern Highway, the Esperance Port Access Road – projects that were funded by the former Federal Labor Government and pretend somehow that they’re new. In some cases they’ve changed the names of projects, like the Swan Valley Bypass became NorthLink.
Now, he wants investment in WA. He is frustrated by the fact that the Coalition has abandoned WA and that’s one of the reasons why he is the Premier. Because State and Federal, the Coalition just weren’t delivering for the people of WA.
IBRAHIM: I just want to talk to you and get a very quick response from you about the AFP admitting that there had been a metadata breach in their systems. What’s your response?
ALBANESE: Well there has to be a proper investigation of how this occurred. Any breach of data such as this is a very serious issue and I’ll await the proper processes. But I think people are entitled to believe that the legislation when it was carried to allow for access for appropriate authorities to metadata will be kept confidential and will be used appropriately.
IBRAHIM: Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, very much appreciate you taking the time to speak to us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.