Subjects: Liberal-Greens preference deal;
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back to the program. We’ve been talking to Senator Mathias Cormann. We’re now talking to the former Deputy Prime Minister, Infrastructure Spokesperson now for the Labor opposition, Anthony Albanese. Thanks for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: I want to ask you about something that you reveal during the week that there was a preference arrangement or a deal being done between the Liberal Party and the Greens, particularly out of Victoria but going more widely than that. You were going more critical of it. Labor does preference arrangements all the time with the Greens. What’s the difference?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what we have here is a secret arrangement that Michael Kroger confirmed, indeed, on Sky News on Thursday when he called it a loose arrangement. Well, that’s a euphemism for a deal, and the deal is that the Liberals would give preferences to the Greens candidates in seats where the Greens have a chance of winning.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Seats like yours.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Seats like mine and Sydney held by Tanya Plibersek in NSW and in Victoria the seats of Wills, Batman and Melbourne. But in return, whilst the Greens will go around in my electorate and say, “It’s OK, we’re giving Labor preferences,” what the deal is in return, is in other seats. So, seats which are marginals, currently held by the Liberal Party or ones they seek to win, like Bruce and Chisholm in Victoria, the Greens would issue essentially no direction of their preferences, a split ticket, an open ticket, and that would, of course, substantially increase the chances of the conservative parties winning those seats.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But that’s just smart electioneering, isn’t it, by the government? I mean I’m sure some of their members might not like it, which is why they’ve tried to keep it secret, but in terms of general politicking, it makes sense.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s duplicitous, is what it is. Because at the same time that the Liberals will be saying that they’re totally opposed to the policies of the Greens political party and the Greens are saying the same about the Liberals, they’re entering into an arrangement which does two things. One, it increases the chances of Greens entering the House of Representatives at the expense of progressive Labor members, so it doesn’t… that in itself doesn’t change the dynamic re the chances of the Coalition forming government. But what does increase the chances of the Coalition forming government after the election are these open tickets. Now, that’s something that the Greens supporters don’t want, the Liberals supporters don’t want Greens in the House of Representatives, so we have an outcome where both political parties achieve the opposite of what they’re arguing publicly.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: One of the reasons that this can be considered or looked at by the Liberal Party is because of the removal of that interdependence between Labor delivering preferences to the Greens in the Senate, if there is electoral reform, vis-à-vis the Greens delivering preferences to Labor in the lower house. We spoke to Mathias Cormann, the Special Minister of State a moment ago, he effectively denied this was part of their calculation when looking at Senate reform. Are you sceptical?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: He did something even more bizarre than that. He suggested that it hadn’t been any consideration. Now, the idea that a minister in the Coalition government, deputy leader of the government in the Senate has not given any consideration to the electoral implications of changes to the electoral system is quite frankly taking the electorate for mugs. And it’s absurd and quite clearly, I think that Mathias gave himself up when he gave that absurd answer, frankly. There is no doubt that this is at the heart of these changes and the deal around Senate changes between the Greens and the Coalition, because what it does, historically, in a transparent way ‑ there’s no problem with preferences. I’ve sat down and negotiated preferences with the Greens, with the Democrats, with everyone. We’ve never negotiated with the Coalition because the real game in Australian politics is who the government is. Is it the Coalition or Labor? So we don’t negotiate with the Coalition, but of course we’ve negotiated with other parties and I’ve done it, as a party official. The idea that Greens say, “We decide our preferences locally,” frankly, I’ve sat down in rooms, I’ve had discussions with Greens leaders at state and federal level, and uh, the truth is that they enter into these negotiations.
PAUL KELLY: Now, as a result of this arrangement that you’re talking about, to what extent to you think there is a real threat to some sitting Labor members, such as yourself, such Tanya Plibersek? Is this, is this threat to existing Labor members significant?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s been reduced by the fact that this has been exposed, Paul, which is why I called it out, on this week and publicly ‑
PAUL KELLY: So what’s the effect of this exposure?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think that Greens party members who are weighing up whether they’ll vote for the Greens or Labor will take this into consideration and will say, “Well, maybe, just maybe, these people under Richard Di Natale aren’t the purists that they say they are.”
PAUL KELLY: So you think there might be some sort of grass roots revolt by Greens supporters and voters against these deals?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, there’ll be a big reaction. The Greens candidate for the state seat of Heffron, which is in part in my electorate and in part, a bit of it is in the electorate of Sydney, has been out there, being very critical of the Greens for pretending this loose arrangement is not a deal. So we’ve had that emerge within their party and a whole lot of… I’m not critical of people who choose to vote Green or choose to vote what have you. That’s up to them in the Democratic process. What I’m critical of here is the fact that there was an attempt to hide this from the public, just as Mathias Cormann’s statement of we’ve had no political consideration of the implications is just absurd! But is it equally ‑
PAUL KELLY: Now, now, I guess the question is what’s happening here with the bigger picture? We’ve just seen this deal between the Greens and the government over Senate voting reform. Do you think that under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, we’re likely to see the government moving closer to the Greens on a series of tactical issues? Is this what’s going to happen? And is this a significant change?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s possible but, of course, what you’ve got is Malcolm Turnbull not standing for anything at the moment. I mean he’s, he’s a blank page. He had a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott but he doesn’t have a plan to govern and that’s more and more obvious for all to see. Under those circumstances, in the lead‑up to an election, what we’re seeing is more and more arrangements between the Greens and the Coalition, including over so‑called Senate reform. I mean you could have reformed the Senate in a really practical way by doing measures like having a threshold beyond which, if you didn’t reach that, you couldn’t be elected and your preferences were automatically redistributed. There’s a range of measures that you could have done, which weren’t about disenfranchising the more than 20% of voters who choose to vote for neither Labor, Liberal, National or Greens.
ADAM CREIGHTON: Just on the Senate voting changes, in general, just as a matter of principle, wouldn’t it better, if whoever was in government, either the coalition or the Labor Party, that they had a better chance of getting their legislation through the Senate? Because in recent history, it’s been very hard for governments to get their legislation through the Senate, at least the big picture pieces of legislation. So, just as a general principle, would you like to see a voting system whereby the Senate was more aligned with the Lower house in general?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s an argument for a unicameral system, of just one house, and we don’t have that, we have a house of review and frankly, I think the Senate has done its job during this term. The Senate has rejected many of more extreme, and harsh, and unfair measures of the 2014 budget.
ADAM CREIGHTON: It’s more a house of rejection than a house of review.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s not right. Most legislation has got through the Senate. But legislation also gets improved by proper scrutiny and you have two problems, I think. One is the quality of the legislation, which has been pretty poor, which has been quite contrary to what the government said it would do prior to its election. Remember the famous dictum – no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions, no cuts to the ABC. So the Senate has done its job in representing what the Australian people wanted. In other areas, it’s simply been a failure by a government that has failed to transition from opposition.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But notwithstanding, though, Mr Albanese, notwithstanding that it has done the job in terms of limiting the mandate because of pre‑election comments from the former Prime Minister, Labor can’t seriously feel good about defending the status quo structure, can they, which sees these preference harvesting arrangements between microparties and it sees the likes of Ricky Muir getting elected with an absolute fraction of the vote?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We don’t defend that and I just put forward to you, Peter, a practical and easily implementable way in which you could avoid that to be the case.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Will Labor put that forward, though, as an alternative?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There’s a fix, Peter, and the fix is in. It’s in between the Coalition and the Greens and it’s a part of a lower‑house deal. They’re trying to pretend nothing to see here, we haven’t considered the politics and frankly they are taking the Australian people for mugs if they think that there won’t be proper scrutiny of this. And the last time, of course, a political party had power in both houses, what we got was WorkChoices. And the chances of both houses being held by the Coalition are significantly increased by this change because Coalition has a higher primary vote just across every single state of Australia than, than Labor. There is a greater chance that as a result of these changes, the Coalition in normal Senate elections over a period of time will get three out of six in every state and one in the territories, which means that the Coalition will be in a position to block legislation at least, and that’s why we don’t think that the Greens political party have thought this through. I mean this is going to lead to a double-D election, one of their South Australian senators will be knocked off and it doesn’t make any sense, unless you look at the deals over the House of Reps versus the Senate by breaking that nexus between the Greens needing Labor preferences to get senators elected and in return the Greens assisting Labor to win marginal seats in the House of Representatives. That’s the real big game that’s been on here. You picked it very early on but the truth is that the Greens and the Coalition are pretending nothing to see here, well, that’s the main game.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: We’re going to take a break here on Australian Agenda. We’re speaking to Anthony Albanese. When we come back, we’ll delve into his portfolio area of infrastructure. Back in a sec.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: You’re watching Australian Agenda where Adam Creighton, Paul Kelly and I are speaking to the former Deputy Prime Minister, current Labor spokesperson for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese. Mr Albanese, you were saying before the break about the sort of, in a sense, lack of ideas that are coming out of the government and the new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. But during the week he gave, gave some meat on the bones around cities policies, which was relatively substantive, wasn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, he showed that he’d read my cities policy announcement at the National Press Club in 2014 ‑
PETER VAN ONSELEN: You’re not accusing him of plagiarism, are you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, he spoke of it, well, people can look at it and they’ll read into it whatever they think themselves on my Facebook page, but the idea of the 30‑minute city, speaking about drive‑in, drive‑out suburbs, because the state of Australian cities reports have shown that the jobs that are being created are essentially around the CBD and 10km around as we transition, as the growth sector becomes financial services, legal services, other economic activity, as opposed to manufacturing and other areas that tend to be in the outer suburbs ‑
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I just ask though, Mr Albanese, it looks like the government’s going to go hard on this. They’re going to see this as part of their mixed innovative and growth agenda. If the Labor Party, if they’ve, albeit via imitation being the greater form of flattery, have taken a lot of what you’ve said on this, they’re still going to get political credit for it and they’re still going to develop a narrative around… grow the economy as a result of this policy.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, if they adopt our policies, we’re happy with that. But they’ll need to, before they get any credit for new initiatives, they need to start with putting the funding back for the Melbourne metro, the funding back for the Brisbane cross river rail project, the funding back for Tonsley Park, the funding back for public transport in Perth, both light and heavy rail, that they cut in the 2014 Budget. That’s before they start with any new initiatives. They’ve got to repair the damage that’s been done in terms of the urban policy agenda that Labor had established in government. They need to set up a body, like we did, the Major Cities Unit, to drive that change, looking importantly, not just at capital cities, but also looking a regional cities and how they can take pressure off, particularly the big capital cities on the east coast. So, the government, we welcomed when they announced a Minister for Cities, but of course that didn’t make it till Christmas due to circumstances that weren’t about policy, but then when Malcolm Turnbull had his reshuffle, he downgraded it to a parliamentary secretary position. We still have no major cities unit or bureaucracy. We still have no urban policy agenda. We still have no significant funding of public transport. The only announcement we’ve had is $95 million for Gold Coast light rail stage two. We, of course, put $365 million into stage one and the $95 million was taken from a saving on the Moreton Bay rail link that was funded by Federal Labor and State Labor. So we’ve had no new initiatives from this government. And, on Friday, the big announcement of Malcolm Turnbull was an aspiration, not a policy. He suggested if you read one of the front pages that we were going to get fast rail to Badgerys Creek which is what we’ve been saying, it needs to be linked, the new airport, to a rail line from day one. But there was no route, no funding, no mechanism, no identification of what sort of rail line it would be. It was really just an aspiration. After three years, he needs to do better than that.
PAUL KELLY: Now, in office last time, you did a lot of work on high speed rail on the east coast. And you’ve argued that this works in economic terms. You said the other day, the question now is whether we’ve got a government prepared to make the big call on high‑speed rail, whether we’re talking Sydney, Melbourne, some other east coast arrangement. Would a Labor government in office make the call?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we would and we have a private member’s bill before the parliament right now to establish a High Speed Rail Authority. That was recommended by the advisory group that I established. It included people like Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia. Tim Fisher, this wasn’t an airy-fairy group. This was a very serious group who looked at the economics of this project and found, for example, from Sydney to Melbourne, the benefit was over $2 for every $1 that would be invested. So what I announced this week, at the Sydney Institute, was that we would take it a step further and task that authority at the appropriate time to call for expressions of interest from global players in the high‑speed rail industry.
PAUL KELLY: In other words, in other words, you’re pressing the starter’s gun on this project?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what we want to see is what these global players have to offer. We have had, and so has the government no doubt, significant players from China, Japan, Europe, coming through our doors saying, “We think we can make this work.” It’s quite clear that we should use that international expertise. It’s clear also that if you look overseas, all of or just about all of the high‑speed rail projects that work effectively are partnerships between government and the private sector. So we think the logical next step is to ask the authority that needs to be established to coordinate through the different levels of government, and with the private sector to call for an expressions of interest at the appropriate time.
PAUL KELLY: No what are we talking about here? We’re talking about a Sydney‑Melbourne link via Canberra? Is that essentially what talking about.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Brisbane through to Melbourne, via Sydney and Canberra.
PAUL KELLY: Will you put this to the election as part of Labor’s campaign ‑
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ve been campaigning on this ‑
PAUL KELLY: I know you’ve said it.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ve been campaigning on this for years ‑
PAUL KELLY: Well, there are campaigns and there are campaigns, as you would appreciate. Will you put this front and centre as part of Labor’s election campaign?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We think this is a significant part of Labor’s vision when it comes to nation building and I have no doubt it has significant public support but importantly, also, it has significant support from the business community who understand in terms of… the government talks about value capture. Well, here it is, both in terms of the Badgerys Creek rail line and high‑speed rail. One of the things it would do is transform regional economies. If you could be in Newcastle or Canberra and be within 40 minutes of Sydney’s CBD, that would change the economic game.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Well, give us a sense of how this would work for our viewers that are uninitiated to this? So if we’re talking about a high‑speed rail line between Sydney and Melbourne. It stops at Canberra on the way through. How long does it take to go between Sydney and Melbourne?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You have two forms ‑ and the study identified this. We spent $20 million doing down to the design of stations. There’s been a lot of work done on this. You would have express routes between Sydney and Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. That would be under three hours. But then you would also have routes along the way that pick up, so they’d be slower, obviously, once you start stopping. But Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton, Melbourne and up the north coast from the Central Coast, Newcastle, the major cities along, Taree, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Lismore, up to the Gold Coast. Now, what it showed was that it is those two things together that improve the economics of this project.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: And is this the theory that people can therefore live in the regions and with floating workplaces they can work from home, they can…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely, and the businesses can establish themselves in the CBD, say, of Newcastle or Shepparton for that matter and be able to be in close proximity so if they need to get to Melbourne or Sydney for a meeting ‑ now, at the moment, if you want to go to Sydney or Canberra, as I know full well and I’ll experience again this week. I live almost at the end of the runway but you’ve got to get to the airport, you wait for the plane, you wait for the gate, it’s quite often late, if it’s at Sydney Airport. You’re then… it’s all dead time. The great benefit of why high‑speed rail has worked around the world is that the convenience travellers vote for and the vote for it with their feet. Very few people now go by plane from Sydney – from London to Paris. What they do is they go on the Eurostar.
ADAM CREIGHTON: But those two cities, they each have a population of about 10 million and they’re far, far closer together than Sydney and Melbourne are. I can’t think of another country in the world with Australia’s basic characteristics, that has such high‑speed rail between its cities. Australia is enormous. There’s what, 1,000 kilometres between Sydney and Melbourne. How is that ever going to be viable when you’ve got both cities with only 4 million people in them?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You need to get out more, Adam, you need to get out more. Go to Italy, go to Italy and have a look at the rail between Milan, Bologna, Rome. It has taken over the air routes between Rome and Milan.
ADAM CREIGHTON: Those cities are very close together, Milan, Bologna, and Rome. Probably a couple of hundred kilometres.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: They’re not actually. Milan and Rome, are certainly not a couple of hundred kilometres away. Madrid and Valencia, I’ve been on that route. Paris to Lyon. All of these routes are effectively have been taken over in terms of rail travel. Paris to London, in terms of the distance that it used to take, has been transformed.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But I think Adam’s point. I can see it between for example Canberra and Sydney or Canberra and Melbourne, but then of course you’ve got the lack of population in Canberra which is an issue. Three hours is a trip between Sydney and Melbourne feels like it might just be a little too long.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what the study did was show that rail was competitive with air travel for anything three hours and under. That’s what the study looked at, the comprehensive examples. Sydney and Melbourne are both expected to grow to 8 million in terms of their population. Now, what the big infrastructure challenge isn’t to look at 2016. What do we do now? The infrastructure challenge is to look to the future, help to create it, but also anticipate the future. Get ahead of the game. The problem in this country has been that infrastructure has lagged behind development. What we need to do is make sure ‑ and I’m not arguing the high‑speed rail line would be open in the next term of the Labor government. This is a long‑term project, quite clearly. Our study identified 2031 as the date and that was a 2012 study. So it was looking at the process in terms of planning, but I tell you what, if you don’t establish an Authority now, and you don’t preserve the corridor now, the actions of today will stop what should happen tomorrow because it won’t be possible. And that’s what good infrastructure planning is about. That’s what planning for our cities is about. And that’s what the role of government is.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: It must be getting a lot of resistance. You must be getting a lot of resistance though from the airport authorities, from Virgin and Qantas? They must be lobbying against this scheme.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: In terms ‑ not at all. I think that they understand that they’ve different markets here and the growth in terms of aviation is, is quite extraordinary. We’ve seen a doubling, for example, in terms of the traffic from China in the last, in the last 12 months, that will continue to grow. Our, our airport and aviation facilities would continue to be necessary. One of the things about hubs like Sydney is that they’re important for people who are then travelling on to regional areas, as well. So it certainly won’t… it’s not going to stop the need, for example, for a second Sydney airport and the second Sydney airport study explicitly looked at this, as did the high‑speed rail study. What we are, we’re a more mobile population. If you think about, you know, 20 years ago, even when I was elected to Parliament, there’s been a transformation. My first air trip was as a ministerial adviser to Canberra. Let me assure you, my son, who’s 15, has been on a lot of planes in his life and so have all of his friends. The nature of society is changing. Infrastructure has to, not just keep up with it, it has to get ahead of it. And that’s what a high‑speed rail project is about, showing that vision.
ADAM CREIGHTON: Just on the cities policy in general, you were critical of the government earlier for downgrading the portfolio. What constitutional authority does the federal government actually have over cities? Surely it’s hard for a federal government to make… to micromanage cities. It’s clearly a state responsibility and we have a problem with the federation. I think even Labor admits that. If you’ve got Canberra meddling in the design of railways and so forth, it will further undermine the problem we already have.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all, Adam. What… it certainly is the case, that planning is the responsibility of the states and territories but there’s great examples of whereby the Commonwealth playing a role, showing that national leadership, where four out of five Australians live, where 80% of our economic activity comes from, not from rural or regional areas or mining. 80% comes from cities. That’s why it’s vitally important, for our national economic story, to get it right. There’s great examples in the past of the Whitlam government, of Brian Howe’s Better Cities program, the Honeysuckle development, Pyrmont-Ultimo has been transformed. That would not have occurred without the involvement of Brian Howe and the better cities program. East Perth, right around the country, there’s examples of that, but there’s also examples of funding and state governments come to federal government all the time asking for dollars for transport infrastructure. Well, it shouldn’t be just a case of here’s the dollars and the, the only key performance indicator the Commonwealth is, has the money gone out the door. It should be, OK, you want to talk about a rail line, where are the jobs coming along that rail line? What’s the development along that rail line? How is it improving sustainability of a city along that, along that, rail corridor as well? All of those things mean that the national government can play a key role in partnership with state and local governments and the private sector in shaping the nature of our cities.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese, we are out of time. We appreciate you finding the time to talk to us here in the studio. Thanks for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Great to be with you.