Subjects: Coalition infrastructure cuts; public transport funding; Malcolm Turnbull; Trade Union Royal Commission; Newspoll
ALBERICI: Anthony Albanese is the Opposition’s Infrastructure spokesman. A few days ago, Labor put forward a $10 billion plan to fund 10 major projects, including big rail and road investments.
At the same time, Malcolm Turnbull has been signalling, like his predecessor, he wants to be known as infrastructure prime minister. Over the weekend he announced a federal grant to extend the Gold Coast light rail line. Anthony Albanese joined us a short time ago from Canberra. Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Emma.
ALBERICI: As shadow Infrastructure Minister, you’d be happy with the Turnbull Government’s focus on roads and transport?
ALBANESE: I’m happy that the Turnbull Government has not ruled out funding for public transport, unlike the Abbott Government. But they’ve got a lot of catching up to do. We know that there’s been a 20 per cent decline in public sector infrastructure and investment since the election of the Coalition government and there’s something like $4.5 billion of cuts that they made to public transport.
So they need to catch up on that even before you look at the fact that over the last two years, there’s been so little action on infrastructure; a lot of talk, but not much building and not much construction.
ALBERICI: As you intimated there, Malcolm Turnbull has taken a different tack it would appear to that of Tony Abbott and with Malcolm Turnbull appearing to be governing much more from the centre, how much harder is that making it for Labor to come up with distinct policies?
ALBANESE: Well we welcome the fact that there’s been a change in regards to public transport policy in cities, cities where eight out of 10 Australians live and it drives 80 per cent of the national economy. So, it’s important that our cities become more productive, sustainable and liveable.
But the Government has to do more than just appoint the numerous spokespeople they appear to have at the moment. Today we saw Greg Hunt out there announcing a managed motorways program for the Monash Freeway in Melbourne, one that indeed was approved by Infrastructure Australia in 2012, funded by the federal Labor government in 2013, cut by the Coalition government in 2014, and today, pretending that this project was somehow a new idea from the Coalition. They need to come up with new projects which will drive jobs growth in the short and medium term, but also of course, drive productivity and economic growth in the long term.
ALBERICI: You would admit though it’s now becoming much harder to differentiate between the policies of Labor and the Coalition?
ALBANESE: Well, Tony Abbott of course had a bizarre position with regard to my portfolio. He said he wanted to be the infrastructure prime minister, but he barely dug a hole. Infrastructure investment collapsed on his watch.
And what we saw was a range of products funded with advance payments, the East West Link in Victoria that had a return of 45 cents for every dollar invested, the WestConnex project in Sydney and Perth Freight Link without any business case and advance payments made, the money sitting in State Government bank accounts without actually creating jobs, and at the same time, the cuts to important projects that did stack up, that were approved by Infrastructure Australia …
ALBERICI: But that was then and this is now.
ALBANESE: Well, the funding still is not there for Cross River Rail, for Melbourne Metro, for Perth public transport projects, for the rail link to Badgerys Creek Airport. Now, what sort of government says you’re going to build a new airport in Western Sydney, but not have public transport links from day one?
ALBERICI: Now the Royal commission into trade unions today heard from a former executive of the big construction firm Thiess John Holland who claims he struck a deal with Bill Shorten when the now Opposition Leader was the head of the Australian Workers Union. The deal was that the construction firm would make payments to – or for an AWU worker for the duration of a Victorian roads project. Now are you worried that these allegations are going to start to colour the voters’ views of Bill Shorten?
ALBANESE: Well I think Tony Abbott’s Royal commission has been discredited because of the political way that they’ve gone about conducting their business, including of course the way that Dyson Heydon compromised himself by agreeing to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser.
ALBERICI: But with respect, that doesn’t go to my question. My question is specifically about some of the evidence that’s been taken at the Royal commission. If I can draw you back to that. Are you concerned that voters are going to start to think poorly of Bill Shorten?
ALBANESE: No, I think they’ll see it as a political exercise that it is and with regard to any of the specifics of the evidence, that’ll play out. Those processes should be allowed to occur.
What Labor has said – Bill Shorten and the entire Labor team have said: if there’s any wrongdoing here, then it should be prosecuted under the law with proper processes. But what we’ve seen here is a politicisation of the process and I think that has been most unfortunate. It’s undermined the integrity of a Royal commission.
ALBERICI: Well Bill Shorten – sorry to interrupt you, but Bill Shorten was the secretary of the Australian Workers Union, so he’s very aptly being drawn in here given his role at the time that’s being questioned.
I mean, the suggestion being made by the former Thiess executive was that money he paid for this AWU worker was essentially to avoid problems at the work site. It does sound a little suspect.
ALBANESE: Well as you’d be aware, Emma, I’m not aware of all of the details of those circumstances, but what I am aware of is that trade unions and employers will get together in a cooperative way. They have a common interest in jobs being secured and in workplaces being safe.
So, if there were arrangements in place, I’m not commenting on any specific proposal, but it is not unreasonable that employers and employees will get together to make sure that workplace safety’s looked after, to make sure that the entire workforce benefits, because there’s a common interest here between construction occurring in a way that minimises costs, but in a way also that ensures good outcomes for employees.
That’s what I want to see industrial relations as and I think that’s what the overwhelming majority of trade union and employers want as well and there’s no doubt that from my knowledge, Bill Shorten was a trade union official who got great respect, not just from his AWU members, but from employers as well for the way that he conducted himself.
ALBERICI: Now this morning’s Newspoll must’ve been a disappointment to you.
ALBANESE: Oh 50-50, Emma. To quote the great Tex Perkins, “The honeymoon is over, baby,” when it comes to Malcolm Turnbull.
ALBERICI: Really? Malcolm Turnbull on preferred prime minister at 57 versus Bill Shorten’s 19. That’s something to celebrate?
ALBANESE: They’re not voting for him, Emma. 50-50 is an extraordinarily bad poll for the Coalition after …
ALBERICI: That’s two-party-preferred, …
ALBANESE: That’s right.
ALBERICI: … but if you look at the primary vote, it’s 35 to 44, and preferred prime minister is a pretty shocking result, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well, we’re in a preferential system, Emma, and after you play – the ultimate card has been played. The Coalition have knocked off a first-term elected prime minister in Tony Abbott, and just a few weeks after it, they’re not even ahead in the polls. That’s extraordinary. And the Coalition members I’ve spoken to around Parliament House here today are certainly not upbeat about that result.
When you have a change of leader, historically, there’s a big bump in the polls, for which this time round there’s been a little blip and it’s back to 50-50. So I think given that, given the fact that Malcolm Turnbull became the only prime minister I’ve ever seen ridiculed by his own party conference on Saturday.
Today we’ve seen Tony Abbott, Bruce Billson, Ian Macfarlane, Joe Hockey, all of them sitting up the back as a reminder of the fact that we still have a state of undeclared civil war in the Coalition.
ALBERICI: Fewer than one in five voters now want Bill Shorten to lead your party. Is that a good enough result?
ALBANESE: Well what’s important here, Emma, is the outcome in terms of votes. And the outcome shows that we are very competitive indeed at 50-50.
ALBERICI: So are you saying it doesn’t matter who the leader is?
ALBANESE: Well, what I’m saying is that people make a judgment with regard to the political party and what’s clear is that voters are marking down the fact that Malcolm Turnbull has become leader, but has overturned – policy has …
ALBERICI: Well they’re hardly marking it down. 50-50 is certainly …
ALBANESE: … he has held dear for years. Well, 50-50 after a change of leader.
ALBERICI: Anthony Albanese, I think what you’re saying is it doesn’t matter who the leader is.
ALBANESE: No, they’ve gone to the cupboard, “In case of emergency, break glass”. They’ve broken the glass. They’ve got a new leader. They have all sorts of problems with the Coalition. Barnaby Joyce out there as well …
ALBERICI: We’re running out of time, so just let’s go back to the question, which was about Bill Shorten. Are you saying you’ll just ignore the public’s message about him?
ALBANESE: What we’re saying is we’re a team, we’re united behind Bill Shorten’s leadership and we have put forward – not just held the Government to account, but put forward in the last two weeks a comprehensive infrastructure plan as well as a comprehensive plan for higher education, going together with the plans we have for multinational tax, for superannuation.
We’re out there presenting an alternative as well as holding the Government to account. That I think is being recognised out there in the public. We obviously have a new challenge with a new leader in terms of Malcolm Turnbull.
But the fact that our vote has actually improved on a two-party-preferred basis to level pegging just a few weeks after that change is, I think, a positive sign.
ALBERICI: Anthony Albanese, many thanks for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Emma.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.