Subjects: Auditor General’s damning report into Westconnex, Perth Freight Link, WA Election preference deal, renewables
DAVID SPEERS: With me now is the Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese. Thanks very much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
SPEERS: So what does this mean?
ALBANESE: What this means is that it’s the latest example of a Government that hasn’t done what it’s said it would do when it comes to infrastructure. They said that for projects above $100 million there would be proper assessments, there’d be business cases.
SPEERS: And how much is this one, remind us, how much Federal money?
ALBANESE: This is a total of $3.5 billion; $1.5 billion grant, $2 billion concessional loan, that they actually say wasn’t necessary for the project to go ahead, that concessional loan. That seems to be for reasons beyond the comprehension of the Auditor General.
SPEERS: So what the Auditor General is saying, the Department identified the fact that it had not gone through the proper processes to assess the merits of investment?
ALBANESE: This is a project, David, that began with the concept of getting freight to the port. It doesn’t go to the port. It doesn’t achieve its objectives. It began with a cost of $10 billion; its costs now total $17.6 billion and rising. So a $7.6 billion blow out in the Budget. This is a project that has been changed more than a dozen times, the scope. This would be the only project in history where they started digging the hole, in the middle of Sydney near Strathfield, where the M4 ends, without knowing where the hole was going to come up. And just at the end of last year, after all funding had already been forwarded, the whole $1.5 billion was finalised on the first of November last year, after that they changed it so there wouldn’t be three exits from this road, but just two; one at St Peters and one at Rozelle. They abandoned and redesigned the project to eliminate the proposed exit near Broadway.
SPEERS: Bottom line, are you saying Government should pull the funding, should it get out of this?
ALBANESE: The funding’s gone. The funding has been forwarded to New South Wales. What the Government needs to do is learn the lessons of this, not continue to repeat it. The Perth Freight Link project, it’s very controversial, subject of a great deal of scrutiny in the lead up to the WA election on March 11, it’s the same processes taking place. Again, Perth Freight Link doesn’t actually take freight to the port, it stops three kilometres short, it doesn’t represent good value for money. They’re working it out as they go along, essentially it didn’t have a business case or environmental approvals. The Government has to get the infrastructure planning process right, which is that you do the planning, you do your assessments, then you provide the funding, not the other way around.
SPEERS: Let me move on to some other issues that have been dominating the agenda this week; preferences. Now you’re not a great fan of the Greens, from memory…
ALBANESE: You’ve picked that up over the years, David.
SPEERS: How do you feel when the Government makes a comparison about West Australian Liberals doing a deal with One Nation? Well what about Labor doing a deal with the Greens?
ALBANESE: Well that’s a nonsense comparison. The difference is that John Howard himself ruled out, quite clearly, showed leadership, because One Nation weren’t part of mainstream politics. They were a party that was promoting division. Now I’ve got…
SPEERS: Do you think they’re any different by the way, nowadays?
ALBANESE: I think that there is no difference in their policies. They still want to abandon the UN, they still want to have policies that are discriminatory on the basis of race or religion. They still have candidates like the candidate in Western Australia who just a couple of weeks ago basically said that the reason why there were single mothers out there was because they couldn’t hold on to a man, because they were lazy and other pejorative terms. And the children of single parents, of which I’m one, were lazy and a range of pejorative terms were used again. Pauline Hanson, when this was raised with her as the national leader, pointed out again somehow that this was being politically correct. These were offensive comments, and they should have been distanced from One Nation.
One Nation’s policies are all there on the website. They remain the same.
SPEERS: What about the…
ALBANESE: Two per cent tax rate; there’s an economic policy for you that at the same time as you have them coming out and saying…
SPEERS: Economic rationalism apparently.
ALBANESE: Yes, that they have a rational economic position. They don’t.
SPEERS: Let me ask you about the energy debate that’s been going on, about whether there’s too much reliance on renewables and that’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing problems for households and industry in South Australia in particular. Are you comfortable with the 50 per cent target that Labor’s set down?
ALBANESE: I am absolutely comfortable with embracing the future. And that’s what we need to do. What we’ve seen in the last few days is all of the experts out there say that renewables aren’t the problem. On Friday, and indeed on Saturday, we saw the Tomago Aluminium smelter in New South Wales that takes up about twelve per cent of the entire New South Wales’ electricity usage get shut down.
SPEERS: Well not shut down, it had to wind back production.
ALBANESE: Well, no, they didn’t wind it back; they got turned off essentially for a period of time…
SPEERS: I thought it was just a thirty per cent cut.
ALBANESE: I heard the interview with CEO live on Friday while it was happening.
SPEERS: He was not a happy man.
ALBANESE: He was certainly not a happy man and we saw also households in places like Burwood, just near my electorate, lose access to power as well.
SPEERS: What’s the answer in somewhere like NSW. Barnaby Joyce was saying to us earlier you need more baseload power. Is he right?
ALBANESE: Well what you need is appropriate supply mechanisms but you also need a national market that operates properly.
SPEERS: But hang on. More appropriate supply. Let’s look at NSW, heat wave came through and you’ve got a company like Tomago that has to turn off. What should happen there?
ALBANESE: Well quite clearly you do need to look at supply and one of the things that the NSW Energy Minister acknowledged by the way was that he thanked those people who had solar panels on their roofs for taking pressure off the system because that is a part of the supply network and what we are seeing …
SPEERS: But you know and the boss of Tomago says that they need baseload supply.
ALBANESE: The truth is that what is occurring is that our coal generators are reaching the end of their life. There needs to be a national energy plan and strategy for this. We are not seeing this from the Government. The truth is in terms of cost what people in the sector are saying is that you are not seeing anyone coming forward wanting to finance a new coal-fired power station, let alone the time that that would take to come on line. So we need to have a national energy policy. This Government has just been about pointing and in some cases hiding the facts. They knew that the South Australian outage that occurred last year had nothing to do with renewables. They were told that and they went out and publicly said the opposite.
SPEERS: All right. To be fair, Josh Frydenberg did point to the weather event as being the reason for that. But anyway …
ALBANESE: Well they went out there and they said and have said continuously that renewables were the problem in South Australia.
SPEERS: Well they say it’s part of the picture (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well you had Pelican Point last week – gas available that simply wasn’t turned on because the national regulator that reports to Josh Frydenberg as the Minister misjudged what the demand would be.
SPEERS: Just a quick one, because we’ve got to go in a minutes, One without notice. Donalf Trump – his National Security Adviser this afternoon – gone. We are three weeks into the life of this administration. How do you think it’s all going?
ALBANESE: I think it’s proving to be a challenge – President Trump coming up against reality. Politics is a hard business and running government is hard. I think Malcolm Turnbull is finding that.
SPEERS: You don’t think Trump was prepared for government?
ALBANESE: I think pretty clearly that he and most of his administration don’t have experience in government and one of the things I’ve learned after more than 20 years in this place, I learn something new every day. I hope to get better at what I do every day. It actually does matter, having some experience and I think some of the issues that are coming out in the United States – President Trump needs to get on top of it. I wish that his administration is successful because it will have an impact on us and the world if he is not. But he needs to get on top of it and he needs to acknowledge that there’s a need for a bit of common sense and that you can’t run a government through Twitter and by making pronouncements on decisions on the run.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, good to talk to you as always. Thanks for talking to us.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.