Dec 16, 2015

Transcript of television interview, PVO Newsday, SKY News

Subjects: MYEFO infrastructure figures; Coalition’s infrastructure advertising campaign; health cuts  

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back. Joining me now as promised live from our CBD studio in Sydney is the Shadow Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for being there.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Peter.

PVO: Now, let me ask you this. Lots announced in your portfolio area of infrastructure in the MYEFO statement yesterday I see, poring over the details. Three new projects it would seem, a bunch of new money. Is the Infrastructure Prime Minister gone but the infrastructure government rolls on?

ALBANESE: Well, the infrastructure spin rolls on, Peter. What we had yesterday is quite remarkably three new projects that have been announced since the May Budget.

The Northern Connector, in Adelaide, which was announced the day that Tony Abbott was rolled. That was an attempt by him to lock in some South Australian votes in his party room.

You had a project in Western Australia in the electorate of Canning that was announced during the election campaign – a road project around Armidale.

You had the Gold Coast Light Rail project which at the time I said was funded through savings on the existing Redcliffe Rail Link that’s been extended, that was funded when I was a minister, and the government said that wasn’t the case.

What’s remarkable is that all this adds up to, well not quite a billion – $999 million to be precise – but there is not a single extra dollar of funding.

You can’t spend the same dollar twice, so the government either has to come clean and say that its money allocation in the May Budget was based on a falsehood or they need to say where the equivalent cuts are coming from if it is indeed funding these new projects through the infrastructure budget.

PVO: Let me see if I understand this. So, all of these projects, even the ones for example in the Canning by-election post the May Budget, were they all contained in the May Budget? Because if one or two of the three is post the May Budget, that’s ok to be part of a MYEFO statement, even if it is a doubling up on the announcement, isn’t it?

ALBANESE: They’re all new projects that have been announced since the May budget. The problem here is that the MYEFO statement says there’s no additional money. They’ll be funded from within the existing funding envelope. So maybe Santa Claus has brought these three projects in terms of the actual dollars for construction.

PVO: So no new money since the May budget, but new projects. Nearly a billion dollars worth. So your concern, or your question I suppose really, is if there’s no new money and there’s a billion dollars worth of new projects, you want to know what was in the May budget that was going to be scrapped, presumably.

ALBANESE: Absolutely. And where is the money coming from? Tony Abbott’s infrastructure performance was a farce, which is why I notice since he’s been deposed as Prime Minister, he doesn’t speak about infrastructure as one of his achievements. The only hole that was dug under his Prime Ministership was the one that his caucus buried that very Prime Ministership in.

PVO: Okay. The other issue, Mr Albanese, you’re talking about, it’s a fair question. We want to know, I want to know where this billion dollars worth of realigned spending from the May budget is going to see cuts.

I’m sure people that have heard infrastructure announcements from May that they’re relying on will be curious to know where they’re going to be cut. You’ve got to cut Warren Truss a bit of a break though don’t you, Anthony Albanese? He’s been a bit busy trying to get Ian McFarlane across over the last couple of months. I’m sure he’ll clear it up for us later.

I do notice though, that it looks like there’s new money for advertising for infrastructure, is that right? New money to be able to sell their projects to the public.

ALBANESE: That’s right. Because the public are onto them and the fact that they are not an infrastructure government at all, they’ve decided to have a new program of advertising. But again, that money is from the existing infrastructure budget.

So they’re taking money that had been allocated for construction, for actually building things, and they’re not building something with it, but they’re advertising to say that they are going to be building something.

PVO: So hang on, sorry, let me see if I understand this correctly. So there’s money, do we know the quantum? How much money?

ALBANESE: We don’t know. There’s just a line in the Infrastructure and Regional Development section to say that they’re going to have an advertising campaign to promote their infrastructure agenda but the funding for that advertising campaign is to be found from within the existing infrastructure budget.

The infrastructure budget is there to build things. They’re taking money from that to advertise what they’re not building and to try and con Australians into believing that something’s actually happening.

Remember we heard from Tony Abbott that there would be cranes in the sky and bulldozers on the ground? Well, the only thing we’ve seen in the sky from this government is Bronwyn Bishop’s helicopter and there certainly aren’t bulldozers on the ground either, just bulldust when it comes to their infrastructure agenda.

This is now reaching farcical proportions. Warren Truss should actually get out there and build something.

This week they’ll be opening the Tintenbar to Ewingsdale section of the Pacific Highway on the North Coast, funded by the former Labor Government in the 2010 budget. Construction started in 2011. They’ll be out there pretending they had something to do with this project.

But they need to do something more than just have this magical infrastructure reannouncement tour. Now they’ve added to that with Santa Claus, apparently funding things in the Budget in terms of the new projects that they’ve announced since May.

PVO: Alright, let’s move into another area, it’s the main one being discussed today, obviously various health organisations complaining about MYEFO. The Treasurer has accused them of simply protecting their commercial interests.

That’s a fair point, isn’t it? Health might be something that we’re all interested in but there are commercial interests in the health sector. Scott Morrison’s right to call that out, isn’t he?

ALBANESE: I’ll tell you what there’s not interest in, Peter. There’s not interest in ensuring people getting proper diagnostic treatment. People getting proper pathology so that you find out what’s actually wrong.

That can save money, because early detection and prevention is not only good health care, it’s also good economics in terms of finding out where problems are there before they become acute problems at great cost to the taxpayer as well as of course, the most significant issue, is the health cost to the individual concerned.

So I’m very concerned about the mean spirited nature of these cuts.

It’s pretty clear that the Treasury brought out, and Finance brought out things that were in the bottom drawer, that even Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott at their meanest in 2014 said no to. This is reminiscent of them just giving the tick.

A new Treasurer with training wheels on and a new Prime Minister whose sole objective seems to be to have become Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. He’s so constrained by the manner in which he got there, and the people who he owes, and his support base and the fragility of the Coalition, that he hasn’t had the ticker to take on issues like superannuation at the high end. Like multinational tax avoidance. The sort of measures that we should have seen included in yesterday’s MYEFO.

PVO: Let me get back to health, though. Do you accept that it’s a fair cop to say, isn’t it, that there are commercial interests, at least in part, dictating criticisms coming from the health sector? That’s a fair comment.

ALBANESE: Well, of course there are always commercial considerations but I listen to doctors and what I’ve heard is some experts this morning expressing their concern about the health policy implications of these cuts, to pathology, to diagnostics.

I’ve had an MRI once in my life, what it found was that indeed an operation that was being suggested on my knee wasn’t necessary. They found arthritis, essentially, and it ended up saving a medical procedure that had been recommended.

Now, that’s an experience that I’m sure many people can relate to. These advances in medical technology have been critical in terms of not just finding where problems are and getting better healthcare outcomes but also making sure that savings are made.

PVO: Anthony Albanese, always appreciate talking to you on Newsday. I think we’re talking again next week in the lead up to Christmas, I hope that locks you in, saying that publicly.

ALBANESE: Good try, Peter. I can assure you from outside in Sydney a little bit earlier on, the backdrop doesn’t quite reflect the weather it has been out there.

PVO: I hope you’ve got an umbrella with you. We’re going to go straight to that now, actually, with what’s happening down south. Thank you very much for your time as always.

ALBANESE: Good to be with you.