Subjects: Morrison Government’s leaked infrastructure plan; high speed rail; energy; CFMEU; Peter Dutton; asylum seekers.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Let’s now bring in live from Sydney the Shadow Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese. Appreciate your time Mr Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much Ashleigh.
GILLON: This latest report on infrastructure announceables is embarrassing for the Government, no doubt about it. But on the content of these announcements, do any of these spends constitute pork-barrelling in your view? Do you have an issue with the content of this leak? Because I understand Labor does broadly support the funding of the projects outlined in this document.
ALBANESE: Well the first thing to be said, Ashleigh, is that this isn’t a government it’s just a rabble. This is chaos. This isn’t Mr Turnbull’s list. This is a budget list. This is a leak from a document that would have gone through the Cabinet and Expenditure Review Committee process in the lead up to May’s Budget. There are a range of projects in the list that had already been supported by Federal Labor. So once again we’ve been leading from opposition over projects like the Linkfield Road Overpass, the Rockhampton Bypass, the Mackay Ring Road – Stage II, Western Sydney Rail. The concern here is why is it that these decisions were made in May – funding allocated but nothing’s happened. Because they wanted to just politicise the process rather than, in the case of Western Sydney Rail, get on with the project. Get on with creating jobs and economic activity. Get on with creating the certainty so that the investment along that north-south corridor that will come with the new airport for Sydney, will be able to occur.
GILLON: Isn’t this just politics at this end of the election cycle, though? Mr Albanese when you were the Infrastructure Minister, are you saying that the Labor government never held back on announceables to time it with an election coming up for a campaign?
ALBANESE: Well what we did was we listened to Infrastructure Australia and we made sure that we had that infrastructure pipeline. So every single Budget where I was the Infrastructure Minister – we did have new projects for each and every state and territory. I mean there is nothing in this for Victoria in the form of transport. All there is, is $150 million for the Geelong City Deal. I’ve been recently to both Geelong and Darwin, who were promised City Deals, who have sat down with the local councils with the State governments. These things have been announced more than a year ago but not a dollar has flowed. So it’ll be interesting to see when the actual allocations were. Because this Government has also been very good at making announcements for new projects, but when you look at the detail the funding comes sometime after. Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull – all of them have left the Parliament. Funding doesn’t start for six or seven years. So we’ll wait and see what the detail of this is.
With regard to high speed rail, there is $1.5 billion in there for that. We actually had the High Speed Rail Authority ready to go in 2013, with funding to start the preservation of the corridor. It was shut down by Tony Abbott. We’ve had Private Members Bills before the Parliament. But under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government nothing has happened. So what we’ve had is five years of delay. It will be interesting to see again when that $1.5 billion is actually going to flow.
GILLON: Well just another thing for Mr Morrison to contemplate today. He’s also saying today that he’s open to a Royal Commission on energy companies. Is that necessary, do you think? Is that something Labor would support?
ALBANESE: Well we’ll wait and see what proposal is there. What we need is some energy policy certainty. And the problem here has been five years of a Government that doesn’t have a policy. They knew what they were against, they just didn’t know what they were for.
GILLON: But looking at Labor’s position, we’ve looked at this closely. Do you think a Royal Commission would be a good idea into the energy companies? Is it warranted?
ALBANESE: We think that a policy on energy is a good idea. We think that certainty to drive that investment in energy is a good idea. We think that driving down emissions will also drive down costs of energy and that’s what the renewables sector is doing now. Were it not for Labor’s renewable energy target, we’d have higher prices now, but what we have from this Government is a lack of policy. We saw them adopt a policy in their caucus room, in their party room, announce it and then walk away from it just three or four days later because of the pressure on Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. Well that didn’t turn out too good for him. We’ve had an EIS, a clean energy target from the chief scientists. We’ve had the various versions of the NEG and now we have no policy from this Government and what the Government is trying to do of course is say, look at the energy companies over there. Well, how about the Government take some responsibility for its own actions because it’s part of the problem. Yes, energy companies are part of the problem but government inaction is very much a major part of the reason why we have higher prices today.
GILLON: Keen for your views on an issue that has been thorny for Labor. Is it time, do you think, for Labor to cut ties with the CFMEU? John Setka using his young children to send a pretty vile message targeting the building watchdog on social media. It was a bit beyond the pale, wasn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well of course that is inappropriate. But the fact is that one of the things that you don’t see here this Government talk about is the role of unions in keeping people safe, so that they return home from work at the end of the day. If you had no unions on construction sites – I tell you what, you’d have a lot more families not being able to welcome home their mum or dad at the end of the day.
GILLON: Well Scott Morrison says he is considering de-registering the CFMEU. The union, as we all know, has had its issues. Do you fear this could be the final straw? Every time another scandal comes up it does reflect badly on Labor, doesn’t it? With your links to the union?
ALBANESE: No. Look this is – an individual sent a tweet. Let’s put this in some perspective here.
GILLON: He’s not just an individual he’s the head of the CFMEU, which is a big donor for the Labor Party.
ALBANESE: No he’s not, actually. Dave Noonan is the head of the CFMEU construction division. Michael O’Connor is the head of the entire CFMEU. He’s not Ashleigh, he’s the head of the Victorian division of the CFMEU. It’s an inappropriate tweet, but we shouldn’t determine policy over what occurs in the construction industry over a tweet.
GILLON: Labor is keeping up pressure on Peter Dutton over the au pair saga. Today you’ve been named as making some 26 appeals to the Minister over visa issues concerning your constituents. How are the appeals that you made any different from appeals made by other members of the public?
ALBANESE: Well I’m not a member of the public, Ashleigh, I’m a Member of Parliament.
GILLON: Sure, but if somebody makes an appeal about a certain …
ALBANESE: No. Let’s be very clear here, Ashleigh. There is an enormous difference between – a member of the public goes to the Local Member of Parliament about immigration, about health, about issues with Centrelink and Members of Parliament make representations on their behalf, and someone who is a mate making direct appeals to the Minister to overturn decisions of the Minister’s Department – you surely must see the distinction which is there. And the distinction that is there as well, behind this Minister who has built a career on meanness and lack of compassion. That’s his whole Modus Operandi: ‘Vote for me, I’m mean, I don’t care about people, I’ll make tough decisions’. And then these people, who quite clearly had recommendations by the Department for very good reasons, one of these people had breached previously the conditions of their visa. Someone else clearly was found to be someone who was coming in on an inappropriate visa and intended to do work in contradiction of that visa. Those decisions were overturned. Not on the basis of representation from a Local Member of Parliament, but based upon having that direct access to the Minister.
GILLON: You’re alluding there to the Minister’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus. The Pacific Islands Forum is focusing on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers there at the moment. We’ve seen another report today looking at the plight of some 109 children still there. It warns they are at breaking point. They are trying to kill themselves. It makes a very sad, depressing reading. Would Labor – should Labor, do you believe, keep those children on Nauru and Manus?
ALBANESE: Well we’ve said very clearly – the Government says that those people shouldn’t be on Nauru and Manus. That’s what the Government says. They just haven’t done anything …
GILLON: What would Labor do if you got into Government? When it comes particularly to those children?
ALBANESE: Well if you wait, then you’ll get the answer. What the Government says is that – they just haven’t done it. And Labor has already said very clearly, for example with regard to the offer of New Zealand to take some of the people, that should be accepted. And that other third countries of settlement should be found.
GILLON: But in the meantime would a Labor Government be quicker to bring these children to Australia for medical treatment? If a child is threatening suicide, is that the point, they need to be extracted from that situation?
ALBANESE: I’ve given you the answer Ashleigh. These people need to be settled. They need to get that certainty. It’s very clear that there are real mental health issues behind keeping people in detention for that period of time. There are offers which have been made that haven’t been accepted by the Government. The Government needs to explain why it is that they are just unprepared to find solutions, that are not only in the interests of those refugees – people who have been found to be refugees. And the interests of Australia as well because we’re paying enormous amounts of money – of taxpayers money here, to keep those people in Manus and Nauru.
GILLON: Anthony Albanese joining us live there from Sydney. Appreciate your time this morning, thank you.
ALBANESE: Thanks Ashleigh.
MONDAY, 03 SEPTEMBER, 2018
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.