Transcript of Tim Webster’s 2UE program
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Member for Grayndler
Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government
Leader of the House
ISSUES: Sydney’s proposed North West metro; NSW Government’s infrastructure submission; Infrastructure Australia’s assessment and selection guidelines; Building Australia Fund
October 7 2008
TIM WEBSTER: Well, the process for selecting big infrastructure projects to be funded by this $21 billion Building Australia Fund will take the politics out of the equation, according to the Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, and he’s on the line now. Hello, Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon, Tim.
TIM WEBSTER: Mate, I’m telling you, if the North West Metro isn’t on the top of the list for New South Wales, I’ll be screaming politics from the rooftops.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s that. You’re entitled to scream whatever you like. What we’ve set up is an independent process, whereby projects will be assessed according to how they contribute to Australia’s productive capacity, how it builds Australia’s global competitive advantages, how it develops our cities, what is its impact on climate change, and all of those assessments will be made by Infrastructure Australia, and they’ll be made according to the criteria that’s been put out publicly in a transparent process.
TIM WEBSTER: All right, I spoke to Infrastructure Partnerships, what’s their role in all of this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Nothing.
TIM WEBSTER: Just recommendations?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, Infrastructure Partnerships are a non-Government organisation, a lobby group, like many others. What we’ve established is a body at arm’s length from the Government, made up of 12 people, Commonwealth, State and local representatives, but also private sector representatives, chaired by Sir Rod Eddington, making sure that for the first time we have a transparent and open process, that will provide best value to the taxpayer, and that’s exactly what they’re all set about doing.
TIM WEBSTER: And that’s as it should be. But are you denying, well I suppose I should talk to the Prime Minister, this conversation between Morris Iemma and Kevin Rudd never took place, that because there’s no marginal Labor seats in the North West, they won’t get the Metro?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look that is such nonsense. It doesn’t even understand the process, and The Herald were told that, and they know that that’s the case. You know, there is a sequel, Bennelong, by the way, but that’s by the by.
The fact is that this is a process of the New South Wales Government, making submissions, along with other Governments and private sector organisations to Infrastructure Australia to make recommendations to the Government. So that’s the process that’s there.
The New South Wales Government have said, and stated in the article, that they didn’t put North West Metro on there because it was viewed that it would be fully funded by the New South Wales Government. On the assessments that have been put forward, every single infrastructure project that State and Territory Governments are doing, or that the private sector is doing, isn’t being submitted to Infrastructure Australia.
The New South Wales Government stated that. If you look at the end of today’s Herald article, that’s made clear. That’s why they made their decision to not submit that to Infrastructure Australia.
TIM WEBSTER: But what do you think the people of Sydney are going to think, if when Nathan Rees comes up with his mini budget in November, the North West Metro doesn’t go ahead?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’m not here representing the New South Wales Government. The New South Wales Government have to consider their budgetary circumstances. Of course those circumstances have been changed because of the decision by the Opposition, led by Barry O’Farrell, to block the privatisation of electricity in New South Wales, which was intended to go into infrastructure.
TIM WEBSTER: Yes, all right, but as a Sydneysider, knowing Sydney as well as anybody else, how could a fast train from the city to Parramatta, or an extension to the M4 East, be more important than providing trains at all, to the North West?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, what’s important is that Infrastructure Australia make those assessments. What we’re trying to do here is to get away from the circumstances whereby I or other politicians simply make decisions without any proper advice and independent cost benefit analysis…
TIM WEBSTER: No, that’s fine, that’s fine.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …of particular projects, so that is what we’re doing. I’m not pre-empting the process of any project around the nation that’s being considered by Infrastructure Australia.
TIM WEBSTER: Is $20 billion a finite figure?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well what we’ve said is that we’ve put $20 billion from the current surplus, this year’s surplus and the coming financial year’s surplus aside in the Building Australia Fund. Now I’ll note that the Opposition at the moment are threatening to block that fund. If that’s the case, then without any funds, you can’t spend the money, so we’ll wait and see. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve been determined to maintain the budget surplus, and to get our budget through, because that was intended to deliver in the short term downward pressure on interest rates and inflation, but in the long term, have these funds set aside for nation-building infrastructure.
TIM WEBSTER: OK, just so the listeners and me are clear on this, State Governments come to you with submissions on what they want, and it’s assessed after that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, State Governments come to Infrastructure Australia, an independent arm’s length body that we’ve established, they will make their assessments, and make a submission in an interim report to the Government, by the end of the year.
TIM WEBSTER: Please tell me that you think there must be some sort of rail link to the North West. See, Anthony, you can’t – and I’ve been saying this for years, you can’t have people come there, be attracted to go there because of the house and land packages, so you know, it’s nice and cheap to live, because they’ve got a nice house, but no way to get into town other than pay 90 bucks a week for tolls. Mate, it’s just – I just can’t believe that it’s not even on the New South Wales Government’s wish list.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: But it’s not the case that it’s not on the New South Wales Government’s wish list, they intended to fully fund it out of their budget proposals. What it’s not on, and what we want to get away from, is the idea of wish lists, there’s not a fairy godmother out there, we have $20 billion nationally for infrastructure provision. Now if $12 billion of that was going to go to a project, then you only need two projects worth that, and you’ve over-spent the money.
That’s not what this exercise is about, and the New South Wales Government made it very clear to The Herald, The Herald chose to put those facts down the end of their article, because of whatever particular agenda they wanted to run.
But there’s a very clear process here, which is for projects to be considered by Infrastructure Australia. They were to be submitted by State and Territory Governments, or from the private sector, or the community, those submissions close on October 15. And it’s really important that we actually allow this process to take place, and that it be rigorous, and that is what the Government is committed to allowing to happen.
TIM WEBSTER: No, I can’t disagree with any of that, but let me tell you, if you’re talking fairy godmothers, the people of the North West would love to have one, with a very big wand, to start trains travelling tomorrow afternoon at four o’clock.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m sure that around the country, one of the big concerns has been a neglect in infrastructure…
TIM WEBSTER: Absolutely.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: … in rail, in road, in ports, in broadband, and that’s why. I’m the first Infrastructure Minister; the previous Government didn’t even bother to have an Infrastructure Minister. Indeed they said that it was none of the Commonwealth’s business, it was just simply a matter for the states.
What we’re saying is that nation building is the job of the Commonwealth Government, in partnership with States and Territories and the private sector, and we’re establishing a process to make sure that there’s rigour and good value for taxpayers’ dollars in that.
TIM WEBSTER: Of course, and you know as well as I do, not everyone’s going to be happy, because they’re going to think that their project’s more important than the next fellow’s, aren’t they?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Sure, which is why it’s important that it not be pre-empted, and which is why the suggestion in today’s article simply lacks credibility and doesn’t take account of the proper process which is taking place.
TIM WEBSTER: All right, and finally, how long is this process going to take?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, in December, will be the interim report, last Thursday the Council of Australian Governments decided to bring forward the time line from March, for an interim report.
TIM WEBSTER: OK, good on you. Thanks for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you, Tim.
TIM WEBSTER: That’s the Minister for Infrastructure Federally, Anthony Albanese.