Jun 12, 2012

Transcript press conference – Parliament House, Canberra

Issues:  NSW Government’s Pacific Highway Betrayal; Federal infrastructure spending in NSW; Canberra Airport’s High Speed Rail terminal plan; Qantas; North West Rail Link

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Today in the Budget handed down by the NSW Government, it is clear that the Coalition have walked away from their solemn election promise to fully duplicate the Pacific Highway by 2016.  This is a betrayal of North Coast residents and all who use the Pacific Highway.

The fact is that prior to the election they made clear commitments.  Barry O’Farrell during the last month of the election campaign said:

“Only the NSW Liberals and Nationals are committed to completing the upgrade of the Pacific Highway by 2016.”

Andrew Stoner said during the last term:

“Premier Nathan Rees can’t pass the buck on this issue.  The upgrade of the Pacific Highway is a State Government responsibility so it’s up to them to get the job done.”

Duncan Gay, the Roads Minister, said this, again during the last term of government:

“I would hope this time he the then NSW Treasurer – would have been a statesman and say, yes, I will match that money and save the lives of people in NSW that have to use that highway.”

And Andrew Fraser, the Member for Coffs Harbour, said this:

“I pay credit to the [Federal] Labor Government for increasing the funding.  The Pacific Highway is a state road that effectively causes the loss of one life a week.  The State Government must increase its commitment.”

The NRMA president, Wendy Machin, said earlier this year:

“It was the Howard Government that set the 50–50 funding split for the Pacific Highway from 2006, and the NRMA has supported this approach since day one.  While in opposition, the current NSW Government frequently called on the NSW Labor Government to match Federal funding for the Pacific Highway dollar for dollar, and we supported this call too.”

During our Budget, we provided an additional $3.56 billion for the Nation Building Program.  We indicated that it would be available for the Pacific Highway on a dollar–for–dollar matching basis.

It is clear from today’s Budget that the State Government has not done that.  They’ve indicated various figures in the Budget and we’ll examine exactly how much additional funds they’ve allocated.  They say at one point that the figure is $1.5 billion.

But last year, [NSW Treasurer] Mike Baird in his Budget speech said:

“In its last Budget, the Commonwealth allocated $750 million for the Pacific Highway but only on the condition that the NSW Government matched this amount.  We are determined to provide the funds needed to match this Commonwealth offer.”

Duncan Gay said in Parliament on the same day of the Budget:

“We are determined to provide the funds needed to match the Commonwealth offer.”

It appears that $300 million of that money has got lost on the way and hasn’t in fact been allocated for the Pacific Highway, contrary to what they indicated on Budget day last year.

Indeed, a cursory glance at the roads budget release from the NSW Government is pretty extraordinary.  The key initiatives that they claim come out of their Budget, including $530 million for the Hunter Expressway which any reasonable person reading the release would think was new money from NSW, are in fact, by and large, Commonwealth funded.

The Commonwealth money is contributing $1.45 billion to the Hunter Expressway.  The State Government has only committing $200 million over the entire life of the project.

Similarly, they’ve attempted to claim Federal spending on the Hume Highway, on the Pacific Highway and on a range of other projects.  If you read their release, you would think that this was State Government money.

So we’ll have a look at the Budget Papers and we’ll be doing what we said we would do, which is allocating money on a dollar–for–dollar basis, on the basis of the position that the NSW Coalition has previously taken.

It is a tragedy that on the Pacific Highway this will mean that the 2016 deadline cannot be met.

They’ve been backgrounding journalists, saying that they’re going to talk to the Federal Coalition.  I’ve heard nothing from the Federal Coalition to indicate that they will add any additional money to the Pacific Highway.  Indeed, given the Federal Coalition only committed $1.3 billion over the 12 long years of the Howard Government, this is a triumph of hope over experience.

As I’ve indicated in the Parliament previously, it is a fact that of the works currently underway 92 per cent of it is in Federal seats held by the Coalition, and 100 per cent in state seats held by the Coalition.

We have not played politics with this.  We have attempted to do our bit to get the Pacific Highway fully duplicated by 2016, in line with the joint commitments of both the Federal and State governments.  And yet what we have here is a walking away from all of those commitments, and a failure to invest in this important infrastructure project.

Happy to take questions.

QUESTION: So are you clearly saying that the $3.56 billion is no longer on the table if the State Government is not…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I’ve said very clearly a number of times – our position today is the same as our position in the Budget – we have allocated $3.56 billion to the Nation Building Program.  That’s the program that builds infrastructure right around the country.  Of that, we will make available, on a dollar–for–dollar basis, for the Pacific Highway.

It is up to the State Government to do its bit.  None of this is easy.  I find it extraordinary today’s article on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald – at the risk of giving a free ad to a pretty poor article – which said that [NSW Treasurer] Mike Baird, having been Treasurer for over a year, has a plan for infrastructure: it’s to bring a list to Canberra and ask us to fund it while at the same time they’re failing to fund their share.

The fact is there are pressures on the national Budget, and demands for infrastructure spending right around the country.  To suggest that the Commonwealth should fund the Pacific Highway by ourselves is to effectively suggest that the punters in Victoria, Queensland, West Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and the territories shouldn’t get their bit.

In the last Federal Budget we had two new initiatives: Goodwood to Torrens with the South Australian Government, 50–50 funding; Majura Parkway with the ACT Government, 50–50 funding.

It is the case that the Coalition in NSW seemed to think their idea of nation–building infrastructure is coming to the Commonwealth and asking us to pay for their commitments.

QUESTION: When you say dollar for dollar does that mean you’re only going to fund the 20… or match the 20 per cent that they [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s unclear how much money they’ll actually allocate but we will add $1 of funding for every dollar that they put up.  That’s very clear.

QUESTION:  [Indistinct] your commitment for what…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No.  We have said the funding is available in terms of the Nation Building Program, that’s to build infrastructure right around the country, and of that, should NSW make a request for additional funding for the Pacific Highway it would be made available on a dollar for dollar basis.

QUESTION: So if NSW asked for a … amount suggested in their budget papers, does that mean the other $2 billion of the money set aside in the May budget would potentially go to premiers in other states…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: There are lots of roads and there are lots of premiers who want a cooperative relationship and want to engage in nation building – and those premiers are not confined to Labor premiers either.  There are big challenges right around the country.

NSW has also been out there complaining yet again about Commonwealth funding for infrastructure.  The Nation Building Program delivers over $12 billion to NSW out of a total of $36 billion up to 2013–14.  Even someone from the Coalition can surely divide 36 by 12 and get one third, which is about the share, or indeed a bit better, per head of population in NSW.

And what the Coalition needs to bear in mind that this is a Government that has doubled the roads budget.  That compares with the last time a Coalition government came in (the Howard Government) where they cut the roads budget by $2 billion.

QUESTION: How far will a [indistinct] completion date back?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that will have to be discussed with NSW.  This is a road that is managed and run by the NSW Government and they will need to examine the new spending profile.

I’ve asked repeatedly for discussions with NSW both in the lead up to our Budget where our announcement was of no surprise because they had been told what the circumstances were from the very first meeting we had with them.

So I’ve asked for, and no doubt there will need to be discussions between the Commonwealth and NSW to establish a time frame of works to take place.

QUESTION: Speaking of surprises, [indistinct] were there any indications today that [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, the Coalition made no approaches except to Channel Nine on Sunday.  So that’s the way that they choose to deal with things.  I rang the Roads Minister Duncan Gay and gave him a heads up prior to our Budget being handed down, and also sought unsuccessfully to have discussions with Premier O’Farrell.

But my door is always open to any State minister or premier.

I had discussions with Campbell Newman last week and I’ll be seeing Ted Baillieu tonight I understand.

So our position is very clear, and I think it is extraordinary that having made very clear and unequivocal commitments year after year after year [regarding the Pacific Highway], that it wasn’t a priority.

This is National Party heartland we’re talking about here.  And what we know now is that when the Howard Government was in office it failed.  It delivered $1.3 billion.  The State [Labor] Government delivered $2.5 billion over that same period of time for the Pacific Highway.

And can I make this final point: there is not a single project on the Pacific Highway currently under construction or in planning that has an 80/20 split.  There are all sorts of variations but there isn’t one that has an 80/20 split.  So it is a mythical view that they have.

I was very critical of the former State Labor Government on the record, on camera, time after time, about their failure to deliver the appropriate investment in the Pacific Highway.

Now you have a Coalition Government that holds each and every seat from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Queensland border and yet is failing to deliver on the very clear commitments that it made.

QUESTION:  Just [indistinct] plan announced today for a high speed rail terminal at Canberra Airport but on the proviso that a Sydney to Canberra link [indistinct].

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well you need a track and a train before you have a terminal, and we have a study into just that which will come down in December.

What we need is fact–based policy.  I don’t make commitments and then walk away from them.  I make commitments based upon the facts, and when they’re clear and budgeted.  So let’s get the analysis out there then we can have a community discussion.  I intend to release the report publicly, and then people can see for themselves what the prospects are in terms of High Speed Rail.

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick question on the Qantas share price?  Are you concerned that there could be a raid on Qantas, given that its share price has fallen so low after they’ve made their profit downgrades?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, those issues are quite rightly a matter for Qantas and I don’t think it assists the process if you have Federal Cabinet ministers commenting on them.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We haven’t yet committed any money.  The North West Rail Link proposal is before Infrastructure Australia.

The State Government did a good job of getting Infrastructure Australia’s cooperation recently when they engaged in the vilification of the Infrastructure Australia process.

You know, Infrastructure Australia runs a rigorous cost–benefit analysis of the projects that are before it.  They liaise with State government.  It’s at arm’s length.

I’ll wait for the Infrastructure Australia position, but I’m aware of the difficulties that are there in terms of the full costing of the proposal, and I understand Infrastructure NSW shares those concerns.

QUESTION:  Given that [indistinct] funding to the North West Rail Link were you surprised [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Well that’s a matter.  But I’ll wait and see what money is actually allocated as opposed to what money is said to be allocated on Budget day, given the experience last time.

It is of some concern that announcements were made on Budget day last year about the Pacific Highway that have not been kept to, either in the correspondence that’s been conducted between the State Government and the Commonwealth or in terms of the commitments that they gave prior to the election.

Thank you.