Subjects: Glendale Interchange; High Speed Rail, Turnbull Government cuts; Williamtown.
HOST: Well en route to the Hunter as we speak is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development. Prime minister – Minister – Anthony Albanese is going to get excited about to hear those words. It maybe a little while coming though. Minister Anthony Albanese is heading into our region to check out progress at the Glendale Interchange before he heads out to meet with Meryl Swanson for a Kurri Kurri Business Enterprise round table. It’s been quite a while since we’ve spoken to Anthony Albanese on 1233 so we thought it timely that we catch up today. Mr Albanese, good morning
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you Paul and thanks for the promotion.
HOST: It’s all right. There’ll be no additional pay. That’s the bad news about all of that. That’s going to be short-lived I am sorry to say. What can Opposition parties do for communities? We’ve got a situation here where we have been traditionally a Labor stronghold but we’ve got a Liberal Coalition Government at both levels, both federally and state of course.
ALBANESE: Well, what you can do is two things. One is hold the Government of the day to account and on your news you just heard a very good example of Luke Foley, with his protection for the thoroughbred industry, holding the Government of the day to account and we’ll be doing the same thing, myself and the local members, this morning at the Glendale Interchange – putting pressure on them to deliver essentially what is a very exciting project. It has more than $80 of benefit for every single dollar that is invested because of the private sector investment that will flow in commercial, in residential, in development around the region. It’s a no-brainer, which is why we funded it when we were in government with $13 million and why we committed additional money during the election campaign. But we want to keep the pressure up because this is an important project for the Hunter. And then developing longer term policies which is what the roundtable in Kurri Kurri with Meryl Swanson is about. What’s the vision for the Hunter? What future infrastructure development is needed? I will be pleased today for example to be able to travel on the Hunter Expressway that we of course funded when we were in government and that was a policy that was developed when we were in Opposition.
HOST: It seems that here in the Hunter Valley at the moment quite a bit of demarcation happens in regard to the big-ticket items. We’ve got Williamtown of course, which has become a Federal Government issue through the involvement of the Department of Defence and of course we’ve got the State Government involved through the various health bodies that are involved in trying to counter the problems there. What are your observations about that – the level of demarcation between state and federal at the moment. It seems that not a lot gets done and everybody is buck-passing?
ALBANESE: If you were starting Federation again you would have two tiers of government would be ideal and it can be a source of frustration for decision-makers. But the biggest frustration of course is for the population who get annoyed quite rightly with buck-passing and I think governments have to work across the three tiers of government. It’s something that I tried to do when I was the minister. My portfolios included local government and we delivered on projects like the Glendale Interchange, that’s been recognised by the Hunter regional councils as the number one priority for the region. And so through the local community infrastructure program was where the funding came for the first stage of that – $13 million. And often governments, particularly the national government I think in Canberra, have to listen to local communities about what their priorities are and provide funding accordingly. But you do need national leadership and for the big projects, like High Speed Rail is an exciting project I think for Newcastle in particular, that requires national leadership for it to be delivered. It will require of course state planning and state environmental approvals. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve got a Private Members Bill to establish a High-Speed Rail Authority because you do have to work out ways of cutting through the different jurisdictions just arguing with each other and therefore that being a cause for delay.
HOST: I just wonder though, we talk about the High Speed Rail; it’s a sexy project of course and it’s got a lot going for it, but is it just a distraction from the nuts and bolts things that really can worry consumers and voters here in the Hunter Valley? It seems that we are struggling. We’ve got a rise of nationalism. You’d be aware more than most of the rising vote of One Nation in this region for example at the moment. Are we not being scratched where it itches?
ALBANESE: Look I think you can deal with the immediate challenges of today while anticipating with a bit of vision what is needed for tomorrow. I think people are looking for both. People are looking for immediate concerns – the issue of job creation, immediate projects like the Tourle Street Bridge duplication that we funded when we were in government is another example of a relatively small project but a vital one in terms of infrastructure for the region and dealing with the fallout from what’s happened around Williamstown is obviously of immediate concern particularly for the local communities around there and I know the Meryl Swanson has been very concerned about those issues as well. So I don’t think it is either/or. I think you need to deal with immediate concerns that people have – the cuts certainly to health and education that are impacting on people; the falling rates of bulk-billing for example are putting pressure on the family Budget. But at the same time, I think, people expect governments and potential governments to be looking to the future and to be planning for the future.
HOST: Mr Albanese, it seems like there’s a lot of horse trading taking place in Canberra at the moment. Aren’t the Williamtown residents entitled to be a little bit concerned about the way they haven’t been negotiated into a better position? We are getting discussion on shotguns and building and construction commissions and everyone is trading off to get what they want. Can’t a bit of negotiation be done for the benefit of Williamtown residents?
ALBANESE: It certainly should be and I spoke on Friday with Sir Angus Houston, who is the head of Airservices Australia about where he saw it being. He’s a very eminent Australian and someone who was very empathic to the issues, not just around Williamtown of course but right around Australia, particularly around airports and defence establishments. It is a major issue. I think it’s a plus that you have a former head of the Air Force and indeed a former head of the entire defence force who is now the Chair of Airservices Australia and so has an ongoing role around our airports. These issues do need to be solved as a priority and we need to place pressure on the Government to do it. This is an issue that people weren’t aware of, of course, years ago, but it is one that is very real and does need to be dealt with.
HOST: Well, this is half the problem isn’t it? At the federal level they’ve known for quite some time and done nothing about it. That’s causing most of the anxiety out at Williamtown. But Mr Albanese, nice to have you on the phone today. We’ll await developments from your visit today.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you. Thanks Paul.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.