TRIPLE M HOBART WITH BRIAN CARLTON
THURSDAY, 19 DECEMBER 2019
SUBJECTS: Infrastructure in Tasmania; Macquarie Point; bushfire crisis; JetStar workers industrial action.
BRIAN CARLTON, HOST: The relatively new Federal Leader of the Labor Party and therefore the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins me. Good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Brian. And it is good to be with you and have the honour of rounding out 2019.
CARLTON: Yes, you are basically the end of politics unless somebody gets a bit of initiative and calls on Free Range Friday tomorrow, which I guess they are entitled to do because it is an open invitation. But yes, you will be it. Tell me Anthony, why are you in Tasmania? What is the plan?
ALBANESE: I was here yesterday. I was with Brian Mitchell, Julie Collins and Carol Brown talking about the failure of the Government to bring forward infrastructure investment. We were at the roundabout at the airport there, which is a major traffic choke point, that was promised way back in 2016 and the Government matched our promise that we made. And four years later, or four and a half years later, a hole hasn’t even been dug yet. It hasn’t started. And I think it is a bit symbolic, the gap between what’s increasingly happening is announcements, but nothing happens until years into the future. I also am always depressed when I go to Hobart and look at Macquarie Point there. We put $50 million to the Tasmanian state government in 2012 to get the urban transformation going, that is an exciting project and an amazing spot, and again it has just been a case of more delays rather than action.
CARLTON: Let’s get back to the airport roundabout which I was at yesterday and will be at again after the show this morning, and by complete coincidence. It is in desperate need of the new plan, which is, as you’d be well aware, an overpass-underpass arrangement. The Morrison Government, to the best of my knowledge, has included that project in their fast-track, ‘Let’s bring on some speedy infrastructure spending’. Your argument would be that it is already four years late, yes?
ALBANESE: Well, I hate to see slow-track, mate. It’s not complicated. If you put the road over, grade separation, road over, road under, done. And it solves what is a big choke point. It’s bad for efficiency, of course, but it’s also a road safety issue there. Because of the delay, it now going to cost $20 million more according to the Senate estimate. So, they need to just get on with it. Stop making announcements and start building.
CARLTON: There’s a bunch of other projects, obviously, that have been ear-marked but let’s stick in our region. You talk about Macquarie Point. One of the issues there is clearly the sewage treatment works. How involved in negotiations are you as the potential new Government, or Leader of the new Government after the next election, how closely are you dealing with the Macquarie Point cooperation amongst others?
ALBANESE: I was involved in the setting up of the corporation. The $50 million that we put forward in 2012 was about providing, if you’d like, that seed funding to make sure it could all happen in terms of planning, in terms of a contribution towards the public works that would be required. It seems to me there is a stalemate when the state government, I have raised it with them, everyone sort of passes the buck about some of the issues that need to happen, including the sewage works that need to happen. We built the inner model at Brighton there and that was about laying, if you like, the groundwork for that to happen, making sure that you didn’t use that prime waterfront land as a transport inner model. So, that work has been done. And I’m just stunned that it is now seven years. It was in the 2012 Budget and not much has happened at all. And the thing about it is that yes, there’s a cost of moving some of the public works, but the gain in terms of economic infrastructure, the vision there was always to have some residential, some recreational space, some office and commercial activity, as well as tourist space accommodation. But the new hotel just next to there, of course, has been a fabulous addition here in Hobart. But we could do with some more and it would really unite, the city would just flow down to the waterfront. Hobart is such a glorious city. And we need to take advantage of it. At the moment to have that prime land essentially not utilised or to the value it should be, this is economic madness, frankly.
CARLTON: I don’t disagree with any of that. Tell me, do you have any truck with the latest idea that’s been thrown into the mix there, which is to construct a fairly significant stadium, a sports stadium. That doesn’t seem to gel with your idea of how you’d like to see Macquarie Point developed over time.
ALBANESE: Well, it reminded me of, I don’t know if you know, Wollongong, but the stadium there, I always think is, it’s fabulous. But the only thing that it does is that it is right on the waterfront, in this case, the beach rather than a river. It provides terrific aerial shots for 15 seconds every time St George Illawarra are playing a home game, but that’s it. When you are in the stadium, you don’t get any advantage of the view or anything else. So, common sense just tells you that when you have waterfront it’s not very complicated, right? When you have waterfront, can you see it?
CARLTON: I think it’s been one of those things, Anthony Albanese, that Tasmanians have not perhaps valued as much as the rest of the nation does. And that is the waterfronts that are everywhere, and we have some of the most spectacular waterfronts. Many of the cities traditionally turned away from the working port. I always think of Devonport in these sorts of discussions because the city is now in the process of literally turning itself around to face the water, which it’s always faced away from. Okay, let’s park that for a moment if we can. Clearly there’s an ongoing argy-bargy there but I’m happy to have subsequent chats about Macquarie Point, don’t worry about that.
ALBANESE: This is a phenomenon that is a bit of a global one. I’m from Sydney, you look at what’s happening around Barangaroo, you look at what’s happened right around the Pyrmont/Ultimo areas that were basically railyards, it is very similar to Macquarie Point, have been turned around. South Bank in Melbourne. And I do think that it is the case, every time in a couple of weeks’ time those first yachts will arrive from the Sydney to Hobart race and people look at the harbour here. And it will be, ‘Wow’. And people will come and visit. Like it’s a matter of showcasing it. And I do think that you probably realised this, it is such a glorious city. And so much of Tasmania is just so serene and picturesque that maybe it is a bit taken for granted.
CARLTON: Well, it’s interesting you mentioned both of those locations. I was a decade-long resident in Pyrmont during much of that development phase you’re talking about, adjacent to the Sydney CBD. It has some sizable buildings and some sizable apartment blocks. There’s a sense here in Tassie that we don’t want to go quite that sort of scale. You wouldn’t like those sorts of tower blocks at Macquarie Point that’s not what you’re talking about, is it? I understand where you are going here but the scale would obviously be different.
ALBANESE: You would have appropriate development. And one of the things that Barangaroo does now is that you can walk around the harbour, and that is open space, it is public space. And the vision has to be for green space as well as appropriate development. And the development, you want to see it slow down into the water. So, you want it to be, you know, lower rise, the closer you are to the waterfront. And at the moment, it is terrific around the waterfront now, but it stops. And if that continued through, it would make it an even more attractive city to visit, which at the end of the day is about jobs and economic activity as well.
CARLTON: Indeed. A couple of national things, if I may, there’s been significant criticism of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison taking a holiday overseas, we are not quite sure where, Hawaii, New York. You’ve not been one of those lining him up for shellacking. Why not?
ALBANESE: Because I get that family life is difficult in the job that we have. And I am very critical of his lack of a plan on bushfires, of his lack of a drought strategy. One of the things I’ve tried to do is to not be personal. Because I think people are over politicians yelling at each other, essentially. And I don’t know either he’s family circumstances of, you know, what that could be for all I know, one of his daughter’s birthdays, I have no idea. I think the political criticism of Scott Morrison and his whole Government is that they don’t have a plan. And I wrote to him weeks ago calling for special COAG about the bushfire crisis. And he said it wasn’t necessary and it was all under control. There are issues that are just becoming crisis issues. People are exhausted. These volunteer firefighters, they still have to pay their mortgage, they have to buy food, pay for petrol to get to fight the fires, and they are missing out on work. And it is simply unsustainable at the moment.
CARLTON: What would you have done differently than? Had you been Prime Minister, what sort of fire plan would you have put in place to presumably fix the problem? What would you do?
ALBANESE: Well, I think there’s a case for sitting down with the experts considering issues like; should they be a national aerial firefighting infrastructure? Should we have at the national level, that sort of infrastructure? I met with a couple of people in Rockhampton about how they’ve been trying to get a meeting with someone senior in the Government about a new form of aircraft that basically can swoop down, it scoops the water up and dumps it out. Now, I’m not the expert. I want experts to make decisions about that. But they can’t get in the door. Issues like, do we need to make a special payment? Do we need to look at leave arrangements for people who are volunteer firefighters? Now, when that’s been raised with the Prime Minister he said, ‘They want to be there fighting the fires’. I talked to them one on one. They don’t want to be there. No one, I think, wants to be there. They would rather it not be happening. But they are doing it out of the commitment that they have for their local communities, or indeed just for their fellow Australians. We’ve had people traveling interstate, including from Tasmania, to provide assistance for the firefighting efforts in New South Wales. And the truth is that these men and women are exhausted, and pretty soon they are broke as well.
CARLTON: Are you suggesting then, Anthony Albanese, that the Government has been poorly advised in terms of how to deal with the fire situation?
ALBANESE: Well, they are not getting advice. That’s the problem. They’re not sitting down as a COAG was cancelled. The COAG that normally happens at the end of the year. And I would have thought that sitting down, the different levels of government, getting expert advice and just going through are we doing everything that we can? Are we providing support for our fire fighters? Do we have the right equipment? There is a need to consider the way that national parks are managed. Are there enough staff in national parks to look after some of the country that’s needed? Is there advice we can get from First Nations people? Aboriginal Australians were looking after bush for a long period of time.
CARLTON: But see, they were regularly burning as one of the things that have come up. They were regularly burning. And the issue of fuel loads is something that’s been concerning a lot of people for a long time now, to the extent that there hasn’t been a great deal, or certainly perhaps not enough, hazard reduction burning in the winter months to deal with this sort of thing. So yes, there are things to learn there, but they are going to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which is to leave the bush alone.
ALBANESE: But one of the things that’s happened, though, is that I’ve spoken to people on the north coast and one of the things that they have said to me at the Rural Fire Service headquarters that is coordinating everything that is happening on the north coast, was that normally some of the work that they would have done during the winter months, the problem is fire started in March. There was a major fire at Rappville on the north coast and homes were lost at the time when it doesn’t normally happen. And they just kept going. So, there was no period in which they were able to stop and plan going forward. They didn’t have the staff or the resources to do that. Now, it is not a matter of, and I’m not trying to be, you know, to score political points here. We need to actually get this right. And that’s before we get into the long-term issues, of course, of climate change as well.
CARLTON: So, you’re not buying into the immediate links between climate change and the bushfires we’re experiencing at the moment and the drought.
ALBANESE: Well, I think there is no doubt that the science has told us that the bushfire season would be longer and would be more intense. And there’s no doubt that climate change means a dryer continent is what we have. And there are areas of tropical rainforests that are burning now that have not burnt. This is not business as usual. Far from it. And the experts who I met with, all the former emergency chiefs. These are people who have hundreds and hundreds of years of experience on the ground. These aren’t ideologues. These are people who have been in charge of rural fire services or various organisations for decades, who have retired, who are telling us that it isn’t business as usual. So, I accept that. I accept that climate change is having an impact. What I’m saying is that even if you don’t, that doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and talk about the immediate crisis which is there and how we need to respond, including how we provide support for these volunteer firefighters. I’m going up to the Blue Mountains tomorrow with Susan Templeman. We were planning to go to Bilpin, but it looks like that might not be possible. I’m just going and I’m going to be talking to the volunteers again, asking them on the ground, ‘what assistance do you need? Is there something else that can be done?’ When I went up the north coast, one of the things, there’s some great stories out of this as well. Australians are resilient. And they pitch in to help each other. And when I went up the north coast and I kept asking people if there was something practical that I can assist with and there was one place where the Country Women’s Association were making all the lunches and everything for the firies. And they said, ‘Well, we’re getting lots of things donated. It’s fantastic, but it’s so hot and we’ve got nowhere to put the food overnight. We’ve just got this little fridge.’ And I made a phone call and a major company, I don’t want to give them a free ad on here.
CARLTON: Go on, give them a plug.
ALBANESE: Woolworths delivered, the next day, a truckload of fridges, water, vouchers. And it took one phone call to the right person. And, you know, that is fantastic. That’s the best of Australia.
CARLTON: There’s a hell of a lot of that stuff going on for what it’s worth right around the country. Anthony Albanese, I am way out of time. I appreciate yours this morning. Let’s do it again.
ALBANESE: Anytime, Brian.
CARLTON: I hope you’re not flying back to the mainland on JetStar today because you could be in a bit of trouble. Is it time to read the Riot Act, finally and very quickly?
ALBANESE: It is time for this to be settled because the disruption, I think, at this time of the year makes it very difficult for people.
CARLTON: Will you make a phone call to the TWU and get them to call it off?
ALBANESE: Well, I think the company needs to sit down with the union and sort these issues out in the interest of both the company and the union. Because it is hurting the workers. When workers take industrial action, they lose wages, but the company loses, I think, a lot of goodwill when flights are canceled. And I just hope it is sorted out very soon.
CARLTON: We appreciate your time this morning. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.
ALBANESE: And to you mate. Bye.
CARLTON: Anthony Albanese, Opposition Leader, on Triple M.