THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
THE HON ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR TOURISM
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
FRIDAY 24 JANUARY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s embarrassing performance in Davos; The Abbott Government’s attack on Infrastructure Australia; Australia’s damaged relationship with Indonesia, Nauru; union movement; the Abbott Government’s failure to protect jobs.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks for joining us here at Sunshine Railway Station, a fantastic investment, one of the largest rail investments, public rail investments, helping consumers in Victoria's history. And today is important because what we've seen is, and today is good also because I've got the local Member Tim Watts here and our Infrastructure and Transport spokesperson Anthony Albanese here. Overnight in Switzerland, our Prime Minister has made his first foray onto the international stage. And what an embarrassing performance it was. Overnight the Prime Minister demonstrated, in front of the whole world, that they are still the Opposition in Government, thinking like an Opposition.
Overnight, Tony Abbott had a chance to showcase Australia and instead he chose to take the low road of playing domestic politics on the international stage. Little discussion about jobs, a lot of discussion about domestic politics, and no vision for Australia's future. Most surprising in his contribution was that he said that the Global Financial Crisis wasn't really a problem of the markets around the world, thus discrediting a lot of the remarkable efforts of the Australian economy and Australian business, who did so well with the support of the Government to get through the Global Financial Crisis, and make Australia's economic performance some of the envy of the rest of the world. Today also we've seen the head of Infrastructure Australia come out and express his concern about the direction of infrastructure investment in this country. I’d like to hand over to our Infrastructure spokesperson to talk about that matter, then we will take some questions.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT: Thanks very much, Bill, and it's great to be at the Regional Rail Link project again, with not just Bill but the local member, Tim Watts. I have been coming to this project month after month since we put it in as part of our response to the Global Financial Crisis, $3.225 billion of Commonwealth investment into this project. What that has meant is literally thousands of jobs being created here in Victoria. Up to 3,500 permanent workers directly employed by this project on any particular day. And we've seen upgrades, yesterday I looked at the West Footscray Station, today here at Sunshine. Today here at Sunshine also it has resulted in the removal of a level rail crossing. This is an example of why public transport also assists the road network. 22,000 cars use that level crossing each and every day, meaning they can get across now in quicker time, and also importantly, more safely for the local community.
And yet today's submission by the Infrastructure Coordinator Michael Deegan to the Infrastructure Australia Bill Senate inquiry highlights all that is at risk from Mr Abbott's reckless approach to infrastructure investment in this nation. What this submission shows is that the Abbott Government just doesn't get it. It's not just Labor saying this. This is Infrastructure Australia, the very independent body established by the Federal Government in 2007, 2008, after an election in 2007 as one of our first actions of government. In opposition, Tony Abbott said he would strengthen Infrastructure Australia. What we see from the legislation is he is gutting Infrastructure Australia’s independence with this legislation. The Infrastructure Coordinator has pointed out that under this legislation, the Minister will be able to exclude whole classes of infrastructure investment, including public transport. What that means is that when Tony Abbott, who didn't even seem to know that the Regional Rail Link project existed with Commonwealth funding, at the time he ruled out funding public transport by the Commonwealth Government. It sits well with that philosophy, but it doesn't sit well with the need for integrated transport and infrastructure solutions.
The Greens political party don't like roads. Tony Abbott doesn't like rail. Where Labor sits is that we support infrastructure development that is appropriate, whether rail or road, and that you need to acknowledge that you need that integrated transport and infrastructure network. Infrastructure Australia must be able to have proper cost-benefit analysis, and in the Infrastructure Coordinator’s submission to this inquiry, reported today, it points out, one, that Infrastructure Australia wasn’t even consulted on the more than 20 drafts of this legislation. The Infrastructure Australia senior, whether it be the executive staff of Infrastructure Australia, including the coordinator, or the chair of Infrastructure Australia, Sir Rod Eddington, people were not consulted about the very legislation. And they will not be able to have proper cost-benefit analysis unless the Minister tells them to. And why is that the case, we see from some of the Infrastructure Coordinator's other comments, where he points out that the East West Link here in Melbourne and the WestConnex project in Sydney have not been subject to proper cost-benefit analysis. Now we have said there needs to be that cost-benefit analysis, it needs to be transparent, and people need to be able to see what the outcomes are.
At the same time they're promising to rip out the billions of dollars of funds that have already been allocated to important projects like the Melbourne Metro project and Cross River Rail, that have had proper cost-benefit analysis done on them, and have received the approval of Infrastructure Australia. So what these comments show is that at heart in this legislation is the very existence of an independent Infrastructure Australia. It’s a return to the days whereby political decisions will be made, rather than decisions being made on the basis of productivity and economic benefit, and the days in which public transport didn't get dealt with, thereby consigning families to spend more time in their cars than they’ll spend at home with their kids.
So this is a critical issue. We’d call upon Tony Abbott to reconsider this legislation, withdraw it, go back to the drawing board and consult with Infrastructure Australia about what it should look like in the future. When we came into government, Australia was 20th out of 25 OECD countries for infrastructure investment as a proportion of the national economy. When we left office, the new government has inherited a situation whereby Australia is first in the OECD in both 2011 and 2012, investing more in infrastructure, public and private investment, than in any advanced economy in the world. And that's the sort of record that Tony Abbott tried to criticise in his comments in Europe overnight.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Anthony. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: You say that Labor would be bound by [inaudible]
ALBANESE: Well, we don't have to talk about these things in theory. Infrastructure Australia has put 15 projects on its priority list. All 15 of them were funded by the former Federal Labor Government. 15 out of 15.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe Infrastructure Australia is being punished for its public support of further public transport?
ALBANESE: Well Infrastructure Australia understands that there is a relationship between rail and road. There is a relationship in terms of ports, a relationship in terms of urban development. One of the reasons why this project worked in terms of cost-benefit analysis was the uplift factor of economic growth and activity in places like Sunshine. I was talking to Tim yesterday about how this community is being transformed by the nature of this infrastructure investment. That adds value. In terms of Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat, not just Melbourne, will all benefit from the uplift factor in terms of that growth corridor that is occurring. And we can see it from the places that I've visited along the route of the Regional Rail Link. Similar Melbourne Metro, the benefit of fixing up the inner circle, if you like, is that that is a pre-condition for other economic activity in terms of new rail lines. But there is also benefit in terms of the road network, benefit directly in terms of the removal of level crossings, here and at other place along the route, but benefits also because if you make public transport more accessible, then you are also taking cars off the road and improving times, travel times, for people who use the road network here in Melbourne.
JOURNALIST: Couldn't it be argued, though, that we have plenty of highly qualified public servants and experienced Ministers who could make these cost-benefit analyses?
ALBANESE: Well, the truth is it doesn't happen. When I became the Minister in 2007 I asked my department how many planners were left after 12 years of the Howard Government in the federal department of what was then Transport, the answer was none. The answer was none. Their sole performance indicator, KPI, was ‘has the money gone out the door?’, then there was no analysis going back and looking at what was the impact of the funding that had been granted. One of the things that Infrastructure Australia does is not just look at the future, but it also looks at the analysis, so that it’s got right in terms of what the economic benefit has been of investments that have been made in projects that are part of the Infrastructure Australia process. So this very important. It's also a dynamic process whereby, for example on Melbourne Metro, we put $40 million there for the planning and there is a dialogue and an interaction and the State Government's planning processes being made better as well.
Too often our cities have suffered from housing being built without looking at transport connections, without looking at jobs, without looking at economic opportunities. Social infrastructure, health and education. What Infrastructure Australia does by having that coherent economic analysis, at arm's length of government, is make sure that projects are funded on that basis and a project like the Majura Parkway would never have got funding in terms of its, in the north of the ACT, essentially just wouldn't have got funding if it were left up to politics, if it were left up to politics. Here in this area of the western suburbs of Melbourne, isn't a marginal seat. It is important that funding go to where the benefit is. That's exactly what Infrastructure Australia does. And the Infrastructure Coordinator's submission is extraordinarily strong, from a public servant to make such a strong submission says a lot about just how bad the job is that’s being done to do over the independence of the Infrastructure Australia process.
JOURNALIST: The Victorian Government has done a pretty in-depth cost-benefit analysis [inaudible] well they released a pamphlet, I’m summarising it [inaudible]
ALBANESE: Where is it?
JOURNALIST: The pamphlet’s out –
ALBANESE: The pamphlet!
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] so you’ve got all the peak bodies lined up saying it is a good project, AWU says it is a good project. Where is the harm in just going on with it?
ALBANESE: I think people are entitled to, I'm not opposed to any infrastructure project per se. I want to see though, the analysis that's there. It's as simple as that. And if you look at the Brisbane Cross River Rail project, it has 7,000 pages of analysis and detail about what will happen at the stations, what the economic impact will be for the Gold Coast, for the Sunshine Coast. Here in Melbourne, the Melbourne Metro planning has with it the details of what the uplift factor are beyond the specific benefits, but the uplift factor by changing and making other infrastructure investment possible. So we need to do that. If the analysis stacks up, and we know that in Sir Rod Eddington's study it made specific recommendations and had concerns about a BCR that we know was published as part of that transport study, why shouldn't it be made transparent? That's precisely, we're not calling for anything other than what Tony Abbott said he would do. He said every project of value above one hundred million dollars would be subject of cost-benefit analysis before it got any funding. We’re calling upon him to fulfil the commitment.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask Mr Shorten a question? Is it surprising the high inflation number the other day, and with jobs, the wage index already falling, are we in a position maybe like the late seventies where we might be looking at real wage cuts do you think?
SHORTEN: It is greatly concerning that whilst Tony Abbott is in Switzerland, breaking national political conventions by talking about domestic politics overseas, at the same time we are seeing pressure on unemployment upwards, we saw literally tens of thousands of jobs have gone since the Abbott Government’s come into power, we’ve seen the Abbott Government dare the car industry to shut down, we’ve seen the Abbott Government make politically motivated decisions with GrainCorp, which will deny the grain industry valuable infrastructure and has wiped nearly 30 per cent off the share price.
This is a Government who says their open for business but actually wished to send our business overseas, and don’t want foreign investment in this country. We’ve got pressure on unemployment and now the markets were surprised by the last inflation number. It is time for Tony Abbott to stop acting like an Opposition Leader and to start acting like a Prime Minister. It’s time for him to stop talking down the Australian economy, to stop playing domestic politics and focus on jobs. Jobs should be the goal for the Abbott Government in 2014. They promised before the last election they’d create a million jobs over the next five year. They are nowhere near that, they are horribly off track on that, and we need Mr Abbott to play less politics, to stand up for Australian jobs, and to tackle the scourge of unemployment, which is particularly bad in the western suburbs of Melbourne.
JOURNALIST: So real wage cuts [inaudible]
SHORTEN: I believe that the Abbott Government, their vision of Australia is for a low wage economy with people with insecure hours of work, and I have no doubt that the Abbott Government, the way they’re trying to blame car workers for the Abbott Government’s inaction in the car industry, I have no doubt that the Abbott Government has a vision where they see our wages go down and we see inflation going up at the same time, which is a horrible double for working Australians.
JOURNALIST: Should we be in anyway, thank you Mr Shorten, should we be in anyway worried about some sort of conflict with Indonesia?
SHORTEN: Well, I think what we should be worried about is that the Abbott Government has clearly taken the Indonesia, relationship that we had from hero to zero in the course of four months. I absolutely and Labor absolutely supports the work of our military forces on our boarders and in fact throughout their service, be it in Australia or elsewhere. We are deeply unhappy that the Abbott Government has broken another promise, as they have with infrastructure, as they have with jobs so far, they’ve promised before the election, in the Brisbane electorate of Griffith no less, on August the 9th Tony Abbott said “if it’s a good week with boats, if it’s a bad week with boats, if it’s an in-between week with boats, we’ll be honest and open with the Australian people.” It is crazy that Australians can find out more about what is happening with our boats policy from the Indonesian press than they can from their own Government. I thin Australians give their governments a lot of support when it comes to international matters and matters of national security, but I think the Abbott Government needs to keep its pre-election promise and be straight with the Australian people. That’s how you keep the trust of the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, given the judicial upheaval in Nauru and the anger of some of the sentiments coming out of Australian media, are you concerned about our future relationship?
SHORTEN: With Nauru?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, the reports are concerning, but we’ve got a pretty professional Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who are working on these matters and investigating what’s happening. Yet again though, we just see the Abbott Government, when it comes to their foreign relations, they’re cloaking everything in secrecy. The Australian people, including the Opposition, are prepared to cut to Abbott Government some slack on national security because it’s in our national interest. But how can anyone trust the Abbott Government’s broken promises when they won’t come clean with people and tell them what’s going on. Mr Abbott if you want the best out of the Australian people why don’t you bring them in to your trust rather, than not telling us what’s going on and hiding everything behind a veil of secrecy.
JOURNALIST: The revelations in the past week about Craig Thomson’s conduct, do you think it’s a black mark on the union movement and the Parliamentary Labor Party which he was a part of?
SHORTEN: Well there’s no doubt that those matters have been deeply upsetting and I do not believe reflect the work of millions of trade unionists in Australia. These matters are in court and they’re taking their process.
JOURNALIST: He’s signalled that he’s not really contesting any longer, that similar things happened, it’s a question now of it was allowed to have happened? Is that, does that cast a doubt on how staunchly Labor defended him for all that time?
SHORTEN: Well first of all in terms of industrial relations, Australian trade unionists make a good contribution, they work hard and they do the right thing by their members, and for their fellow workers. In terms of the shocking revelations in terms of the HSU which we’ve seen come out some years ago, this court process is underway, and I think that process will take its course and we’ll see what comes out of that.
SHORTEN: You’ve got to love the Abbott Government. They never miss a chance to kick the vulnerable or the low paid or the disempowered. This week we saw Kevin Andrews say that the five million people on welfare were the problem that Australia faces. Now we see Treasurer Joe Hockey, fresh from selling out and deserting Holden car workers, now turning his bully pulpit upon Toyota car workers and saying that people on seventy thousand dollars, eighty thousand dollars, sixty thousand dollars who work in shifts, who work in furnaces and foundries, who make quality products, somehow a cark worker’s the problem. Why is it that the Abbott Government doesn’t like its science experts on climate change, doesn’t like its infrastructure experts on infrastructure, doesn’t like pensioners and believes that they need, disability and carers need to take an effective cut in their pensions, and now they want to blame the car workers of Australia for the Abbott Government’s complete cowardice on industrial policy. I think it’s about time that Tony Abbott started governing for all Australians, rather than just for some. Thanks everyone.
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