TELEVISION INTERVIEWSKY NEWS AM AGENDA
MONDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2020
SUBJECTS: Urban Congestion Fund; Climate Change.
ANNELISE NEILSEN: Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Catherine King, thank you for your time.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thanks for having me.
NEILSEN: Now you’re speaking today about the Urban Infrastructure Fund, or Urban Congestion Fund rather, you’re saying that the Government has been rorting it on a nuclear scale because 83 percent of the seats funded were either Government or marginal Labor seats.
The thing I don’t understand about this analysis is, isn’t the nature of urban congestion going to be limited to a small number of different places that are populous, it’s not going to be spread out across the entire country?
KING: Well, of course it would be spread out across the entire country, but what you would expect is that it’s not just Liberal Party seats that congestion occurs in. There were 23 Labor seats that are in urban areas including the Leader of the Opposition’s seat, Grayndler, Marrickville, that missed out.
If the Government is saying there is no congestion in places like Marrickville, then it’s kidding themselves and that’s basically what it’s done. For $2.5 billion of the $3 billion to be allocated to seats that the Liberal Party hold, and seats that they were targeting at the last election campaign, I think really stinks to high heaven. And, that’s why we’re highlighting it today, that yet again we’ve seen an example of the government using electoral bias to make decisions.
Not proper informed information about where are the congestions. We know our roads are getting increasingly congested. Why have they not gone out to local councils and asked for projects, why have they not gone to the road motoring organisations like the RACV to ask where do you think this money would be best spent. They haven’t done that. What they’ve done is used it yet again to their electoral advantage, and frankly it’s pretty shocking.
NEILSEN: So this analysis is done on what seats were marginal before the last election.
KING: Yeah, absolutely. So looking at the seats at the last election, the Government was targeting. Now, this is not a fund that was new, this fund was announced in the 2018 Budget.
Initially, a billion dollars allocated out of existing funding for this program, and then an additional $3 billion added so there’s actually another billion dollars sitting there to be allocated.
What the Government then did is that they didn’t put out guidelines, didn’t put out calls for information, to gather information about where these funds should be used. Didn’t ask local MPs if they have views either. What it then did is in the lead up to the election, and then during the election campaign, rolled out $3 billion – 2.5 of which went to Liberal Party seats and seats that they were targeting in the election campaign.
NEILSEN: It was right before the election and then what period, should they have been able to?
KING: So this was announced in the 2018 budget, not the May 2019 budget, so it was announced literally 18 months to two years ago. It was announced in the 2018 budget, so in that 2018-2019 period, nothing, they didn’t do anything, they didn’t put out guidelines, didn’t put a process in place.
So you’ve got to say, again, this is a Government that will take any means at its disposal to try and win an election and it certainly used the Urban Congestion Fund.
NEILSEN: So the Government came back and said this, you yourself have been under scrutiny for this sort when you were previously a Minister as part of the Regional Development Australia Fund. You put in $100 million for projects that were not recommended?
KING: Well I’m really glad that you’ve asked me about this because it gives me the opportunity, to correct some of the information or misinformation that the Government’s been putting out about this. When I was Regional Development Minister, and I’m very happy to stand on my record here, we funded through the Regional Development Australia Fund, two thirds of the projects went to seats that Labor didn’t hold. When the Audit Office had a look at it they didn’t say there was electorate bias, with no evidence at all in fact.
I can absolutely assure people that I didn’t sit down and say, which electorate will I fund those in. That all were assessed on merit.
Where I funded projects that were not recommended, and I did fund projects that weren’t, a very small number that were not recommended. I reported those, as I was required to do, to the Department of Finance and gave my reasons for doing that.
What we saw in the Sports Rorts for example, was basically a Minister getting a map of electorates, colour coding a spreadsheet, funding 43 percent of projects that were actually in eligible for funding.
NEILSEN: Okay. So that’s not like for like because they’re not the same.
KING: Number one, you look at the sheer scale of the three billion, it’s not like for like. Again, what we saw is a Government that has gone and based its decisions with no transparency, no application process here.
NEILSEN: We don’t actually know if that’s true though, you’re basing this off analysis saying this is where the money is gone, we don’t know why and you have referred this to the National Audit Office.
KING: So the National Audit Office is an independent body, it’ll make its decision as to whether it’s going to investigate this. But we think this is such scandalous rorting that it deserves to be called out for exactly what it is.
NEILSEN: How do you know it’s rorting, if this could just be ministerial discretion, this is where money needs to go because that’s where …
KING: 83 percent.
NEILSEN: … live in.
KING: So if you go back, 70 percent went to Liberal Party seats alone. So if you take out the marginal Labor seats, 70 percent. So is the Government saying that 70 percent of all urban congestion only occurs in Liberal Party seats, it doesn’t! That is the absolute reality of that. The fact is that they have obviously use this fund to try and get their electoral advantage out of it and it’s a massive rort.
NEILSEN: And if I could just ask the big discussion today has been the 2050 emissions targets, zero announced by Labor. It was a pretty fiery exchange between Joel Fitzgibbon and Barnaby Joyce over this.
KING: It is always good to cause entertainment in the corridors of Parliament, the pair of them. You can say there are passionate views about this and so there should be.
But, we have been having this debate for over 20 years – it is time for the arguments to stop. We know we have a problem and our climate is changing. We are seeing longer, hotter, drier summers. We’ve seen this past bushfire season 33 people lost their lives, 3000 homes lost, 12,000 hectares of Australian productive farmland and bush destroyed. We have got a problem, we know that we’ve got a problem.
What Labor has done and what Anthony Albanese has done, he’s set out the net zero target for 2050, to say we need to unite the nation around that target, and we need a plan to get there.
NEILSEN: It’s not Groundhog Day though, the last election was it not a resounding statement from the Australian people that they want the cost, they want to know how much it will cost?
KING: Well, what we do know is that we’ve got a Government that absolutely, steadfastly refuses to acknowledge there is a cost for doing nothing. We’re not the only people saying net zero by 2050 is important.
We’ve got 70 other countries around the world. You’ve got the Business Council of Australia, you’ve got every state and territory government in the country saying that that is where we’ll get to, and that they want to get to and they’re already enacting plans to do exactly that within their power.
We’ve got a Government that is the outlier here, refusing to say there is a problem, refusing to say that there is a cost if we don’t take action.
NEILSEN: So you refer to the Business Council, no business in their right mind would say that they’re going to do something and not know what it’s going to cost and their budget.
KING: Hundreds of businesses, BHP for example, more recently QANTAS for example are all saying that they will get to net zero by 2050. Because they know that if they don’t, it is going to cost their business.
But we also don’t see the Government saying what are the benefits of us acting. We’re already 20 years behind where some equivalent countries are in relation to investment in renewables, we should be leading the world in renewable energy yet we’re not.
We’ve had this rump of the National Party and Liberal Party and we saw a bit of the rump of the National Party on display with that fight in the corridor today. Basically refusing and stalling any action on this.
We get this is hard, it is complex, but if we don’t do anything, the costs to the Australian economy are going to be enormous. NEILSEN: Catherine King thank you for your time, really good to talk to you.