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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial elations: State Parliament, Perth: 19 May 2005: Federal Government taking over the ports and Infrastructure complacency.

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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations Member for Perth E&OE T40/05



SMITH: A couple of comments on john Anderson’s suggestion that the Commonwealth should take over the management of planning and regulation of our nations ports.

Firstly, I see John Howard out there this morning desperately trying to pour oil over troubled waters and saying the matter will be considered at COAG. It’s clearly the case that John Anderson did this without reference to Prime Minister John Howard, he’s clearly done it without reference to Treasurer Costello. This often happens. Every man for himself. This often happens when there is a leadership contest around. When you’ve got tensions between John Howard and Peter Costello members of the Liberal Party and the National Party start to act in their own interest.

That’s precisely the real point about John Anderson yesterday. He wasn’t out there acting in the national interest trying to make genuine competitive and productivity improvements in our industrial capacity or our export capacity. He was out there trying to save his own political skin.

He knows that for nine to ten years he has been absolutely complacent about infrastructure. For years he has said it was entirely a matter for the States and nothing to do with him, nothing to do with the Commonwealth. More recently he’s been saying that his AusLink program which is primarily essentially about roads and the national highways, was the national institution required to attend to infrastructure.

Yesterday there’s a bolt out of the blue: he says let’s add to AusLink the Commonwealth’s regulation of the ports. Without reference to the States, without reference to the regulator, without saying let’s wait until we see the Government’s Export and Infrastructure Taskforce report due to be completed and published tomorrow.

This is all about John Anderson trying to save his own political skin. He’s been complacent about infrastructure for ten years. The Government has been sprung by the Reserve Bank with the interest rate increase in March as a result of infrastructure bottle necks. He’s out there yesterday trying to pretend he’s done something when the truth is he’s done nothing. That is at the cost of the Australian economy, the cost of our industrial capacity and the cost of our export performance.

JOURNALIST: What has this got to with leadership tensions?

SMITH: You would have thought that John Anderson would have gone to John Howard and said we’ve got this report coming up what do you think we should do. It’s quite clear from the Prime Minister’s remarks this morning that John Anderson was on a frolic of his own with no reference to the Prime Minister and no reference to the Treasurer who is actually responsible for the ACCC in a Ministerial sense. Quite clearly

in the Liberal Party and in the National Party it’s every man for himself, every man for his own political interests.

If they were serious about pursuing a national interest priority they would adopt the approach that Labor has been suggesting for some years. Which is also the approach that has been urged on the Government by any number of industry groups or associations, whether it is the Business Council of Australia, or the Australian Industry Group, or the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.

What we need for infrastructure is a new national institution which stops the blame shifting, stops the buck passing, and actually has a national interest coordinated effort which sets out an audit of our infrastructure problems and a blue print for the future.

I’ve made the point on a number of occasions recently in the context of the Federal Budget, that ten or fifteen years ago you could mount a very respectable public policy argument that availability or access to capital was the issue. That’s not the issue today.

The issue is the Commonwealth putting its shoulder to the wheel to remove regulatory log jams, to remove bottlenecks and that’s where the Howard/Costello/Anderson Government has been comprehensively found out. It has been complacent in this area for years.

The Reserve Bank since May 2001 has mentioned on eleven separate occasions infrastructure bottlenecks and capacity constraints. For all of the that period until the Government was sprung by a Reserve Bank interest rate increase, John Anderson, Peter Costello and John Howard said that infrastructure was essentially a matter for the States.

JOURNALIST: So are you saying the idea of national regulation of ports has some merit?

SMITH: I’ve said today and previously that the suggestion which was originally made public by Brian Fisher who chairs the Export Infrastructure Taskforce, the suggestion that we could contemplate a separate regulatory or competitive arrangement

for infrastructure which is exclusively for export purposes is a public policy idea worth contemplating. But if you were going to contemplate that given that some of our ports are privately owned and managed, some of our ports are publicly owned and operated and managed through the States, the sensible thing to do would be to sit down and have a conversation with the States and the industry and the various regulators about that.

It’s quite clear that John Anderson had no conversation with anyone from the Prime Minister down. In the context of the Howard/Costello Government taking a big stick to the States on industrial relations proposals, taking a big stick to the States on water

initiatives, nothing could have more obviously generated adverse commentary and an adverse reaction from the States. That was all about John Anderson being on a political frolic of his own, trying to save his own political skin because he knows when the report of Brian Fisher’s Taskforce is published it will show his complete complacency over very many years.


Contact: Courtney Hoogen on (02) 6277 4108 or 0414 364 651