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New Shadow Minister for Finance outlines his plans and expectations.

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Friday 24 June 2005

New Shadow Minister for Finance outlines his plans and expectations


MARK COLVIN: The promotion of the left-winger Lindsay Tanner has upset some in the caucus who were overlooked or not consulted, but Mr Tanner says he can't help that, he's looking forward to "rolling up his sleeves" and getting on with it. 


He argues it's not unprecedented to expand the frontbench. 


Kim Beazley says he added Mr Tanner to his team because he's a proven policy performer and a heavy hitter. 


Mr Tanner is already mapping out the ways he can formulate policy in his new job. 


He spoke a short time ago to Louise Yaxley. 


LINDSAY TANNER: Ultimately we've got to make sure that the leader's able to put all the right people in the right positions. Kim has displayed great confidence in me, and I'm looking forward to doing the best to live up to that confidence. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Bob McMullan described it as a joke - some of the deals that have been done. Does that make you feel uncomfortable? 


LINDSAY TANNER: Look, I haven't heard what Bob's had to say, and obviously I'll talk to Bob and plenty of others during the course of the next few weeks. But I'm just focussed on ensuring that we can get down to doing the hard work that's necessary now to build the ideas agenda, the policy that'll get Labor back into government. 


The foundations for electoral victory are going to be laid in the latter part of this year and early into next year. That's when the early work that sets the stage for the issues, the ideas, the policies that will drive us forward has to be done. And I'm going to be very heavily involved in that, and I'm really looking forward to it. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Finance portfolio's a dry one. How can you make the impact that Kim Beazley's so obviously keen for you to make? 


LINDSAY TANNER: Well some people would probably tell you I'm a pretty dry person, but the finance portfolio is very much an engine room or backroom portfolio. It involves a lot of hard work and a lot of coordinating activity, a lot of organising of all the different bits of the process and the people to try and get it together. 


Now, when you have frontline shadow ministers who are day in day out in the trenches fighting the battles, you need somebody there who's in the backroom basically organising things and making sure that everybody's also working away on their policy development, that they're participating in the various ideas, debates that are going on, that all of the sort of cross-pollination that you need in a modern political party is happening, that people are working together.  


So, that's an important role. It's not necessarily as high-profile as some positions, but it's very central to contributing to the big outcome that we're all after, which is to get a Labor government, to get rid of the Howard Government, and to get Australia back on some decent track. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: The Future Fund is one of the big-ticket items within the portfolio. What opportunities does it provide? 


LINDSAY TANNER: Well I've been, as a backbencher, very critical of the Future Fund. You might recall that Kim Beazley announced in Labor's Budget reply that we would intend to use the annual revenue from the Future Fund for the purposes of providing funding for infrastructure. That's a crucial need in contemporary Australia.  


We need a significant increase in our investment - both public and private - in infrastructure to help restore our productivity levels. Productivity's been going backwards in Australia for the past year. We've fallen behind the growth rates in the developed world since 2002, we're below the average, and the gap between ourselves and the United States has been getting bigger since 1998.  


And the infrastructure investment program is one of the crucial issues that we need to tackle for the interests of our nation. We're living way beyond our means, we're extremely vulnerable because of our huge trade and current account deficits. Getting productivity right, getting infrastructure right, getting skills investment right are all critical agendas for Labor. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: What are the specific parts of infrastructure that you think need investment in most, as a priority? 


LINDSAY TANNER: Look, if you look across the country I think water is probably the most important one. I don't claim to have a precise answer to that question.  


Rail infrastructure's also in terrible shape in many parts of Australia. Some improvements are occurring, but we do need an inland rail connection, I believe. There's port connections that interface between rail and road and major ports. There's still many issues there that need to be addressed.  


A lot of these are primarily State government responsibilities, but the Federal Government's got an important role to play. And the Howard Government has been spending huge amounts of money, but on ridiculous pork barrelling and propping up marginal seats for the National Party rather than on investment that's going to improve Australia's economic performance.  


So instead of dredging Tumbi Creek, which benefits about 20 people and has no impact on Australia's broader export-based productivity performance, those kind of investments should be going into infrastructure that help our businesses and that help our exporters. 


MARK COLVIN: Labor's new shadow finance spokesman, Lindsay Tanner, with Louise Yaxley.