ABC CANBERRA BREAKFAST
TUESDAY, 12 MARCH 2019
SUBJECTS: Labor’s plans to support sustainable public transport in Canberra, federal ICAC, Labor’s plans to give Australians hotels control over their businesses.
DAN BOURCHIER: Although the date for the next election hasn't yet been set, it's largely seeming like it will be at some point in the later half of May. But we've seen lots of election promises on both sides of the aisle - everyone really make commitments right across the nation. Today Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will announce a $200 million investment towards stage two of Canberra's light rail track to Woden, if Labor's elected the next federal election. Federal MP for Fenner is Andrew Leigh, he's with us on the phone. Good morning.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Dan. You're sounding as though you’re a bit croaky at the moment?
BOURCHIER: I'm a little, a little bit congested, but I’ll persevere onwards and upwards.
LEIGH: I hope you’re on the mend soon.
BOURCHIER: Tell me, why is Labor making this commitment?
LEIGH: It's really important that we get going on light rail all the way through from Gungahlin to Woden. As you recall, Dan, when we were last in office Labor funded the Majura Parkway, an important piece of road infrastructure taking pressure off our roads. This is a vital commitment that a Shorten Government would make - $200 million towards to stage two. So that’s light rail from the city through to Woden. It'll create hundreds of jobs and it'll ensure that people are able to move swiftly through the city as modern light rail projects do. It's been championed by Alicia Payne, our candidate for Canberra, and I know she'll continue working on those issues with the route if she is elected.
BOURCHIER: What's interesting is that at this stage the route hasn't been clearly defined. There's still some discussion about whether it will go via state circle or around Parliament. That's going to have a big effect on the cost as well. Is this $200 million a capped amount or are you willing to spend more depending on the price of the project?
LEIGH: That’s the federal government's commitment. I know there's been a lot of careful work being done by the Barr Government looking at what's the right balance in order to make sure that the route is appropriate but as economical as possible. I'm confident that they'll do a good job on that second stage, as they've done the first stage. I and my three little boys are very excited about the idea of travelling on stage one when it opens next month.
BOURCHIER: Are you confident that if it's 1.6 billion, which has been touted as the upper number, that it would be the right investment?
LEIGH: Absolutely. I mean we know that road congestion has a cost and there’s an Australia infrastructure audit report from Infrastructure Australia that said the cost of road congestion in the ACT will increase from its current $200 million a year to being $700 million a year by 2030. So using light rail makes sense in dealing with those other costs. As an economist I think it's really important to bear in mind that being stuck in traffic is a huge economic cost. We want to deal with that. You can be productive on light rail in a way you can't be in your car.
BOURCHIER: Do you think that stage 1 needs to be up and operational first so that those factors can be reviewed to see what sort of impact it actually has on the way that traffic moves around the territory?
LEIGH: Well, it just about is Dan, as you would have seen-
BOURCHIER: The point of the question was do we need to have it operational and a time to review what impact it has?
LEIGH: I think we need to move on the next stage and this is a stage which would be opened around 2023-24. If we delay to far, that it means that people in Woden don't get the benefit of light rail. You can ask reasonable questions about the pace of the project, but I think it's set right and I think many people in Woden - a fast growing centre - will want us to get going on light rail and want to do so with the support of the federal government.
BOURCHIER: What happens if it doesn't have the effect of easing traffic congestion?
LEIGH: I think it's definitely going to-
BOURCHIER: But without, without it operational, how do we know?
LEIGH: Dan, it's impossible for me to imagine no one is going to be catching light rail. In fact, everyone I speak to is excited to be jumping onboard. My electorate office’s just near the park-and-ride in Gungahlin, so I'm sure I'll be seeing plenty of people there. I know there's a lot of enthusiasm around the park and ride station station in Mitchell. A lot of people have bought properties on the light rail route because they know that means they don't have to use their car to get into work. It's a project that has excited many Canberrans. It's been taken to successive Territory elections and is now receiving federal support thanks to Alicia Payne championing it.
BOURCHIER: So an evidence approach to that is not required? I just want to get that really clear.
LEIGH: [laughter] Dan, we've had two territory elections-
BOURCHIER: I'm sorry. Just, just to hold you to the actual impact of an operation, not not the calls for it to happen. That's a separate question. What I want to find out from you is about what actual impacts that it will have on congestion because that was one of the points that you made.
LEIGH: Dan, if your particular concern is whether contracts will be signed before we manage to get light rail operational next month, I can reassure you-
BOURCHIER: That's not, that's not the point that I was making.
LEIGH: Our commitment of $200 million is about building out this network. This is an exciting thing. I think we ought to be optimistic about what Canberra can do rather than sort of sitting on our hands and saying ‘well we can't do stage two until we're absolutely sure that stage one is right’. You take that approach and you don't get anything done. You've got to keep on building out the network piece by piece because it is an important part of what modern cities are doing around the world.
BOURCHIER: All right. Well, it doesn't sound like we're gonna get a clear answer on that one. We'll leave that there for the moment.
LEIGH: [laughter] I've given you as clear an answer as I can.
BOURCHIER: Well, on the evidence we're not going to, it sounds like we're not going to get a response. On another matter, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison has written to the ACT Government saying it will not give approval for Canberra police officers who are part of the AFP to be investigated under a proposed anti-corruption body. Would that be different under Labor?
LEIGH: I've seen those reports, Dan. I don't have any anything to to add to them having just read them now. It looks like a complicated issue. I honestly haven't got my head around it.
BOURCHIER: Okay. So, Labor doesn't have a position on that as of yet?
LEIGH: I've simply just read the reports this morning.
BOURCHIER: But, but the party - because this has been an ongoing discussion about a corruption commission in the ACT for some time, so, and this issue around the policing has been well ventilated.
LEIGH: I know. I’ve seen the reports in the paper, but I don't have more to add.
BOURCHIER: And you're making an announcement about hotels and accommodation today. What's that about?
LEIGH: We are indeed. So a lot of people will have used one of those multinational booking platforms like booking.com or Expedia or Priceline or kayak in order to book hotels. What you might not know is that up to 30 percent of the booking fee ends up going to these large multinational platforms. They do that by dint of the fact that they prevent accommodation providers from offering a cheaper price on their own website. We're going to get rid of those clauses and so people will be able to books direct and get a better rate from local accommodation providers. These price parity clauses have been an impediment to competition. They've been banned in a lot of European countries. We want to make sure that accommodation providers get a good deal and that more the money stays in Australia.
BOURCHIER: So how would that actually work?
LEIGH: You simply say in the contract that it’s not possible for these multinational booking platforms to any longer prevent hotels from offering a cheaper rate on their own website. So people will be encouraged to go back to booking direct where they feel that's appropriate and it ensures that we're supporting our local accommodation sector.
BOURCHIER: What sort of an impact would that have on AirBnB and other providers like that?
LEIGH: It doesn't apply to AirBnB because they're not going through these online platforms. So, you think of it really as applying to people who are going through an intermediated platform. They're very useful platforms for bringing information together, but they're stinging people to to the tune of 15, 20, 30 per cent. We don't think that that's appropriate, to have that amount of revenue going to a multinational platform, which is effectively then saying the hotel ‘you're not allowed to offer a better rate on your own website’. They've got them over a barrel at the moment. We don't think that's fair. And as with many things that a Shorten Government's would do, putting a little bit more fairness back in the system can't hurt.
BOURCHIER: So what does that mean for hotels that are part of multinational chains?
LEIGH: They'll be affected in the same way. So you'll be able to book directly through the hotel and you'll know that in some cases you'll get a better rate through going for the hotel. It'll change the power imbalance here. And one of the important things to understand about this industry, Dan, is it's basically a duopoly. These two big firms - booking.com and Expedia - have 85 per cent of the market And that's why they're charging such large booking fees. You might think that a booking fee of a few per cent is reasonable. I'm not sure many of your listeners would think that having a third of the total fee go to the booking provider is appropriate.
BOURCHIER: Andrew Leigh, thanks for your time.
LEIGH: Thank you, Dan.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.