LABOR Shadow Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has thrown down the gauntlet to Barnaby Joyce to engage in a public debate over their portfolio responsibilities.
Mr Joyce has accepted his policy rival’s challenge for an intellectual duel saying he’s “only too happy” to debate the merits of major infrastructure initiatives driving ahead in regional Australia, like the government’s $8.4 billion inland rail project.
Mr Albanese said he wanted to debate Mr Joyce, who took over the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio from Darren Chester before Christmas, believing the Nationals leader has a weakness when it comes to policy details.
“Since 2006, I’ve held the infrastructure portfolio, either in government or in Opposition and not once has a Coalition minister or shadow minister been prepared to debate me about infrastructure issues,” Mr Albanese said.
“Barnaby Joyce tends to put himself out there, and tends not to be shy, so perhaps he won’t be shy about debating the issues.
“I’d call on him to be prepared to have a debate between now and the next federal election on the range of infrastructure issues, at the National Press Club or in the federal parliament during MPI (matter of public importance) debates or wherever.
“It’s a fact that last year the government didn’t even produce an infrastructure statement in parliament.
“They made a clear commitment that there should be an annual statement – but it’s not surprising that they’re running away from wanting that statement because it allows for a response from the Opposition.”
Mr Joyce welcomed the debate on infrastructure matters with Mr Albanese but said “I’ve heard these stories before, that people want to debate you”.
“The last one was Joel Fitzgibbon (Labor shadow Agriculture Minister) and he didn’t turn up,” he said.
“But what actually is Anthony Albanese’s infrastructure plan for regional Australia?
“I can show you ours - and once more I can start with the inland rail - but there’s no money on the table for the inland rail from the Labor party, they just think it’s a ‘useful idea’.
“And I’m sure that’s really going to help the people of Narrabri or Parkes to think that the Labor party hasn’t actually got any money aside for it; they just think it’s a ‘useful idea’ and that’s basically how they see everything in regional Australia, that it’s quaint and interesting but they never actually invest in it.”
Mr Joyce said a similar story existed in regard to Labor and Mr Albanese’s lack of plan for a third sealed road across Australia.
“He hasn’t got one,” he said.
“What’s Anthony Albanese’s plan for dams?
“Well he wants to take half the money out of the dam’s portfolio, I imagine to use it spending on for new roads in Sydney.
“Has Anthony Albanese said he wants to build any dams?
“This is the difference.
“Anthony Albanese will probably be very competent talking about new roads in Sydney - I’ve got no doubt about that.
“He’ll be very competent talking about what needs to happen in inner suburban Melbourne or inner suburban Brisbane – but you don’t have to go too far from the CBD and Anthony Albanese has nothing to say.”
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