Anthony Albanese has blasted Scott Morrison as ‘arrogant and dismissive’ in a fiery election campaign speech promoting high-speed rail.
The Labor leader savaged the prime minister for his response to the Covid-19 pandemic as he announced his plan for a high speed rail line connecting Newcastle to Sydney.
He said Mr Morrison failed on vaccines and quarantine and now was failing on testing after wait times for PCR swabs surged to five hours over Christmas.
Directly addressing the residents of the NSW Hunter Valley and Central Coast regions, Mr Albanese said the PM failed to look after their interests.
‘Through the response to the pandemic the Hunter and Central Coast were treated with disdain by this arrogant and dismissive government,’ he said in Newcastle on Sunday.
‘Whether it was the transfer of vaccines meant for this region to Sydney, despite Covid being present in this community or making it impossible for people to access Covid testing, this Government’s contempt for the people of this region has been on full display.’
Mr Albanese did not mention that the vaccine transfer was implemented by the state government not the federal government.
The week after then premier Gladys Berejijklian announced the policy, the federal government sent 180,000 Pfizer jabs to regional NSW to make up for the displacements.
Mr Albanese also blasted the PM over the vaccine rollout, which was delayed when the government scrambled to get more Pfizer into the country after changing health advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Scott Morrison pictured with skin cancer campaigner Courtney Mangan on Bribie Island on December 21
‘We have five important tools to manage the pandemic response – vaccination, testing, tracing, isolation, and quarantine,’ he said.
‘On every single measure – from the COVIDSafe App debacle to the vaccine rollout, to boosters and Rapid Antigen Tests – Scott Morrison has been defined by a lack of leadership.
‘It all highlights why only a change of government will prioritise the immediate needs of the region and set about creating a better future.’
Mr Albanese also attacked Mr Morrison over the scarcity of rapid Covid tests after the PM said it was the states’ responsibility to buy them from overseas suppliers.
‘They are not even pretending to play any role in securing a supply of Rapid Antigen Tests,’ he said.
The main purpose of Mr Albanese’s speech was to announce a first step towards high-speed rail linking major cities.
He wants a trainline that can deliver speeds of more than 250kmh to cut the journey time from Sydney to Newcastle to 45 minutes, down from two-and-a-half hours.
Mr Albanese said Mr Morrison has failed on Covid testing. Pictured: Bondi’s testing clinic on New Year’s Day
A recent report into high-speed rail found the Sydney to Newcastle route should be the first component of an eventual line to Brisbane.
Mr Albanese said he would set up a new High-Speed Rail Authority and provide $500 million funding in his first budget to begin corridor acquisition, planning and early works.
‘Australia is the only inhabited continent on earth not developing high-speed rail,’ a Labor statement said.
‘Fast and high-speed rail will be an important element of Labor’s smart regionalisation plan that recognises that decentralisation is critical for Australia.’
The opposition leader also announced a Labor government would reverse $500,000 of funding cuts to the GP Access After Hours service in the Hunter region.
The move to buy up land in the rail corridor has been welcomed by Sydney’s urban policy thinktank and advocacy body.
Committee for Sydney chief executive Gabriel Metcalf said the rail improvements would give people more choice about where they work and where they live.
‘Better connections across this region means we would effectively work like a bigger global city, with more economic gravitational pull,’ he said.
‘As we look to emerge from two years of disruption and lockdown, this is a project that will get people inspired about Sydney’s future and kickstart our economic recovery.’
Labor is defending its narrowly held Hunter seat with incumbent Joel Fitzgibbon stepping down at the next election.
The party is also fending off a coalition campaign in the neighbouring Hawkesbury-based seat Macquarie, the Maitland-based seat Paterson and in the Central Coast seat Dobell, and it wants to win the Gosford-based seat of Robertson.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the high speed rail announcement was an ‘election stunt’ and urged Mr Albanese to reveal how much the project would cost in total.
He said the Coalition was focusing on infrastructure that Australians actually need.
Mr Albanese said he would set up a new High-Speed Rail Authority and provide $500million funding in his first budget to begin corridor acquisition, planning and early works