Transcript of Interview with Keith Conlon and Jane Reilly, 5AA Breakfast



25 September 2013

Subjects: Building Roads for the 21st Century

Keith Conlon: This morning we meet—I think for some people we meet for the first time someone who's been well known as a federal backbencher in South Australia in the hills and through to the Murray. We're talking about Jamie Briggs who, for one week now, has been officially in the ministry. He's Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, and he's been involved in a lot of other causes close to South Australia's heart.

Jamie Briggs, good morning.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning. How are we all?

Keith Conlon: Good. One week in, how are you?

Jamie Briggs: I'm good. It's a great opportunity and we're getting into the role and understanding exactly what we want to achieve, which is to build the roads for the 21st century, a very specific role that gets infrastructure out and about so people are not stuck in traffic, they can listen to your program at work quicker rather than in the car.

Keith Conlon: It's interesting you should say that, build the roads. There is some thought internationally that it ought to be about rail and infrastructure and roads. Why the emphasis on roads only?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, we think the Federal Government's got a specific role in funding major road projects. We've got—the states take large responsibility for public transport, or take most of the responsibility for public transport, whereas the Federal Government has traditionally assisted in funding big road projects like major freeways and major highways.

Keith Conlon: But we know, in fact, that in other cities of the world light rail and that sort of form of public transport is about trying to stop the roads from being clogged, so why wouldn't the incoming Federal Government take that on as well?

Jamie Briggs: Well, because that's a role for the state government, and in a federated system you have certain responsibilities for a Federal Government, certain responsibilities for a state government, and in this respect we believe that the best role for the Federal Government is to focus on ensuring people who largely still use car transport in Australia, because we are a large country with large cities. We're not like the rest of the world in many ways. In that sense, we have been focused on funding and ensuring that not just discussions about funding infrastructure but actually getting on and building infrastructure. I think people are sick of politicians talking about outcomes rather than delivering outcomes.

Keith Conlon: Just one more on this issue though, there's nothing under the federal rules or under the Constitution which would prevent you from doing it because the Federal Labor Government past was looking at rail. It's a choice that you've made, isn't it?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it's a very clear choice, and a couple of weekends ago the Australian people in large part accepted that choice and gave us a mandate to get on and do what we said we would do, and that's what we're going to do.

Jane Reilly: Mr Briggs when it comes to choice, South Road, there's two ends to that. You're going for the Darlington end—there's concerns that it might be mid 2015 before we actually see any movement happening there and people are frankly fed up.

Jamie Briggs: Well look I agree people are fed up and the whole of South Road is a priority for us. But we identified very specifically in our election campaign the same project that the state government had identified previously as being the most important which is the Darlington end and we want to focus on that end because that was our commitment. And again if you look at the lessons that the Labor Party should be taking from the election result, that is if you tell the Australian people one thing you should do it and not do the other. And we said in the election campaign very clearly to South Australians that Darlington would be our priority, however...

Keith Conlon: [Interrupts] What if they say to you that in fact we would save more time and therefore more dollars by doing the Torrens Road to Torrens one first. Doesn't that give you a chance maybe as the South Australian rep in the infrastructure area to say we could have another look?

Jamie Briggs: Well we will work with the state government. Obviously we're very keen to get on and get these projects done, but we did put a very clear proposition to the Australian people and if you look at the result in South Australia, we won the seat of Hindmarsh and we had a very strong result in the seat of Boothby—there was a big swing in the seat of Adelaide. People accepted and endorsed our mandate and part of that mandate was the Darlington end of the project...

Keith Conlon: [Interrupts] You reckon when we went into the electoral—into the booth on our own we said I really want Darlington?

Jamie Briggs: Well I think a lot of people did, yeah absolutely. I think it's a very important issue for the people who live in the southern suburbs who are stuck in traffic. Absolutely, it's a big issue. But South Road—let me make this point, South Road is a big issue all up and I don't think the Torrens project is not important. It's a matter of ensuring we get the infrastructure for the 21st century built. So I will along with Warren Truss the Deputy Prime Minister talk with state government and talk with the Opposition in South Australia to ensure we get the projects built—not just talked about but actually built.

Keith Conlon: So is there a chance then—okay, you're going to stick with Darlington and live with the delay that that involves, but...

Jamie Briggs: No, no, no, hang on. Let's now just take Tom Koutsantonis' spin here. That's Tom Koutsantonis spinning like he usually does. The delay is a state government claim. We don't accept the delay, we want to get on and get this project up and about.

Keith Conlon: You reckon it can go ahead quicker than 2015?

Jamie Briggs: Absolutely.

Jane Reilly: What timeframe are you looking at Mr Briggs?

Jamie Briggs: We will sit down and work with the state government and ensure in the coming weeks and months in a methodical way that these projects are funded, these projects are planned well and these projects are underway.

Keith Conlon: And is there then a chance from what you've said of being able to flow through to perhaps the Torrens Road to Torrens?

Jamie Briggs: Well all of South Road is a priority. South Road is a very important road in South Australia, not just for commuters, it's a very important road for our productive capacity to ensure that we are getting better productivity outcomes. The South Australian economy is in the doldrums. Everyone will accept that.

Maybe not Jay Weatherill, but most reasonable observers would say we need an economic boost in South Australia and South Road is part of that, absolutely.

Jane Reilly: Mr Briggs, we're rather light on, in this state, for federal ministers. There's yourself as an assistant minister and then we have Christopher Pyne as the Federal Education Minister. Do you see your role as being vital in representing the people of South Australia in Canberra?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think also importantly, Simon Birmingham is the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and particularly on water, which is also a very important issue for South Australia. So Simon's part of the frontbench team as well. Look, all of us play an important role. South Australia is a very important state. We need to improve our economic performance in South Australia and we want to take a very active role working with this state government, if the state government changes in March, an incoming state government, to ensure that the plans and projects are up and about in South Australia to get our state moving again, because at the moment, we aren't performing as well as we should be. We want to have more jobs, we want to have greater economic activity so our people can be more prosperous.

Keith Conlon: Just looking at infrastructure in South Australia more broadly, what other projects might be brought forward or encouraged in the coming years?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look I hate to sound like a parochial local member as well as a minister, but one of the most important projects that I've been fighting for is the Bald Hills Interchange. And again as your listeners would know, Mount Barker has gone through a massive expansion in recent times where the State Government's opened up the development, some of that's been controversial obviously. But that decision's been made but what the State Government hasn't done is put in place the infrastructures that keep up with that development and we've committed $16 million to—along with the local council, building that Bald Hills Interchange and I would say to Tom Koutsantonis that it is time that he opened his chequebook and came to the table and put in place funding arrangements to ensure that important piece of infrastructure is built as well.

And of course the ongoing issue in South Australia is the highway between Adelaide and Melbourne and that will be something of course we'll engage in discussions with over the coming weeks and months as important parts of our infrastructure needs in the state along with various other projects throughout the state. We are—we're going to be a very active government. Tony Abbott has said he wants to be the infrastructure Prime Minister and South Australia will not miss out on its fair share in that respect.

Keith Conlon: Jamie Briggs, we enjoyed the chance to get to know you and what the plan is and we look forward to discussing it further in the coming weeks.