Transcript of Interview with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan, 891 ABC Adelaide, Breakfast

Interview

BPC004/2013

21 October 2013

Matthew Abraham: Listening to all this, and probably glad it's not about him, is Jamie Briggs, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, good morning to you, Minister.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning.

Matthew Abraham: The - are we seeing, to use common language, are seeing the Prime Minister playing funny buggers with South Road? Because you can announced, well we're going to fix Darlington, but let's fix the whole of South Road, knowing that - the State Government broke, it doesn't have the money there for that.

Jamie Briggs: Well, the Federal Government hasn't got a lot of money either. We've got a $400 billion Labor debt to deal with, but infrastructure - economic infrastructure's very important to our country, and that's why you've seen the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, and the Deputy Prime Minister, and myself talking about that pretty heavily over the first month of the new Government.

When it comes to South Road, I think there's a couple of very important points here. Firstly, we, in the election campaign and for some time prior to that, supported what was then the State Government's view that the Darlington upgrade was the most important upgrade. There are several upgrades along South Road which are really important, and one of those is Torrens to Torrens. The whole project is important for our State's future, if want to improve our economic performance, upgrading South Road's a very important element of it.

But Darlington became the focus of our election commitment, the State Government with the then Federal Government decided Torrens to Torrens was the most important, and started to do some work, with federal money, $20 million of Federal Government money, none of their own so far…

Matthew Abraham: But you knew during the election campaign that Torrens to Torrens was the go, you knew that? Correct?

Jamie Briggs: Well that was…

Matthew Abraham: For them, for the State Government.

Jamie Briggs: For the State Government, that's right. But also, it's important to note the State Government had spent some money on Darlington also in the past to start to prepare for an upgrade down at that end of the road.

So, our view is, look, Darlington's the number one priority, and we've allocated $500 million in the federal forward estimates for that commitment. The State Government had - with the previous government, decided Torrens to Torrens was, we think Torrens to Torrens is important as well, and we're happy to talk to the State Government about how we can do that work in the - into the future.

But what we're saying to the State Government is look, the people were pretty clear on 7 September about the choices that were put towards - for them, and they made the choice that the Coalition's policies were the way to go. So, in that sense, we feel obligated, firstly, to go ahead with the Darlington interchange, but we do want to upgrade the whole corridor because it's very important for our state's future.

David Bevan: Now, the Prime Minister committed his Government to fixing the whole of South Road within a decade, is that right?

Jamie Briggs: That's right.

David Bevan: Okay. How much money has been set aside for Darlington, and how much money has been set aside federally for the Torrens to Torrens section?

Jamie Briggs: Well at this stage, there isn't any money set aside federally for the Torrens to Torrens section, but as I said, and made clear in the press release on Saturday, following the Prime Minister's speech, we're happy to talk to the State Government about how we might be able to do both into the future.

Matthew Abraham: But you haven't made that clear at all, have you?

Jamie Briggs: Yes I have.

Matthew Abraham: The first line of your press release is, today the Prime Minster committed the Coalition to a completed north-south road corridor in a decade.

Jamie Briggs: Keep reading, Matthew.

Matthew Abraham: But there's no money there.

Jamie Briggs: You're educated about that - well…

Matthew Abraham: This will begin an upgrade to the - and now you're saying, oh well we're continue talks with…

Jamie Briggs: Well, of course, but we want the State Government to show some good faith. I mean, the State Government can't have it both ways, they can't demand that we commit to South Road and then not do any work with us to do so, and that's why the press release also goes on to say, they need to give us some - a costed press release by - sorry, a costed press release [laughs], a costed plan by Christmas on the Darlington upgrade.

They've done a lot of work on Darlington, Rod Hook has told parliamentary committees just recently that they've done a lot of work on Darlington, and in fact he said we could get on and do Darlington quite quickly, if you wanted us to.

Matthew Abraham: Now, Minister, I'll ask you to pop your headphones on, because Ron wants to have a word, he's from Mount Compass, which may or may not be in your electorate…

Jamie Briggs: Yes it is.

Matthew Abraham: It is - at sixteen minutes to nine. Good morning, Ron.

Caller Ron: Gidday, how ya going?

Matthew Abraham: Very well. What do you want to say to your local member?

Caller Ron: Well, I commuted from Mount Compass to Morton Lakes, along the full length of South Road, both ways, for six months. And I can assure my local member that Darlington is not the issue, Torrens to Torrens is desperately needed first.

Matthew Abraham: Jamie Briggs, what do you want to say to one of your constituents?

Jamie Briggs: Well, Ron's - I appreciate Ron's view. It is the whole of South Road - needs work, well not all of it, there has been some work on Anzac Highway, obviously and so forth. But, look, we take promises at election campaigns very seriously, and the promise was very clear, your program covered it extensively during the election. We want the State Government - I think the people of South Australia want the State Government, to talk to us about how can we get Darlington underway. And we're happy, mind you, to continue to talk to them.

Matthew Abraham: And if they don't?

Jamie Briggs: Well our commitment is we've got $500 million sitting there, they'll be saying to South Australians we're not going to use Federal Government's $500 million because we just refuse to talk about it.

David Bevan: Is it is reasonable for our listeners to think that if Jay Weatherill and Tom Koutsantonis committed to - alright, we'll have a partnership over Darlington…

Jamie Briggs: Yep.

David Bevan: If they moved in that direction, is it reasonable for out listeners to then expect that fairly soon after that, we would see a concrete commitment from the Federal Government in terms of money for Torrens to Torrens?

Jamie Briggs: Well - we're absolutely happy to talk to them about that. Both projects have some time to do more work to get prepared for. In fact, I keep hearing the Minister talk about the Torrens to Torrens is ready to go, well that's not quite true, there is quite a bit of work still to be done with the 20 million they've got from the Federal Government to get it ready. They haven't even let contracts just yet.

So, we are at least 12 months, according to his own officials, at least 12 months away from Torrens to Torrens being ready to start. So, there is some time to play out with both projects. The lag on project planning in this space is quite remarkable.

David Bevan: Because what our listeners could be facing is just a stalemate, when nothing gets done.

Jamie Briggs: Well we don't want a stalemate. We definitely do not want a stalemate. The Prime Min…

Matthew Abraham: So what's your - is there a deadline on this?

Jamie Briggs: Well we want by Christmas - we want to get this moving, we want, by Christmas, a fully costed plan on how we upgrade Darlington, with the State Government, with our 500 million we've allocated. The state minister talks about a 1.02 (*) billion dollar commitment is required. Well, we want to see how he gets to those figures, and that may be the case. It will be in that ballpark, no doubt about that.

Matthew Abraham: Beverly from Aberfoyle Park, good morning Beverly.

Caller Beverly: Good morning to everybody. Look, I'd just like to make a statement too. I live in Aberfoyle Park, I travel down through to Goodwood for work, peak hour, and I also have a sister who lives out at Barossa Valley. To travel from the brick (*) works, and then to get out to Regency Park, that is the worst bit of road you could ever travel on, especially at peak time. It is horrible, the road's bumpy, it's narrow, there's - it's absolutely desolate with dejected, or degenerated, or whatever, homes, horrible looking homes. And I sort of also…

Matthew Abraham: I think a lot of them have been bought [laughs].

Caller Beverly: Have they? Well I wondered why they weren't buying them up.

Matthew Abraham: I think that's why the Victa lawn mower hasn't been out for a while.

Caller Beverly: Is that what it is, I was wondering - gee this probably could be bought up [indistinct]. But that is the worst bit of road I travel on.

Matthew Abraham: I think many people, just looking at it, would say it's an absolute cot case.

Caller Beverly: But even the tightness of the road itself, and the trucks on it at peak hour. It is really, really horrible to travel. That's the worst part of the trip to go to the Barossa.

Jamie Briggs: Look, that is a reasonable point. And I think after 12 years, South Australians are rightly asking well how come this hasn't been done previously? But we're saying, not that - Darlington's important, the Torrens to Torrens is important, that Darlington we committed to in the election campaign. We're not saying what the state minister is, which is one project is good, and one project is bad.

Matthew Abraham: He's listening to this. Are you happy for him to have a say?

Jamie Briggs: Of course.

Matthew Abraham: Tom Koutsantonis…

Jamie Briggs: Hard to believe Tom wouldn't have a say.

Matthew Abraham: Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis, good morning.

Tom Koutsantonis: Good morning Matthew, David and Minister Briggs.

Matthew Abraham: It sounds like, when all the chest beating is finished, you're going to have to do this at Darlington. Is that correct? They've got the money, you need the money.

Tom Koutsantonis: Well, we've got the money too. It's a 50-50 proposition. This is not about South Australia being on its knees to the Commonwealth. We're working together on this, and we've worked well in the past together and there's no reason why we can't work well again in the future. And the Premier and the Prime Minister have been in detailed discussions, and I think it's fair to say that both political parties now agree that Torrens to Torrens and Darlington should be completed.

Now, what we're going to be discussing [indistinct]…

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] No, yeah, that bit's okay.

Tom Koutsantonis: Well, our argument is simple. We - I released on Friday publicly and for federal department and for Mike Mrdak, the chief executive of the Department of Transport in the Commonwealth, the new independently verified cost-benefit analysis, as required by Infrastructure Australia on both projects. Now, [indistinct]…

Matthew Abraham: But won't you wait - shouldn't you wait for Infrastructure Australia to rule on it?

Tom Koutsantonis: No, we - what happens is that Infrastructure Australia have already ruled on Torrens to Torrens and support it, and Darlington, we [indistinct] submit it, the feedback we received from Infrastructure Australia was it wouldn't stack up because of the freight movement. So what we've done is we went away, did some more work with Ernst & Young to try and beef up the cost-benefit analysis, and it came back even worse than it was before, 1 to 0.66…

Matthew Abraham: And this is…

Tom Koutsantonis:…indistinct] for every…

Matthew Abraham: Is this the Premier's transport announcement this afternoon? Is that to all related to South Road?

Tom Koutsantonis: Well, I'm not going to be commenting at all about it other than you're invited to come along and see what the announcement is, and all your listeners tonight on their way home will be able to know all about it.

But I think what Minister Briggs is saying makes a lot of sense. We need to sit down together and work something out. Now, to my recollection, and I don't want a verbal with the Minister, from what I understand the commitment of the Coalition was they would submit Darlington to Infrastructure Australia. Now, I am happy to work with the Commonwealth to get a proposal up that proves up Darlington and makes it worthwhile to Infrastructure Australia so they can get the tick off. But right now it doesn't stack up. Right now, we - there's more work to be done, but Torrens to Torrens is ready.

Matthew Abraham: Is there some movement there?

Tom Koutsantonis: [Indistinct]

Jamie Briggs: Well, firstly, with all due respect to the State Minister, we haven't seen a detailed plan on Darlington at this stage. I presume he is doing that work. I welcome that. As far as who rules on these things, I would say that the voters have a pretty strong say in who rules on these things, and at the state election - at the federal election there was two plans on priorities put, and the priority that was put by us was that Darlington would be done first. Now, we respect the view of the people.

Now, as far as Torrens to Torrens goes, it's not ready to go. It's not true that it's ready to go. There are still major works to go, including an electricity substation which is at least, as I understand, 18 months away from being moved, which would allow you to actually undertake major works - so much so that no contracts have yet been let to start that work.

Matthew Abraham: Okay. Tom Koutsantonis, just quickly, we did have some movement on the weekend and that is that the Prime Minister committed to completing the whole of the North South Corridor within a decade, so there's some commitment there which embraces Torrens-to-Torrens. If Jamie Briggs came back to you in a few weeks time and said you do Darlington first and then we will commit X amount of dollars, it's in writing, so that the whole thing is done within a decade, it might not be in the order you want but you know you've got it locked in. Would you accept that?

Tom Koutsantonis: No. What we'll accept is what we had before the election, which was by the elected government of the day and had a budget committed to Torrens-to-Torrens. Now, I am happy to sit down and commit state government funds to working out a plan to get Darlington done, but the idea that we would leave what every South Australian intuitively knows is the worst part of South Road alone just so we can help out in Darlington, which can be done as well, I think's unfair on the people of the Western Suburbs and unfair on South Australians and unfair on freight.

Matthew Abraham: Tom, Tom…

Tom Koutsantonis: And we have…okay.

Matthew Abraham: No, we need to move on but we'll have to wait for this announcement this afternoon which may or may not be related to this. But Tom Koutsantonis, thank you, Transport Minister for the state government, and assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Jamie Briggs, thank you for coming to our studio this morning.

Jamie Briggs: Great pleasure.

Matthew Abraham: Good luck with the traffic on the way out. It's…

David Bevan: Might want to avoid South Road.

[Laughter]

Matthew Abraham: It's seven minutes - but Tom Koutsantonis has fixed the Britannia Roundabout.

[Laughter]