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



24 October 2013

Keith Conlon: Tom Koutsantonis is the State Transport Minister.  We now have the Federal Assistant Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs with us - of course an MP from South Australia too. Assistant Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs, g'day.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning. How are you?

Keith Conlon: Good. You've heard that - Tom Koutsantonis is right off his bike. He says basically this is a political manoeuvre because you've seen the fact that the Labor Government had some vision here and you want to cut it off.

Jamie Briggs: Well look, Tom's a bovver boy and he's trying to create a political fight.  But this was a clear commitment that we made. In fact you and I talked about this Keith a few weeks ago – that we were committed to road projects, not to rail projects, and we think that's the responsibility of the State Government. It is not the Federal Government's fault that the State Government is so broke it can't build its own railway line.

And as far as the transport plan, I mean give me a break.  This is a transport plan that they released which is in the never never.  Yet again, another new plan after 12 years from this State Government which plans to spend billions of dollars of Federal Government money which was paid for - well let me put it this way, they asked the Federal Government to pay for it and yet didn't consult with the Federal Government at all. We didn't even know it was coming.

Keith Conlon: Isn't it at the moment out for consultation so wouldn't this be the consultation period?

Jamie Briggs: So you announce you're going to spend billions of dollars of Federal Government money and then you don't actually consult with the Federal Government about what that may be on. As far as our election commitments, we have been very clear, very very clear.  Our commitment is to build road projects, and in fact, on the weekend the Prime Minister announced we are committed within a decade to upgrading the north-south corridor. Now the truth of the matter, the hard truth of the matter of course is the State Government hasn't done the work to be prepared for that commitment and that's a shame for the people of South Australia and that's what we now need to try and fix.

Keith Conlon: Jamie Briggs, let's just get a response from Tom Koutsantonis about that.

Tom Koutsantonis: If that's all true could you ask Mr Briggs why the Prime Minister is honouring his commitment to upgrade the Tonsley rail line? It's not [indistinct] rail…

Jamie Briggs: It's freight.

Tom Koutsantonis: No it's passenger, it's passenger service…

Jamie Briggs: It's freight…

Tom Koutsantonis: No it's not freight…

Keith Conlon: Hang on. Jamie Briggs, Tonsley Park takes people to Flinders University and the Flinders Medical Centre doesn't it and the new…

Tom Koutsantonis: No, no - Keith, it's a spur line off the Noarlunga line to carry passengers from Tonsley to Clovelly Park into the city. It's a passenger rail line. It is not freight at all.

Keith Conlon: So Jamie Briggs, you think it's freight.

Jamie Briggs: It's a freight project. If Tom wants to talk about that and make it a passenger line then we'll talk about…

Tom Koutsantonis: No, no, no…

Jamie Briggs: I mean if that's what you want to do that's fine but…

Tom Koutsantonis: No you're wrong.

Jamie Briggs: …but the problem is - the problem here Keith frankly is you've got a state government that keeps spending other people's money because it's run out of its own.

Keith Conlon: But Jamie Briggs, I mean to be fair, we know that major infrastructure will be largely a federal task. That's why you are involved, that's why you've got an infrastructure minister.

Jamie Briggs: We spend significant amounts but it is a state government responsibility to provide for public transport. Where the federal government has traditionally involved itself is on road and freight upgrades and road and freight projects like the national highways and that's what we're committed to, to improve our productive performance. Now funds are limited. Federal Labor left us with some $400 billion in debt so we've got to be careful with what we've got. But the hard truth for South Australians is after 12 years you have a state government who flip-flops on its transport plans, has a new vision every couple of weeks and doesn't have the money itself to pay for anything.

Keith Conlon: Jamie Briggs, who's on the federal side. Tom Koutsantonis for Labor on the transport - State Transport Minister, is that one of the issues Minister that this is a 30 year plan that really suddenly has popped out again, you know this is the one that Pat Conlon as the Minister said we didn't need.

Tom Koutsantonis: Look Keith, I'm really worried that the new roads minister, infrastructure junior Minister doesn't realise that Clovelly-Tonsley Park lines are passenger rail lines, not freight lines and that they're funding them.

Keith Conlon: Well it sounds like you better leave it as a freight line or they might take the money.

Tom Koutsantonis: It's never been a freight line. It's a passenger line. It's always been a passenger line. It's a spur line, we announced it and Tony Abbott rang the Premier and said he'd support it because tenders had been let. Now that's really concerning and very embarrassing for him today. Also the 30 year plan vision - laugh all you like, the people of Boothby are listening to you talk about…

Jamie Briggs: How many times have you changed the Gawler line? How many times have you changed the Gawler line?

Keith Conlon: One at a time. We'll let you finish Minister.

Tom Koutsantonis: The people of Boothby are laughing at Jamie Briggs because they know that the Tonsley line is a passenger line, not a freight line. You can laugh all you like…

Keith Conlon: Well Jamie Briggs, I mean let's clarify that. Are you saying that if it is a passenger line then you'll have another look at it even though the tender's been let?

Jamie Briggs: Well look we've made a very strong commitment. If there is money in the works obviously the Federal Government's going to honour contracts. But when it comes to Gawler, what Tom won't tell you is that this plan has changed now on three occasions, at least three occasions. I think Jack Snelling announced something and I know there's some factional issues within State Labor which has affected that. But Jack Snelling made the first announcement, that's been changed. It's been changed hence yet again and it was yet again on Monday we have a new vision from the state government. So the Federal Government will of course honour contracts where the state government is continuing on the scope that was promised. But what we see from South Australia time and time and time again, and this is what my federal department has told me already, since we've been elected, is that South Australia says one thing and then does another and refuses to follow through. They are very good at announcing other people's money, they're very bad at delivering projects…

Keith Conlon: What is the…

Jamie Briggs: And the fact that Tom's - the problem that Tom's got is that he's run out of money. He keeps making announcements but he has no money to deliver.

Keith Conlon: It is a 30 year plan after all so we don't know who's going to be in and there was a hope that it might be bipartisan. Let's go to the…

Jamie Briggs: Well, he should've talked to us about it first. Wouldn't that have been a good idea, that the state government talks to the Federal Government about plans for federal money.

Keith Conlon: What about that, Transport Minister?

Tom Koutsantonis: Well, they announced this project being cancelled to the Advertiser and they still haven't sent me the letter. That's the level of consultation this government's going to have with the State Government. 

Keith Conlon: Yeah, but what about the idea that a - on a huge project like this, you might get onside with the incoming Federal Government?

Tom Koutsantonis: Well, it's a 30 year plan and it's going out for consultation. It's not finalised. We're out talking to people.

Keith Conlon: He says you're spending billions.

Tom Koutsantonis: Well, I mean, again, somewhere inside Jamie Briggs is a very smart, articulate politician. We just haven't seen it yet. What we're seeing is someone who hasn't realised he's won the election and it's time to start governing and stop playing politics. Let's sit down and work this sort of thing out, and look, what I'll do is I'll run through the entire…

Jamie Briggs: [Indistinct]

Tom Koutsantonis: I sat quietly for you, Jamie. I want to run through our entire transport plan with Mr Briggs and show him how it benefits the people of South Australia, and if he doesn't like that, he should go out and tell the people of South Australia which part of the transport plan he doesn't like. Is it the trams he doesn't like?

Jamie Briggs: We put a plan to the people at the election and that is what people supported. 

Keith Conlon: Well, hang on Transport Minister, let's ask the Federal Assistant Infrastructure Minister to expand on that.

Jamie Briggs: Well, we did at the election. We put very clear proposals to people at the election that we would upgrade the Darlington intersection. We committed $500 million of it, and yet we - what we hear from Tom Koutsantonis is that he doesn't like the Darlington interchange now. He used to. He doesn't now because Federal Liberal Party supported it, and he won't work with us to develop it. I mean, we've asked Tom for a commitment to sit down and work through this. I mean, Tom talks about being cooperative. Well, he didn't even talk to us about his 30-year vision.  He won't talk to us about Darlington. He doesn't like the project for the southern suburbs because it's, frankly, political. So if Tom wants to be serious about having a discussion, he needs to start to show his actions that he's serious about having a discussion.

Keith Conlon: Can we ask a question of you as the incoming Federal Government about what would happen under the state Liberal’s proposal where they set up an infrastructure body. If it comes up with stuff that is about improving this city and improving its economy, and it includes rail, do they have to cross that out?

Jamie Briggs: No, they have to fund it themselves, and that's the commitment we've made. I mean, state governments exist because they do certain things in our community, very important things, and one of those things is public transport. Traditionally that's what state governments have done. The Federal Government will commit significant amounts of money, and we are willing to commit significant amounts of money - in fact, more than what we've already said - to upgrade South Road because we think it's an absolute priority.

And we will do more as time goes on. We've got commitments on, as the Minister knows, on the Dukes Highway which is a commitment of the former government, something we support, and we'll continue to work with the state government on. We've got a commitment to Bald Hills Road, as we’ve talked about. Tom won't talk to us about that. You know, these are the commitments the Federal Government has made, very clear commitments. Tony Abbott will be remembered as the infrastructure Prime Minister, but state governments need to do urban rail. That is a very strong commitment we made in the election campaign, and no one should be surprised about that.

Keith Conlon: Jamie Briggs, thanks very much. Just a final note from the minister, do you reckon you might get together about this?

Tom Koutsantonis: Look, I've already agreed to do the Darlington work with Jamie Briggs. I agreed that last week. I agreed that publicly, on radio. I agreed that in The Advertiser. So what you're hearing is him saying one thing on another radio station and one thing here to suit himself in this argument. Jamie Briggs needs to grow up and start acting like a politician who's won an election and not like a little kid in the Young Liberal Party. This is about governing of the nation, not about screaming on radio.

Keith Conlon: In terms of…

Tom Koutsantonis: You know, if you're serious about urban rail - you've said they won't fund urban rail but I'll fund it in Boothby, but they won't fund it in Makin and seats out north. So, quite frankly, he's being hypocritical now. If it's good enough for the people of the south it's good enough for the people of the north, and I've got to say that commitment and that backflip really showed their true colours.

Keith Conlon: Just - Transport Minister, is that - chucking rocks, and that's what you're doing - is that going to, like, you know, be a good way of working with a new Federal Government?

Tom Koutsantonis: Well, I've got to say, we had an agreement. We had an agreement that they would fund anything that we had gone out to tender for. They didn't mention that they would scrap all of Gawler before the election. They did mention that they would scrap Tonsley because it was urban rail. 

Keith Conlon: But the Gawler expansion is not - hasn't gone out to tender, has it, Minister?

Tom Koutsantonis: Of course it has.

Keith Conlon: How much of it?

Tom Koutsantonis: $152.4 million worth of it.

Keith Conlon: Up to Dry Creek?

Tom Koutsantonis: No, up to Salisbury.

Jamie Briggs: Ah, so the tender - it all changed, hasn't it Tom? That's the truth. That's the truth.

Tom Koutsantonis: What?

Jamie Briggs: The scope of the project has completely changed, hasn't it?

Tom Koutsantonis: We spoke to the Prime Minister, but no, the scope of the project hasn't changed…

Jamie Briggs: No, you didn't.

Tom Koutsantonis: No, it hasn't.

Jamie Briggs: No, it has changed. It's…

Tom Koutsantonis: Jamie, it's time for you to grow up and become a minister…

Tom Koutsantonis: Grow up and be a minister.

Jamie Briggs: Mate, you can keep making personal accusations all you like. This is a very serious issue about the South Australian expectations of delivering infrastructure, which you continue to fail to do.

Tom Koutsantonis: So why do you fund urban rail in the south but not urban rail in the north? It's an easy question. Why?

Jamie Briggs: Where the money has been tendered for projects which are within their scope that the Federal Government's committed to, of course we'll honour contracts, but we'll…

Tom Koutsantonis: You told the listeners earlier that it was freight. Now you've realised it's urban rail and you're funding it.

Keith Conlon: Unfortunately, gentlemen, we will have to leave the discussion there and just slowly turn down the faders, but thanks both for joining us, Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis in South Australia and Jamie Briggs, a South Australian Federal MP who is the Assistant Infrastructure Minister in Canberra.

Jane Reilly: Sounds like they need to sit down and have a coffee together.

Keith Conlon: Well, good luck.