Transcript of Doorstop Interview Adelaide Convention Centre

Interview

BPC006/2013

30 October 2013

Subjects: Australian Government commitment to fund the business case for the Darlington interchange project, South Road upgrade, future of Holden in Australia, Bald Hills Road interchange

Jamie Briggs: As I've just announced, we will fund a study into the upgrade at Darlington, which we identified in the election campaign, and since, as the priority for our ambitious ten year plan to upgrade South Road. We want the State Government to move on this as quickly as possible, and obviously we expect they'd engage the private sector to get that work underway by Christmas, and hopefully finish shortly thereafter, because the Prime Minister is very keen that we get work underway as soon as we possibly can to achieve his target of upgrading the entire corridor in the decade.

Question: The State Government says any business plan will show Torrens to Torrens is a priority. Are you just trying to irritate them with this money?

Jamie Briggs: No, not at all. We want to work with the money. It's unusual for the Federal Government to pay for the business case completely, we would use…

Question: Peace offering is it?

Jamie Briggs: It's part of getting on and doing the job. We don't want to fight with State Governments, we want to work with State Governments because people expect better infrastructure. We need, for our economic opportunities, better infrastructure. The Torrens to Torrens project is an important project, and the State Government's got some money allocated from the Federal Government this year. We've asked it to continue to do the work that it's been doing, because that is important work for its future upgrade. And we will work with the State Government on that priority as well. But we want them to focus on Darlington, get the work done, so we can start the project as soon as possible.

Question: Is it pointless to have a business case, though, if they are going to be working on Torrens to Torrens before Darlington?

Jamie Briggs: Well, no, we would like them to start the Darlington project as a priority. They are doing work on Torrens to Torrens. It has some logistics issues which the State Government's working through, and that's partly what the money that has been allocated is to do. But upgrading South Road, the north-south corridor, is an ambitious project, but a very important project, and both of these projects fit into that plan to develop an integrated corridor in a decade.

Question: What's the cost of the business plan for all of the Darlington end?

Jamie Briggs: Well the State Government will come back to us with a plan, and an estimated cost. But we would expect it would be under $10 million. But we will pay for it, as long as it is a reasonable cost, of course, but we'll test what they're putting to us. But I'm hopeful the State Government is equally ambitious about this upgrade. We met last Friday, the Deputy Prime Minister and I met with Minister Koutsantonis, and we had a good meeting, a good discussion, about getting on and building projects. The State Government was disappointed with our decision in relation to urban rail, as have other state governments been disappointed.

Question: If a Darlington case comes back and it still shows that it's not worthwhile compared to the Torrens to Torrens section, will the Federal Government then commit to going ahead with the Torrens to Torrens section?

Jamie Briggs: Well, no it's a very worthwhile project and that's why we've committed to it, and anyone who lives in the southern suburbs will tell you that. It is a very worthwhile project and we're convinced of that. We want now the business case, and how we implement the upgrade. We will also work with the State Government on getting the Torrens to Torrens project done. I mean, if you simply look at the timeframe we've put on getting this north-south corridor upgraded, we were obviously going to look to invest significant amounts of money at getting all these projects done.

Question: So you would expect the State Government to say thanks for the money, we still…

Jamie Briggs: I'd be shocked if they didn't.

Question: …we still prefer the Torrens to Torrens plan. But is this your best and final offer, so to speak, saying here's the money, we're not changing our mind, so take the money and run and keep your mouth shut?

Jamie Briggs: Well I don't want to see - I'm not trying to treat this as a negotiation, and the Prime Minister's not trying to treat this as a negotiation. We made clear our priority, but we also made clear, and the Prime Minister made clear here just two weekends ago, that Torrens to Torrens is an important project, and we want to work with the State Government on working on ways of how we get both of these projects done quickly. But we have put a focus on Darlington, and that's why we're willing to spend some of the Federal Government money on moving that project forward more quickly.

Question: Because you can win two seats, perhaps, pinch two seats from Labor in the next state election?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I don't think we're making decisions at the federal level based on state elections. We will leave that to the state parties to fight out. We want, and have, commitments to the people of Adelaide to get this important economic infrastructure underway, here, in Sydney, in Melbourne, in Brisbane, in Perth, across the country. We need a fresh round of infrastructure investment, as I just talked about, and Adelaide is not alone and we will spend more money here than previously has been committed because it's important for our economic future.

Question: What about the Tonsley upgrade and the Gawler line, any moving room on those?

Jamie Briggs: Well, no, we've made our position clear on that and we were very clear on that before the election, and we've been clear on that in other states. And I note there was some criticisms in another state today of that decision. People are entitled to criticise or make their views known on that. We don't dislike public transport, but we think it is the responsibility of the State Government to focus on. We will focus on important economically producing infrastructure, the roads, the economic benefit that roads bring with our finances.

Question: Just on another matter, speaking of disliking, could it be seen that Ian Macfarlane is starting to dislike Holden? His comments today were less than helpful by saying the Productivity Commission review won't be - or the interim one will be out by the end of the year, but the final one won't be out till April, and if Holden want to make a decision before then, even if it's a negative decision, go ahead.

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, this is obviously a challenging issue for the Federal Government, for the State Government, and for our state. We, as the Federal Government, like you would expect, the taxpayers would expect, will make decisions on big investments carefully, and that's why we've sought, after more than a decade, an updated Productivity Commission review into the industry. Holden will have to make its own business decisions, of course it will make its own business decisions, and we want Holden to stay in Adelaide, and in Australia, and continue to produce cars. But that doesn't come without a decision at some point—is it costing too much, and I would be surprised if any government didn't make an assessment of that at some point.

Question: So, are you saying to Holden, be patient? Or are you demanding Holden be patient?

Jamie Briggs: No, we're saying to Holden that we've been clear that we wanted a Productivity Commission inquiry into this. We've been clear that we would have to have a discussion with them, and Minister Macfarlane is doing that at the moment. We are very positive about Holden, but it's not without a decision on cost at some stage, and taxpayers would expect us to do that.

Question: What's Cabinet's understanding of the timeline, that Holden could make this decision?

Jamie Briggs: I'm not a member of the Cabinet, I'm a member of the outer ministry, but the Government's understanding with working with Holden is that it does have decisions it needs to make, and that's a perfectly reasonable position for Holden to take. We want to work with Holden, we want to find a way to ensure that they remain in Australia, but that's without chasing them down the road with a blank cheque, and people wouldn't expect us to chase them down the road with a blank cheque. Like any industry, they have to be able to justify an investment that taxpayers will make within it.

Question: So who's got who over a barrel here, in terms of timelines?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, again I don't think we want to talk—these decisions affect hundreds, thousands, of people in Adelaide and in Melbourne, and as a Government we are very conscious of people's livelihoods, and I'm sure there are many people who are nervously awaiting the decisions that Holden will make into the future.

Question: Including you?

Jamie Briggs: Well, of course, I mean, I don't want to see the economic impact this will have if Holden does make a decision to leave. But if you go back 18 months, the previous Labor Government, and current State Labor Government, was calling peace in our time. They were calling that Holden had made a decision to stay here in a decade. Yet we're back 18 months later having another discussion about another lot of money. Taxpayers rightly expect the Federal Government to be careful and prudent with their money. So we will be careful, and we will make sure that the decision is being made properly, and we're not going to rush in and just give away a blank cheque. But that's not to say we seriously don't want Holden to stay.

Question: But Holden are holding on you guys, to wait for this commission, you don't think you should be getting it out this year?

Jamie Briggs: Well you can't rush a Productivity Commission inquiry. You actually need to get, you want it to do the serious analytical work that we would expect it to do. Now if we rushed out a productivity inquiry that didn't tell us the right thing, then it wouldn't do much good. We'd prefer it to do the work properly, and then make decisions on the basis of that work. And this isn't just about Holden, mind you. This is a productivity inquiry into the broader economic framework around the automotive sector, but obviously Holden's a major part of that.

Question: Jamie, can you give us an update on the $16 million for the Mt Barker interchange?

Jamie Briggs: That will be subject to discussion with the State Labor Government, but we're absolutely committed to it, absolutely committed to delivering it, and we expect the State Government to meet their commitment to the people of the Adelaide hills, which I have a particular interest in, of course.

Question: So what sort of commitment are you looking for from them? You promised the money, so this is about the project?

Jamie Briggs: We will negotiate that with the State Government. But on these off-network road projects, there is a variety of models that apply. We would hope 50-50, and we'll talk to them about that. However, it may be that we talk to them about another arrangement in that respect. Also, of course, with the council, and there is an issue about the cost of that project as well. So, I'm committed to that being undertaken in our phasing of that money. We start spending that money in the next financial year, and I would hope we're spending that money in the next financial year.

Question: So the full $16 million is still there?

Jamie Briggs: Absolutely.

Question: Do you have any general comments you want to make on what you think of the State Government's transport plans?

Jamie Briggs: Not particularly. I'll leave that to the state guys. Thank you guys.