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

Interview

BPC002/2014

31 January 2014

Matthew Abraham: Jamie Briggs is about to fly from Canberra to Adelaide for an opening of part of the Superway. Jamie Briggs, good morning to you.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning, Matt. Good morning, David.

Matthew Abraham: This is a state and federal project, so you get an invitation to the gig. Do you know which bit's going to be open?

Jamie Briggs: As I understand, this morning we're opening the southbound lanes of the Superway project, and the final completion of the project is approximately six or so weeks away. And then, presumably, the northbound lanes will also be open. It is an important project, and it's part of our plan, our commitment, to upgrade the North-South Corridor in South Australia.

David Bevan: Oh, well, it was a project that the former federal Government—the Labor Government—bagged, and you just happen to be the Minister now, that's what's going on. It's not really part of your plan, is it?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, in fairness, that's right, it was announced under the former Government. We've supported it because we want to upgrade the entire corridor. As the Prime Minister said in October last year, we want to upgrade the entire North-South Corridor in a decade, and so this is obviously an important part of it.

Matthew Abraham: Does it strike you…?

Jamie Briggs: Yeah, I've never said Labor Party's always done bad things, David.

Matthew Abraham: No, no, no, no. You're very even handed. Jamie Briggs, does it strike you as a bit odd, though, that you're opening one lane at a time?

Jamie Briggs: These are matters for the State Government to make decisions upon. We don't run the roads. We provide substantial amounts of money, in this case over 400 million, to complete the upgrade or the construction of it. But we don't make the decision on openings. Obviously, when we're providing significant amounts of money, at these openings you have a role, but ultimately, it's a decision for the State Government on what they open and when.

Matthew Abraham: Well, and you might reflect in your quieter times on the flight, though, about the irony of a party that's attacked the Liberal Party for so long for a one-way road to the South. Having at least temporarily a one-way road to the North, but…

Matthew Abraham: Now, now, Jamie Briggs, speaking…

Jamie Briggs: I think one way from the North to the South, in this case.

Matthew Abraham: Yeah, speaking of one way roads, you're about to lose a federal colleague from the other side, of course, in the federal Parliament, earlier than you expected. Don Farrell. Does it surprise you that he's being parachuted into the safe Labor seat of Napier? Michael O'Brien says—and I understand you're listening on your phone up, no doubt, in Canberra, at the airport—Michael O'Brien has said that he made that offer to Don Farrell the day after the federal election?

Jamie Briggs: It strikes me as a genuine lack of confidence in the current Premier and this current State Government. I think over the last two weeks you've seen some substantial leaks from a government, which is close to an election. And it's always surprising when there are leaks from Cabinet, but particularly surprising when you're 50 days away from that election. And to have budget numbers leaked and then to have, you know, a person who has been a very significant figure at the scene of every Labor leadership spill in the last decade—and there has been many, both federal and state level—parachuted in to reportedly be there to take over after the election doesn't indicate a great deal of confidence in the current administration.

I think at the end of the day, people don't want to hear politicians and political parties talk about themselves. They want to hear a plan for the state, and at a time when obviously we have economic challenges in South Australia, what they're not hearing from the South Australian Government, or the South Australian Labor Party, is a plan. They're hearing about a plan for people to get a new job within the Labor Party. They're not hearing about an economic plan for the future. And I think that's the challenge now. Steven Marshall's been outlining his plan. I think the Labor Party needs to start to talk about their plan, rather than themselves.

David Bevan: Jamie Briggs, didn't the Coalition promise before the last election it would not cut funding to the ABC? And if that was the understanding, why have you now announced a review of the ABC's budget?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I think every arm of government will be facing challenges. My own department is having consideration about how we do things, and can we do them more efficiently. There's nearly $500 billion of Labor debt left for us. We've got a decade of forecast deficits, and we have to live within our means.

David Bevan: Yeah. Oh, look…

Jamie Briggs: That's the commitment we made.

David Bevan: As an ABC employee, I couldn't agree with you more, and I can't see why the ABC should be exempt from budget reviews like any other department. But I wasn't the one making the promise not to do this. Doesn't this amount to a broken promise?

Jamie Briggs: Well, firstly, I think we're putting the cart before the horse. I think what we've said is consideration of the efficiency within the ABC, and that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to cut. What it might mean is you may be able to get more in a more efficient, better way. And I think that's exactly what we're trying to accomplish.

Matthew Abraham: Or it may be cut. Malcolm Turnbull has said, look, it may be cut. Or you may get more bang for your buck. Existing buck. Just coming back to that pledge before there. It was a very clear—because Tony Abbott developed very powerfully the art of extremely sensitive messages—simple messages. It was probably why he's now Prime Minister. He developed very simple messages for people. What part of, you know, we will not cut health, we will not cut education, will not cut the ABC and SBS did people not understand?

Jamie Briggs: Again, I think you're putting the cart before the horse. I think what we're doing is what people elected us to do, and that is to put in place a plan to ensure that we can live within our means. And currently the federal budget is not living within its means. We've got a commission I've ordered, which will come back and make suggestions about how we can reduce expenditure but deliver the services that people expect, and I think the same can be said of the ABC. There's a level of service people expect from the ABC. Certain breakfast shows which provide relevant information for the day. But if we can deliver those services in a more efficient way, then of course that's what we should be doing. And that's exactly what this review's about.

David Bevan: Jamie Briggs, as a South Australian MP who has some country—some regional bits in his electorate, do you think there's potential here for parts of the country outside of Sydney and Melbourne to benefit from a review of the ABC's budget?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think that's where the ABC provides a really important service, particularly regional areas and the ABC plays a very important part in our society, undoubtedly, but I think what the Prime Minister has expressed in recent days is there has been some concern in recent times about some of the perceived issues that have been pursued. They're issues which are pursued at a national level. And, you know, I think people shouldn't be afraid to have that discussion. You know, it is a taxpayer funded organisation, of course, and we are all subject in public life to that sort of scrutiny. It does seem to me that people react in an over the top fashion, can I say, anytime that you question anything that happens at the ABC.

Matthew Abraham: Well, no, I suppose people, if they hear Tony Abbott say there will be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC or SBS, they'd be entitled to believe him. And you're now saying, well, because of the budget situation, everybody… the usual lines that get trotted out. I'm not saying they're right or wrong, I'm just saying people are probably entitled to believe that they're not being lied to when somebody says there will be no cuts to health, and there will be no cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC or SBS.

Jamie Briggs: Well, and again, we haven't announced cuts to the ABC or SBS. We've said let's have a look at how efficiently they're running, as we have with every arm of government. I mean, you can't ask, you cannot say to people we are going to be reducing the services that we necessarily provide at the same time as excluding certain elements of the federal budget.

Matthew Abraham: But wouldn't it have been better if he had said that, well, there may be cuts to the ABC, there may be cuts to SBS, there may be cuts to health, there may be cuts to education, because you can't exclude anything from considering the federal budget.

Would that have been more honest?

Jamie Briggs: Well, let's have a look when the efficiency review is conducted and finalised.

Matthew Abraham: Jamie Briggs, we thank you. Safe travels to your home town of Adelaide.

Jamie Briggs: Thank you, Matt, and thank you, David.

Matthew Abraham: Liberal MP for Mayo, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, Jamie Briggs.