Joint Press Conference with Mr Will Hodgman MP Tasmanian Leader of the Opposition

Interview

BPC004/2014

03 February 2014

Corner of Summerleas Road/Huon Highway, Kingston, Tasmania
Subjects: Infrastructure investment

Jamie Briggs

It's a great pleasure to be here in Tasmania today with Will Hodgman and Ryan Gidding to talk about our investment in Tasmania through our Infrastructure Investment Programme: $650 million directly to build the roads of the 21st Century and the freight corridors to ensure that we can get the economic prosperity into the future. There is more money too for our Roads to Recovery and Black Spots Programmes and our New Bridge Programme which we announced during the election campaign - taking it to about $800 million investment in Tasmania.

There is also of course $180 billion Economic Development Fund that we announced during the election campaign which of course this morning we've also announced some contracts which have now been signed to start paying out that money, developing the Tasmanian economy so we can have higher economic growth, more productivity and higher living standards. The Abbott Government is committed to growing the economy across our nation and Tasmania is a special case in that respect. We want Tasmania to perform better economically, create more jobs, more opportunity and we'll invest heavily with the Tasmanian Government to build a stronger and more productive economy, particularly focusing on the infrastructure of the 21st Century. It is a great privilege to be here and to take a very important part of the Abbott's agenda to build a stronger Australia. Will, do you want to say anything?

Will Hodgman

Just briefly Jamie, thank you very much, not only for that tremendous contribution to Tasmania's infrastructure and also to our economic future but also, for being here today. Can I make the point that it's always going to be that Tasmania will get better outcomes if we work cooperatively with our Federal Government. We have had terrible scare campaigns - in fact, just a few weeks ago Labor were denying that this project would come to reality under an Abbott Government… well that being proven to be wrong, we've predicted a scare campaign every day, and that's what we've had from Labor.

The truth is that these projects are being funded by a Federal Government that is interested in seeing Tasmania become a more self-reliant economy, one with strong infrastructure but also a strong platform for creating jobs. I'm delighted to be here with Jamie representing the Federal Government today. My message to Tasmanians is that the best results will come to this state if we work with the cooperatively with the Federal Government and that is something that I am committed to doing. Have you got any questions for Jamie?

Reporter

What is the announcement today? How much money will be allocated to Tasmanian infrastructure projects and where? Why are we here today?

Jamie Briggs

In the press release we have issued there is the spread of money we are allocating: $400 million to the Midland Highway, $17.5 million to this project, $119 million to Tasmanian freight revitalisation in the railway and a range of other projects. What we're doing now is entering negotiations with state governments across the country to lock down the profile of spending on those projects. In Tasmania, a vast bulk of the projects, unlike most of the other states, are an 80:20 split - but we're working with the Tasmanian Government. We've had some discussions at the departmental level with the Tasmanian Government. Realistically, we will deal with whoever wins on the 15th March election in Tasmania but let me make very clear, the Abbott Government's intention is to work cooperatively with states.

We want to work hand in glove with states to lift the economic activity across the country. Australia has got a productivity problem and Tasmania is at the forefront of that productivity problem. Australia has got an unemployment challenge in the future, unless we start to address that productivity challenge. Unfortunately Tasmania again is at the forefront of the employment challenge so we want to look at ways to create productivity, increase our productivity, increase our economic opportunity so that you can get all of fantastic agricultural products to market reasonably through better freight, rail and road investments and that's what we're looking to do.

Reporter

[Inaudible]… Is that how we're viewed in Canberra… as sort of, the runt of the litter?

Jamie Briggs

Well, the economic statistics indicate that Tasmania is not performing as well as it should be. My home state of South Australia is not performing as well as it should be. The federation works best when states are performing as well as they should be. The point I was making this morning was that the days of governments funding individual businesses or certain sectors are passing and it is now a time when we need to put in place reforms which ensure all businesses can do as well as they possibly can.

I think Tasmania has a bright future if the right policies are put in place. There are terrific assets on this island which I don't think we have been making the most of. The point that the Federal Government will continue to make is we're happy to make investments in key infrastructure, investments in programmes that will ensure people can make the most…but we want to do it so that it's an economy wide thing, not just a focus on particular industries or businesses.

Reporter

On the … Highway, the previous schedule was going to spread new investment over 10 years…? What sort of timeframe are you looking at?

Jamie Briggs

Ours is spread over 10 years as well and that's partly because you need to roll out the projects. We'll work with the Tasmanian Government on what the priority projects are with the highway but we want to upgrade it, we're committed to it. I know there are proposals around in relation to bypasses and old systems and so forth. We're happy to talk to the Tasmanian Government, particularly I think when the cloud of the election campaign is through and working towards our Federal Budget about what the profile of that funding will involve.

Reporter

Would you expect any money, though, in the next Federal Budget?

Jamie Briggs

Indeed, there will be at least $200 million over the next four years for projects. That will largely be split on an 80:20 basis.

Reporter

[Inaudible…]

Jamie Briggs

We've signed, last week, with Huon Aquaculture for their $3.5 million facility. We also signed for a community project in Dunalley, for their community hall after it was destroyed in a bushfire last year. There are others which are not far away, including an irrigation scheme in the north west, which we are hoping to sign off on very shortly.

Reporter

[Inaudible]

Jamie Briggs

I don't think taxpayers' money should be gushed out without due care but… the proposals that have been put up for the $100 million…some of the projects are more ready to go than others. In fact, some of the projects listed, which were done by the former government, or announced by the former government, there was very little if not any process associated with…so I think, as the responsible minister, it is appropriate that you ensure the taxpayers' money is spent appropriately, so we are working through a value for money test on all these projects. I don't think it is taking too long to be spent or to be contracted because we want to make sure we're getting value for Australian taxpayers.

Reporter

Is it likely though that anyone who was promised money isn't going to end up getting it? It seems unlikely to me?

Jamie Briggs

It is unlikely but we want to ensure that we are getting value for the project that we put up.

Reporter

Do you expect to give the pre-existing promise or do you plan to scale that back?

Jamie Briggs

No, we're not looking to make savings but we're looking to get value and that means ensuring that the plans presented to the Federal Government by the proponents are worked through and we think are getting the best value for taxpayers' money.

Reporter

In terms of the contracts that you've signed in the past few days, have they all been for the same amount that was previously promised?

Jamie Briggs

Yes

Reporter

[Inaudible]

Jamie Briggs

Sure, we can get you some detail on…[inaudible]…
It's to upgrade the facilities and I think in the construction phase, there are a certain amount of jobs. I think it was 100 from memory that would be part of that construction of new facilities to process the fish, obviously and then ongoing, enlarging the operations so there'll be ongoing permanent employment to take advantage of the opportunities they've got.

Reporters

If you take your time though and go through the motions and end up paying exactly the same amount of money on the exactly the same businesses as Labor promised, how can we see it as anything but just political stalling?

Jamie Briggs

No, we're not taking our time. In fact, if the Labor Party had been elected in September last year, they would be taking the same amount of time. Under the Financial Management Act at the federal government level you've got a process you must follow to ensure that you're getting value for money so this is not a Labor/Liberal thing, this is a process which the Auditor-General would require of all of us - and as a taxpayer you would understand the importance of doing that.

Reporter

Where are the other projects in the $100 million dollars up to in that process? Are we likely to see more announcements before the state election?

Jamie Briggs

Well I think the Dial Blythe scheme, for instance, is very close. We hope to sign that off sometime this week or next week if we can so it is very close. Others are over a range of time. I couldn't tell you exactly where each one off the top of my head but we are working through the official level with proponents… Sometimes it's a matter of the information coming from the proponents takes longer than you would hope. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting more detailed information to be able to sign off on the contract.

Reporter

When you have to have them signed off…?

Jamie Briggs

Well as soon as possible but in a reasonable fashion as well. I mean we have money allocated in the Budget to spend for this. It's not the practice of the Federal Government to allocate money with the intention of not spending it so it makes no sense for us to hold onto it but it does make sense to ensure that we're getting the value for money.

Reporter

You said on radio this morning that whoever wins the Tasmanian election will have to make some tough decisions. Can you elaborate on that a little bit more?

Jamie Briggs

I guess the point I was making earlier is that Tasmanian's economic performance is not up to scratch and Tasmania has a choice in that respect if they want to continue down the path they're going then they don't want a change. But if they want a change, it's a time to have a look at what alternatives there are out there and I think you have to have a look at the structure of the economy if it's not performing well enough. Tasmania does have challenges no doubt but the country has challenges.

When the Federal Government is carrying $500 billion of Labor debt, you cannot expect forever that taxpayers in other states will willingly accept paying higher tax to fund the states which are not looking after themselves. It is time for all of us to think about what are the structures in our economy which can make it stronger and the state election is the perfect time for us to make a judgement on that.

Reporter

Do you think that Tasmania deserves to get the share of GST it does at the moment?

Jamie Briggs

It's not a matter of deserve. That's the policy that people have taken to the election but the point is, it's not a matter of how much tax allocation you get. It's how well your economy is performing and to drive higher economic growth, you need to have job opportunities for more Tasmanians to live and work here. There is no future in locking your state out with no economic prospect. People are not going to stay in Tasmania if they don't have a prospect of a job or to create a business and create their own prosperity. We want to create the circumstances where people have the ambition to do that, not just in Tasmania but across our country.

Reporter

[Inaudible]

Jamie Briggs

Well, I say that Richard Colbeck's the relevant spokesperson so Richard has the details about why we made those announcements but the general proposition, I do agree with. If you want Tasmania to be successful, you can't just automatically say no. I think you have to have a predisposition to say yes sometimes, where the evidence is that you can. As I say, I'm not an expert on what has been locked up and so forth previously. That's a matter for Richard. I know Richard and I know that he wants a proper process to ensure that there is the opportunity for jobs to be created, at the same time as protecting necessary environmental assets. And that is a fine balance, no doubt. But I think Richard Colbeck is a person with a great care for Tasmania and a great care for the people of Tasmania and there is a real balance.

Reporter

Future in tourism industry…[inaudible]

Jamie Briggs

I have no doubt about that… That is the point here, I mean there is a balance no doubt but if you get the balance wrong, you end up with the highest unemployment and the lowest GDP per person and a rapidly ageing population without any job prospects. So there is a balance. No doubt you have to protect the necessary assets, environmental assets, but you can't lock your state up. That's been tried and I say it's failed.

Reporter

Should we also look at saying yes to privatising some of our government owed assets?

Jamie Briggs

Well that's a matter for the states ultimately. They own and… [inaudible]

Reporter

The Commonwealth would like future governments to have an open mind about that though wouldn't they?

Jamie Briggs

Well the Treasurer has put some proposals to the current governments across the country. If you want some additional infrastructure investment, this is one way to recycle (so called) capital which is on state government books so…but ultimately we can't force, and we won't force but the Treasurer has indicated and the Prime Minister has indicated he will put propositions in future meetings to treasurers and premiers about how you unlock some of that capital on books to invest productive infrastructure. So of course we've made that clear. Ultimately, though, that is a matter for state governments across the country to make decisions on. Thank you guys.