Transcript of Interview, 4BC Mornings

Interview

BPC009/2014

13 March 2014

Patrick Condren: Plenty of chat this morning about the proposal, the possibility that the Federal Government might whack an extra charge onto motorists to help pay for infrastructure, for road and various other bits and pieces. Jamie Briggs is the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure. He's in Canberra this morning. Mr Briggs, good morning.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning.

Patrick Condren: What are you suggesting? Is the Federal Government really considering an extra charge on motorists to pay on existing—to use existing roads? I'll get a question out of there eventually.

Jamie Briggs: Thanks for the question. The Federal Government isn't actually responsible for any of this. This is a report from the Productivity Commission, a draft report, in fact, which has been released today, and we are receiving that report. It now goes out to public consultation and a final report will come out in late May which will make recommendations on how we can reduce the cost…

Patrick Condren: Yeah, but the Federal Government is in charge of responding to that report and developing policies around it.

Jamie Briggs: Well, in part. Firstly, when it comes to charging for roads— which currently happens and your listeners at the moment pay charges to use roads either directly through tolls in Brisbane or indirectly through fuel tax and registration alike—that is run by the state government, and ultimately the state governments will make those decisions. So there's no prospect the Federal Government will apply a charge in any event—an additional charge for existing infrastructure. I can very clearly rule that out for you.

But what the Productivity Commission report, the draft report which is out today, canvasses is that there a better way to collect the revenue which is collected at the moment to be used to ensure that our roads are performing as well as they should be, are kept updated as well as they should be so we can have a stronger and more prosperous economy.

Patrick Condren: So what does that mean in layman's language?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it means at the moment you—for instance, every time you fill up your fuel tank, you pay a fuel—you pay excise.

Patrick Condren: Well, an arm and a leg in Brisbane at the moment.

Jamie Briggs: Well, that's right and a percentage of that is a tax which goes to—contributes to, in part, the maintenance of roads throughout Australia. What the PC is arguing, and this is their argument they've put out there today in this draft report, is that there may be a better way, a more efficient way of if you abolish that tax, collecting it through a direct payment which would then lead to giving you more information about which specific roads need better upgrades, which roads are being used more, where there's…

Patrick Condren: But there's no guarantee at the moment—and sorry for interrupting you—there's no guarantee at the moment that the money collected at the fuel pump, that tax collected at the fuel pump goes towards roads, is there?

Jamie Briggs: No, that's right, because there is no hypothecation under the federal or state budget. So you can't have direct payments but, in effect, across the country, the PC report says each year there's about $18 billion collected in fuel taxes, in registration charges, and in tolls and about $19.5 billion is spent on new roads, maintenance of existing roads, and private contributions to roads.

Patrick Condren: So if that tax—if those taxes and charges that you speak of were 100 per cent redirected towards roads, that logically then would mean that some other area of government responsibility would miss out.

Jamie Briggs: Well, I don't think that is the best way to look at it. What the report is seeking to do and what the government, importantly, is seeking to do in asking for the report in the first place is to get an indication about what reforms can we put in place to reduce the cost of building infrastructure in Australia. We have become a very high cost economy and, importantly, what the report shows is that the current system, left to us by Labor and Anthony Albanese, is broken and costing taxpayers billions of dollars more than it ought to each year, and that's something that we need to give serious consideration to.

The user charging aspect of it is a small element of the report which is making some suggestions about a more efficient…

Patrick Condren: It might be a small element from your perspective, but for the user, it's a big element, I would suggest.

Jamie Briggs: Well, it currently is, if I can make that point, and from the users' perspective, the consumer of the roads at the moment, what this report says is that they are paying higher tax at the moment and getting less value than they ought to be from the work that we do on our roads, and that's what the report is all about. The system is broken at the moment, the system of choosing, of planning, and of implementing infrastructure projects is not as efficient as it ought to be.

What we are trying to do is get better value for taxpayers' money so we can have better roads for the consumers you're talking about so that they can get better value for their taxpayers money in the first place, they can get to and from work quicker and our economy can function more effectively, which is part of the plan and why Tony Abbott will be remembered as the infrastructure Prime Minister.

Patrick Condren: And on that happy note, we'll leave it there. Mr Briggs, thank you for your time this morning.

Jamie Briggs, the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure.