Transcript of Interview, ABC News 24



13 March 2014

Capital Hill

Greg Jennett: An upgrade of national infrastructure is zooming into the fast lane of economic priorities. The Productivity Commission set down ideas on how to do it and the Assistant Infrastructure Minister has been telling Mark Simpkin which ideas he likes and which he doesn't.

Mark Simpkin: Jamie Briggs, thanks for joining us.

What do you think about this idea suggested by the Productivity Commission that motorists should be charged per kilometre travelled?

Jamie Briggs: Well, they are charged per kilometre travelled at the moment. It's just in a different form, because every time you fill up your tank you pay a charge through an excise. You also, in some cities, pay a toll to use certain roads and you pay registration. There are a series of taxes at the moment—about $18 billion, the Productivity Commission's draft report says, collected from motorists in different charges at the moment.

The question that the Productivity Commission draft report raises is whether there is a more effective way—or efficient way to raise that money on a revenue neutral basis to get better value for the spent? Now, the point I would make is—as you know clearly, the Liberal Party is the party of lower taxes. We are not going to put higher taxes on motorists.

But what the draft Productivity Commission report—the comprehensive 600 page report—says is that we have a system that is completely broken. The Labor Party left us a system which was costing at least a billion dollars a year more than it ought to in building infrastructure projects to ensure we have got infrastructure which can contribute to a stronger economy.

Mark Simpkin: As you say, the Liberal Party calls itself the party of lower taxes. It's also a party that calls itself a price signal party, a free market party, and the Productivity Commission says that these suggestions motorists already pay—it uses words—it's a contentious claim, because much of the revenue that its raised is not directly fee for use.

It says a fee for use would be a more transparent, better way of sending a price signal to motorists. So why wouldn't your Government embrace something like that?

Jamie Briggs: Sure. Well it wouldn't be us to do it in the first place, because we don't run, own or operate roads. The states do, and the local governments do, largely. So if this was going to be something which was worth pursuing, the state governments would have to demand it or trial it. The PC says you could look at trialling it at some stage in this draft report.

The draft report is throwing ideas out there for people to discuss and I'm sure that this discussion will evolve. This small recommendation has taken a lot of interest, of course. But the point we make is that this is a very important issue. We are spending $36 billion worth of taxpayers' money in the next few years to upgrade our infrastructure to deliver better economic outcomes for our people.

We want to do it in the most cost-effective way. We don't want to fall for the experience, as highlighted by the Productivity Commission of the previous Government's failed investment in the NBN, which—according to the Productivity Commission is the pin-up example of a failure in process, and a failure of economics in making the decisions to ensure you're getting the best value for taxpayers' money.

Mark Simpkin: Everyone seems to agree the fiscal pie is, well, shrinking. What then do you think of Ken Henry's arguments last night that say the GST must be raised, it is inevitable that it be raised?

Jamie Briggs: Well the GST is a state tax. It goes to the states to fund their services and if the states want –

Mark Simpkin: And it's collected by the Commonwealth.

Jamie Briggs: Sure, we act as a collection agency but it's a state tax ultimately. They - they're the ones who use all the revenue for the services they deliver. Look, if the states want to have a discussion about raising or changing the nature of the GST, I am sure they will raise it. We have looked to address the loophole, we think, of the tax which is not applied to imports of under $1,000.

The GST application, in that respect. That is something that has been raised in the appropriate forums through COAG and the Treasurer's conference already. But we want to ensure that Australians pay the least amount of tax they need to deliver the best services that they require. And that's why we have asked the Commission of Audit to tell us what it is that Government should be doing and what it is the Government can do.

Mark Simpkin: What can the Government do then? Ken Henry argues you can't afford an NDIS or a paid parental leave scheme, a very generous one, given the fiscal situation.

Jamie Briggs: Well the paid parental leave scheme pays for itself. The NDIS is something which is not yet on the budget. The Labor Party were good at this. The Labor Party were good at making claims outside of the forward estimates. Anthony Albanese claims often that there is so-called money that is not there anymore which was in the ga-ga land of post-estimates.

Post the time the Government budgets for. It's the same with the NDIS. So it is going to be an expensive and difficult task, but an important task, and one that we have committed to. So what we have to do is ensure that we are funding what is necessary, we think the NDIS is necessary. We think paid parental leave is necessary.

By ensuring that we are not spending money where we shouldn't be, and that was why we asked the Commission of Audit to look at the operations of Government. And in the budget you will see Joe Hockey outline a plan to ensure we have got the revenues required to pay for the services people need within living within its means.

Mark Simpkin: Jamie Briggs, we will have to leave it there. Thank you for your time.