Transcript of Interview: Sky News PM Agenda with David Speers

Interview

BPC033/2014

06 May 2014

David Speers: With me now is the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, Jamie Briggs, in Sydney this afternoon. Thanks for your time. Is the advice of the former treasurer, Peter Costello, akin to that of a corner store deli owner?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, advice from Peter is always welcome. He was a terrific treasurer. He delivered surplus budgets nearly every year that he was the treasurer. He had a Labor debt issue to deal with. Not as bad as…

David Speers: So he knows what he's talking about here.

Jamie Briggs: Not as bad as the Labor debt crisis we face today or the deficit that we face today.

David Speers: Well, he says it's worse, actually. He says he inherited debt to GDP ratio worse than you have.

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, old footballers claim that the standard used to be better than the current group, as well, too, David. So, you've always got to take it with a pinch of salt. Look, without question, Peter did an outstanding job as part of a government which did an outstanding job. It's just such a pity that the damage that was done in the last six year—a mere six years of Labor—now requires such a difficult task from us to fix it.

David Speers: Well, do you agree or disagree with his central arguments here that this debt levy is not going to touch the sides, I think were his words, of the debt problem and the interest bill you face, put a dampener on the economy, and then be one hell of a big political problem in this broken promise.

Jamie Briggs: Well, what I do agree with is that we were elected to fix the budget. What I do agree with is that next Tuesday night, Joe Hockey will hand down a plan to do that. It will be a plan that shares the burden; it will be a plan that ensures that not only lower and middle income earners in our country who will face reductions in payments that they have become used to. That they're not the only ones sharing the burden. That across all income streams, people need to pay for Labor's mess. When they got $900 free cheques some years ago…

David Speers: So, just on that, how do you ensure that those who don't receive family tax benefits and the like? Those on high incomes do share the burden.

Jamie Briggs: Well, that's the show that you'll need to tune into on Sky News next Tuesday night, David, and find out from the Treasurer himself when he outlines that next Tuesday night at 7.30, to preview your program for you. But it will be a difficult budget. It will be a budget which the next day, there won't be claims that we didn't do the heavy lifting. There will be everyone in our community who feels a price of Labor, and sadly, that is the damage they did over six years. Our challenge, and what we said at the election, is that we would fix that, and we would grow the economy quicker. And what you'll see in the Budget next week as well is a comprehensive plan to build the infrastructure of the 21st century to ensure that we can be growing as quickly as we ought to be and we're as productive as we should be.

David Speers: Okay. Let me ask you directly, though. There's been so much focus on this debt levy. Is it your understanding that a decision—I'm not asking you to tell us what it is—that a decision has been made or not?

Jamie Briggs: Well, that is a matter for the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, and I'll let them answer those questions in good time. But the decisions to ensure that we are fixing the Budget have been going on for months. Joe Hockey—the Prime Minister himself has chaired the ERC process. Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister, who's doing an outstanding job, as you know, have been working day and night to put together a comprehensive economic action agenda—action strategy…

David Speers: That they haven't finished the job seems to be clear.

Jamie Briggs: Well, as Peter Costello, who delivered 11 of these budgets, said this morning that right up until the end, you are still playing with particularly the revenue numbers, as you get advice from Treasury towards… So, that is normal practice, David. That is normal practice. But the fundamentals of the Budget are locked away. The fundamentals of the approach of the Government is locked away, and next Tuesday night, you'll see a comprehensive story about that.

David Speers: Let me turn to your portfolio in particular.

Jamie Briggs: Yes.

David Speers: Because we know this is one area where we will see some budget goodies, in infrastructure. And the Government—the Federal Government is really trying to encourage the states to recycle assets. Sell off assets. You're giving them an incentive to then invest in new infrastructure assets. Now, the Victorian Government seems to have taken up that idea in their Budget delivered today, and some $27 billion in infrastructure measures. A metro train tunnel the centrepiece of this. Will there be one cent of Federal Government support for a metro rail tunnel?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it depends on how they're funding it. Can I first say that congratulations to Michael O'Brien on delivering a budget in surplus. It's been a long time for people to read those words and actually see a budget be delivered with a surplus, so congratulations to Michael. I think it’s a terrific budget, from what I've seen. I think there's $27 billion worth of infrastructure investment in Victoria, which is what we want. We want state governments to be part of the story. When it comes to the Melbourne metro, if the Victorian Government is using proceeds of an asset that they're taking to the market, they will of course be able to talk to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister about getting approval for that as part of the asset recycling initiative.

David Speers: But aren't you philosophically opposed to federal funding of urban rail?

Jamie Briggs: No. What we've said all along is that we will fund heavily road projects and freight rail, and next Tuesday night, you will see a very heavy commitment to that task. And what it will do is free up…

David Speers: But there is scope for urban rail?

Jamie Briggs: No. We are doing freight rail and roads, and what that does is allow the states—it frees up money for the states to be able to use on public transport. And you've seen that today, indeed, in Michael O'Brien's own Budget. Because we are contributing more to the East West Link, getting the second part of East West Link going with $1.5 billion additional dollars on top of the 1.5 we'd already committed to the first stage, that is freeing up money for the Victorians to not only get important infrastructure projects underway and happening and delivered, but it means that they can also have additional flexibility in their budget to do the public transport task, which is and has always been a state government task.

David Speers: Now, I just want to ask you finally while it's good to see Victoria getting into surplus, when you look at all of the states put together, their debt is mounting up. And the Grattan Institute, as I'm sure you'll be aware, has had a look at this and it's identified as a problem too much investment in infrastructure that goes on for years, costs billions and billions, and one figure they pointed out which is a bit alarming is that they estimate one in every ten dollars of state revenue is now going into funding these infrastructure projects and their debt burden as well, and that's up from about six per cent back in 2008. Is there too much debt and infrastructure spending funded by debt going on?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it's a good question, David, and it's an interesting report, and I had a look at it yesterday when it was released. I think there are a couple of things I'd say. Back in 2008, the screams from economic commentators, some from the Opposition federally during that period, was that there wasn't enough infrastructure investment going on. And now there has been no doubt in the last few years an increase in that.

It is important to invest in productive infrastructure, which gets to the second point I'd make, and addresses one of the issues raised in the Grattan report, where they raise concern about the choice of infrastructure project. And I think it's a very good point, and I make this point often. What we are going to do is choose infrastructure projects which have got major economic benefit to our country. Not pink batt projects, not school halls that aren't wanted. We're going to fund projects which have good economic cases, which will increase our productivity, increase our economic activity, and grow our country quicker than what it is at the moment.

That is exactly what you'll see next Tuesday night in the Budget, and that's what I think the reforms we're making to Infrastructure Australia are allowing the state governments to also do. So you'll see not only projects which are for the public good, like many public transport projects are, but also roads which lift our productivity output and ensure that we grow quicker than we are at the moment. That is exactly our economic action strategy we'll be talking about next week.

David Speers: We look forward to seeing all of that detail on Tuesday night. The Assistant Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

Jamie Briggs: Thanks, David. Good on you.