Transcript of Interview: Radio National Breakfast

Interview

BPC034/2014

08 May 2014

Alison Carabine: Next week's Budget will reportedly include up to $10 billion for a range of infrastructure projects such as Sydney's WestConnex motorway and the East West Link in Melbourne. The Abbott Government says this infrastructure Budget will be the biggest on record. Jamie Briggs, the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, is speaking now with our political editor Alison Carabine.

Alison Carabine: Jamie Briggs, good morning.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning, Ali.

Alison Carabine: Jamie Briggs, can you confirm $10 billion will be in the Budget for infrastructure projects next week?

Jamie Briggs: Well, what I can confirm is that infrastructure will be at the heart of the budget next week. It'll be part of our growth strategy to build a stronger economy, to mean that people can get to and from their houses quicker so we can spend more precious time with our families, and that our economy will move more efficiently. And thus far we've already announced that there'll be $1.4 billion in the next four years for the Western Sydney plan we announced a couple of weeks ago, and today you will see that the Government has come to an arrangement with the New South Wales Government to bring forward the WestConnex Stage 2 project by 18 months, creating thousands of jobs, moving that vital project forward, you know, at least 18 months and ensuring that the benefits of that project will hit Sydneysiders as quickly as possible.

Alison Carabine: And I understand that the $2 billion for WestConnex will take the shape of a low-interest loan. Considering the struggling times in which we live, how quickly could that money be paid back to the Commonwealth?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, the details we will outline fully in the Budget, but it is an exciting innovation in the way that we are dealing with the states. You will remember, Ali, we contributed $1.5 billion to Stage 1 just in direct grant money to the New South Wales Government and the entity that's been established, but what we're doing in Stage 2 is using a concessional loan, up to $2 billion, that the New South Wales Government, the entity that's been established, will access and what it will do is bring forward the project by 18 months. Mid-next year we'll get that started…

Alison Carabine: So when will it be finished? When will it be open to traffic?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we would be hoping by the end of this decade that the whole—well, 1 and 2 will be working for people to access, and that is far in advance of what previously was predicted. And what we also think is that this may indeed see Stage 3 of the project, the final stage of the project, also be brought forward with the private sector being interested in doing all three. So this is a fantastic development for people in New South Wales and the New South Wales Government, particularly Mike Baird, who I've been working very closely with over the last few months on this, needs to be congratulated for his work.

Alison Carabine: But looking at infrastructure nationally, it has been reported that the Budget will include about $10 billion for infrastructure spending, and that will add to the $36 billion infrastructure investment program the Government already has. Is that still going to be enough to build all the roads and rail and ports that are needed to overcome the infrastructure deficit and lift productivity in this country?

Jamie Briggs: Well, good question, and that's why Tony Abbott will be remembered as the infrastructure Prime Minister because we are focused on this point. We are focused on getting this infrastructure built, and there'll be many announcements in the Budget, particularly across the country. There will be projects which will be focused on lifting productivity, but they'll also be focused on driving private sector investment as well, because governments can't do this on their own. State governments and Federal Governments can't do this on their own, but we want Australia to be growing more quickly, we want to be more productive and we want to create jobs, and this is what our plan will all be about.

Alison Carabine: So you will be providing extra funding for WestConnex in Sydney, it looks like also extra cash for the East West Link in Melbourne and the South Road project in your home state, South Australia. They are all major road developments. Is there no money at all for public transport from the Commonwealth?

Jamie Briggs: Well, what you'll see is, and as was announced by the Prime Minister last Friday at COAG, an initiative for the states to use their balance sheets more effectively and, if they do that, if they recycle assets, we've said—and they put that money into productive infrastructure—we'll pay a 15 per cent bonus to states for doing that, and what I think you'll see with that initiative is projects such as the Melbourne Metro, I imagine, will be the sorts of projects that will be funded in part by the initiative that we've moved with the states. I think, again, it's innovative. Joe Hockey and the Prime Minister have been working on this with their state counterparts and it will deliver additional infrastructure for the Australian people.

Alison Carabine: Jamie Briggs, wouldn't there be even more money for roads and transport infrastructure if the Government reintroduced the regular indexation of fuel excise? There is speculation that that is being considered for the Budget.

Jamie Briggs: Well, they're all matters I would urge you and your listeners to tune in on to the ABC on Tuesday night and listen and find out what exactly is in the Budget.

Alison Carabine: But isn't there a compelling argument to increase the excise, which John Howard froze, I think it was back in 2001? Without indexation, the Budget is about $5 billion a year worse off. Wouldn't you, as the Infrastructure Minister, love to get your hands on that kind of cash?

Jamie Briggs: Well, Ali, I appreciate the compliment on that I've moved into the Treasury portfolio, but I haven't, Joe Hockey is doing an outstanding job doing it.

Alison Carabine: Okay, you're helping out. You're the Assistant Infrastructure Minister.

Jamie Briggs: Well, as far as the revenue aspects of the Budget that'll of course be a matter that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer announce in the Budget and what we're about, what the Deputy Prime Minister and I have been about is putting together, with the states, the range of projects that we need to lift our productivity, to ensure that we've got jobs growth and that people can move around their cities, get back to their families as quickly as possible and that's what we've been focused on.

Alison Carabine: Jamie Briggs, much of the Budget talk has centred on deficit levy. Mathias Cormann is calling on people to trust the Government when it comes to Budget measures, but why should they when this is a clear breach of the numerous promises the Government made before the election that it wouldn't be lifting taxation?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think the point here is that we want to share the burden around. People I think would rightly be critical of the Government if it looked like only those who received government benefits were being targeted in a tight budget situation where we are trying to address the crisis we were left by the Labor Party. So what we've said very clearly and the Prime Minister has said very clearly for some time is that this is a Budget where the burden will be shared, where everyone will have to lift the weight of Labor's debt off their own back and for our kids future, because if we don't address this now our children are the ones who pay the price of Labor's extravagance.

Alison Carabine: But not everyone believes that we are facing a budget crisis and a number of your colleagues have made their displeasure quite clear. How do you now expect them to go out and sell this Budget on behalf of the Government when it includes such an unpopular measure rejected by, you know, considerable proportion of the Government's backbench?

Jamie Briggs: Well, let's see what's in the Budget firstly and all my colleagues know that we went to the election with an absolute commitment to fix the Budget, an absolute commitment.

Alison Carabine: But not to lift taxes.

Jamie Briggs: Well, an absolute commitment to fix the Budget. And what next Tuesday night will show is a plan to address the underlying issues in the Budget in the short, medium and long-term and at the heart of the Budget will be growth and infrastructure will be absolute essential ingredient to that plan. So I think next Tuesday night people will see a coherent plan, which will ensure that we meet our obligations that we made to the Australian people of delivering for the Australian people a Budget that is sustainable and an economy which is growing.

Alison Carabine: Jamie Briggs, another Budget decision is to close another six immigration detention centres, all of them on the mainland and that includes Inverbrackie in your Adelaide electorate of Mayo. Won't that disappoint your constituents? It has been described as the most humane and family friendly immigration detention centre in Australia. It's provided economic stimulus to your local economy around Woodside. Just briefly and finally, will you be sorry to see it go?

Jamie Briggs: No, we made the commitment at the election. I don't think people in my electorate will at all be sad for it to go. If people want to make a judgement about what my electorate's view on this was, at the election, where I took a very clear position that this would be closed if we were elected, in the two booths, Woodside and Oakbank booths, which are the two closest booths to the detention centre, where the so-called economic impact—which is just not true by the way—was affecting it, I got over 60 per cent of the primary vote, 10 per cent up from the last election. I think people's views in that area about what Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen did at the time are very clear. It was a symbol of the failure of Labor's border protection crisis that they developed. What Scott Morrison has delivered of course is he has, thus far, I think now for over four months, stopped boats arriving and therefore these facilities can be closed, saving millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.

Alison Carabine: Okay.

Jamie Briggs: And there is no economic benefit when you're paying higher tax to create detention facilities that people don't want.

Alison Carabine: Jamie Briggs, thanks for all the crisis talk and we'll talk with you again soon on Radio National Breakfast.

Jamie Briggs: Thanks Ali.

James Carleton: Ali Carabine with the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure.