Transcript of Interview: 100 King William Street, Adelaide SA

Interview

BPC036/2014

08 May 2014

Jamie Briggs: Well, thank you. Thanks for being here. Back in 2010, October 2010 when the Gillard Government announced out of the blue that they'd be establishing a detention facility in the Adelaide Hills at Inverbrackie, we said at the time that it was a symbol of the failure of the Gillard Government to control our borders and we said we would close it down, if we were elected, and we got to put in place measures we believed would work to stop the boats arriving.

We took that to the election last year. We were very clear at the election that if we were elected and we put in place the measures we believed would stop the boats, we would be able to shut the Inverbrackie detention facility and in December this year, that facility will be closed along with a number of other facilities across Australia as a symbol of the policy working. A policy that the Immigration Minister and the Prime Minister have put in place, is working and we will be able to shut these detention facilities, fulfilling an election commitment that we made very clearly at the last election. Costing Australian taxpayers millions of dollars —nearly $100 million spent on Inverbrackie. That money will be saved. The misery of people getting on boats and dying at sea is being stopped and we'll be able to, again, control our borders as the Australian Government should. And so it's a very good day, it's a day we said we would follow through on. And today we announce that Inverbrackie will close later this year as we committed to.

Question: Do you expect the people that are there presently – that that facility will be absolutely cleared out of any detainees before they are closed? Or will they just simply be moved on?

Jamie Briggs: Well, you would hope in the next few months, obviously, that people who are there are constantly being processed. It's a revolving door in a sense, and those processes will continue and their applications will be considered and where they are resolved in the affirmative they'll obviously go through the refugee process, and where there are other outcomes they'll go through the normal process.

That's obviously a matter the Immigration Minister will handle but I understand there's about 300 in the facility at the moment. Obviously the pressure on the detention network is being relieved because the amount of people arriving is reducing significantly and that gives us a flexibility, obviously, to manage that process in the coming months.

Question: What happens to the real estate there at Inverbrackie?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it's owned by Defence Housing not by Defence. There will obviously be considerations about what we do in that respect but I would hope it's used for something which will benefit the community. There has been a lot of money spent on those houses in the last couple of years. As I say, it's been up to nearly $100 million spent on operation and also lifting the quality of the houses. So I think, and I'd be interested in the community's view on this, but I think it could be used for something like an aged care facility. It's the sort of type of facility you could turn into that type of separated living but with the services around it which would support it. So, certainly I don't want to see it just sit there. That would be a waste and it would be a waste of taxpayers’ money now there's been so much spent, but I think there is an opportunity and the community should have a role in making that decision.

Question: So you're saying the Defence owners of it would divest that investment? It would go into private hands?

Jamie Briggs: Well look, we'll have to have that discussion and I'll talk to my colleague Stuart Robert who's the Assistant Defence Minister and is responsible for these matters. But if Defence don't want to use it for Defence housing, and that's a presumption, they hadn't been using it before Inverbrackie was established and I'm presuming that's still the case, then I would want to see it used for a good purpose and I think there is an opportunity there.

Question: So will taxpayers ever get their investment in the security and everything else back? Or is that money down the drain.

Jamie Briggs: Well look, a lot of the money, a lot of the $100 million were operational costs, so this has been one of the issues with the border protection issue—that with all the boats that arrive, the costs the taxpayers pay runs into the many millions of dollars. In fact the billions of dollars, the blowouts have been. So I think, now that there has been all this money invested in this facility and these places look and are, you know, it's a terrific place to be, I think there is an opportunity to ensure we've got some community infrastructure in that part of the Adelaide Hills.

Question: If you go to (inaudible) decommission of this detention centre…do they simply go into Nauru or Manus Island?

Jamie Briggs: Look, that's a matter for the Immigration Minister but obviously there are people who are still being processed towards the end of the year. There is availability across the Australian network, as I've said, because the boats have stopped arriving, the pressure's not on the network as it were. And the people—there would be opportunities for them to be transferred to other parts of Australia as I understand but as I say, that's a matter for Scott to deal with.

Question: You worry about people being processed but isn't there a freeze on processing? The Greens say that there is.

Jamie Briggs: Well as I understand, and again this is a matter for the Immigration Minister, but the normal processing of the people who were in the system before we came into Government is occurring.

Question: When it's closed in December, do you anticipate there to be an overlap in the sense of what you're hoping to be there now, aged care facility, Defence, whatever. Will it be empty for a time or do you hope that the new purposes will be there once it closes?

Jamie Briggs: Well look, that's a good question and I think we need to firstly establish what Defence intends to do with it. So that's a question we'll need to work through after the Budget, on what Defence Housing wants to do with that parcel of land. Of course, Defence Housing has assets all over the country so this is only a small part of it. But yeah, my early discussions in the months leading up to this with the intention of always closing Inverbrackie was that this potentially could be something like an aged care facility. Now, if you made that decision you would think it would take a little while to adjust the area to be able to handle that and obviously there would be commercial negotiations and so forth but I make the point I don't want it to sit there when there has been so much Government money, taxpayers’ money spent on this facility. It seems a waste now that that money has been spent and there is need.

Question: Do you have any estimate of what it will be worth?

Jamie Briggs: No, I don't.

Question: Minister, would you concede though that, in many respects, Inverbrackie and the detainees there over the years have been good for the local community and in some respects the local community's been good for these displaced people and this could be another culture shock for all concerned?

Jamie Briggs: Well, there's been very little integration, or interaction I should say, between the community and the centre, of course. Some of the children have been going to the school. But they revolve, Mike, kids haven't been there for a three year period of going through the school system. They go in there while they're being processed and then they go off to, if they're successful in their application and get refugee status, often refugees are moved to the bigger cities. Most often Sydney, sometimes Melbourne, sometimes Adelaide but it's usually where there's the scale and the capacity for those people in their community to get the services they need.

So they don't ever stay in the Adelaide Hills for obvious reasons, the services just aren't available. Look, there has been obviously different views in the community about this centre for a long time but overwhelmingly allowing policies which encourage people onto boats, put people smugglers in charge of our immigration detention—our immigration system I should say, is not a policy we support and Inverbrackie was a symbol of that.

Question: Of the 300 or so detainees who are in there, how many are likely to be sent offshore?

Jamie Briggs: Look, I don't know the answer to that. That's a matter that Scott Morrison, who is the Immigration Minister, will handle.

Question: In your travels as this local member, has it really been a consistently raised issue with you, subsequent to [indistinct] it has now and obviously a lot of anger as a result of the announcement by Parliament but over the years do you think, you know, that has sort of died down, there isn't that ill feeling anymore?

Jamie Briggs: Well look, I think there are different views. There are those who have always been opposed to it, and have been critical of how long it's taken us to close the facility. There are those who are ambivalent about it, and always pretty much have been. And there are those who are for it, and that is true. The Adelaide Hills mayor is for it, and the Adelaide Hills mayor is for open borders as well. So, you know, he has a different view of the world. But, you know, if you want to look at the latest indication of public poll on what they think in that area, well last federal election where my position was, we would close it. At the Oakbank and Woodside booths, my primary vote was over 60 per cent, it was 10 per cent up from the previous election. So if people were opposed to my position, and they thought it was good for the area, I would have thought they would have gone the other way.

Question: Minister, just on another topic, can you outline— or give us an indication of changes to fuel excise in next Tuesday's Budget?

Jamie Briggs: Well Mike, I appreciate the compliment, but I'm not the Treasurer. The Treasurer will outline the Budget on Tuesday night…

Question: Do you think there will be changes, and if so, if there are changes is that fair? Or—we keep hearing what a fair Budget this is going to be, how would that be fair on motorists? Long-suffering motorists.

Jamie Briggs: Well, look. I'll make a couple of points. Firstly, what we said at the election is we will fix the budget. That was our overwhelming message to the electorate last September, is that if you elected the Coalition you would get a government that would put in place the changes to ensure that we are living within our means. You also have a government that said we would build the infrastructure to ensure that we can grow quicker than what we are. And so motorists will see enormous benefit from the program we're putting in place from next week, including here in Adelaide. There will be projects across the country to ensure that we are, you know, building the infrastructure which supports the economy we want to have. The Budget will be very difficult. It will be a very difficult document, and many people—if not everyone will complain, because everyone will share the burden, but…

Question: Including motorists?

Jamie Briggs: Including—everyone in our society will pay a price for the decadence of Labor.

Question: Well, can you rule it out?

Jamie Briggs: I'm not the Treasurer. And the Treasurer will rule in and rule out next Tuesday night. But what I will say is that we need people to understand that the direction we are taking the country in is for the benefit of our children. Because if we continue to borrow money to pay for services today, it's our kids who pay in the future. And so everyone will have to share the burden, not everyone's going to like it. But in the end I say to people: this is what we were elected to do, and that's what we will do.

Question: Infrastructure is a big part of the Budget though. Isn't it fair that motorists pay?

Jamie Briggs: Well, motorists pay now. And they pay through fuel excise as Mike rightly mentions. And they pay through registration costs, in some cities they pay through private sector tolling arrangements. In Sydney you pay for many roads that you drive on, in addition to the normal tax collection. But what we're going to do is ensure that we've got roads which people can move on more easily, more efficient, and are building the economic capacity of our country. That's the big focus.

Question: Can you talk about any deal or otherwise – money to the South Road development?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we said in October—the Prime Minister announced that we wanted to do both projects in Adelaide, both Torrens project and the Darlington project. We'd obviously committed $500 million at the election to the Darlington project. Following the election, there was obviously a difference of view between the state and our proposal. We have been working tirelessly with the government—there were a couple of months there where it was difficult to work with a government who was going through the caretaker mode. So there was a bit of, I guess, log jam for a little while. But I'm confident on Budget night we'll be able to outline a plan which ensures both projects are achieved. And that's what we're working towards.

Question: Minister, you've said today that the cat was out of the bag when the Prime Minister was here…

Jamie Briggs: In October?

Question: Well, going back some time. I can't remember the exact date. But there was always an indication…

Jamie Briggs: 26 October, I think it was.

Question: …there was always an indication that this was a long-term project, it was never really mentioned back then that it would be in this Budget. Clearly it is, for both ends of South Road. So it just became a political football.

Jamie Briggs: Well, no, we were convinced, or the Prime Minister was convinced, that we needed to do both projects. We didn't want to have endless slanging matches with the State Government about which was more important, because we think they're both important. And then there is still more to do on South Road, as you know, and even when these two projects are delivered. But it's been a matter of ensuring that we are able to put in place a plan which will see delivery, and not just announcement. And that's what we've been doing. Not just here, but across the country.

Question: But the Premier—and I've heard him say several times during the state election campaign, that if by chance Labor get back in, this project would be back on the books. This is just all part of politicking. And he said that continually, and that's exactly what's happened.

Jamie Briggs: Well, I'm glad the Premier has finally accepted that Darlington's an important project, though. I mean, you know, it was the Prime Minister who said in October that we should do both projects. It hasn't been the Premier saying that. Now, in fairness, and particularly since the election I've been working away with Stephen Mulligan, who I think has been someone who's been very good to deal with, and I'm confident we can put together a plan which will see delivery and not just announcement, and announce next Tuesday night.

Question: Okay. So you're confirming it, that Tuesday night, that projects will be the go.

Jamie Briggs: Well, no…

Question: You're effectively saying that.

Jamie Briggs: Well, what I'm confirming is we already had a $500 million commitment to Darlington in our Budget costings. We've indicated since that—in our election costings, we've indicated since that time in October we'd like to do both projects, so we clearly indicated at that stage that we were broadening our ambition and I think on Tuesday night, I think we'll—I'm hopeful that we'll have the detail to be able to outline to South Australians on how we're delivering.

Question: This is like pulling teeth. All you have to say is yes, it's a goer next Tuesday night for both projects and then we won’t ask anymore questions.

Jamie Briggs: When it's a goer, Mike, we'll tell you that it's a goer.

Question: Is there a quid pro quo with the state government on the funding side of the equation announcement?

Jamie Briggs: That obviously gets to the point that Mike's pushing me on. These things are not cheap. There have been numerous estimations on the Darlington project. We paid—the Federal Government, with the federal taxpayer, paid for a plan which we received not many weeks ago now, not long after the state election. It took longer than what I'd hoped, but we've got that plan now. We're working that through. And of course it relates to additional money. You're not going to get the two projects done for the same amount.

But I make the point about the Federal Budget, which is that clearly we are investing in infrastructure across the country and Adelaide will not miss out. In fact, we will get more than our fair share in delivering the roads of the 21 century and I think you'll be very pleased on Tuesday.

Question: So is that a 50/50 split or an 80/20 split for any extra funds?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we've still got to finalise our arrangement with the South Australian Government.

Question: Okay. So if the South Australian—if you say it's 50/50 and they say well, hang on, we haven't got the 50 that you need, then it could all fall over.

Jamie Briggs: Well, we don't want it to fall over. This is not about playing a political game of blaming one against another. What I've been trying to do with Stephen Mulligan is put together something that we can stand by together on Tuesday night because I think South Australians want to see action and not just discussion. But it'll—I say it again, I mean, one of the things that frustrates the Prime Minister enormously is the time it takes to get projects underway, and we've been working very hard to make sure that this project doesn't take longer than it ought to.

Question: Are you looking inside a 10 year window there, which is the biggest scope for it?

Jamie Briggs: Absolutely.

Question: So five years, seven years?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I would hope these projects can be underway and built as quickly as possible. Obviously the quicker you do it, the less pain it is for motorists, and if you're doing substantial works on a couple of parts of a main arterial, it's going to cause a few people to be unhappy about that. But in the end, the outcome, I think, will be for a stronger state, a stronger economy, and a better place.

Question: So will we pay more for petrol?

Jamie Briggs: Well, again, you can ask the Treasurer about that on Tuesday night if, indeed, that is what the plan is.

Thanks guys.