Transcript of Interview: SKY News Australia, PVO News Hour



12 May 2014

Peter Van Olsen: Well, with just 24 hours to go before the Treasurer Joe Hockey stands up to deliver his first Budget, I spoke to the Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs about some of the broader issues in the Budget. He's very close to Joe Hockey, most political insiders in Canberra know that, but more specifically about what to expect in the big spending are of infrastructure, which is of course his portfolio.

The Assistant Infrastructure Minister is Jamie Briggs. Mr Briggs, irrespective of whether you think that the measures in the Budget are necessary or not, let's assume that they are necessary evils that we have to pursue. Do you at least accept that none the less there are broken promises within this Budget?

Jamie Briggs: Well look, I accept that we're 24 hours away from the Budget detail being handed down and even impatient people such as yourself and myself Peter, we can wait 24 hours for the detail.

Peter Van Olsen: But we do know some of the detail already. The Finance Minister, the Treasurer, they've had press conferences about some of the things I'm talking about like the deficit tax. Do you accept that even if it's necessary, it is still a broken promise on tax?

Jamie Briggs: Well, Martin Parkinson says it's necessary; the Treasury Secretary Paul Kelly in fact, your regular panelist on the Australian Agenda program makes the point that it's necessary.

Peter Van Olsen: He says it's necessary but he also says it's a broken promise and that's my question.

Jamie Briggs: It is necessary to have a responsible and a fair Budget and what you'll see this time tomorrow night is a responsible and fair Budget, because that's what the Australian people elected us to do and we would be breaking faith with the Australian people if we didn't follow through on our commitment to fix the Budget mess that we were left by Labor.

Peter Van Olsen: The lines that you just used then are similar lines that were used by John Howard and Peter Costello in 1996, similar actually to Bob Hawke and Paul Keating when they were left with a large deficit to deal with in 1983, but in both those examples the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the team acknowledged that they were breaking promises. John Howard, as you well know, drew a distinction between core and non-core promises, but they then went on to say exactly what you did, that they did it for a reason because the country required it, this was the core commitment that they had to go down. Why is this Government unprepared to acknowledge that as a necessary evil there's some broken promises thrown in?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I say again, we're 24 hours away from the actual Budget. Let's see what's in the Budget and then when the announcements in relation to the Budget are made I'm sure there will be a full explanation given to the Australian people of the comprehensive plan that we're putting before them. And this time tomorrow night the explanation to the Australian people on what the task is that we've got ahead of us, the decisions we've made to achieve that task and what we're trying to achieve will be explained very clearly. You can't do that prior to the Budget because you want the full detail of the Budget first and so I would say to you, let's see what's in the Budget, let's see what the explanation around it is and I'm sure you'll be comforted with that explanation, because it is comprehensive, it is a responsible Budget and it is a fair Budget.

Peter Van Olsen: Alright, let's get to your portfolio then of infrastructure. A philosophical question to start with. Most people, most economists included, accept that billions of dollars need to be spent on infrastructure, they need—it needs to be spent for productivity gains and so on. How do you get around the fact though that despite it being a worthy spend it comes associated with a large amount of debt build up to do it?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it's a good question and I think again in the Budget you'll see a responsible approach to this. What we will be doing is…

Peter Van Olsen: [Interrupts] But just give us a sense though.

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think it is a balance. You need to be funding projects which do add to your economic performance, and that's what we're targeting. We are targeting projects that will lift our productivity, that will help ensure that we've got a stronger economy with higher growth, and particularly in the next couple of years when there's a drop off in the jobs and the construction—in the mining sector, because the construction phase has moved into a production phase.

Now, each of the projects we announce tomorrow night will go through the Infrastructure Australia process if they're over $100 million, as per our election commitment, because we want this based on an economic plan, not just on politicians guessing about what is the best project. That is, remember, the criticism we made of the former government. Sure, they spent more on infrastructure, but their infrastructure was ill-defined, such as school halls that many people didn't want, it was Pink Batts that, of course, caused so many houses to catch on fire. What we're doing is targeting economic infrastructure in the biggest infrastructure package in the history of the Commonwealth. Well over $40 billion over the next…

Peter Van Olsen: [Interrupts] Can I ask a question about that, Mr Briggs? Is it all on Budget? Because something else that the previous Labor Government did is it announced various forms of infrastructure that was off-Budget, so it didn't show up in the Budget based deficit figures. What about on your side?

Jamie Briggs: There is, as I say, over $40 billion of direct grant money made available, which will be a significant increase from the election commitments we made. Somewhere around $10 billion more than the election commitments we made. There is one project where we're funding with a concessional loan to New South Wales, which is, as you say, an off-Budget project. That's a $2 billion concessional loan. It's the first time ever the Australian Government's used concessional loans to bring forward a road project. It's for WestConnex Stage 2 in Sydney. It will bring that project forward by 18 months, two years earlier on completion, and it is an absolutely valuable project and the Commonwealth will be paid back by the proceeds in the deal with the New South Wales Government by 2029.

The other project where we're engaging the private sector for the first time is in Western Australia. We're introducing a project, the Perth Freight Link, which the private sector will have involvement in. And as you know, Peter, that means Western Australia, which has not been used before, it will mean that you'll have a direct freight link from the airport and around, right out to the northern parts of the state, straight through to the port. It will get big trucks off local roads, it will mean that you're getting a better economic performance in that economic powerhouse, and it introduces the private sector to funding a road for the first time in Western Australia.

Peter Van Olsen: And just finally, if I can, Mr Briggs, fuel indexation—that's going to be in the budget. We know that. Most economists, most people, frankly, will understand the need to realign that because otherwise it is simply a diminishing revenue source for the government. Was it a mistake by John Howard? Just a political play by him and an out of touch former Treasurer, perhaps, to allow that to happen back then?

Jamie Briggs: John Howard and Peter Costello made contemporary decisions in their time and they delivered budget surpluses nine out of 11 years. We're making contemporary decisions in our time…

Peter Van Olsen: Deeply political, though, wasn't it? It was deeply political that they did that.

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I'm not going to run a historic analysis. You're the biographer of John Howard. I'll let you commentate on that. But what I will say is that this is a—this will be a decision which ensures that there is more money for road projects across our country, and we need to have better roads because we need a better economy, and if we get the choice of projects right, like the Productivity Commission tells us, we will lift our economic performance and we'll have stronger growth in the future, and that's the aim of this Budget.

Peter Van Olsen: The Assistant Infrastructure Minister is Jamie Briggs.