Transcript of Interview: Sky News AM Agenda



21 May 2014

Kieran Gilbert: Mr Briggs, thanks for your time. First of all it's going to be hard to make the case about the university funding if senior figures can't attend the institutions to do just that.

Jamie Briggs: Oh not at all, Kieran. This is important reforms supported by Vice Chancellors across Australia. Supported by people who actually look at the issue, not just trying to pursue their political ends. The reality is what's happening here is there's a small group of people who are associated with what's called the Socialist Alternative who are building these protests up around universities across the country and you've seen they're ruled by violent behaviour, they're trying to disrupt. They call themselves the Socialist Alternative. I mean let's be honest. I mean, this is not mainstream. This is not about the future of our country and what the reforms of Christopher Pyne are about ensuring we've got a stronger university sector -giving more young Australians the opportunity to attend tertiary education so they can get the skills they need to get a job which will allow them to make the most of their opportunities. That's exactly what these reforms are about. It's about ensuring Australia's got a university in the top 10. At the moment we don't. We don't have one in the top 20. We're one of the world's strongest economies and yet we still don't perform well enough and if people think that that's good enough, that's one way to look at it. We don't agree with them.

We think it's not good enough to not have a university inside a top 10 in the world. We should have and that's why the Vice Chancellors agree with these reforms.

Kieran Gilbert: Are you giving too much weight to this group of Socialist Alternative, the student unions are running it this morning. The National Union of Students have been out there arguing the case for these demonstrations. The point I'm making is, isn't it a broader angst there among the student community about the proposals?

Jamie Briggs: Well, Kieran, you're a commentator and I'll let you make the commentary but what we know is that these reforms are important for the future. Every time you see substantial, significant economic reform in Australia, you have protest groups such as the Socialist Alternative trying to use the occasion to push their political view. And create violent disruption. You saw that with Julie Bishop on Friday night. I mean, where was the left's outrage at the treatment of Julie Bishop on Friday night? I mean, we've listened to the lectures for the last couple of years about the way women are treated in politics in Australia and yet when the Foreign Minister, the female Foreign Minister gets violently attacked at a university by these Socialist Alternative people, there is deadly silence in the commentariat and on the left. The hypocrisy of all this is laid bare really.

This is about the future of our country, what the Budget is about is about building a stronger Australia. It's contributing, everyone contributing and the Government building. So, we've got a stronger Australia, we've got a massive infrastructure investment program, we've got important reforms to higher education. We've got the world's biggest medical research fund which will ensure we've got the opportunities for our scientists into the future to create those cures for diseases. This is about building a stronger country.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay. On the AAA credit rating and this debate around that in the wake of the first Hockey Budget. I want to ask you about the Government's response, Mr Hockey's response, but also the Prime Minister's response on this. Because isn't it risky to be saying that this is even in prospect the loss of the AAA rating as the PM did yesterday?

Jamie Briggs: Well no, the Financial Review front page reported what Standards & Poors had said, so I think we need to get the story straight first…

Kieran Gilbert: No, the Prime Minister said Labor risks the AAA rating by blocking the savings, that's what was said in response to the AFR story.

Jamie Briggs: Yeah, thank you. That's exactly right. Let's get the story straight first, shall we? He made very clear that there is a risk. You shouldn't take these things for granted. We don't just automatically get handed a AAA credit rating. Labor has lost it before. They lost it before the Howard and Costello Government fixed the Budget and put in place the reforms to ensure that when we faced international economic challenges, we're able to deal with them. And that is why we're in such a strong economic position and what this government is about is rebuilding our foundation so we can continue to maintain the prosperity we enjoy. If we lose a AAA credit rating, it has an enormous impact on everyday Australians because it automatically degrades the banks, Australian banks. So, it is a very important rating for the Australian economy, very important for every household. Every Australian should be concerned about that the Federal Budget is living within its means into the future. And that's what the rating agencies want to see. And that's why this Budget's so important and that's why we're going to continue to argue for it, uphill and down dale.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, Labor's saying—and this is going to be argued today, according to Phil Coorey's report in the Fin Review—Chris Bowen is going to make this case at the Press Club today that they argue you should scrap the paid parental leave, this generous paid parental leave scheme of $22 billion, save that $22 billion over the forward estimates, and that would actually outweigh the amount that they're going to block in terms of the cuts, which is about $19 billion. So if you got rid of that, they're saying that's their argument, things would be in better shape.

Jamie Briggs: Well, come on. I mean, Chris Bowen's first test today is will he apologise for being part of a government that put us in this perilous position in the first place? Will he front up and actually apologise or will it be another episode of complaints Australia, as Bill Shorten had last Thursday night, getting up with a political rant, refusing to acknowledge what Labor has done to the Australian Budget in the last six years?

I mean, Chris Bowen's got a real test today. He likes to parade himself as a genuine economic reformer, as someone who believes in an open and a free economy, who believes in surplus Budgets, he wants people to see him in a Keating-esque mould, well, his test today, if he really wants to be seen as a genuine contributor to economic debate in this country is to front up, apologise for what Wayne Swan did. We know he doesn't like Wayne Swan. He can easily apologise for what Wayne Swan did to the Australian Budget and the perilous position he put it into, and then he can say into the future what is it he would do and that Labor would do to address these issues, not just in the next four years, but well into the future to ensure that we have a sustainable Budget. Because the issue here, though, Kieran…

Kieran Gilbert: What about the question I put to you, though? Because you're saying what should they do…

Jamie Briggs: Well, the paid parental leave is funded completely.

Kieran Gilbert: …well, they've put forward what they would do, they'd scrap that.

Jamie Briggs: Now, they haven't.

Kieran Gilbert: They'd scrap it.

Jamie Briggs: Sorry, that is completely budgeted because it's paid for by a levy on the biggest businesses in Australia, so that doesn't relate to the savings at all, Kieran. I mean, there's a fundamental disconnect there.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, what's the cost over the forward estimates of that, though? It's upwards of $20 billion, isn't it?

Jamie Briggs: But it's funded out of a revenue source.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, I presume that they're saying keep the revenue source; get rid of the scheme…

Jamie Briggs: Sorry for the detail to confuse it all, but that's the truth…

Kieran Gilbert: No, but what they're saying is that they would…

Jamie Briggs: Kieran, you can argue their case if you like…

Kieran Gilbert: …they'd get rid of that cost.

Jamie Briggs: …but the reality is…

Kieran Gilbert: No, I'm not. I'm not arguing the case…

Jamie Briggs: Well, I mean, sorry, mate, but…

Kieran Gilbert: …I'm putting it to you, because I've got Richard Marles coming up shortly and I'll put the Liberal case to him, as I do. But they're saying they'll get rid of that, it's upwards of 20 billion, and that outweighs the cut.

Jamie Briggs: With all due respect, if you think it's that simple, why is it that Labor couldn't balance the Budget for six years? Why is it that Labor couldn't balance Budget since 1989? Why is that if Labor had have been re-elected we would have had 10 years of Budget deficits? I mean, they had this clever trick where the played a game with the nation's finances and put out spending well beyond the forward estimates, well beyond the budgeted years. Chris Bowen claims that it was all paid for, it was all budgeted. Well, you can't budget outside the forward estimates. That's reality.

So they put all this additional spending in the out years. The land mines in the Budget were what we had to deal with when we got to Government, and we are working our way through dealing with them. We don't do any of this with a sense of joy, with a sense of some sort of desire to inflict difficulties on Australians, we do it because we know that unless you address the Budget today, it is the next generations of Australians who will pay a higher price, and the poor particularly always pay a higher price because they're the ones who need government services the most.

Kieran Gilbert: I want to ask you about some comments the Liberal backbencher Craig Laundy has said relating to the pension. He was on Sky News last night and he said that he's received negative feedback, pensioners aren't happy with the proposals on this, and it's not too late to water the changes. What do you say to that?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I say we'll be pushing these through to the Senate and we'll be getting these reforms through. They're important reforms for the future. Of course there are concerns in the community. You've got major changes that have been put out just a week ago and it will take some time for us to explain them. That is what politics is all about. Commentators can run the daily race call about what one person said or what one poll says, we're not in it for the next poll, we're in it for the future of our country, and we are very confident that the Senate will see the sense in what we're putting forward. There is a lot of bluff and bluster going on at the moment, but let's see what, in the cold light of day when the reality of the Budget situation is put to each senator in the coming months, they will see that the time to address the Budget is now.

The plan we are putting forward is one where everyone contributes and it is a Budget where we build a stronger Australia, and that is exactly what we're seeking to do. And I'm very confident that the Senate will see the sense in that and I'm very, very confident that in two and a half years when we go back to the people, they will see that what we are doing is putting in place a plan for a strong Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: Jamie Briggs, thanks for your time. As always, appreciate it.

Jamie Briggs: Thanks, Kieran.