Transcript of Interview: Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Interview

BPC052/2014

18 June 2014

Kieran Gilbert: With me on the program this morning, the Shadow Immigration Minister, Richard Marles, and also the Assistant Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs.

Jamie Briggs, first to you, Ian Macdonald's comments, you could be forgiven for thinking it was from a Labor Senator, the comments he was making yesterday.

Jamie Briggs: Well, I mean, that is the Senate, that's the opportunity for senators from the backbench to ask question of the executive, and as usual, the Finance Minister handled himself perfectly and answered the questions that were put to him. This is a Budget that asks everyone to contribute and it's got growth at its heart. It's about building a stronger Australia. A $50 billion infrastructure investment ensures that we have a quality of opportunity throughout Australia and that in the future we've got a sustainable Budget for our children. So we're very proud to defend it, we're very proud to take the measures through the Parliament and we'll continue to argue for it.

Kieran Gilbert: How widespread is the dissent, though? Is it just one or two, as far as you can tell within the Coalition?

Jamie Briggs: Well, people raisede issues about different Budget measures, of course. It's a Budget which fixes the mess that we inherited from the Labor Party. $660 billion of debt if we hadn't of changed the settings that we were left from Labor. We've had to address the sustainability crisis that we found on the Budget. We are not going to shirk the hard decisions and put it on the next generation to pay for. We are, in effect, borrowing for consumption today from tomorrow's future, and we're not going to do that.

Kieran Gilbert: Richard Marles, I suppose the developments yesterday in your portfolio. We'll get to them down the track in the program, but you had your own divisions in the Labor Party on show and briefed to the media out of the caucus, so this is just natural politicking, isn't it?

Richard Marles: A bit different, Kieran. The debate we had was one that was respectful inside the party room, but what we saw from Ian Macdonald last night was inside the Parliament. I mean, look, this is a stinking carcass of a Budget. They're the words that come out of the Coalition which is hated by the Australian people, but as we now know, is hated by half the Coalition as well. But I can tell you one thing, Ian Macdonald's been around for a long time, he knows a bad policy when he sees it, and the Paid Parental Leave is exactly that. For all the burden sharing that Jamie's talking about now, this is a Budget which is providing $50,000 cheques to millionaires. I mean, that's actually in the Budget as well. Today, Kieran, in Geelong, there's an announcement of 20 jobs being lost at the CSIRO. We're seeing public service cuts occur all over this city in Canberra. All the while $50,000 cheques being paid to millionaires and people need to remember that. That's what Ian Macdonald saw and that's what he was talking about last night.

Kieran Gilbert: What about the Clive Palmer response as well? How are you going to manage that when you're talking about not just the Paid Parental Leave scheme, but we're hearing this morning via The Guardian, Lenore Taylor reports that Ricky Muir is open to working with any party that shares his values and said he's not decided on how he will vote on mining and carbon tax repeals, that's according to Keith Littler, the president, the founder of his party?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think what you're highlighting is that the Senate will be interesting. It is always interesting in its own way and for those of us in the House of Representatives who are always a bit bemused by the Senate; we'll continue to be so. But I think increasingly so in the next few months it will be an interesting place. But if we go back to September last year when the government changed, and Richard is the leader in the movement of government change deniers, the reality is we went to the election and said that we would fix the Budget and this is what we are doing and it's difficult and it's hard.

Kieran Gilbert: You didn't say you were going to increase taxes.

Jamie Briggs: We said we would fix the Budget, we said we'd get rid of unnecessary taxes, and if the Labor Party would listen to the Australian people…

Richard Marles: You've increased taxes.

Jamie Briggs: We said we'd abolish the carbon tax…

Kieran Gilbert: You've put in new ones.

Jamie Briggs: We would abolish the carbon tax. We said we would build the roads of the 21st century and we've got a $50 billion program which even today we see the Labor Party now trying to oppose spending on infrastructure. That's how negative they are. And most importantly, Kieran, and this is the one Richard loves the most, we said we'd stop the boats. And you know what? Tomorrow, hang on, hang on. Tomorrow—Richard's going to love this—six months since the last successful people smuggling expedition to Australia. We have stopped the boats from arriving for six months. We said we'd do it, we've done it. Now the Labor Party in their little caucus meeting yesterday had five hours of argument. Five hours of the split between the left, led by Anthony Albanese, who still wants to be the leader, and the right, led by Richard Marles, who's trying to defend some sort of position that the Labor Party has. What we know is if the Australian people ever re-elect Labor, they will do what they did in 2008, they'll back down again on the strong measures that we've taken, and the boats will start up again.

Richard Marles: So now Jamie's taken us there. This is a Government which loves its scoreboards, loves to beat its chest on the good days…

Jamie Briggs: Six months tomorrow.

Richard Marles: Noticeably silent on the bad ones. But…

Jamie Briggs: Oh, you'll agree with six months tomorrow?

Richard Marles: Okay. Well, here's a figure that you won't hear the Government talk about today. Today is a thousand days…today is a thousand days since the second reading speech of the legislation which would have enabled the Malaysian arrangement. It's a thousand days since the Liberal Party teamed up with the Greens to block the Malaysian arrangement. Now, since then, 680 people—more than that—lost their lives at sea. We hear all about the six months and the however many days on a day by day count. It is a thousand days since Scott Morrison and Jamie, for that matter, had the opportunity to resolve this issue, and they voted with the Greens to make sure the issue could not be resolved.

Kieran Gilbert: That's a big what if, though, isn't it?

Richard Marles: No, it's not a big what if and it's an interesting point…

Jamie Briggs: We're going to take lectures from the Labor Party, so will you admit…

Richard Marles: No, no, no. Don't…

Jamie Briggs: No, no, no. Will you admit…

Richard Marles: You won't hear that scoreboard today and I they don't like that.

Jamie Briggs: Will you admit—on the scoreboard, though, will you admit the 2008 changes started the trade again?

Richard Marles: What—a thousand…

Jamie Briggs: Did the 2008 changes start the trade again?

Richard Marles: There's a whole lot of…

Jamie Briggs: No, no, no. Did the 2008…

Richard Marles: There's a whole lot of things which gave rise to it.

Jamie Briggs: Well, see, this is the problem.

Richard Marles: And I'm on the record in relation to a whole lot of things where people could have done better, where governments could have done better, but let me say this, we do not hear anything from Scott Morrison or the Liberal Party about why they made the decision a thousand days ago to block the Malaysian arrangement, and it would have made a difference. Now, there's an important coincidence of events today, Kieran, because we also have a decision in the High Court coming up. Now, if that goes the wrong way and there needs to be…

Jamie Briggs: Related to a decision your government made.

Richard Marles: Well, if it…

Jamie Briggs: It's a decision your government made.

Richard Marles: A decision which your government continues to prosecute and is a key part of why we have seen a reduction in the….

Kieran Gilbert: So let me just clarify…

Richard Marles: But let me be…

Kieran Gilbert: Let me clarify for the viewers, though, what you're talking about. The High Court handing down a ruling at 10.15 this morning on the Manus Island facility. Those challenging the facility claim the then Minister, Chris Bowen, your colleague, did not designate appropriately the Manus Island facility as a detention facility.

Richard Marles: Now, we hear Jamie now saying this was our decision. I'm not sure that we hear Jamie saying he's walking away from…

Jamie Briggs: No, the incompetence of Labor of this is constant.

Richard Marles: We're not walking away from—so if it is incompetence—if there is incompetence on the part of Labor, it is embraced by the Liberal Party in government in terms of their suite of measures to deal with asylum seeker vessels and your minister well knows that. If we have a situation where there needs to be a legislative fix, you will have a party in the Labor Party which is willing to do what we need to do in order to save lives. But a thousand days ago today we had a party which did everything it could to wreck this issue.

Kieran Gilbert: Alright. Let's hear from the Minister about, I suppose, what is the contingency if the High Court does scuttle the Manus facility?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, Scott Morrison will no doubt very competently deal with this issue, as he has since September when he was appointed the Minister. The reality is…

Richard Marles: Will we get a call to help?

Jamie Briggs: The reality is…

Richard Marles: Will we get a call to help in the Parliament, because that's the question?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it depends what happens…

Richard Marles: Because we know what you did when you got that call.

Jamie Briggs: It depends what happens in your caucus, mate. We can't predict what's going to happen in your caucus.

Richard Marles: Well, no, if we want to talk.

Kieran Gilbert: Let's hear Jamie's response.

Jamie Briggs: In September 2008, which Richard cannot bring himself to admit, and the Labor Party cannot bring themselves to admit, they unnecessarily and ludicrously changed laws which were working. They changed laws which were working, including turn back operations which were an absolute…

Richard Marles: There were no turn backs in 2008. There weren't.

Jamie Briggs: No, because the boats had stopped when they had…

Richard Marles: Turn backs had stopped under the Howard Government.

Jamie Briggs: Understand some history. Let's go back—exactly. No, turn backs had worked.

Richard Marles: No, no, no. By the time we get to the end of the Howard Government, they had abandoned turn backs as a policy.

Jamie Briggs: Because the boats had stopped, Richard. I mean, this is what they don't understand and this is the risk for Australia, Kieran. If they get elected again, they'll change this policy again.

Richard Marles: Well, that's not true.

Jamie Briggs: They'll change the policy again.

Richard Marles: That is simply not true.

Jamie Briggs: And that's the risk the Australian people have got to consider whenever they get back to the ballot box.

Kieran Gilbert: We've got to go to a break. Back in just a moment on AM Agenda.

[Advertising break]

Kieran Gilbert: With me this morning the Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs and also Labor frontbencher Richard Marles. I want to get back to something Jamie referred to earlier. This relates to the front page of the Financial Review this morning. ‘States-led build plan faces defeat' is the story—that the Greens and Palmer United are set to oppose this effort by the Government to have states privatise, recycle assets to invest in more productive assets. Now, some of the states, including as we saw yesterday with the New South Wales Budget, are well and truly on board. How could Labor stand in the way of billions, tens of billions, being spent on productive infrastructure?

Richard Marles: Okay, we're not standing in the way, and I'll explain our position. But here is a fundamental flaw in the economics of this government. It belies the fact that this is a Prime Minister who said he's not really that interested in economics. Privatisations can be good, they can be bad. They need to stand on their own feet in terms of their being good public policy. What we've got here is a 15 per cent incentive proposed by the Federal Government, which is necessarily going to skew the public policy decisions around whether or not a privatisation should happen or not, and there is a real risk that we see bad privatisations occur as a result of this. So what we're saying is this: we're not standing in the way. We're proposing a couple of amendments. One is that in relation to the infrastructure that occurs as a result of the privatisations, we just want to see a cost-benefit analysis. That's not a big deal. And the second is that there needs to be the right of veto for either house of Parliament to veto one of these projects if, in the event, they don't stack up. Again, that seems to me to be pretty prudent to make sure that this done not give rise to bad privatisations and bad infrastructure spends. I might say, we've also made it clear…

Kieran Gilbert: But they're not your decisions, though, because these are going to be privatisations done by state governments. I don't understand how a Federal Parliament can then tell a state what it should and shouldn't sell.

Richard Marles: The Federal Government is seeking to intervene in the decision. Well, you are seeking to intervene in the decision of states by offering…

Jamie Briggs: You don't understand, Richard.

Richard Marles: No, no, by offering…

Jamie Briggs: You don't understand. You're trying to talk about things you don't understand.

Richard Marles: …by offering an incentive for states to go down the path of privatisation and then building infrastructure. Now, presumably that offer of an incentive…

Jamie Briggs: Just don't understand.

Richard Marles: …is seeking to influence decisions. Presumably, that is the point that is the public policy point of what the Commonwealth Government is doing…

Kieran Gilbert: Well, let's hear from…

Richard Marles: …and Commonwealth money will be spent, so it's not unreasonable that the Commonwealth Parliament have a right to veto that if they think that the project doesn't stack up. But, importantly, Kieran, we've said…

Jamie Briggs: No, see, you've talking about two different things. I mean…

Richard Marles: …if the amendments don't get up, we've said we're not going to stand in the way of this bill. So we've made that clear, so let's just all take a bex and lie down. We're not in a position where we're saying we're going to get in the way of this, but we are seeking to make this better legislation.

Jamie Briggs: Well, you know, unless you're questioning the integrity of Phil Coorey and Laura Tingle, and, you know, that's up to you, but that's certainly their take on what you're trying to do is. And what you simply don't understand – and it doesn't surprise me, because Anthony Albanese is just playing a game of infrastructure. That's all. He's angry that he lost a portfolio. I understand he enjoyed the portfolio. It's a terrific opportunity to help build a stronger Australia. I appreciate that. But he cannot get over his anger, and he's making things up. He continues to make things up, including your argument that no doubt he's briefed you on this morning that we are paying money on the basis of the privatisation. That's simply not true. We are paying money on the basis of a spend on infrastructure.

Richard Marles: So you are paying money.

Jamie Briggs: Hang on, Richard. Let me explain to you. Take some notes. If the state decides, out of the privatisation which the state government makes a decision on, and the Federal Government cannot stop if they do that. Even if your little amendment gets up here, the privatisation would've taken place. All that you'll prevent is the spend going on infrastructure.

Richard Marles: Yes, but your spend…

Jamie Briggs: You're trying to stop roads being built in Australia…This is what you're trying to do, and…

Richard Marles: You're being tricky, Jamie.

Jamie Briggs: No, I'm not, because…

Richard Marles: No, because you are…

Jamie Briggs: Because privatisation would've happened. So your…

Richard Marles: So in the midst of all of that rhetoric and all the…

Kieran Gilbert: But you said you're going to back it anyway.

Richard Marles: No, what we've said is that we're seeking to make this better. We are putting in place…

Jamie Briggs: Make it better? You're trying to stop the states from actually getting the roads built.

Richard Marles: No, we're not. We're putting in place…

Jamie Briggs: Honestly. And the rail. This is the thing that Anthony goes on about all the time.

Richard Marles: We're putting in place amendments to see that the Commonwealth spend is done better. In the midst of all the rhetoric that you just heard from Jamie there…

Jamie Briggs: Oh, this is. Honestly.

Richard Marles: …the concession. There is going to be Commonwealth money spent on the basis of a state privatisation.

Jamie Briggs: No, no, on the basis of the state making decisions to build infrastructure.

Richard Marles: After a privatisation.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay, let's move…

Richard Marles: And that seeks to…That is absolutely the point of their policy.

Jamie Briggs: No, no, can I just make…

Richard Marles: And it's not about Anthony Albanese's anger or anything else. It's about your bad policy.

Jamie Briggs: Honestly…

Kieran Gilbert: Let's let Jamie Briggs make a point here, because I think the bottom line is, though, they're going to back. Despite the language, they're going to back it. They won't stand in the way of it.

Jamie Briggs: I mean, so, well, obviously Anthony's briefing to Phil Coorey and Laura Tingle he needs to go and correct. But, you know, this highlights the problem that the Labor Party has got. You know, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese will continue to fight out the faux-battle. Anthony Albanese is the preferred leader of the party…

Kieran Gilbert: …but tell us about the policy.

Jamie Briggs: No, well, I am, and very much so. The problem that they've got is they are obsessed by politics. This is why they were a bad government for six years. They do not understand the policy. They're not interested in Australia's future. They want to play tactical games in the Parliament to try and disrupt public policy. They're now even trying to stop roads being built, rail being built, by state governments…

Richard Marles: Well, that's just not right.

Jamie Briggs: …because they are completely obsessed by the politics.

Richard Marles: We did more…

Jamie Briggs: We are focused…

Richard Marles: …on rail and road building in our time in government than any other federal…

Jamie Briggs: You lost government. You lost government.

Kieran Gilbert: We've got to wrap this up. I want to finish on one bit of policy that I think you might agree on…

Jamie Briggs: No we won't, surely.

Richard Marles: Cross your fingers…

Kieran Gilbert: Your form this morning would suggest otherwise but Julie Bishop today is going to be talking about an ever intensifying relationship in the US alliance that the US will continue to remain the dominant power throughout the 21st century, that that will remain undiminished. What do you say to those, I suppose, in the strategic community, international affairs who say that Australia—and Malcolm Fraser for one as well has suggested this—Australia does need to shift its strategic focus to China more and that that the Minister and the Government hasn't accepted that yet or recognised that?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I think what successive governments have been able to prove is that you can be a great friend of China and a great friend of America and we've shown that I think now for a very long time and it is the aim of both sides of politics to ensure that we have got an ever increasing and growing relationship with China. They're very important to us, they're very important to our economic and security into the future. But equally the Americans are our closest friend, will continue to be our closest friend. We share their values; we share their outlook on the world. They're very important to us economically also. And just last week the successful tour of the Prime Minister in the United States where he had a series of very successful meetings on behalf of the Australian people. It comes on the back of, you know, whether it be former Labor prime ministers John Howard and Labor prime ministers before way back to Bob Hawke and Ronald Regan as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, they are both vital relationships and I think maintaining the balance in both is absolutely well worth Australia's interests.

Kieran Gilbert: Do you think it can continue undiminished, the US power though given that the rising and ever rise in China?

Richard Marles: I think there's a changing world situation which America is completely aware of but I am going to disappoint Jamie and agree with everything he just said. He's right. The American alliance is very much at the heart of Australia's foreign policy. They are our key security partner. I think the point to understand though is in balancing the security relationship with the US and of course the growing economic relationship with China, we're actually dealing with precisely the same issue and set of circumstances that the US itself is dealing with. The US's largest trading partner is China and we are all dealing with exactly the same issue and that is how we best engage with the peaceful rise of China. Very much the economic benefit of Australia and to the economic benefit of China in a world which we hope will evolve in the most peaceful way.

Kieran Gilbert: And I think we surprised our viewers as well after a firey discussion that we're rivalling the bromance of Husic and Frydenberg…

Richard Marles: I've always had a bromance with the brother.

Jamie Briggs: We were there before those two.

Richard Marles: Yeah, yeah.

Kieran Gilbert: Have a good day, both of you.