Transcript of Interview: SKY News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Interview

BPC063/2014

14 August 2014

E&OE

Kieran Gilbert: We're live to Adelaide and the Abbott Government Minister Jamie Briggs joins me. Mr Briggs, what's your reaction to Bill Shorten's comments there on this issue?

Jamie Briggs: Good morning, Kieran. I think Mr Shorten needs to be careful that he doesn't try and politicise what is an international humanitarian crisis. We know that, within his own party, he has some issues with different views on how the Labor Party should stand when it comes to reacting to these sorts of issues, but I'm not sure we should be playing them out in public at this time. I think what is important is that we stand with our allies, with America and Great Britain. As you just heard, the Prime Minister of Great Britain is talking about what is necessary action to prevent what has been described earlier this week by international leaders as a potential genocide, and that's what the Australian Government will stand ready to do with our American and British friends and other allies in the region.

Kieran Gilbert: What do you say to the critique though that there's been some confusion, as put by Bill Shorten and Labor?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I say Bill Shorten should stop trying to play politics, that's what I say. And I think Bill's a new leader of an opposition and if he goes back and studies in time, the last opposition leader to try and play politics with national security issues was Mark Latham.

Kieran Gilbert: Let's move on to domestic politics. Joe Hockey continues his talks with the crossbench when it comes to the Budget. The headlines have been about his comments yesterday when it comes to the fuel excise…that wealthy Australians will be paying more because poorer Australians don't drive as much, don't have as many cars. Was that [audio skips]…

Jamie Briggs: Well, that's not exactly what he said, of course, but there's been, I think, a bit of hyperbole in the reaction to all this. The point that the Treasurer was making is the Treasury analysis shows that higher income households contribute more to the tax take when it comes to fuel excise and, therefore, it's a reasonable conclusion that they'll, therefore, pay more with the reintroduction of fuel indexation. But let's get to the nub of why we're reintroducing fuel indexation.

Firstly, we face the biggest debt the Commonwealth's ever faced and we're trying to address that issue. $25,000 per person throughout our society, which, of course, the poor pay a higher price for, because the longer that that debt exists, the less they can get access to necessary services. So decisions that we're making today are much easier than they will be tomorrow if we take the Labor Party's advice. Secondly, on the reintroduction of fuel excise, what we want is to dedicate it to maintenance, ongoing maintenance and the upgrading of roads, which improves the roads, ensures you've got higher productivity, and makes it easier for people to move around cities.

So let's get to the nub of what we're trying to do here, not some exaggerations about some comments that were made yesterday.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, but the exact quote, I'll read it to you; the poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far in many cases. For a Treasurer facing claims of a Budget that is…he's accused of not being fair in this Budget, is that the sort of language…was it smart politically?

Jamie Briggs: Well, the point again was that he's referring to evidence from Treasury and the ABS, which has been released and it tells the truth to what he said, that the higher proportion of the fuel excise is picked up by higher income earners. So that is the very point that the Treasurer was making. When it comes to this issue of fairness, let's get to the realistic issue here, which is that in the end if we continue to spend more than we earn each year, the people who will not have access to the necessary services will be those who are older and can't afford it, those who have fallen through the cracks, because in the end, you need, as a country, to have a sustainable safety net.

That's what we're talking about here, is ensuring that the safety net which catches Australians is strong and will only be strong if it's sustainable. What we inherited from the Labor Party was deficit after deficit, a decade of deficits ahead, well over $600 billion of debt, and that will mean the decisions in the future will be much harder than they will be today. And that's the choice that we've got as a parliament and as a generation of leaders of what our legacy will be.

Kieran Gilbert: You've got a very difficult negotiating task to get much of the savings measures through, at least Treasurer Hockey does and Finance Minister Cormann, but when it comes to the latest views expressed by the crossbench, Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Day both indicating they don't want to see more funding into childcare, so if there is some amendment to the paid parental leave scheme, they won't cop that as an effort to placate the crossbench. This is going to be a very difficult task to navigate, isn't it, to get all of this through? Do you understand why there is a sense, well certainly Labor is trying to foster a sense of chaos around this Budget?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think it's unfortunate that you've got a Labor Party who's just stepped aside completely from any responsibility for the future. They don't walk in the shoes of their predecessors. Chris Bowen might try to wear the same suits as Paul Keating, but he certainly doesn't act in the same way. What you had in the 1980s and 1990s, when governments were making necessary changes to strengthen the economic framework for the future, was oppositions who were willing to talk it through. That changed, of course, when the Labor Party opposed the GST introduction after the Howard Government successfully took it to an election, and the Labor Party hasn't learnt since.

Six years of chaotic government has left us this mess that we're trying to clean up and now they're trying to stop us from fixing it. It is, I think, an example of why modern Labor needs to sit down and actually think about what it really stands for. It is acting in pure self-interest, tactical, silly, smart aleck, tactical politics instead of actually thinking about the future of our country.

What we're trying to do is not necessarily popular, but it's right, and we'll continue to argue it, and that is the difference. We have said to the Australian people we'll fix the Budget and none of these measures we do with any joy, but we do them because we think they're important for the future.

Kieran Gilbert: But the Government does seem like it's much more open and flexible when it comes to the prospect of compromise with the crossbench. Has it basically dawned on the Government that you're going to have to make some amendments to things like the GP co-payment? It certainly appears that Peter Dutton is heading in that direction. And again, on this paper and all these schemes, I guess it's going to come as a relief to many of your colleagues that this might actually have to be shelved or amended significantly?

Jamie Briggs: Well, historically that's what good governments have done. They have sat down and worked things through with the crossbench, particularly when the opposition of the day has set itself aside from the public debate. If I can refer back to the GST again, the GST plan that was taken to the 1998 election was amended heavily after the 1998 election because the Labor Party refused to sit down and accept the views of the Australian people who supported it at that election, so there was a negotiated settlement in the end that the Prime Minister ended up stepping in and ensuring occurred. So we now have a GST. That wouldn't have happened unless there were negotiations. So, I mean, historically that's exactly what governments have done.

We would, of course, prefer to get through the measures that we put up on Budget night, because we think that they are the best way forward for Australia. However, we are absolutely conscious that there are a group of people in the Senate on the crossbench who are willing to talk, do recognise to a different degree amongst each of them the necessary changes we need to make to ensure that we've got a sustainable Budget. So we will talk to them. Peter Dutton's doing an outstanding job doing that, Christopher Pyne, the same. We are working through what we think are very necessary changes to strengthen our Budget for a stronger Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: One of the big areas of the economic strategy is the infrastructure spend, which is in your area of responsibility. Labor is saying that you won't be able to put this in as part of the appropriation bills, that it's got to be taken to the Parliament to be voted on. Do you accept that this advice from the Parliamentary Library is correct and that you will have to have this judged on the floor of the Parliament?

Jamie Briggs: Well, this is the asset recycling initiative you refer to, of course and, I mean, this is an example of just how silly Labor's become. Labor are out there constantly criticising the Government for not investing in public transport, yet the asset recycling initiative will do exactly that. And the amendment that the Labor Party is standing by in the Senate under the cloak of transparency, which has convinced some of its friends in the media that it's trying to do, is actually a provision which says that after a state government has decided to sell an asset—i.e., Mike Baird taking the New South Wales electricity network to an election next March and gets the support, we hope, of the New South Wales people, then goes ahead and sells that asset, uses that money to then put into new productive infrastructure, as he said, for instance, potentially another crossing of the harbour.

Anthony Albanese and Labor think what they can then do in the Senate is have a disallowance motion on the money that the Government, the Federal Government would then contribute. I mean, that's how silly it would be. The asset would actually be sold. I mean, this is the pickle that the modern Labor Party's finding themselves in. It's arguing against itself.

Kieran Gilbert: Jamie Briggs.

Jamie Briggs: Because it's silly tactics.

Kieran Gilbert: I'm sorry to cut you off, but we've got to go. We're out of time. Appreciate your time this morning.