Transcript of Interview: 774 ABC Melbourne Radio with Jon Faine



07 November 2014

Subject: East West Link

Jon Faine: A recurring theme in Victorian politics in recent years has been government secrecy over, in particular, major infrastructure contracts. So it was with some astonishment this morning that I picked up today's copy of the Australian Financial Review and saw a plea from the Federal Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs to call on state governments to drop the secrecy that surrounds things like, for instance, the contract for the East West tunnel here in Melbourne.

Jamie Briggs is a junior minister in the Abbott Federal Government. Mr Briggs, good morning to you.

Jamie Briggs: Good morning, Jon.

Jon Faine: It's been a criticism of the Labor side of politics here in Victoria to say pretty much what you are saying from within the Liberal side of politics, so is there a split here between you and the Napthine Government?

Jamie Briggs: No, not at all. The point I was making today is that we committed at the last election to having increased transparency around the spending of taxpayers' dollars on very important infrastructure projects. The taxpayers are assured that their finite dollars are being spent on the most valuable projects across the country. East West Link certainly fits into that bucket, and that's why we funded not only stage one but we're funding stage two as well because it is a very important, city-transforming project that will have massive productivity increases for Victoria. It will create thousands of jobs and it will be good for the future of Melbourne and our country.

Jon Faine: Well, how do we know, because have you seen the secret business case?

Jamie Briggs: Well, there's been information passed through to the Federal Government obviously because we are contributing significant amounts of money to it. The point of the interview this morning in the Fin Review is that there is a balance here between the amount of information you want to release as a taxpayer to expose the confidential, if you like, information that you enter into bid processes with companies for, because you don't want to give away your hand, if you know what I mean, about what it is you want the companies to bid for. But at the same time, we think, and the states agree, mind you, that there can be additional information which can assure the taxpayer that they are getting the best value for the spend that we are making on their behalf.

Jon Faine: I hear your assurance, but again the question, have you seen the secret business case?

Jamie Briggs: We have certainly seen information in relation to how the East West project will proceed, obviously…

Jon Faine: And on the basis of what your government department has seen and what you're advised, your party has committed funds to this particular project. But how come the voters and taxpayers of Victoria are not allowed to see the same information?

Jamie Briggs: Well, they will. I think the issue here is a question of timing…

Jon Faine: What, after the election?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it's a question of timing. I mean, elections obviously are important and at elections, people get to make decisions about who they want to govern a state, but at the same time…

Jon Faine: And they want to make that decision with a full suite of information, and we're being denied that.

Jamie Briggs: Well, I don't think people are being denied it, but certainly what we're saying is…

Jon Faine: Well, how can we—how can you argue we're not being denied it? We're not allowed to know what you are allowed to know. We're not allowed to share the same knowledge base and you're asking us to choose a government without knowing what the information is and what the decision is based on.

Jamie Briggs: Well, Jon, I think the point here is that as a taxpayer, which you and I both are, we want governments to make the best decisions on our behalf about how we spend what is, in the end, finite taxpayers' dollars. There are choices for government about how you spend money; infrastructure's a very important part of that. In the end though as a taxpayer, equally, you don't want the Government to give away its hand and to get a dud deal because you released too much information.

Jon Faine: No but the deal is done, that's the point Mr Briggs, you're a minister in the Abbott Federal Liberal Government…Do you tell Denis Napthine or your colleague Michael O'Brien, the Treasurer, that on your same side of politics, okay the deal's done, the contracts are signed, now release them before the election so the voters can see what it is that they've been committed to?

Jamie Briggs: Well the election, in a sense, doesn't play into it. It's the timing as far as the information relating to the detail that is being discussed between the company, who's tendered for the project and been successful, and the Victorian Government who ultimately takes responsibility for delivering the project.

Jon Faine: But they don't take responsibility for telling us about it. The contracts were signed Minister on 29 September…

Jamie Briggs: No I think they have…

Jon Faine: Michael O'Brien said the contracts will be released in a few weeks. It's now five weeks and they've still haven't been released, so why not?

Jamie Briggs: Well look in the end that is a decision for the Victorian Government. But at the end of the day, the Australian Government is very confident and your listeners should be very confident, that the decision that the Victorian Government has made, (1) about the consortia who tendered for the process and (2) about the actual project in the first place, it is worthwhile expenditure of taxpayers' money because it is a vital project. It's a project that should go ahead. It's overdue. It comes from a report that was conducted by Sir Rod Eddington you remember Jon in 2008. At the time Bill Shorten put a submission in supporting the East West project. It is a good project and it must go ahead for Melbourne.

Jon Faine: There are two separate issues: whether it goes ahead or not is one of them and whether the public are allowed to know the basis upon which it might go ahead as a separate one. But while my time is limited Minister, can you explain to me, and I raised this the other day in fact with your boss Tony Abbott, there seems to be an absolute refusal by the Abbott Government to commit federal funds to public transport. You're the Infrastructure Assistant Minister, can you explain why?

Jamie Briggs: Well what we've said is that ultimately the Australian Government has responsibility in our federation for the management of the national economy. At federal elections, ordinarily people vote on federal issues and the major driving federal issues are the the management of the national economy and national security. They are the two major issues people vote on. In that respect, what we're trying to do in our infrastructure spend, the $50 billion spend which is the biggest ever by the Federal Government, is to get the best value to lift our productivity and increase our economic activity…

Jon Faine: Roads, roads, roads and more roads but no…

Jamie Briggs: And freight(*) rail…

Jon Faine: …rail and no public transport whatsoever.

Jamie Briggs: Well there are two points I'd make about that Jon. Firstly, people should remember that 50 per cent of the kilometres travelled by public transport in Australia are by bus and if you improve the road network by investing in projects like the East West Link you will improve the public transport network automatically. Most people from the suburbs travel in to the city by bus…

Jon Faine: Buses are caught in gridlock traffic and of no use to anybody…

Jamie Briggs: That's why you need good roads.

Jon Faine: Rail and trams and the like in this state anyway are a solution. Why does the Abbott Government simply point blank refuse to commit any funds to public transport?

Jamie Briggs: And that was the second point that I was going to make, Jon is that we are committing funds to public transport through the Asset Recycling Initiative…

Jon Faine: No that's state government assets being sold and…

Jamie Briggs: No, no, no—with Federal Government money that we pay as an incentive to spend on infrastructure. There has been misrepresentation of this policy by some that it's about a bribe if you like. What it's about is a bribe if you like for the use of the money and we're saying if you sell an asset like the Victorian Government plans to do with the Melbourne Port, we want that money spent on new infrastructure and if you do that we'll pay your 15 per cent bonus on the sale price and that will lead to the Melbourne rail link being built. So you'll get both. You'll get an improved road network through the East West Link and you'll get an improved public rail transport system through the Asset Recycling Initiative because of Tony Abbott and the Federal Government and because of the Victorian Liberal Government if they're re-elected.

Jon Faine: We've covered a lot of ground. Thank you indeed for your time on a busy morning and let's see where these issues end up.

Jamie Briggs: My pleasure Jon, thanks for having me on.

Jon Faine: Jamie Briggs and the Abbott Government. He's the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.