Transcript of Interview: ABC Radio 774 Drive Program

Interview

BPC078/2014

01 December 2014

E&OE

Rafael Epstein: Jamie Briggs is the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Development in the Federal Coalition Government. Jamie Briggs, good afternoon.

Jamie Briggs: Good afternoon Raf, how are you?

Rafael Epstein: I'm well. It looks like the referendum was fairly conclusive; will you be acceding to the will of the people?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we took the East West Link plan to the Federal Election last September, and I noticed you've missed that commitment. We made it very clear at the last election that we would build the East West Link, if we were elected…

Rafael Epstein: [Interrupts] That's a completely specious argument, isn't it?

Jamie Briggs: We'd make. Sorry, interrupt me—but we said we would build it. I suspect Michael Sukkar, the Member for Deakin, one of the reasons that he was elected so overwhelmingly was because…

Rafael Epstein: [Interrupts] You're kidding me.

Jamie Briggs: I'm not kidding you, that was exactly what we took to the election, so you can…

Rafael Epstein: [Interrupts] That's just—so you're really saying to me, as a junior Minister in the Coalition government, you're saying with a straight face that the East West was a significant part of the federal vote at the last election that trumps what happened on the weekend? I just think that's laughable.

Jamie Briggs: Well, as a junior radio presenter, yes I am saying that very clearly.

Rafael Epstein: Oh don't give me—I didn't say junior minister as a way of denigrating you, I'm just trying to give people…

Jamie Briggs: Well, you did, Raf. I mean…

Rafael Epstein: That's rubbish, Jamie Briggs. Jamie Briggs, if you're going to insult me, you're going to get it right back at you. If you want to continue the interview…

Jamie Briggs: There is no position called junior minister, so…

Rafael Epstein: If you want to continue the interview…

Jamie Briggs: But there's no position called junior minister.

Rafael Epstein: Yes, but let me tell you, Jamie Briggs, no-one really has an idea of what it means. All I meant to imply—I call lots of people junior ministers…

Jamie Briggs: Yeah I'm sure…

Rafael Epstein: I call many people junior ministers. No-one else has ever arced up.

Jamie Briggs: Well…

Rafael Epstein: You're trying to present to me a completely specious argument.

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think if you're from the ABC, you would be—it would be terrific if you showed a bit of…

Rafael Epstein: [Interrupts] Oh, so it's since I'm from the ABC. Great.

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think it would be terrific if you showed a bit of respect for the actual position and didn't go down to denigration.

Rafael Epstein: Do you want to answer the question?

Jamie Briggs: The question is very clear; we made a very clear commitment to the election. At the election last year, to the East West Link. We made a $1.5 billion dollar commitment at the election. So there is equal capacity for us to argue that we have a mandate to implement our promise, as the proposition you put to me. But at the end of the day, what is very clear is that responsible governments don't rip up contracts. Responsible governments don't rip up contracts and in fact, I'll quote a terrific source, if I can…

Rafael Epstein: [Interrupts] Well, do you want to divert away from my question, or do you want to answer it?

Jamie Briggs: I just answered it.

Rafael Epstein: No you didn't, because what I said to you, is that it's bunkum argument to suggest that the priority…

Jamie Briggs: An opinion; you didn't ask a question.

Rafael Epstein: Well, we can keep interrupting each other, or you can let me re-ask the question. You can—you know if you want to, as a Coalition, continue the tactic of saying: you're from the ABC, therefore the question isn't legitimate, you're entirely welcome to do that…

Jamie Briggs: No, I didn't say that.

Rafael Epstein: That was your implication, wasn't it? I didn't denigrate your position, Minister.

Jamie Briggs: Well, you did.

Rafael Epstein: I did not. I have said junior minister to people in both sides of government…

Jamie Briggs: There is no position called junior minister in the government, Raf.

Rafael Epstein: Jamie Briggs, I have said junior to many people on both sides of politics, I've done this job for nearly three years; you're the first to take offence. Let me put it to you…

Jamie Briggs: Well, you're wrong in doing it. That's why I'm pointing it out as a fact.

Rafael Epstein: No that's not what you said. You said I denigrated you and I did not.

Jamie Briggs: Well you did. But in any event, in any event…

Rafael Epstein: In any event…

Jamie Briggs: I was very happy to answer the question, which was that…

Rafael Epstein: [Interrupts] East West was a significant issue on the weekend, which you have totally ignored, given your Prime Minister said this election was a referendum on the East West Link. I would put it to you that the idea the East West was significant at the Federal vote, at the last Federal Election in Victoria, is bunkum.

Jamie Briggs: Well, that's your opinion and the opinion of the Member who was elected, the Member for Deakin, Michael Sukkar is that it was a very significant factor in the fact that he was elected. But the reality is this: responsible governments don't rip up contracts and Daniel Andrews himself said, on August 1, and I quote “Despite Labor's opposition to the project, Mr Andrews stressed he would honor any commercial deals struck by the State”. And a direct quote “Sovereign risk is sovereign risk, a contract is a contract”. That was in the Financial Review and that is the point that we are making; responsible governments don't rip up contracts. The very purpose of the $50 billion infrastructure program we announced in the budget was to get projects happening now. So even if you accept the argument that we should do something different, that is being put as a proposition, it would take at least two years, at least two years for this project to be recalibrated or for a new project to be built.

Rafael Epstein: You mean the rail tunnel recalibrated, is that what you mean?

Jamie Briggs: Well if that's the project that they want to pursue, sure.

Rafael Epstein: Yep.

Jamie Briggs: It would take two years. The point I'm making is that what we funded in the budget and the reason we're so eager for these projects to get underway is we've got an economic challenge now. We've had a significant drop in the activity in the construction sector.

Rafael Epstein: Sure.

Jamie Briggs: The private sector construction, because of the mining boom coming off and moving into a production phase and the very purpose of the infrastructure investment in the budget was to get projects happening, to get jobs created.

Rafael Epstein: So can I—can I ask if this is a potential middle ground—and I'm sure Labor here in Victoria would say they've already funded these things, but if..

Jamie Briggs: Sure.

Rafael Epstein: But if the new Government was to come to you and say: listen, fund the level crossings and the Western distributor with East West Link money and then we will take what we've committed to that and we will spend it on public transport; is that a potential middle way?

Jamie Briggs: No. The agreement we've signed with the Victorian Government is to fund the construction of the East West Link. The agreement that the Victorian Government has signed with private sector constructors is to build the East West Link. The project is ready to go. There are people employed on it now. There'll be more people employed on it in a month's time when it begins. We want this work happening, we want this project delivered; that's why we've put money towards it. This is not a partisan political position; this is an economic position to get economic activity happening to create a stronger Melbourne. That's what we funded…

Rafael Epstein: Sure.

Jamie Briggs: That's what we came to an agreement on.

Rafael Epstein: Is there a deadline? I just wonder, if—once they turn around and are sworn in, once they introduce legislation for a road project—at which point does the Federal Government say, well no, we are at odds here and we'd like to you to start returning the money?

Jamie Briggs: Well, if they went ahead and did what Daniel Andrews said he wouldn't do and ripped up contracts, at that point in time we would obviously use the rights under the agreements we've signed to ask for the money

Rafael Epstein: Well the only—the only problem with that is I think they are trying to not rip up so much as renegotiate. Daniel Andrews' constant line is, you know, he's got lots of build things to build, he's sure that people involved in building the road would love to build with him. So if he renegotiates, but doesn't rip up, does the money stay?

Jamie Briggs: The project that we funded…

Rafael Epstein: Okay.

Jamie Briggs: …is the East West project. That is the agreement that we signed with the Victorian Government. That is the instrument that we've signed. The instrument makes very clear that we will not be paying any money towards any legal costs that would be incurred by a government that changes or rips up a contract. The instrument makes very clear that we expect that money to be spent on that project and if not, that project money will be returned to the Commonwealth and it will go back into the national pool and it will go to whatever the next project is that we think will get that economic activity happening that we want to build a stronger economy.

Rafael Epstein: Jamie Briggs, if I can return to a point about the ABC; do you think there's much mileage in constantly accusing us of bias?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I don't, in fact the most regular radio station I conduct interviews on is the ABC in Adelaide; by far. I would do more interviews on the ABC in Adelaide than any other and I enjoy the interviews with Matt and Dave on 891 very regularly. I don't think the ABC's got a problem with bias, but I'm happy to pull up where I think radio presenters—whether they're from the ABC, 3AW or any other—are not respecting what is the job that I've got to do.

Rafael Epstein: Well I should have perhaps said to you, sorry for your understanding of it being denigration. But believe me, I have called any number of people…

Jamie Briggs: Well there's no position called junior minister. I mean, it's as simple as that.

Rafael Epstein: I know that. I know that. I know that. But there was no implication of denigration or any putting down of your role in that description whatsoever.

Jamie Briggs: Well look, in the end, this is a bigger issue than any particular person…

Rafael Epstein: Indeed.

Jamie Briggs: …and it is a very important issue and I should have started the interview by congratulating Daniel Andrews on his election. It is a—a remarkable achievement, to become premier of a state…

Rafael Epstein: Sure.

Jamie Briggs: … the state that I grew up in. And of course, we want to have a good working relationship with him. And as I say, this is not about partisan political points; this is about getting the economic outcomes that we are looking for to build a stronger country. We want to come to an agreement with Mr Andrews, we hope that he follows through on the words he used in August, which—responsible governments don't rip up contracts.

Rafael Epstein: Sure. What if he comes back at you and says it was a referendum and you lost?

Jamie Briggs: Well look, if he does that, that would be unfortunate, I think, for the people of Melbourne and the people of Victoria, but we'll deal with that as we would deal with any other situation in any other state, if that was the same case. But in the end, we put $50 billion into infrastructure because it's important to try and build a stronger economy…

Rafael Epstein: Sure.

Jamie Briggs: And that's what we're going to do.

Rafael Epstein: Thanks for joining us.

Jamie Briggs: Thanks Raf.

Rafael Epstein: Jamie Briggs is the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure in Development in Tony Abbott's Coalition Government.