Transcript of Interview: 3AW with Nick McCallum



19 December 2014


Nick McCallum: Jamie Briggs is the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure in the Federal Government, the Abbott Government. He joins us now. Mr Briggs, thanks for your time.

Jamie Briggs: My pleasure.

Nick McCallum: Okay. So I'll ask you the easy question. I've got a fair idea what your response is going to be. The traffic mayhem we're likely to experience here next week, does that illustrate that we really do need the East West Link?

Jamie Briggs: Well, it illustrates why Bill Shorten himself in the late 2000s wrote not one but two submissions to the then-Sir Rod Eddington Inquiry into the needs of Melbourne traffic into the future. And that inquiry, of course, was what gave birth to the East West Link and to the Western side of the East West Link. Both projects, the Federal Government committed 1.5 billion to each in the Federal Budget back in May. And when it comes to the East West Link, the first stage, that work is ready to go. There are 7000 Victorian jobs that will be created next year if Dan Andrews overturns what has been a political decision and does what we think is the right thing and continues on with contracts. One of the issues that sadly has been created for Victoria, not just for today but for the future now, is massive sovereign risk. There are 31 members of the consortium who were successful in bidding for the East West, many of them international financiers and constructors. They are going to look at Victoria in the future very reluctantly if Dan Andrews goes ahead with this.

Nick McCallum: Okay. So were you surprised when you read this morning that already 350 jobs appeared to have gone from the East West consortium? As I say, people have been suspended or sent home, but you can't imagine them being re-employed now?

Jamie Briggs: Well, they'll be re-employed if the politics of this stop. If the project gets underway and the jobs are created. I mean, this project's ready to go. We want this project happening now because our economy needs the work. There's 7000 people listening this morning who could get a job on this project, want this job to go ahead, want this project to go ahead. All the benefits of congestion-busting and the economic benefits we've talked about will come with this project but in the first instance, this is about job creation. It's about ensuring that in the future, we've got a stronger economy. In the short-term, we've got people having the access to work, and that's why of all people, the Australian Workers Union, though not necessarily a great friend of the Federal Government, have been leading the charge for this project to go ahead.

Nick McCallum: Well, Mr Briggs, as you well know, Mr Andrews went to the people with a very clear policy. He got elected and so the East West Link—if he keeps his promise, and there's no indication he won't, then the East West Link is off the table. Will the Federal Government then look at helping to fund other big projects such as the level crossing changes or an alternative crossing over the area, or even just starting with the West part of the East West Link will the Federal Government—the $3 billion you've committed—will you redirect that if a substantial plan comes your way from Victoria?

Jamie Briggs: Well, there's a couple of points, I think. Firstly, we committed to this project at our election just 12 months ago. It's a very important point. We committed to this project. So we were elected, and many of my Victorian colleagues were elected on the basis that the Federal Government would support the construction of the East West Link. So we've made election commitments as well, which people should not forget. The second aspect of that, Nick, is that in the end, there is no other project which can employ 7000 Victorians next year. There is no other project which is ready to go. The level crossings that Mr Andrews talks about, those projects are not ready to go and they do not employ the same amount of people. The Melbourne Metro Project that the Federal Labor Party continually bangs on about—didn't fund in government but bangs on about it in Opposition—it is years away from being ready to be constructed, and the second stage of East West, which we committed $1.5 billion towards is in the very early stages of being prepared to be constructed. So there's only one project in Victoria right now which can employ 7000 Victorians next year, that can create the jobs that we want created, and…

Nick McCallum: But the question was, Mr Briggs, being a realistic here.

Jamie Briggs: Sure.

Nick McCallum: East West—assuming Mr Andrews keeps his promise, which we've had no indication he won't. So assuming East West is gone and you can talk about it, you can bang on about it as much as you want, but it is now gone. So where—if they come up with an alternative, if there is an alternative, will that $3 billion be available for the alternative?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think that's a very open question. We don't know if there is an alternative and we don't know, if there is, what it looks like. We've asked the Victorians and so far what we've been sent is frankly underwhelming. It doesn't create the jobs that we're looking to create in Victoria. We want to be a mature government working with a Vic… a new Victorian government about creating jobs and economic activity. It's all very well to make [indistinct]…

Nick McCallum: [Interrupts] So the challenge, then—so the challenge, then, is for Mr Andrews to come up with a viable alternative and bring it to you and you will consider it, right?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we want work in Victoria. We want people employed. We want jobs created, and this is a real opportunity for the Victorian—the new Victorian Government to calm down over Christmas. They've won the election; this is now about working with a federal government that wants to commit heavily to creating jobs. Heavily to creating jobs. We're not going to sit on money and wait for Mr Andrews to come up with a plan in two years' time. We want work now. This project is ready to go [indistinct]…

Nick McCallum: [Interrupts] Okay. So, let's cut through it here. If he can come up with a good alternative quickly, you'll look at it and that's going to be his challenge. He'll be in here after 9, so if we say to him: okay, you come up with a good old pla… a good, old fashioned job-creating plan quickly, the Federal Government will consider it?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we'll fund infrastructure projects which create economic opportunity in the future, and the only one that's on the table in Victoria is the East West Link, which is ready to be built today. Victorians can get jobs with it today if [indistinct]…

Nick McCallum: But you don't expect him to turn around and flagrantly break a promise just like that, do you?

Jamie Briggs: Look, I don't think it's a matter of breaking promises [indistinct]…

Nick McCallum: Oh, it is a matter of breaking a huge promise.

Jamie Briggs: Well, ultimately, we were elected to ensure that we create the best economic circumstances for our people and if Mr Andrews doesn't go ahead with this project, he will not be doing the right thing by Victorians. He will not be doing the right thing by Victorians. He will not allow 7000 jobs to be created. He will [indistinct]…

Nick McCallum: But he would have lied to them, if—if—in an—all throughout an election campaign.

Jamie Briggs: Well, and Nick, if we back away from our commitment to East West, the same accusation will be made against us.

Nick McCallum: Okay then. Mr Briggs, it is good to speak to you. Merry Christmas to you and your family. I appreciate your time.

Jamie Briggs: And to you, Nick. Thanks so much.

Nick McCallum: Jamie Briggs, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure.