Transcript of Interview: 891 ABC Breakfast with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan

Interview

BPC004/2015

09 February 2015

E&OE
Subjects: Leadership and submarines

Compere: Jamie Briggs, are you able to share with us what you think will happen in the party room today? Are the numbers there for a spill motion to succeed?

Jamie Briggs: Look I don't think so; I think it will be a very strong result for the Prime Minister. Obviously, there are some colleagues who are unhappy with the political position of the Government that's quite clear. There's no point denying that this is the case and they're entitled to take this course of action. I think they're wrong in this course of action and while they're both good people, Luke and Don, I know them well, I don't think they're taking the right decision in doing this. In any event we're having this discussion and I think the Prime Minister will get a strong endorsement today. We will then work through with people who are unhappy what can be done to improve our political position but I make this point: the reality is that no matter who leads Australia at the moment, no matter who's the Treasurer, no matter who's the Foreign Minister or indeed the Infrastructure Minister, the challenges we face remain, the policy challenges we face will still be there tomorrow no matter who was in charge. The course that we're taking as a government, while it's not necessarily popular, it is necessary. We need to do a better job at explaining to the Australian people why it is that we are making the decisions we are, and we all take that point.

Compere: Well how's that going to happen? I mean this is a bit of mantra but you've got a Prime Minister who suddenly decides he's going to knight a prince. And then you're going to say this is the person who's in touch with the electorate or suddenly magically after today going to be in touch with the electorate, going to start communicating and going to start selling a message. How is that going to happen? What magic wand is going to be waved after today's meeting if he does survive the move against him?

Jamie Briggs: Well I think the issue you raise is clearly one which was out of the box and not one that was supported by the community and indeed many in the party room and I think the Prime Minister has acknowledged that. He has now changed the process for the selection of honours in the future and I think that is appropriate but there are broader issues at play here and you can't simply, under political pressure, just swap leaders because you think that's going to reduce the policy challenges you are facing. I mean we've seen this all before and it doesn't work. We saw the Labor Party go through five years of this and people don't like it. They turn away from politics because of it and we risk the same behaviour if we don't deal with this today and move on.

Compere: How has the Prime Minister's position on submarine construction changed?

Jamie Briggs: Well I don't believe it has. We have had the position for some time that we would have a look across the globe through the national security committee at what the best option for Australia was to build submarines for our future defence needs at the same time as getting the best value for taxpayers' money. That's been a clear position for some time I've said that on your program on numerous occasions. I know there's a campaign being run by the Labor State Government and its friends but that campaign has never been particularly truthful. What has been truthful is that we are following a process of trying to work out what is the best way to acquire submarines and I make this point. It was always going to lead to thousands more jobs at the ASC. It was always going to lead to that.

Compere: But your South Australian Liberal colleague, Sean Edwards says he received a phone call from the Prime Minister yesterday. Now that can't happen that often to backbenchers but he got a call yesterday. He said the Prime Minister knew my support for him, that is to oppose a spill, was conditional on getting an open tender including that Australian Sub Corporation for the subs. He said I was given that commitment I will now vote against the spill. So he thinks things have changed.

Jamie Briggs: Well Sean has got his own perspective obviously but I think he missed quite a number of announcements late last year so whatever his view is his view but you'd have to work out why Sean is saying that today I couldn't tell you that.

Compere: Do you think it's connected with trying to shore up his own support ahead of pre-selection?

Jamie Briggs: Well you may say that, I couldn't possibly comment.

Compere: Well that is code, is it not… anyone who follows politics knows…

Jamie Briggs: Well I think in these circumstances, everyone wants to be seen to be a player and a participant and obviously Sean's taken his conversation with the Prime Minister and articulated to the world. He's entitled to do that but I just simply make the point that the tradition of submarines is the same today as it was yesterday.

Compere: But he says that we now have a situation where the local company can bid and before yesterday's call…

Jamie Briggs: The local company was always going to have an opportunity to be part of this process. Not even the Labor Party has ever suggested that the whole project would be conducted in Adelaide. The Collins class submarine was, you'll remember, a European design and build. The reality is that we have certain skills here in Australia that the ASC does very well, and I've said this on your program, and they were always going to be a part of whatever the arrangement will be to build the next generation of submarines. That was always the case. The question is what will be the mix from which the best submarine design will be built and what is the best way to put it together across the globe?

That was always the position, so nothing in that respect has changed. There has been a political campaign which has muddied the waters and there have been media outlets who've been participating in that campaign, but it's never been particularly truthful. The situation today is the situation that it was last week. The new Defence Minister has made it clear that he wants to slow the process down a little so he can have a good look at what the options are, and that's completely and utterly appropriate alongside the National Security Committee. But the position today is the same as the position was last week, and I'm pleased that Sean's happy about that.

Compere: Well, Sean's kidding himself if he thinks he's achieved anything.

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, that's a matter for Sean.

Compere: Well, it's a matter for people listening because you guys say stuff and our listeners have to sift it to work out whether it means anything.

Jamie Briggs: David, I've said the same thing to you on this program on numerous occasions. We have had this discussion a few times, I think you'll acknowledge, and I haven't said anything different on any of those occasions.

Compere: So the Prime Minister would not need to ring a Japanese Prime Minister and explain that there's been a policy shift?

Jamie Briggs: No, I don't believe so and I heard what Chris had to say and I don't believe that his take on this has been right.

Compere: Okay. It's quite seismic stuff isn't it, Jamie Briggs?

Jamie Briggs: No, I don't think it is. I think the policy for the situation has gotten far ahead of the reality and the truth is we are working through a process on what is the best mix to deliver the next generation of submarines, and ASC was always going to be a major component in that.

Compere: At the end of last year, the Prime Minister said, look, we need to scrape some barnacles off and he hoped that he wouldn't be keelhauled in the process but now what are you going to be left with in terms of the Government's Budget Plan? Because all of those saving measures that you'd hoped to get through, which have just been stalled in the Senate, do we just put that aside and start again, regardless of who is the leader, whether it is Turnbull or Abbott?

Jamie Briggs: No, I don't believe we can or we will because the challenges that we have, as I said, aren't substantial. There are some policies which we are obviously going to struggle to get through the Senate but that's not really something we have a lot of control over, unfortunately. If you go back to when John Howard was prime minister in 1997, he and Peter Reith as the Workplace Relations Minister were able to deal with the Democrats in the Senate to get the legislation through. The same with the GST with Peter Costello. The challenge for us in the Senate is a very different complexion than what it was in those days. You don't have the Democrats as the third party, if you like, or the [indistinct] party.

Compere: That you can cut a deal with. Yeah.

Jamie Briggs: You have very disparate independents. You talk to Bob Day regularly. Bob has a very strident view as far as spending taxpayers' money [indistinct].

Compere: If Joe Hockey had delivered a budget that could have got through, it might not have been as strong, but if he got something through, if he'd done his job properly then people would put up with some of the crazy stuff from Tony Abbott about knighting princes and things like that. People would say, oh, it doesn't matter. That's just Tony. But it is because that budget stalled and you've spent a year fighting over stuff, this is why the Prime Minister is in trouble.

Jamie Briggs: David, as I've said to you before, I respect the role that you and Matt have as commentators. I'll let you continue to do that, and I think you do a good job at it. I'm a participant. I think Chris made the point in your interview with him that the measures that Peter Costello and John Howard put in place in '96 were far more difficult in a sense than what we did last year. Our measures were changes which really took effect in the out year to stop the curb of the upswing of spending, because as we get older, the capacity to pay for a lot of these programmes gets much more difficult.

Now, the reality is if we don't make those choices now, we have to make those choices tomorrow and they'll be much harder choices, and that's the conversation we might continue to have with people. Chris Bowen, the Labor Shadow Treasurer said himself a month ago in an opinion piece in The Australian that if Labor is elected at the next election, they will either have to raise taxes or cut services. So there are no easy choices. That's not a complaint, that's just the reality of the situation.

Now, we need to do a better job of talking to the Australian people about that, absolutely, but I will just make this point: March 2001, John Howard was behind on Newspoll 57–43. Seven months later, he won his third election. Things in politics can change. Things in politics can change quickly, but they only change if you get together and work as a team and continue to outline the vision you have for our country. We have that plan and that vision, and I think we need to get on with that after this morning's events.

Compere: Jamie Briggs, thank you for talking to 891 Breakfast.

Jamie Briggs: Always a pleasure, gentlemen.

Compere: Your local radio station. Jamie Briggs, Federal Liberal MP for Mayo. He is Infrastructure Minister with the Abbott team.