Transcript of Doorstop, Melbourne
11 March 2015
Subject: The East West Link
Jamie Briggs: Well, the Fin Review is obviously well connected to this; they've had some detailed information in the last couple of days. But, we thought, as I just said, this was not something that any sensible government would ever embark upon, but it's become increasingly clear that it looks like they will embark upon it, which would be extraordinarily detrimental to our economy. It will damage us for years to come. It is something which has been raised with embassies across the world; the Trade Minister's having this raised with him in meetings in Canada, where he was just a week or so ago, we're having businesses come to see us. It creates a huge sovereign risk issue, it will potentially, I think, damage Victoria's credit rating. This is something which will cost us jobs, it will cost us investment, and we just urge the Andrews Government not to go done this path as long as we possibly can.
Question: When you say embassies, which embassies have this been raised in, and in what way has it been raised in embassies?
Jamie Briggs: Well, it's been raised by companies associated with the consortium, and their related governments have raised these concerns with embassies where they're based, European particularly. So, this is something which has been brought to our attention quite a lot. There are two issues here: firstly the ripping up the contract, which the consortium's not happy about; but there's a new step which is a sort of nuclear option if you like, which is to legislate away contractual rights.
Now, the reporting in the Fin Review yesterday suggested there would be some legislative approach which made companies sort of beg for what they believed were their costs. That is just extraordinary action. It would be beyond comprehension that a government would do that in a retrospective nature, and not think that this would cause significant damage to a relationship with the business community into the future. But our concern as the national government is this won't just affect Victoria, it will affect the whole of the nation if they go down this path.
Question: You've just foreshadowed in your speech there the Prime Minister's going to be applying further pressure…
Jamie Briggs: Indeed.
Question: …to the Andrews Government.
Jamie Briggs: Yeah.
Question: Can you tell us anything more about that?
Jamie Briggs: I'll obviously let the Prime Minister speak for himself, but he's in Melbourne in the coming days, and I think he'll have a lot more to say about it. Because, this is an issue of national significance, and we do not want the Andrews Government to go down this path. We will continue to pressure them to build the road; if they decide that they don't want to build the road and they prefer to pay out the compensation arrangements, in the end, that's a choice that they've made. But to legislate is a step which would do extraordinary damage—not just to Victoria, but to every other state and to our national economy. And we don't want them to do it, and we're going to make that very clear.
Question: And what- in terms of the money that's been already provided from the Federal Government… what's the status of that?
Jamie Briggs: Well, we've said it's there for the road. So, it can't be used for any compensation payments, it's there to build a road. So, if they go ahead and tear up the contracts, that money disappears, it will be returned to the Commonwealth. If they legislate, at that point obviously they're not going ahead with the contact, so the same applies with the money.
At the end of the day, we want them to build the road, right? We want them to build the first stage, we want them to build the second stage. If they want to talk to us about plans such as Melbourne Metro, we're happy to have a discussion about that. We've never said we're not interested in that. Let's not forget, even on their ambitious plans for the Melbourne Metro, what they've laid out, you wouldn't be talking about anything being done on it until at least 2018. So, we're happy to have a discussion about Melbourne Metro with the Victorian Government, but we're not happy to stand by and watch Australia's economic reputation be trashed by a government that doesn't seem to understand the damage it will do if it does this.
Question: In dealing with the state government, have you found that the Andrews Government doesn't really understand the magnitude of a decision, like this?
Jamie Briggs: My meetings so far with Jacinta Allan and Luke Donnellan have been good. This subject sort of hasn't had a lot of in-depth discussion because it's a bit of a closed book. But putting aside all the discussions, considering putting legislation in place is beyond comprehension. As I say, the Federal Government didn't think that this was a serious proposition until very recently, and we just didn't think a mature government would go down this path. Now that this is becoming a genuine risk, it appears, we are making very clear that this cannot go ahead.
Question: What do you make of John Mullen's call from Asciano, that the ACCC or the Government should regulate the ports, in particular stopping ports using their monopoly power to increase rent by 800 per cent. What would you make of that, do you support that?
Jamie Briggs: Well, I think you'd have to see the evidence. I know this claim's been made for some time, particularly in relation to the privatisation of ports in New South Wales. I think there is obviously some operating case studies that are going on. The ACCC can, of course, have a look at anti-competitive behaviour, if that's the allegation. I'm not convinced that that's the case. I think, in the end, people invest in ports because there's an economic opportunity and they need the consistent supply of the companies who they're involved with. So, I'm not convinced that the case that's been made, and has been raised before, is something that the Government needs to get itself involved in.