Transcript of Interview: Sky News Richo



18 March 2015


Graham Richardson: In our Canberra studio is Jamie Briggs, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure. Welcome, Jamie.

Jamie Briggs: Good to be with you, Graham.

Graham Richardson: Now, if I could just go through a few things with you? Infrastructure is, in part, roads and obviously roads are going to be pretty critical. I would have thought the first, number one priority for roads in Australia, if we're going to see new ones built, would be ports wouldn't they, because don't we need the access to the ports to be really sorted out so we can get the containers off the ships and on their way?

Jamie Briggs: We do, and part of the agenda we're pursuing in the $50 billion we announced last year, is to improve the connectivity's in cities; that is to get access to markets quicker and more effectively. If you look at the projects we're funding in South Australia: in Adelaide for instance, we're upgrading two important projects on South Road, which is a major freight corridor.

In Sydney of course we're building, well the New South Wales Government's building; we're contributing significantly to the WestConnex project, which will improve the movement around Sydney as well as access to the city. And the other thing we're doing…

Graham Richardson: But what about the port? What about the Port Botany?

Jamie Briggs: Well, that's what I was going to get to. What we're doing, particularly with Port Botany, and the previous government, to give Anthony Albanese credit, began this process with the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, because intermodals will increasingly become important parts of how we move freight to and from ports; particularly where ports have got a restriction in the amount of land in and around them, which Sydney of course does.

So the Moorebank Intermodal will become an important part of the logistics movement in Sydney and it will increase the productivity of the city. It is connected with the major freight route between Melbourne and Brisbane. When NorthConnex is completed in 2018, basically you'll have a traffic light-free trip from Melbourne to Brisbane.

Moorebank is off that link which will connect well with rail into the port and you'll be able to move products much more efficiently and get big trucks out of our inner cities. So intermodals are increasingly going to become important parts of how we move in and around cities and operate with ports.

Graham Richardson: Yeah, there's no doubt about it. I've just been worried because I look at a lot of the focus on where we're spending money on roads and I just don't seem to think that ports are getting enough and I think we've still got bottlenecks there that we need to look at. Beyond that though, as an Infrastructure Minister, you no doubt will have had opinions on the East-West Link in Victoria. Where do you think that's up to?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we've heard today Richo that the Andrews Government is drafting legislation to override the contract that the consortium has with the Victorian Government, which is simply staggering. It would be the first time in our history that a government has legislated away the rights of a consortium of business that has a legitimate contract with a government.

It will create enormous sovereign risk issues, it will probably mean Victoria loses their AAA credit rating, it will damage our economy and it will cost us jobs. And if the Victorian Government goes down this path it will be an extremely damaging act of economic vandalism and I just hope that Bill Shorten is on the phone to Daniel Andrews tonight urging him to pull back from this action, because it won't just be Victoria that's damaged; it'll be the entire national economy which will suffer because foreign investors will be much more reluctant to look at Australia in the future.

It will cost us more to get access to capital if they go down this path and that means Australians will pay more for access to infrastructure; it will cost jobs.

Graham Richardson: But I've got to say, when I look at it, and I am looking at it from the outside, I don't want to be biased. I mean Tim Pallas is a mate of mine, has been for years, so I suppose I should state that clearly at the outset, but that being said, what do you do when you make it your principal, main policy, when every day of the campaign you say we're not going to build the East-West Link and you get voted into office.

The people give you the nod and say we want you to run the state. They know when they do that that you're not going to build the East-West Link. What do you say to the people of Victoria; I don't care what you think?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I don't necessarily think it was a big campaign item for them; it certainly was for the Liberal Party, but it was also a campaign commitment that we made in 2013 too, so you could make the same argument about our position. But the other point I'd make is that Tim Pallas and Daniel Andrews both promised Victorians that the contract that had been signed wasn't worth the paper it was written on and that they wouldn't have to pay compensation.

Now that is also a broken promise. So, you know, the problem they have here is that, in the end, they're going to have to pay taxpayers' money, either for a road, which is what we favour, including the 7000 jobs that come along with that, or pay compensation for no road, in effect just handing over free money.

Graham Richardson: Yeah but…

Jamie Briggs: The much better option here is to choose the road.

Graham Richardson: I accept that. I mean I hope that there's a road built and I don't want to see any jobs lost and I'm sure in the end there won't be, but I also want to say to you that, you know, your Liberal Government in Victoria didn't cover themselves in glory in this respect.

You'll remember that I did an interview with Tim Pallas and we found out about this side letter and that side letter's pretty devastating, because what it did was, obviously there was legal doubt about whether this contract was lawful and so, your government, you know, I don't want to say that, but I mean the Liberal Government in Victoria actually signed a letter that says even if the state acted unlawfully, you still get an implied guarantee that the contract will hold. I mean that is an extraordinary document is it not?

Jamie Briggs: Well, the Victorian Government, prior to the election, operated on the advice of the Victorian Public Service and it's the same Public Service that's advising the now government. I mean they entered into a contract, it was a long tender process, it went through three tenderers, it went down to two, they ended up with a preferred consortium led by Lendlink, Australia's only investment grade builder.

It's a project which has been talked about since Sir Rod Eddington proposed it to the former Labor state government back in 2008, when Bill Shorten supported it with not just one but two submissions. So this has been a long-run thing; it's not a surprise. Governments sometimes don't like, or incoming governments sometimes don't like necessarily the decisions that were taken by previous governments, but as Chris Bowen himself said, governments—and he said Labor governments—always stand by contracts.

Well, that's what we're saying tonight. Mr Andrews, listen to Chris Bowen's advice. You can't legislate away the rights of a business in this way; it will damage Australia's economy. Please don't do it; it will hurt Australia; it will be an act of economic vandalism that will cost us for years to come.

Graham Richardson: Well, there may well be a cost, but I think at this stage of the game no one knows if there will be. I think what the Labor Government appear to be trying to do is to make sure there won't be, but as I said to you before, if it was all that good, why would you have to have a contract that said even if the state acted unlawfully? There had to be doubt. Anyway, I won't belabour the point.

We have better things to talk about. Look, I know that your responsibilities directly don't include the new airport for Sydney at Badgerys Creek, but where is that up to? When are we likely to see sods turned and things happen?

Jamie Briggs: Well, my portfolio is responsible for it and we are pursuing the development of the second airport, the western airport—Western Sydney airport, if you like. The first thing we've done is put in place a $3.6 billion roads plan and we started the work on that plan in January with the Bringelly Road upgrade. We're moving down the path with the other roads to get them happening, because we've always said roads before airport.

As far as the negotiations are concerned with the Sydney Airport Corporation, the early stages of those negotiations are proceeding. This process was legislated back in 2000 when the Howard Government sold the airport at that time to the Sydney Airport Corporation. So we're following the process.

They get the first right of refusal, as it's known. That process has some time to go, but we're very confident that there'll be sods turned next year on the Sydney—on the Western Sydney Airport and it will begin operating within a decade's time. It's a very important piece of economic infrastructure that will unlock billions of dollars of expenditure in Western Sydney, both on the roads that we're spending money on, plus all the private sector development from people who are moving their operations out there to take advantage of the new airport and then the work itself on the airport.

It'll be very substantial; just preparing the site itself will be a substantial earthmoving task. So we are very excited about the prospects of the Western Sydney airport and we're very confident that next year we'll come to an arrangement to get work underway.

Graham Richardson: Well I think ten years is an awfully long time I wish it could be a bit quicker. Now I've got to turn…

Jamie Briggs: So do I. So do I.

Graham Richardson: … I've got to turn to Joe Hockey because you counted numbers for him when he was having a tilt at the leadership in 2009 and I've just had a look at this, at what he's had to say about you Joe, my good friend Joe says about you—I am a completely unqualified fan of Jamie, Hockey says, he has a massive intellect, excellent values and a great sense of humour and he's a thoroughly decent person.

Well Saint Jamie can I ask you what's happened to Joe? What happened to that last Budget? I mean you people must be having a look at it and saying we stuffed that one up.

Jamie Briggs: Well we're in a difficult time, we face a very difficult Budget position and we're making hard choices and hard decisions and they're not always popular and we haven't obviously got every element of the explanation of the Budget right. That's been clear. Joe shares his blame in that, the PM shares his blame in that, I share my blame in that.

We're all part of this, but you learn from your mistakes and we know that the task ahead of us is to fulfil one of the major undertakings we made at the election which was to ensure that Australia lives within its means. We have great confidence in Australia's capacity as an economy to grow, and our people to be prosperous but we know that only happens when good governments, like the Hawke and Keating Government that you were part of Richo, like the Howard Government and the Costello Government that preceded it, or that followed it I should say were willing to make hard decisions to put the economy on the right track and the Abbott Government will be as well.

Graham Richardson: But Jamie the politics were terrible, I mean, the reality was that if you were on $500,000 a year or more you know, you were still only losing 10 grand a year but a family on 70 with three kids in the western suburbs they lost 10 grand in benefits. You were never going to sell that. What possessed you to think you could?

Jamie Briggs: The problem is, if you're earning 500 grand a year you don't get anything from the Government. I mean that's the reality.

Graham Richardson: No but there are things like super, there are things like negative gearing, there are plenty of ways to look at this.

Jamie Briggs: Well Richo you remember the last government who tried to take on the issue of negative gearing, it's a difficult debate and it's a fraught policy area because there are complications when you touch negative gearing. People have made investments based on the certainty of their investment.

Graham Richardson: Jamie, if there really is such a great crisis afoot then you've got to take a stick with some things like that and I'd have to say, after listening to Tony Abbott the other day, he looked like you're not going to take the stick to anything there's going to be no cuts; it's all nice little Budget and we're all happy and we can push that debt out. I went to the most extraordinary press conference today.

Jamie Briggs: I'm not sure you've taken exactly what he said accurately Richo. The point he was making is that we made a lot of structural changes last year in the Budget which were difficult to make and some of them are still being argued this week in the Parliament of course, the universities changes.

What we will be doing this year is taking on less of the structural issues while still ensuring the Budget is pitched to live within its means, which involves making hard decisions about government spending and we'll make those hard decisions about government spending because it's an absolute commitment of this side of parliament that we don't borrow from our future to pay for today's spending. That is exactly what we're elected for.

Graham Richardson: I understand that mate. Jamie, I've got to leave it there I might say just looking at that last Budget though, really I mean you had so many mixed messages and that's what you've already started today—mixed messages. Get yourself a line and stick to it. That'd be my very simply advice; mind you, none of my advice has been heeded by you blokes before so I have no doubt this will be ignored as well. But look I'm doing my best.

Jamie Briggs: Well the only thing I'd say—can I just say though I was a bit disappointed this week that Christopher tried to steal your title as the fixer Richo.

Graham Richardson: I know, don't worry that's going in a column on Friday. Just read the Australian. I'm going to take him up on that. Thank you very much for your time Jamie Briggs.

Jamie Briggs: Thank you Graham, see you.

Graham Richardson: I'll be back in just a moment with John Hewson.