Transcript of Interview: Late Afternoons with Annette Marner—ABC North and West



14 May 2015


Annette Marner: But first today, well actually reflecting on yesterday's program when the State Treasurer in South Australia, Tom Koutsantonis joined us, and he was expressing his disappointment at the level of infrastructure spending by the Federal Government in South Australia in this Budget and he argues that the regional members of the Abbott Government, Rowan Ramsey and Tony Pasin along with the Federal Minister—Federal Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Jamie Briggs and fellow South Australian, of course, that they needed to fight much harder for South Australia. This is a little of what the Treasurer had to say on yesterday's program.

[Excerpt of interview]

Tom Koutsantonis: A lot of your country listeners will be worried about is in this Budget, there's not an extra dollar in '15, '16 for a single port, single road upgrade, a single rail upgrade from the Commonwealth Government, not one cent, yet in the North of Australia, there's $5 billion on offer and you have to ask yourself, Jamie Briggs and the Member for Grey and the Member for Barker, who represent almost the entirety of regional South Australia and not one dollar has been put in regional infrastructure from the Commonwealth Government and that's quite frankly a crime.

[End of excerpt]

Annette Marner: Well, Jamie Briggs is with us, the Member for Mayo and Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development. Jamie Briggs, welcome to late afternoons. Thanks for joining us.

Jamie Briggs: My pleasure.

Annette Marner: Well, we wanted to give you the right of reply so let's start with that idea because…

Jamie Briggs: Good on you.

Annette Marner: …you've—[laughs] you issued a statement yesterday saying that $2 billion in funding for world class infrastructure has been allocated to South Australia. Where and for what in particular?

Jamie Briggs: So, we've got a billion dollars or thereabouts on South Road, two projects that we announced last year and the first one the Torrens to Torrens project is getting under way as we speak. The contracts have been awarded. It's slightly late and we're a bit disappointed about that but that's consistent with what the South Australian Government's performance on infrastructure is, to be honest, and then same with the Darlington project, well, we've funded 80 per cent of that project in last year's Budget. We're also funding a project in the APY Lands which is $85 million of money from the Federal Government for that project. Again, that's taken three years to get off the ground so it's taking too long but it is a difficult area to do work.

Annette Marner: Is that road infrastructure?

Jamie Briggs: Yes, that's right. There is a substantial amount of money in regional South Australia and the point that the State Treasurer just refuses to acknowledge—because all he wants to do, Annette, is just play a political game constantly rather than representing and doing his job as the South Australian Treasurer. We've doubled the Roads to Recovery and Black Spots program which overwhelmingly benefits regional councils. So, this is a treasurer who, for some reason, just wants to have a political brawl with the Australian Government rather than trying to work with us and get more projects done in South Australia. We would fund more projects, Annette, if we had more projects to fund. The problem with South Australia is…

Annette Marner: What does that mean?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we don't dream up infrastructure projects ourselves. The state plans them, and they need to bring us proposals that we can fund. Now, they haven't done that. For instance on South Road itself, we've said to them we want to upgrade the entire Corridor in a decade, we in fact last year, to get things moving, paid for a study. They have not yet released that study, they refuse to release that study. We've seen the study, there several more projects that need to be done on South Road, we have not yet had a proposal from the State Government on what additional projects could be done.

Annette Marner: So, are you saying regional South Australia because so far you've mentioned $85 million for the APY Lands for roads, a billion dollars for South Road, which is very much the City of Adelaide, but for the area that…

Jamie Briggs: Well, it also benefits regional South Australia because it's the main freight link into Adelaide.

Annette Marner: For country South Australia that generates according to the Council and Key Stakeholders of the Central Region newsletter from January 2014, country South Australia generates around $20 billion. So, are you suggesting that country SA is missing out on potential funding for infrastructure because the State Government hasn't put in requests for funding for projects?

Jamie Briggs: Absolutely.

Annette Marner: Is that what you're saying today?

Jamie Briggs: Yes absolutely. And in fact here's a classic example. The Mount Barker interchange project, which is in my electorate, and was an election commitment that I made at the last election, the South Australian Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to deliver that project. Only when we put the vast majority of that money on the table, and after a decade of lobbying from the local council, did the South Australian Government agree to spend that money. You know, lower …

Annette Marner: [Interrupts] So the fact- when Treasurer Koutsantonis says that there's not one dollar for a new port, there's no rail infrastructure, and we heard him say that yesterday, and I replayed it today, you're saying that's happened not because of Federal Government policy but because there's been no project applications to the Federal Government. Is that what you're saying?

Jamie Briggs: That's right. Absolutely. And he's also wrong about that. There is additional money in the Budget for South Australia, a very substantial amount of additional money for South Australia—$1.8 billion over the four years just in GST revenue alone. Which of course, remember, GST is untied. So they can use that for whatever they like, the South Australian Government.

But here's how they treat regional South Australia, if you want a perfect example. It's not on road infrastructure, but it relates to the Murray-Darling Basin. There was a fund established to help with the economic diversification of the Basin post the plan that was signed a few years ago by the previous government. There was money given to New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia, about $25 million each, to assist in the diversification.

Each of those other states is spending that money now on projects. The South Australian Government refused to spend their money, point blank, on those projects; Federal Government money, $25 million worth, refused to spend that money. So we've now had to take that money back, and what we're now thinking about is how we spend that in regional South Australia in a different way.

Annette Marner: My guest today is Jamie Briggs, the Member for Mayo and also the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development in the Abbott Government.

I want to quote you a statement from Nick Xenophon, Independent Senator for South Australia. He's put out a statement saying that the Federal Budget leaves South Australia [indistinct]. He says, essentially, there is no plan for building South Australia's economy in this Budget, and he says that South Australia, and I quote, is facing the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in coming years and this Budget had nothing planned with which to respond, unquote, says the Senator. What's your response to that?

Jamie Briggs: Well look, I respectfully disagree with Nick's political assessment. He's obviously trying to get some political benefit out of it; of course he's a candidate against the Coalition at elections so we don't expect Nick to give us too much credit. However, where we disagree is simply this point: South Australia is dominated by small businesses. We are, of all the states in the Commonwealth, we would have more small businesses than any other. We've got very few large businesses based in Adelaide. And this Budget is overwhelmingly a small business budget. There are tax cuts for small business, there is accelerated depreciation up to the value of $20,000 for purchases which began on Budget night. This is a Budget which is overwhelmingly directed at small business and therefore is overwhelmingly good for South Australia. In addition to that, there is the infrastructure that we're building in South Australia. This is a record spend by a federal government on infrastructure in South Australia. So, I …

Annette Marner: [Interrupts] But as you pointed out, it's the APY Lands for much needed roads, as you've said, $85 million, a billion dollars for South Road; but where is the money, as the Treasurer said, for ports, for rail infrastructure, for other road infrastructure across country SA?

Jamie Briggs: Well, where's the request?

Annette Marner: Jamie Briggs, thank you very much for joining us today here on Late Afternoons.

Jamie Briggs: Thank you so much.