Transcript of Interview: 891 ABC Adelaide Breakfast
23 June 2015
Matthew Abraham: Jamie Briggs is the Liberal MP for Mayo, but he is also the Federal Assistant Minister for Infrastructure in Tony Abbott's Cabinet, and is responsible for a lot of infrastructure cash. Jamie Briggs, welcome to the program.
Jamie Briggs: Good morning.
Matthew Abraham: Would you support Tom Koutsantonis and the Weatherill Government privatising SA Water?
Jamie Briggs: Well, that's a matter for the South Australian Government. We don't own it, but our view is that there is an opportunity at the moment, particularly with a large amount of money floating around the globe looking for a home, to take advantage of mature assets. Similar to what Mike Baird is doing in New South Wales, and reinvesting the proceeds of those mature assets in greenfield infrastructure, which will help build the capacity of the economy. So, we've got the Asset Recycling Programme, which the Treasurer is responsible for… I tick off on the infrastructure out of that. I know that Tom Koutsantonis has been eager to participate in that programme through the MAC sale process, and we welcome that.
David Bevan: But you'd be- if Tom Koutsantonis says- he walks into a room and Joe Hockey has got analysis on his desk saying you could get up to 14, maybe $15 billion for this Tom. As Infrastructure Minister, you'd be aware of that?
Jamie Briggs: Well, the first thing I'd say is I think it's unfortunate that private conversations have been reported, and I don't think that's proper. However, now that it's happened, I've spoken to Joe in the last few minutes; he doesn't actually remember that conversation. But what the Federal Treasury Department did 12 or so months ago was look at analysis that had been done on assets that had been owned by governments across the country by private sector companies. Consultants often do analysis of what these sorts of companies are worth. The Treasury itself hasn't done assessments. Some claim I heard earlier that there was a special deal between Steven Marshall and Joe Hockey is just complete bumpkin.
Compere: But if- but you're saying if the State Government wants to tap into and unlock this infrastructure bonus cash …
Jamie Briggs: Yes.
Compere: … it should go for the sale of SA Water. If there's $14 billion there?
Jamie Briggs: Well, it's a regulated asset. I mean the claims that you have no control over the asset is just simply not true. It's a regulated asset the same as when it's in government ownership—there are regulations about its pricing structure, and we've seen plenty of evidence about the government interfering in that pricing structure in the newspapers recently. That would be the same in the private sector owned it?
Matthew Abraham: So, you can do it, in other words. It's doable.
Jamie Briggs: Absolutely it's doable. And I think in the current situation that South Australia finds itself in, and the need for additional infrastructure to help grow our economy, I think it would be wise for people to stop running scare campaigns about it and instead have a genuine assessment. Just look at what's happening with Mike Baird in New South Wales. New South Wales either has begun or is about to begin $30 billion worth of infrastructure spending. It is a complete game-changer in New South Wales and particularly in Sydney. It is largely based on the sale or the leasing of the electricity assets that New South Wales has.
David Bevan: Okay. Well, let's invite you to talk straight too, just like we did with Tom Koutsantonis. You think it would be a good idea to sell SA Water?
Jamie Briggs: Yes, personally I do.
David Bevan: And you would encourage a Steven Marshall Liberal Government to sell SA Water?
Jamie Briggs: Well, it's not a Steven Marshall Liberal Government; it's a Jay Weatherill Labor Government.
David Bevan: Yeah, yeah, but we're going to… we may well have one in two and a half years time. It's reasonable for our listeners to know, would you be encouraging Steven Marshall?
Jamie Briggs: Well, I would be encouraging Jay Weatherill and Tom Koutsantonis. We've been really heartened by some of the encouraging noises that they've made in recent days about looking at broader reform, and that's a good thing. South Australia needs significant reform. We face a jobs crisis where we've got a lot of challenges, we are heavily in debt, we need to grow our economy, and we want to work with the South Australian Government on ways to do that. Now unlocking mature assets—the cash from mature assets to invest in new infrastructure is a very good way to help boost the economic performance of the state; I absolutely believe that.
Matthew Abraham: The… the bonus, it's about 15 per cent, is it not?
Jamie Briggs: Yes.
Matthew Abraham: Well, when I say bonus, it's an incentive. So, for state governments who are lagging on privatising assets Joe Hockey has—and you—the plan is you're the Infrastructure Minister, he's our Treasurer, the plan is you… if you privatise an asset that's worth, let's round it off to $15 billion, then in addition to the $15 billion the state gets from the sale, we'll give you 15 per cent of that?
Jamie Briggs: If it's used on infrastructure.
Matthew Abraham: Yeah.
Jamie Briggs: If the money from the sale is used on infrastructure you'll get a 15 per cent bonus.
David Bevan: What if they used it to pay off debt?
Jamie Briggs: They don't get access to the money.
David Bevan: Oh okay.
Jamie Briggs: So, you get 15 per cent of the amount used on infrastructure. So, Premier Baird is using a portion to pay off some debt, but he's using a large amount of it to pay—to use for new infrastructure. So, New South Wales is getting about $2 billion out of their sale [indistinct].
David Bevan: [Talks over] so if they flogged this off and they got $15 billion, and they spent that on building a nuclear power plant, you'd give them 15 per cent?
Jamie Briggs: Look, we would have to make an assessment of whether a nuclear power plant was new greenfield infrastructure. you know, on the first time I've thought about that, it probably would qualify.
David Bevan: I reckon it would. And we'd all get cheap power.
Jamie Briggs: Well, look that's another discussion, I guess.
Matthew Abraham: Another discussion for another day.
Jamie Briggs: Let's open up every horny issue—thorny issue sorry…
David Bevan: Not every horny issue, just the thorny ones.
Jamie Briggs: [Talks over, indistinct]
Compere: Minister, I think you'll be in enough trouble on this one.
Jamie Briggs: Look, I don't think that the people of South Australia have a closed mind on what we need to do to get out of the crisis we find ourselves in. No one wants to be the worst performing state. I don't want our three children growing up in a state which doesn't have prospects. And I think we do need to sit down and work out what it is we can do, and I've had some really fruitful discussions with Stephen Mullighan in the last couple of weeks about potential infrastructure projects, but the problem is going to be, how do we fund them? We've got finite availability of cash, both at the federal and state level, as far as taxpayers' money, so yeah we have to look at ways to find new sources of funding. Now there are two available sources of funding outside of taxpayers' money; one is the use of mature assets as we've just talked about, the other is involving the private sector. Now on both of those fronts the South Australian Government has said in recent weeks that they are looking at accessing both of those, because frankly we're going to need to.
Matthew Abraham: You're listening to Breakfast. Jamie Briggs, thank you. On 891 ABC Adelaide, he's the Federal Minister for Infrastructure. He's a South Australian; he's the Federal Liberal MP for Mayo.