Transcript Interview: FIVEaa Mornings with Leon Byner
24 July 2015
Leon Byner: Thanks for joining us today, and in the studio I like to bring in ministers who answer questions to you; that's the best and most direct way to do things. The Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development is Jamie Briggs, he's the member for Mayo, Jamie thanks for joining us today.
Jamie Briggs: Pleasure Leon.
Leon Byner: If you've got a question, and look we're going to cover a bit of territory today, and if you want to ask him something, please feel free to do it. Jamie first of all let's just talk about this GST debate. All I've been hearing in the last few days is a possible increase of the GST from 10 to 15 per cent. Thing is though; what do we get back in return? Surely if we're going to increase the GST, and there's no definite situation that says we are, but it's on the table, but if we're going to do that what do we cut out? Because it's no good just increasing the cost of living for everybody and thinking that's going to bring prosperity, because it won't.
Jamie Briggs: Well, look that is a very good point Leon, and can I start by saying it is good that the state premiers have been willing to—or some of the state premiers have been willing to have a broad ranging discussion about how our taxation system works. It comes on top of the Taxation White Paper that Joe Hockey has released, so we can have a good look at the taxation system. We want simpler, lower, and fairer taxes, and I make the point very clearly that raising taxes is not tax reform. Making taxes higher so you can spend more money is not tax reform. That is lazy policy, and we don't support that.
Leon Byner: So… I'll give you an example. One of our economic commentators Darryl Gobbett said the other day that you could increase the GST to 15 per cent but if you do that you could get rid of payroll tax across Australia.
Jamie Briggs: Well that's exactly the point. The GST is a very efficient collection. It's very difficult to avoid the GST, and there should be two debates that happen when you're talking about the GST; we should be talking about the original proposal that the Howard Government put out which was an across the board GST, because of course the GST at the moment only covers about 47 per cent of the economy. There is a large amount of the economy which is not captured by the GST. And there's a debate about raising the GST. Now if you do that you only do that on the basis that you're getting rid of a series of other taxes and lowering income tax. We should have a situation where we've got the least amount of taxes we need, the most efficient taxes we can have, collecting the revenue we need to pay for the services people expect. But the outcome of this Leon, make no mistake, from the Federal Coalition's perspective is that we want lower taxes. We don't want more taxes for more spending; we want lower taxes and better targeted spending.
Leon Byner: Well, I want to get onto this business of waste or use of money. Now as I understand it, and I only found this out a few days ago even, and reiterated this morning, that as a Federal Minister you don't get a credit card; if you want to buy a bottle of wine, you've got to pay and then claim it. In South Australia, ministers get credit cards. So, we've obviously got two standards here, haven't we?
Jamie Briggs: We do, in fact we can't buy wine or any alcohol even when we're on overseas trips.
Leon Byner: Is that right?
Jamie Briggs: We can have—we get a per diem if you like for food, remembering most of the time when you're overseas you're at official dinners or lunches so you don't actually spend a lot of money. The situation that Mr Bignell finds himself in, we can't do federally. We don't have a credit card; my advisors don't have credit cards. The Federal Government works very differently where we basically claim back so you keep receipts and claim back for reasonable expenses. Alcohol is not included in reasonable expenses.
Leon Byner: Well, it's interesting to know. Well we've got Haydon Manning on of our political commentators on later on this morning about this. Look I want to talk about infrastructure. Now one of the things that we I think need to do quickly is electrify the northern rail corridor that would be a great benefit to SA. Is there anything you can do to bring that forward, because it was put on the backburner.
Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I'm talking with Stephen Mullighan, in fact again this afternoon, we are meeting again about infrastructure. We've had a series of meetings in the last few weeks. The Premier and the Prime Minister, I understand, at their Camp David meeting in Sydney a couple of days ago had a discussion. Stephen and I have got instructions from that discussion, which often happens Leon when Prime Ministers and Premiers meet together they come to conclusions and Ministers get told to implement them. So, we're working away at some additional infrastructure projects for South Australia. The Federal Government is very committed to South Australia performing better. It is bad for our country if South Australia's got high unemployment and…
Leon Byner: [Interrupts] what can we do in the short term to try and lift—see 8.2 is awful compared to the rest of Australia.
Jamie Briggs: Yeah it's a disaster.
Leon Byner: And look at the moment there's every indication it's going to get worse. What can we do to fast track—is fast tracking some of these things the answer?
Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I think yes, I think partly it is. We've got a commitment to upgrade the north-south corridor in a decade. The Prime Minister made that ambitious commitment back in October 2013. Now we've got two massive projects on Darlington and Torrens-to-Torrens. The Torrens-to-Torrens project is very, very soon going to be in heavy construction. A lot of work's gone on, and if you drive out there at the moment you'll see pretty much all of the properties that needed to be demolished have been demolished, so the early works as they're called have been completed by South Australian firm Bardavcol. The Darlington process is moving at pace, and by the end of the year we'll have significant work at Darlington. The Bald Hills Road project up in the great electorate of Mayo in Mount Barker is underway. Again Bardavcol has got that contract. But there is more that we can do, and we're working with the South Australia Government on how to fund it, and which priority projects need to be funded, and that's the work that we've been undertaking in recent times, in conjunction with Infrastructure Australia as well who advise us on the best use of taxpayers' money.
Leon Byner: Alright, now as a local member, even though you spend a lot of time in Canberra—of course you're Assistant Minister and so on—you do drive a lot in Adelaide, don't you?
Jamie Briggs: I do, yeah.
Leon Byner: Alright. Because I want to read you this from Peter at Ethelton, and this is something I'd love to get your feedback on.
Jamie Briggs: Yeah, sure.
Leon Byner: Peter says: I am bemused by the announcement of a study into how the state can improve its traffic flows and make it easier for drivers. There are examples all around us of how the Government and councils are working against car drivers. A current example is down Port Adelaide, they once had a nice wide main street called St Vincent Street, with dual lanes going both ways, with the dual lanes going from Commercial Road all the way to the beach. Now they've reduced the lanes to one each way, put in angled parking, and a bike lane, and a buffer lane between the bike lane and the car lane. Even on the Jervois Bridge they've widened the footpath to one side, added a bike lane on the footpath, and a bike lane on both sides of the road of the bridge. So, we went from a nice, wide dual-lane road with good traffic to a single lane each way from Commercial Road to Hart Street including over the bridge. They've restricted the flow of traffic often causing standstills. I do this route four times a day and I'm lucky to see a single bike in the bike lanes every couple of days. So, to accommodate a handful of bike riders, we have a council that's restricted traffic flows to thousands of motorists a day. Now look, one of the—and we've got of course Frome Street which has got plant boxes in the road and there's been some debate about removing those. Where do you stand on this? As Infrastructure Minister, what is your mind about this stuff?
Jamie Briggs: Well, look the first point that I would make, and I'll come to the issue about changing the way roads work for cyclists and other users, the first point is you can get quite a lot of productivity uplift by making your network more work more efficiently. Infrastructure Australia's done a lot of work on using existing infrastructure much more effectively and efficiently and that saves a lot of taxpayers' money. One criticism we get—and I don't think necessarily, unfairly, all the time is that we like new projects because it's politically sexy, if I can put it that way Leon, where as upgrading existing infrastructure is not so much. But the increase in the use of roads—the more efficient use of roads from upgrading infrastructure can be significant.
Now, in saying that, I think councils have gone too far at times in trying to change the use—if you like, of infrastructure and that has affected the effectiveness of that infrastructure and we saw that here in Adelaide where it, frankly, it went too far. We should certainly have a system where cyclists are encouraged. People are cycling more, I'm one of them. You know, you get into your middle age and you're trying to keep fit and healthy. You jump on the bike in the lycra, it's not a good look, I accept that we do need to find a way to have more respect on the roads between cyclists and motorists and there's faults on both sides, I think. But, we're reminded this week, it's the anniversary of Amy Gillett; it reminds us that we do need to be conscious of all road users. In saying that, we need, in a city where roads are a very vital part of our infrastructure, whether that be for people who drive their cars or for buses, is the major public transport choice; we do need to ensure that the network operates as effectively as possible.
Leon Byner: Alright. Now, we had a senate inquiry in the last day or two in Adelaide and there were some interesting questionings form a senior public servant who was asked about press releases sitting in the wings and he didn't want to answer. There is a terrible suspicion out there, Jamie, and you know this, that there have been deals done—I know it's been denied. How long do we wait before we know who's going to build the subs?
Jamie Briggs: Early next year is the intention and at the end of November is when the…
Leon Byner: [Interrupts] And who decides this? Is it…
Jamie Briggs: The Cabinet.
Leon Byner:…can there be a captain's call or can Cabinet say no because…
Jamie Briggs: No, the Cabinet will decide.
Leon Byner:…you know, you've got—so the Cabinet—each member will vote a certain way as to what will happen here.
Jamie Briggs: The process will be Leon… there's Cabinet subcommittees. I'm on the Infrastructure Subcommittee which wouldn't shock you, I'm the Infrastructure Minister so would imagine I would be on that subcommittee and that deals with specific infrastructure issues from time to time and that goes to the full Cabinet for their approval or otherwise. It's the same with national security issues. There's a National Security Committee of Cabinet which the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Defence Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Finance Minister, the Attorney-General, the national security type ministers sit on and make considerations on these issues. Those recommendations then go to the full Cabinet for a debate and recommendations. So, the Prime Minister is obviously a very influential member of Cabinet but the whole system of how it works in Australia is that Cabinet, ultimately, is the most powerful and preeminent body.
Now, the Prime Minister has indicated time and time again there has been no deal done. In fact, if there was a deal done, we wouldn't be having this process. I support the submarines being built in South Australia. I think we've got the capability in South Australia, we've got the capacity to do so and the flow on effects of a build in South Australia for our economy and for the—if you look at Israel for instance, one of the great factors of the Israel economy for seven million, eight million people is they've got probably the most high tech economy in the world and a lot of that is from spinoffs from the Defence industry. So, there is great opportunity if we invest here. Now, I think what this process will show, whether it's through the TKMS bid or the Germans as they're referred to, or the Japanese or even the French, is that we do have the capacity here to build for a reasonable price because we do need to ensure that the taxpayers get the best value and we get the best defence asset. That's the aim here.
Leon Byner: Now, you'll keep us in the loop on any announcements that are very important for South Australia because we need a real….
Jamie Briggs: Well, absolutely…and I think the other part, this is not just about submarines. Where Labor really let South Australia down when they were in government is that they had the opportunity to fix what's called the valley of death. They could have made announcements and decisions when they were in government for those six years, not just about submarines which they put off…
Leon Byner: But if you fix it, though, you get the credit too.
Jamie Briggs: Well look, that may be but I don't think this should be about credit or otherwise. There are a lot of people who are grandstanding on this issue.
Leon Byner: Yeah but if you—I've made the point to whatever party at every interview I've done on this, that you could have sorted this out and you didn't but now the Government's in power, they're the ones with the stick of authority. It's up to you guys to do that.
Jamie Briggs: Absolutely and we need to do it in the best way for taxpayers to ensure that not only that their money's spent properly but that our defence needs are met. And the frigates are an important part of this decision as well; ensuring we get a long term commitment to shipbuilding in Australia is an important aspect of what we do.
Leon Byner: Thanks for coming in this morning.
Jamie Briggs: My pleasure, Leon.
Leon Byner: Jamie Briggs, the Assistant Infrastructure Minister and Regional Development.