Transcript of Interview: 720 ABC Perth Drive with John McGlue



13 August 2015


John McGlue: They said the Federal Infrastructure Minister, Jamie Briggs, was the go-to person on this today. So, I spoke to Jamie Briggs, just before coming on air this afternoon.

John McGlue: Jamie Briggs, welcome to Drive.

Jamie Briggs: Thank you so much for having me.

John McGlue: First up—what can you tell us about the status of stage two of the Perth Freight Link? And I ask you that because our Transport Minister, Dean Nalder, is insisting contracts are going to be finalised by Christmas this year. But the Premier, Colin Barnett, talking today in terms of if the project is built. What's actually happening?

Jamie Briggs: Oh, well, no the project's certainly going to be built. This is an exceptional project. It's a project we're very proud to be working with the Western Australian Government on. As I understand, from the Premier's comments this morning, he was making the simple point that stage one is getting cracking now, and we'll get to stage two and the appropriate time. And we certainly expect works for stage two to be underway next year, to fit in with the overall Perth Freight Link, as you know, this is an introduction in Western Australia of a heavy vehicle charge, which is contributing to the project. And therefore both stages of this project absolutely have to go ahead. There's been discussion around the design and the route. And we're trying to get the best outcome through that. That's appropriate, that happens with pretty much all major infrastructure projects right across the country.

So, it's getting on, it's a massive project to involve 2,500 construction jobs. It'll contribute significantly to the Western Australian economy. And there's nearly a billion dollars of Federal Government money being spent on it. So, we are very interested to make sure it gets cracking as quickly as possible.

John McGlue: Now the Senate Committee is on the hunt for information relating to this, but the Senate has already ordered you Jamie Briggs to release documents relating to the Perth Freight Link; documents produced by Infrastructure Australia, or given to Infrastructure Australia, presumably by the WA Government. Now you have refused to do that, why is that?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I follow the precedent that Anthony Albanese set when he was the Transport Minister under Labor. I think your listeners should know… I mean people won't be surprised that the Greens led by Senator Ludlam have got this anti-cars view and anti-trucks-view—they somehow think we're going to move freight through Perth on the back of horse and cart—but Labor are now showing their true colours when it comes to this project; they're not interested in infrastructure, they're not interested in investing in jobs, they're interested in playing politics, and this is what this is about. We're following the exact same precedent that Anthony Albanese and his appointee at Infrastructure Australia followed when they were in Government. I follow that same precedent. This is a vital project, obviously there are sensitivities in respect to business cases when you're involved in the private sector as this project does. Certain Senators in the Senate are ignoring that… obviously that sensitivity. But what is really concerning for your listeners is that Labor would act in such an economically reckless fashion trying to destroy what is a very important project for Western Australia, and can I say years and years and years overdue.

John McGlue: Could you just explain to our listeners why exactly this information is deemed confidential? Where exactly is the sensitivity?

Jamie Briggs: Well, when you're obviously building models in respect of traffic forecasts to go to the private sector for them to contribute to this project you're obviously talking about information which has commercial confidence in and around it. Companies need to be assured that they're working on the basis that it's a reasonable basis that… how… on what the process they're following. So, this is the exact same process that the New South Wales Liberal Government is following with WestConnex, this is the exact same basis that Labor Governments in Victoria have operated in the past when it comes to major infrastructure investments involving the private sector. The Queensland Labor Government's following the exact same process with a toll road… heavy vehicle charge; they're investing up there as well.

John McGlue: Okay, but why exactly is traffic flow data confidential in a situation like this? Particularly if…

Jamie Briggs:…because you're trying to get the best deal for West Australian taxpayers. That's why.

John McGlue: Yeah sure but if you're just putting forward the basic data on which people are going to pitch for the work, why is that confidential?

Jamie Briggs: Because you are trying to get the best deal for taxpayers, you're trying to ensure that no-one is getting a commercial advantage, and there are sensitive negotiations which go on with these projects. I mean, this is a furphy that's been created here. The information here is very clear; there is nearly a billion dollars worth of federal government money invested in this project, there is significant Western Australian Government money, and then there is private sector money involved in this project as well. The route has been released, the environmental studies as far as stage one has been made clear.

John McGlue: Well, I interrupt there because the route hasn't been released.

Jamie Briggs: Well, on stage one it has been.

John McGlue: Well not on stage two.

Jamie Briggs: And I was getting to that. The work has been undertaken to get the best outcome for stage two. Now I would have thought your listeners would appreciate the fact the governments are working to get not only the best value for taxpayers' money but the most efficient route that causes the least amount of disruption to people who live in and around particularly Fremantle, and that's exactly what both governments are working to do. And I congratulate Premier Barnett and Dean Nalder for the work they're putting in to ensure that Western Australia gets not just a good piece of infrastructure for today, but a great piece of infrastructure for tomorrow. That they get the best route, that they get a route which causes the least amount of disruption to people. That I would have thought is something that people would be supportive of.

John McGlue: Jamie Briggs is my guest on Drive, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, talking about stage two of the Perth Freight Link. A Senate committee is now chasing information which you're hearing from Jamie, and you've heard it from the State Government as well, that this is confidential information which shouldn't be in the public arena. A Senate Committee is now going to chase it. I wonder about the fine line here between commercial in confidence and political secrecy. On projects like these, where do you draw that line?

Jamie Briggs: Well, you make the best judgement on the advice you get from your procurement agencies, that's what the state governments do, we don't procure for these projects, we don't build the projects; the state governments do, and we work with them to ensure that we're getting value for the taxpayers money that we're spending, and in this case we're confident we are. We do that with investing in projects which have got very strong business case, or business returns, in this case it's well over a dollar per dollar invested. Look, this is a very good project, what Senator Ludlam is doing is acting like he always does as an activist, and trying to stop this project going ahead.

John McGlue: Okay, well. Just come back to the question then, for a moment. At what point do you think that the information here, deemed sensitive at the moment because you're trying to get the best deal you say. At what point then, are you happy to share that information with the public of Western Australia?

Jamie Briggs: Well, what's the information that you're concerned about?

John McGlue: Well, information in terms of the commercial arrangements that are put in place between private sector operators and the taxpayers of Western Australia, and indeed Australia, surrounding the stage two project.

Jamie Briggs: Well, that information is obviously not finalised yet, so there wouldn't be information yet to release. I mean, this is a project which is- there hasn't been any engagement with the private sector to the point where contracts have been signed [indistinct]…

John McGlue: [Interrupts] no. I appreciate that. I guess, I'm thinking beyond that.

Jamie Briggs: I think this is where we're chasing furphies here.

John McGlue: [Interrupts] no, no, the reason I'm raising this is that the…

Jamie Briggs: [Interrupts] No, no, no. All due respect this is…

John McGlue: [Interrupts] the track record of the Government here on major contracts like this, major projects, the football stadium for example, is to maintain total secrecy on financial commitments, even after the deal has been finalised. So, there's an argument of course that things must remain confidential, an argument in the lead up to a deal being done, but after it's been done, the track record here of the Barnett Government is to maintain that veil of confidentiality, even after the deal is done. So, I'm just wondering why that position would be legitimate in relation to stage two of the Perth Freight Link.

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, they're matters that you are obviously engaging with the Western Australian Government. They don't relate to the Australian Government's role. We don't sign contracts with private sector providers in this respect. That's done by the state government. We provide money to the Western Australian Government to get an outcome for the people of Perth, and that's what we're doing.

John McGlue: Sure.

Jamie Briggs: And we want that to happen as quickly as possible because this is a project which will mean not only the economic benefit I talked about earlier, but it will also mean that the convenience for commuters on the other freeways that surround and roads that surround this freight link will much increased because they won't be dealing with big heavy trucks on those roads. Those roads will be allocated to the Perth Freight Link. That means the commuter network will be a lot easier, a lot safer for people to use. So, there are benefits all round here. This is a very good project. We're very excited to be supporting it, and it is frankly, very, very long overdue.

John McGlue: Final question, and back to the Senate Committee. Who prevails here if the Senate Committee demands this information of Infrastructure Australia, Infrastructure Australia then refuses. What happens then?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, this is a stunt. There's nothing simpler. And it's disappointing that Labor would play a stunt with the Greens. And can I just say, your listeners should see Labor for what that is. Labor is anti-jobs, they're anti-investment, and they're anti-infrastructure. And people will know when they get the next opportunity to vote in an election that there's a very clear choice here. Labor and the Greens, or the Coalition who are going to get on, create jobs, spend money on infrastructure in Western Australian, record amounts, to deliver a better outcome in Perth.

John McGlue: Thanks so much for your time today.

Jamie Briggs: Great pleasure. Thanks.

John McGlue: That's Jamie Briggs there, the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.