Transcript of Interview: 891 ABC Adelaide Breakfast
17 August 2015
Matthew Abraham: Jamie Briggs, he's the Federal MP for Mayo in South Australia, he is the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, which means he takes in some isolated and remote places and one of those is Norfolk Island. Here he is accused in The Advertiser over the last few days of spending $25,000 to fly to the remote island for one night last year so that he could open a footpath that's already been built. Jamie Briggs, welcome to the program.
Jamie Briggs: Thank you, gentlemen.
David Bevan: What's going on here, Minister? Did you fly all that way for a footpath?
Jamie Briggs: Well, no, there have been two trips to Norfolk Island. It's part of my responsibilities as you mentioned. We've done major reform in Norfolk Island as a government which passed the Parliament in a bipartisan fashion in May. Often, you guys want bipartisan reform and that's what the Norfolk Island change has achieved. So, last February I went over as part of my role to consult with community about a way forward and the then government. We spent two days talking to people about the situation on Norfolk Island—which was pretty, and still is, pretty dire—on June 30 just a couple of months ago I travelled over after the reforms had passed to chair the first meeting of the Advisory Council which was put in place of the Government for the first 12 months while the new regional council was formed.
Because, in essence, what we've done with the reforms is change the structure of governance which previously had been responsible for all levels of government, federal, state and local, and made the Government on Norfolk Island responsible for local government matters and…
David Bevan: [Interrupts] Okay, because these big reforms that you've made—and they are huge, basically—the good people of Norfolk Island weren't paying any tax but they were expecting federal government services. Is that right in a nutshell?
Jamie Briggs: In a nutshell, the island is broke and we've been tipping in significant amounts of money, more than $10 million a year for several years now to keep it afloat and there's been no capital spent on the island for some time. So, there have been some pretty diabolical circumstances on the island. It's a community of 1800 people. It has, in effect, been used as a tax haven by some people, they had their own system of taxation but it wasn't paying anywhere near enough to cover the expense that the Government was incurring. So, we've put in place taxation and also the Australian welfare system because it didn't apply previously on the island there…
Matthew Abraham: Okay.
Jamie Briggs: People couldn't get a pension for instance.
Matthew Abraham: So, it cost you $25,000 to fly there though. Some people would say that's laying it on with a trowel.
Jamie Briggs: Sure…
Matthew Abraham: For one night.
Jamie Briggs: Well, the reality with getting to Norfolk Island is you can only get there a couple of times a week. So as far as the use of the island, me and ministers passed, whether it was Catherine King, the Labor minister, or Simon Crean, the Labor ministers who were responsible for Norfolk Island have used the flights that are available that take the Prime Minister around and occasionally, in appropriate circumstances, other ministers can access if there's not the commercial services available. So, you have to prove that commercial services aren't available to the Defence Department and if you're able to do that you can use the….
Matthew Abraham: But they would be available. There must be flights into and out of Norfolk Island.
Jamie Briggs: There are, but there's only two or three a week. So, you're there then for four days, which as a Minister is not a great use of time when there's only a few things that you need to do when you're there. But I mean simply, if I had of undertaken these reforms without visiting and then without following up, then people would be very critical of the fact. I'm also responsible for Christmas Island and Cocos Island, and I haven't travelled to those islands because again it's difficult commercially to get there and I haven't seen the need. We haven't got the same issues on Christmas and Cocos. Now, I've faced criticism from those communities that I haven't visited, but it is a judgment about the amount of time and what the point of the visit is about. And that's exactly what we did with Norfolk Island.
Matthew Abraham: Now Tory Shepherd, this has got exclusive on it, in the 'Tiser, says that you took the charter flight and announced a footpath locals had already half-built.
Jamie Briggs: Well, it's not surprising that that detail is wrong. It wasn't anything about a footpath being built or not being built. We visited some of the infrastructure that was falling apart as part of the visit, but as was made clear in the media statement I put out on the day that I visited saying that I was visiting, the visit was about me chairing the first committee meeting of the new advisory committee, which reports directly to me. Unfortunately, with this journalist the truth is not something which gets in the way of a beat-up.
Matthew Abraham: Or you just didn't like the angle she took?
Jamie Briggs: No, look, we find consistently when it comes to the Liberal Party and our side of politics that this journalist takes a negative view, or the tabloid view if you like…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well, she doesn't have to take a positive view, does she? And now you've banned her.
Jamie Briggs: No, look, at times people are entitled to raise questions, but when journalists are given statements and they ignore the clear detail in that statement, for instance the visit wasn't about the footpath. Last week's accusation was that it was about telling Norfolk Islanders to tighten their belts. That was one line in a speech I gave at a community forum about the mess that Labor had left us with debt and deficit…
Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well, I mean, Bob Hawke's no child will live in poverty was one line in a speech he gave and it seemed to get quite a lot of prominence.
Jamie Briggs: Well, I think that was a policy though, Matt. I mean, you might have covered it at the time, but I'm pretty sure it was a policy. But the point of this is that when statements are ignored because there's a certain line of attack that wants to be taken, then I have every night not to participate with that sort of tactic.
David Bevan: Jamie Briggs, Federal Member for Mayo, but also the Federal Minister for Regional Development and Infrastructure, with responsibility for the great island of Norfolk Island. Thank you for talking to us.
Jamie Briggs: Thanks gents.