Transcript of Interview: Sky News PM Agenda



18 August 2015


David Speers: There was a pretty big business story today which could have impacts on logistics and infrastructure Australia wide. The Canadian-owned Brookfield is seeking to acquire control of Australia's Asciano, with a bid worth nearly $9 billion. It still needs approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board, but this would be a significant change in terms of infrastructure investment in Australia. To look at the impact of this, the Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs joins me now. Thanks for your time.

This is a big bid, is the Government in favour of this going ahead?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I think it's obviously something that is occurring in the private sector, so we don't have any role. Obviously, there are regulatory approvals, there's shareholder approvals as well, Asciano's shareholders have to approve this takeover. But it looks like good investment in Australia. It compliments the existing businesses that Brookfield has, the massive Canadian infrastructure firm, with a firm which has got significant holdings in Australia, they compliment each other in that sense, so it looks like a positive outcome…

David Speers: [Interrupts] And to explain what we're talking about here in terms of those holdings in Australia…

Jamie Briggs: Yeah.

David Speers: We're talking about our ports…

Jamie Briggs: Yep.

David Speers: We're talking about other infrastructure as well.

Jamie Briggs: Railway lines. So, they're very substantial infrastructure players unto themselves, employ a lot of Australians, thousands of Australians, and very important for our infrastructure network. This is a sign that the Australian infrastructure market is flying. I mean, we are the place to be, people are looking to invest, whether it be because of the Asset Recycling Initiative or the big $50 billion push that we've got going with infrastructure. When you travel overseas—I've done some investment tours this year in the US, Canada, and India—people are looking to invest in Australia because we are the hot place as far as infrastructure goes. Certainly Sydney particularly with what Mike Baird is doing in conjunction with the Federal Government.

David Speers: Alright. This still does, as I say, need Foreign Investment approval. Do you think there will be any concerns about these infrastructure assets not being in Australian hands?

Jamie Briggs: Look, I would have thought that those sorts of issues would have been thought through by both companies. Obviously they'll go through that process; it's not for me to predict that process. But look, this looks like another signal that Australia's open for business that the Government's infrastructure agenda is working, people are interested in investing in infrastructure here. And the reality—and we've been saying this for some time—the reality is to meet our needs, our infrastructure needs, we need private sector investment. We need heavy investment from the private sector, whether it be roads, rail, ports, airports, the second airport in Sydney, and this is a signal that the private sector is keen, they're willing, they want to be here, the big companies. We've now got four Canadian pension funds with offices in Australia, a new one established just a month ago. That, again, another signal they want to be here, this is the place to be, the place to do business.

David Speers: If all that investment is happening, and the list that you give there, why aren't we seeing that translate in terms of the growth figure at the moment in the economy? Why is it still a bit sluggish?

Jamie Briggs: They do take a long time to get projects up. One thing that we've been working with the state governments on, out of the productivity commission report we had done last year on public infrastructure, is improving is the speed that we get projects to market. And we're seeing now a lot of these projects really start to take off. WestConnex stage one underway, WestConnex stage two underway, the Perth Freight Link about to kick off, South Road about to kick off.

Significant projects right across the country all about to really take off. And that will see a lot of jobs created. There are still challenges with private sector investment into infrastructure and managing that properly and we're working with the states to do that. But there's a lot of money looking for a home, we've got to give them more options and that's what the 15 year infrastructure plan and Infrastructure Australia's building at the moment. And hopefully it'll be released by the end of the year is all about.

David Speers: Let me ask you about the politics here in Canberra today—the Prime Minister has described the last week as scrappy for the Government. Is that how you'd put it?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I would think the last six weeks has been scrappy for the Government. You know, it's never good when we're talking about ourselves and that's been the case for some time now and people are legitimately unhappy about that. Colleagues are unhappy about that, people in my electorate are unhappy about that and they want us to get on about and talk about the things that really matter to them. And the number one overwhelming issue in the community, I find, is jobs and growth and that's what people want to talk about.

David Speers: When you saw today the front page in the Financial Review mentioning that the foot soldiers of Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull are out and on the move. Some of your senior colleagues have described it as a stitch up of those particular figures—what was your reaction?

Jamie Briggs: Well, I haven't seen any uniforms on anyone in the last couple of days marching around the building. Look, I think sometimes the Canberra bubble gets excited, you know, and I'm not being critical here of journalists reporting what they pick up. But sometimes people get excited with themselves and maybe exaggerate conversations a little. Look, I think people have been- from the Prime Minister down- disappointed with what we've done in the last little while. We've talked about ourselves, we've talked about issues which are largely irrelevant to people and things that really get up people's noses, let's be frank. We haven't been talking about things that matter…

David Speers: Do you accept though we hear this every couple of months from the Prime Minister? I mean, last time around, he said, you know, today in Cabinet we had a come to Jesus moment, we've all decided to stop talking about ourselves and get on with it. Few months before that it was, you know, good government now begins. This seems to happen fairly regularly?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we've got to focus on the things that really matter to people: jobs and growth and the community safety issues that we've been trying to get to in the last few days. We haven't been for some weeks, certainly, and that's been disappointing for all of us. Look, people don't like what the Labor Party and Bill Shorten are offering. They want us to succeed in the community: that is the feedback I constantly get. But they don't want us to be indulgent; they don't want us to be doing things which offend them. They want us to be careful with taxpayers' money, they want us to be fixing the Budget, and they want us to be putting in place policies that create jobs and opportunities. And that's what we've got to absolutely be focused on constantly—not internal chatter, not talking about ourselves and not, you know, the constant commentary on the daily politics, if you like, that we've seen too much of in recent times. That's I think the key message.

David Speers: Well, good to talk some politics and policy with you this afternoon, Jamie Briggs, thank you very much for joining us.

Jamie Briggs: Thanks David.