Transcript of Interview: 5AA Adelaide Breakfast



14 September 2015


Penberthy: Well the good news, particularly for people who live in the northern part of town, is that within months construction is set to begin on the $985 million Northern Connector Motorway. What this means is that within years Adelaide will have an uninterrupted transport corridor running 78 kilometres from Gawler all the way down to Old Noarlunga. Joining us now to discuss this is the Assistant Federal Minister for Infrastructure Jamie Briggs. Minister, good morning and thank you for your time. This obviously isn't a cheap project. You've ruled out the use of tolls, how will it be funded in the long term?

Briggs: Well, we're funding it out of the budget David. It is an expensive project, but we've found $788 million in the Commonwealth Infrastructure Budget to immediately get underway with this project in this financial year because South Australia needs an economic boost, this will be a project of long term economic benefit to South Australia, but obviously it has short term benefits through job creation. It comes on top of the other two major projects that are about to get underway, in fact the Torrens to Torrens is underway, and the Darlington project due to get underway in December. All up we're spending two and a half billion on South Australia over the next four years which is a very substantial amount of money, and it comes at an important time in South Australia's history.

Penberthy: The turnaround has been quite swift, because you know when you guys were sort of heading towards Christmas last year a lot of the discussion around the Abbott Government's relationship with South Australia was negative off the back of the comments by the former Defence Minister about the ASC. What has been the reason for this turnaround, and the fact that we've been lavished with so much attention over the past couple of months?

Briggs: Well, we've been clear that infrastructure's been a priority, and you and I have spoken about infrastructure priorities for some time now. We've been working away at what the next priority on the corridor would be, and this has obviously taken some time to identify where we could access the money from. There's been quite a lot of work done in the last few weeks between myself and the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann in getting this deal together along with the South Australians, but it is important that we work together on these projects. We, of course, faced what we believe was a very false and misleading advertising campaign from some sections of the South Australian Government earlier this year—that wasn't very helpful—but we've looked past that, and decided this is too important for our state's future. And I think with the roads commitments we've made, the Naval shipbuilding programme just recently announced, and I think there's more positive news on the horizon for South Australia in the months ahead as well with the Commonwealth Government. People will see that we've got a Government that is focused on delivering for South Australia. That's why, you know I'm so pleased with today's announcement, I'm so pleased with the naval ship building announcement; this is about jobs and it's about our future, and that's what people want to hear about.

Penberthy: Does it frustrate you, as someone who was a committed Liberal though, that at the moment—I mean last week Tony Abbott was under pressure to show compassion over the Syrian refugees, there were calls from Labor for him to let 10,000 Syrians in, he went significantly beyond that accepting 12,000. Today we've got a very good announcement about road infrastructure, much needed infrastructure here in SA, all the headlines though, the dominant headlines surround Tony Abbott and whether he will stay or go as PM. How do the Liberals put a stop to all that talk?

Briggs: Well, by talking to $985 million road projects, and talking about future naval shipbuilding programme and other related activities in respect to submarines and so forth. That's what we've got to focus on; we've got to focus on the job at hand. And you know, as we on a different arena saw on Saturday night when a football club's focused on the job at hand they win finals, when political parties focus on the job at hand they win elections. People judge you on your performance; they don't judge you on gossip.

Penberthy: But the flipside of that is that if they don't focus on that they lose elections, they lose…

Briggs: Absolutely.

Penberthy: They lose elections. I mean, it's a backhanded warning to the party to pull its head in a bit, isn't it?

Briggs: Well, we've got to talk about the things that matter to South Australians, and to more broadly Australians, that's what people elected us for. If they think that we're focusing on ourselves, and just focused on internalising all those issues through the media, then yes, we'll get treated with the contempt that we deserve frankly. These are good announcements what we're announcing today, there was a significant road opened yesterday in Perth the Prime Minister was there for. As I said before, we've made significant commitments in respect to the naval shipbuilding industry, there's more to come on that score. People need to feel confident about our future and for that to happen they need to look at us and think that we've got a plan for the future, see our plan, and know that we're implementing it without some of the peripheral stuff getting in the way.

Penberthy: Do you think Jamie Briggs that Malcolm Turnbull should issue a statement saying that he has no designs on the Prime Minister's job, and also do you think that Tony Abbott if this continues should consider basically declaring his own job vacant to put a line under this?

Briggs: No, I think the cabinet supports the Prime Minister; the party supports the Prime Minister. There is unfortunate gossip that's making its way into the media which needs to stop absolutely. But I don't see any genuine prospect of a change. There's no need for this discussion to be going on. We've got a job to do. We should be getting on with that job. That's what I'm focused on, and I know that's what my colleagues are focused on as well.

Penberthy: Well, you say that, but it does keep coming up. I mean, on Friday we were talking about that so-called hit list of ministers who were for the high jump, and we were speculating that if there was a reshuffle you would probably- you and Simon Birmingham would probably get a promotion, yet for whatever reason someone decided to say that you were in the firing line. I mean it must make it hard for you to do your job or particularly Joe Hockey. I mean every day he picks up the paper and there's some unnamed hero running him down off the record. How do you keep doing your job?

Briggs: Well, maybe the quality of the editor of the Daily Telegraph isn't what it used to be…


Penberthy: Flattery will get you everywhere mate.

Briggs: Look, this stuff comes and goes in politics unfortunately. It's part of the game; it's something that is unfortunate to have those discussions, but it's not serious, it's ridiculous frankly and the Prime Minister's made that clear on Friday. As far as the Treasurer is concerned, he's doing what is a very difficult job. Anyone in that position, whether it be another Liberal or Labor MP if they were to win the election, would find the same set of circumstances and that is that we've got a very difficult international environment. We've got major pressures on the cost side of the budget and calls for full reform without people really wanting to take pain along the way. So, it makes the job pretty difficult. Now, I think what you'll see in the coming months from the Treasurer and the Prime Minister is a comprehensive economic plan for growth. I suspect that will involve recommendations on where to take the taxation system in the future. It will be very much focused on creating jobs. That's what the infrastructure story is all about. And the Treasurer's up to his neck in the infrastructure story, he's part of the infrastructure sub-committee of Cabinet, he was part of this decision along with the Finance Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister. We are focused on doing the right thing for Australians in growing our economy and that's what infrastructure's about. That's what the naval shipbuilding's plan is about. I think people will see over coming months that we have got a comprehensive plan to take us forward after the next election.

Penberthy: And just finally Jamie Briggs. In your heart of hearts, do you believe that Tony Abbott will still be leading the Liberal Party at the next election?

Briggs: Yes I do.

Penberthy: Well, that's emphatic. It doesn't get any more emphatic than that.

Briggs: And before you let me go, can I just say David and Jane that I noticed that there was an announcement about your future recently, Jane. I was very sad to see that, but all the best wishes from my family to yours as you finish your illustrious career.

Reilly: Jamie, that's very sweet of you. Thank you so much and I hope your career lasts as long as mine has, 40 years.

Penberthy: Good on you. The Member for Mayo and Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, Jamie Briggs. You know this is a new thing, Jane. Jay Weatherill did that last week. Whenever we ask a question they don't like answering they change the subject and talk about you retiring…

Aiston: Don't they? What about if Jane's the Prime Minister next week?

Penberthy: She has every chance.

Aiston: 7.47, our guest Jamie Briggs, the Assistant Infrastructure Minister.