Hon. Jamie Briggs MP
Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and
Regional Development Federal Member for Mayo
Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Melissa Price MP
Federal Member for Durack
Date: Thursday, 6 February 2014
JAMIE BRIGGS: Thank you for being here. It is a terrific day to announce, along with my friend and colleague, Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann and the local Member, Melissa Price, that the Australian Government will contribute nearly $4 billion to roads in Western Australia over the coming years, as part of our nation building agenda – our infrastructure agenda – to build a stronger and more productive economy. But particularly to be standing next to the North West Coastal Highway, such an important part of Australia’s economic story. A road which we will contribute significant amounts, along with the Western Australian Government, to upgrade some way from here, to ensure a more productive road, a safer road. And can I say a road project that, if the Labor Party had have been re-elected in September, it wouldn’t have gone ahead because they claim they’d funded it out of a mining tax which didn’t exist, and didn’t raise any money. I think, the message really for Western Australians, particularly in this great economic driver of our economy and in the Pilbara, is that the Abbott Government is here to help, the Abbott Government will build the infrastructure of the 21st Century. It will commit significant amounts to ensure that the mining industry can do better again. We don’t believe that talking down the mining industry, that injuring it with new taxes and new regulation constantly is the way to manage the Australian economy effectively. We want the mining industry to do well. We want the mining industry to have less tax and less regulation so that we can make more profit, which of course is better for all Australians. So our part in this is to commit significant amounts to infrastructure upgrades, which we are doing across Western Australia, but proudly here in the Pilbara, to ensure these massive trucks around us are delivering the goods and high productivity for our country. This is delivered because Melissa Price, as the Liberal candidate at the last election, committed to it, because the Liberal Government can manage the budget properly. It wouldn’t have been delivered had Anthony Albanese still been the minister. Mathias.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Pilbara has been powering the national economy for many many years now. So it is great to be here today with Jamie Briggs, the Minister with responsibility for infrastructure and regional development in the Abbott Government and Melissa Price, the local Federal Member for Durack. This is a great announcement today, a significant investment in productivity enhancing infrastructure, without imposing a job-destroying, investment-destroying mining tax, as the previous government had planned to do. This is a significant investment - $308 million just into the upgrade of North West Coastal Highway. This is productivity enhancing infrastructure, which helps us build a stronger economy and create more jobs for decades ahead. So, it is great to be here today.
MELISSA PRICE: Firstly can I just say how wonderful it is to have Ministers Briggs and Cormann just outside of Karratha for this exciting announcement. It is so pleasing to see the Abbott Government making a commitment to this region. This is the economic powerhouse of the region and I see this as about the future for Australia but, in particular, the future for Durack. This is about supporting the continuation of the resources industry where we see the expansion of Onslow and other iron ore projects inPannawonica. It’s also about tourism, along the coastal strip, but more importantly this is about community safety and I, for one, am delighted that we have had this commitment today.
JAMIE BRIGGS: Any questions?
JOURNALIST: So in December, we were aware of the funding announcement for the stretch of the North West Coastal Highway and the Great Northern Highway. Are we any closer to knowing when these works will begin?
JAMIE BRIGGS: That’s an important question. Yesterday, I spoke with the West Australian Treasurer and Transport Minister, Troy Buswell and he informed me that planning is now well underway to get the works up and running in the next financial year. So sometime after July this year, the West Australian Government will begin works to upgrade this road. We want this project done as soon as possible because the productivity uplift of the upgrade of this North West Coastal Highway, particularly, will be enormous, which is exactly what the Abbott Government is seeking to do. The Prime Minister will be known as ‘the Infrastructure Prime Minister’ because of these sorts of investments and, as I said before, this is an investment in this upgrade without a mining tax, which of course didn’t collect any revenue, and therefore this wouldn’t have happened had the Labor Party been re-elected.
JOURNALIST: What are you doing specifically here in Karratha today? Are you meeting, have you met with the local governments and stakeholders?
JAMIE BRIGGS: We are spending the next two days looking at operations across the Pilbara, here and in Port Hedland tomorrow. I think it is important to understand the economic driver that is the Pilbara, such an important part of our economy and such an important part of our country. I think people really do need to understand that it deserves to have modern infrastructure, it deserves to have the infrastructure of the 21st Century. If the mining industry can continue to do well, we want the mining industry to do better, not to be held back unnecessarily. That is what the Abbott Government is here to do and that’s why I’m spending the next two days with Melissa Price and Senator Cormann to understand and ensure that we’re servicing the needs to build the productive capacity of our economy.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] … when works will get underway on the ground?
JAMIE BRIGGS: The state governments control the works programme… but I hope very soon and I conveyed that yesterday to the West Australian Treasurer. The money is there, it’s locked in by the Abbott Government and we want it spent as quickly as is reasonably possible. Of course, we want the West Australian Government to get value for money as well… and I’m sure taxpayers do too. These upgrades are important. They’ve been in the works for some time. They’ve been talked about for many years. We now want to see them done and to be back here in the near future to see the upgrades completed.
JOURNALIST: What needs to be finalised before… you say you want to get it underway as soon as possible? What are the checks and balances?
JAMIE BRIGGS: The West Australian Government will need to go through a series of approvals…to get the relevant approvals. They’ll then need to have the plans and tenders in place to get construction underway. There is of course additional capacity which will mean there is the possibility of getting these works, I think, underway a lot quicker than what was initially expected but hopefully, Treasurer Buswell will be able to make some more announcements about that in the future.
JOURNALIST: For those people who have been holding their breath and waiting for this for years, when are you hoping they can expect it to be done?
JAMIE BRIGGS: I would expect it to be done within the next two to three years. That, of course, always sounds like a long time but these projects do take some time to be completed, but they’re important projects and they are projects which will last the test of time – and raise our productivity into the future. We will work very closely, and have been working very closely, with the West Australian Government. I think one of the things that the previous government was very good at was announcing projects. What they weren’t very good at was delivering projects. One of our commitments is to be more honest and transparent with taxpayers, working more closely with state governments to get these projects underway and delivered – and not just talked about.
JOURNALIST: And what benefits will the upgrades, particularly the North West Coastal Highway and the Great Northern Highway upgrades, have for industry – particularly in the North West?
JAMIE BRIGGS: I think, with both projects, and there’s a series of works with both the projects, they will increase safety, of course, because, at the moment, particularly on the North West Coast, there have been several terrible incidents because of the state of the road. That has to be a good thing, of course. It reduces productivity if you’re having accidents on a road constantly. But if you increase the capacity of infrastructure, you increase the capacity for companies to be able to move their product more easily. That has a major productivity benefit. That’s what the Abbott Government is all about. Give the mining industry, give the agricultural sector, give all businesses the chance to compete more easily, with better infrastructure, with lower tax and less regulate on and the Australian economy will do better and we’ll all be more prosperous.
JOURNALIST: The stretch we are going to see down on this particular North Coastal Highway, is it going to be a wider, two-lane road?
JAMIE BRIGGS: There is a series of works which we can get you more details on if you’d like but there are some upgrades to bridges and upgrading of the shoulders of the roads, where there is, as I understand at the moment, certain stretches where there are big trucks on the road, cars are forced off the road, which of course is very dangerous and has led to many accidents. So there is a series of works which will make the roads safer and more productive.
JOURNALIST: In terms of productivity, it’s a very long stretch of road and there are a lot of trucks coming up and down all the time. Will there be any additional works further along the road? Some of these bridges, I mean, they’re just single, two-lane bridges and if there’s an accident, it pretty much shuts it down and everyone is stuck on either side. Productivity comes to a halt.
JAMIE BRIGGS: Ultimately the states run the road systems… and with local government. We fund roads very heavily. We’ve got $39 billion allocated over the next five years to fund infrastructure upgrades so the Commonwealth is a big purchaser of these services but ultimately the states make the decisions on what their priorities are. And of course, if Treasurer Boswell and the West Australian Government have other works they want to talk to us about, we are very happy to do so. But as I said before, we want to be less on announcement and more on delivery. We want to see the productivity capacity of our economy lifted, not the productive capacity of press releases from Minister’s offices up – as it was with Anthony Albanese as minister.
JOURNALIST: First Minister, the Prime Minister said today that the Government is considering bringing forward drought assistance scheduled to come into effect in July. Can you tell us how many farmers would be eligible?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well these are obviously the issues that we’re working through as we speak. The Government is very conscious of the challenges faced by farmers right now in particular in Western Queensland and in Northern New South Wales, given the drought conditions in those areas. Governments of both persuasions have had programs in place to support farmers facings these sorts of challenges. There are some changes that are due to come into effect from 1 July, which were agreed by the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments last year. We’re looking at bringing some of that forward and we’re working our way through all of the detail in relation to that as we speak.
JOURNALIST: So no numbers or figures at this stage as to their being caps on those figures? How many people?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I’ve just said, we’re very conscious of the challenges faced by farmers in particular in Western Queensland and Northern New South Wales. Barnaby Joyce as the Minister for Agriculture has been having extensive conversations with farmers and farming groups in those areas. He is reporting back to the Cabinet. There are of course programs in place from the Federal Government to support farmers facing drought conditions. There are some changes to those programs, which in the normal course of events were due to take effect from 1 July this year. They were agreed between the Federal Government and State and Territory governments last year. We’re looking at bringing some of those changes forward in order to ensure that there is proper support available and all the detail of that is currently being worked through.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned that the detail is being worked through, do you have any sort of ballpark figure as to how much that would cost?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well that is all part of the detail that is currently being worked through and as soon as we’re in a position to make an announcement, we’ll make that announcement.
JOURNALIST: On claims of a wages blowout from Bill Shorten in relation to the offshore gas sector, do you agree with Bill Shorten that wages have blown out?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Bill Shorten is completely confused. What we do know is that under Labor, over six years of bad Labor government there was a big cost blowout imposed on business across the board. After six years of Labor our economy is growing below trend, unemployment is rising, our competitiveness has been reducing, the cost of doing business has continued to go up. We are focussed on building a stronger economy, creating more jobs by making Australia more competitive again by improving productivity, by reducing the cost of doing business, among other things by scrapping the carbon tax, by scrapping the mining tax, by reducing red tape costs for business by $1 billion a year. Bill Shorten over the last five months in his current role has been acting like a union leader in exile by doing the bidding of the union movement instead of focusing on the national interest. If Bill Shorten wants to be competitive as an alternative Prime Minister at the next election it’s important that he starts to focus on the national interest instead of just the vested interests of the union movement.
JOURNALIST: On Qantas and the consideration of a Government debt guarantee for the company, is the Government close to making a decision on assistance for Qantas specifically a debt guarantee?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to see Qantas as a strong and prosperous company moving forward. We are conscious of the fact that they’re facing some particular challenges in the context of the restrictions imposed on them under the Qantas Sale Act. We’ve got some proposals before us which we’re currently considering through an orderly and methodical process. As soon as we’ve got anything to announce we’ll make the relevant announcements at that time.
JOURNALIST: Given the decision not to get involved with SPC Ardmona, why get involved with Qantas potentially?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Firstly, I wouldn’t want to pre-empt any decisions that the Government may or may not make in relation to Qantas. But just to restate what we’ve being saying for some time now, SPC Ardmona is a business owned by Coca Cola Amatil which is highly profitable, which has got a very strong balance sheet, which has got the financial capacity and wherewithal to look after their own business affairs. They asked the Government for a $25 million grant from the taxpayer at a time when they have the cash, the Federal Government doesn’t have the cash. We would have to borrow the money in order to give it to a company which has got a very strong balance sheet and which is able to look after its own needs. So it was a very clear decision. Businesses considering commercial investments should make judgements on whether a commercial investment makes sense for them. It is not the responsibility of taxpayers to prop up profitable companies. Now in relation to Qantas, as I’ve said we’re conscious of the fact that Qantas is facing some particular challenges in the context of restrictions imposed on them in the Qantas Sale Act. They are not able to freely make decisions on how best to compete in their markets as a result of restrictions imposed on them by the Parliament. Now that does create a different environment and of course these are the sorts of things that we’re currently considering very carefully as a Government.