Environment and Sustainability, Passenger Rail, Research & Development, Safety, Standards & Regulation

Briggs defends ‘policy pivot’

Hills M2 toll road (owned by Transurban) Photo: Creative Commons / Sardaka

Cities and built environment minister Jamie Briggs has defended the government’s policy shift on infrastructure funding, but has stopped short of labelling Tony Abbott’s road-first mentality an ideological issue.

Briggs spoke with University of Canberra political expert Michelle Grattan on The Conversation’s political podcast this week.

Grattan asked how the new Turnbull-led Government could justify “pivoting” from the Abbott Government’s roads-only infrastructure funding mentality, to one which is agnostic regarding the road and rail funding balance.

“Mass transit was always part of the agenda,” Briggs argued. “It was a decision of the Abbott Government to really focus on how could we ensure our cities were moving properly in the sense of the road networks.”

Briggs deferred when Grattan suggested Abbott’s road-first thinking was “ideological,” however.

“There was a direct approach in respect to funding roads, absolutely,” he said.

“But we had options … there was some public transport funding provided through the asset recycling initiative, particularly in Sydney with the new Sydney Harbour crossing.

“I don’t think there’s been a huge switch, if I can put it that way. There’s been a change in the discussion about what it is we need.”

More than an ideological issue, Briggs argued, the government had to deal with a simple issue of economics.

“We will never be able to meet the infrastructure needs of Australia through purely our balance sheets,” he stated.

“But I do agree with Malcolm Turnbull in the sense that we should have  a non-discriminatory approach to what we fund.”

Briggs said the ball is in the states’ courts, with that in mind.

“The state governments have got to do a lot more work in providing projects for us to consider,” he said.

“Other than the big, major commitment that Mike Baird’s made with the new crossing of Sydney – which has still got some time to go – there’s not a lot of detail around some of these major mass transit projects.

“They haven’t been through Infrastructure Australia; there’s not business cases. We need the states to do that work, but we are happy to engage with them.

“These are expensive projects. Each of them is very expensive.

“I think the estimate in Queensland is some $5 billion for Cross River Rail; it’s some $11 billion – and probably higher – in Melbourne for Melbourne Metro; large amounts in Perth as well; and in Adelaide for that matter.

“The government’s Budget situation hasn’t improved instantaneously with the change of prime minister.

“The challenge for the new treasurer is the same as it was for the old treasurer: we’ve got less money than we were expecting to have through revenue and expenditure pressures; the states are in the same situation.”