Interview with David Speers, ABC Insiders

DAVID SPEERS: Barnaby Joyce, welcome to the program.

BARNABY JOYCE: Thanks for that, Speersy, here from Walcha Road.

DAVID SPEERS: Good to see you there. Can you confirm for starters, are you working with the Prime Minister now on a plan for net‑zero by 2050?

BARNABY JOYCE: There are discussions happening. It'd be absurd to think that people are not having discussions. But ultimately we have to know the process as well and my party, the Nationals party room is absolutely part and parcel of that and discussions will be taken back to that party room. We look at it through the eyes of making sure that there is not an unreasonable loss of jobs or any loss of jobs in regional areas. We've got to remember this is the area where we have the mining industry and this is the area we have the agricultural industry and it's not just those farms, it's not just those mines, it's the towns that are attached to the commerce of those industries, it's the hairdressers, the tyre business. These people also have to rely on the Nationals to make sure that we don't pull the economic rug out from underneath them. If we look at what pulling the economic rug out looks like, I'm sort of perplexed there's not more discussion about what's happening in the UK and Europe with energy prices, six‑fold increase in one year, 250 per cent increase since the start of the calendar year. A few days ago, 850,000 people losing their energy provider and a real concern over there about their capacity as they go into winter to keep themselves warm and even keep the food production processes going through, and it's quoted by The Guardian, so you don't think it's some right-wing rant that says total chaos.

DAVID SPEERS: They have a gas crisis in the UK and parts of Europe at the moment, that's the reason for all that. But just coming back here. Are you, you know, to your concerns there about regional communities, are you seeking to have agriculture excluded from any net‑zero target?

BARNABY JOYCE: I'm not going to go into the particulars of any sort of discussions. What I can say is whether the commerce of a town is excluded, whether the loss of jobs is excluded, making sure that we take people with us and we don't replicate the obvious chaos that's happening in Europe and we make sure that we keep not only our mining industry – because you've got to remember fossil fuels are your nation's largest export and if you take away your nation's largest export or it's to affect them in any way, then you've got to accept a lower standard of living.

DAVID SPEERS: So are you saying no coal –

BARNABY JOYCE: You've got to accept the Government will have –

DAVID SPEERS: Are you saying there should be no coal jobs lost, is that the bottom line for you?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well not by reason of domestic policy. I mean international markets, if people say the world's moving on from that then you'll know that because there'll be no ships off Hay Point in Queensland, no ships off Gladstone, no ships off Newcastle and you can assume when that happens that the world's moved on. But currently we have record sales at record prices, and we have England reopening coal fire power stations because they can't keep the lights on.

DAVID SPEERS: But it's pretty hard to see how you get to net‑zero while protecting all the coal jobs, isn't it?

BARNABY JOYCE: Do you just go up to families and just say, “Sorry, you don't have a job” and that's it, then you go to the places where they spent the money, the clothes shop, the accountant, the tyre business, the corner stores and say, “Sorry, there's no more money in Singleton and there's no more money in Rockhampton and we've taken away the money and it's affected Townsville”. You've got to be mindful of that. That's what a prudent government does. And of course if you get it completely wrong then the whole economy is rocked, as it is in Europe and as it is now in the United Kingdom.

DAVID SPEERS: I just want to be clear on this because, as I say, it's pretty hard to see how you can agree to any net‑zero 2050 or any time if you're demanding the protection of all coal jobs. This is the bottom line for you, no coal jobs lost.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well it's not the bottom line. As I say, I'm not going to go to the particulars and I do credit your astute and acerbic process of trying to see if I do. What I can say is if the world – you believe the world is moving on from coal and if that's the case there won't be any demand for the product. But that's – and of course you clearly understand, your listeners understand that's our biggest export. If you start shutting down your biggest export the Government has less money. So when you want money for more pensions or for the NDIS or for schools, hospitals, the ABC, then you have to accept that we've made a decision that we're going to have bring in less money so there's places for the Government to spend it on. It's as simple as that. You can't just keep borrowing money and think that that's non‑ending. Everybody else looks at it and economically says, “Hey guys, Australians, how do you pay for this? How do you pay us back? What product are you selling the world?” The world wants it and if you haven't got that product, you're in strife.

DAVID SPEERS: I'm just trying to establish what your position is here. I mean, as you say, the world is moving on, right. The world will stop using coal at some point, do you agree? And how can you protect those jobs indefinitely?

BARNABY JOYCE: Let's work that statement out. If it does, people will stop buying it off us. That's the progression of things and of course you've got to –

DAVID SPEERS: Shouldn't you be helping transition the industry now and those jobs in those regions?

ARNABY JOYCE: That's part and process of anything as technology moves on. I've got no problems with that. But to make a statement, “Oh, the world's moving on from coal today” is not right. It's just not right. We've got the highest prices and the highest volumes in the sale of thermal coal. As I said, because they've completely botched it in the UK, unfortunately, they're having to go back and recommission coal fire plants to keep the lights on. That's what happens when you get it wrong.

DAVID SPEERS: But don't you need a plan for the future? I mean isn't this your job, to plan for the future, to help these regions adjust?

BARNABY JOYCE: Absolutely. We plan for the future. That's why we went into the nuclear submarine contract. We plan for the future, we make sure we do. But we do it with our eyes wide open because we have to focus on the economy, we have to focus on the capacity to bring in money, we have to focus the reliance of the Australia people that the money that's –

DAVID SPEERS: So is it your fear that setting a target –

BARNABY JOYCE: – that the billions and billions and billions of dollars of revenue and the billions of dollars in royalties, you have to make sure that you don't just – if you're going to just switch it off you have to say to the Australian people, as the Labor Party should because they want to shut down the coal industry, “Okay, this is how the books are going to work”. They have to show the cost. They have to drill it out. In our –

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. That's what you're trying to establish now.

BARNABY JOYCE: Sorry.

DAVID SPEERS: I'm just trying to – this is what you're trying to establish now. Are you saying setting a target, a net‑zero target would accelerate the closure of coal and is that something you're not willing to do?

BARNABY JOYCE: I suppose there's many ways to look at how you achieve a net‑zero target, but I'm just telling you the economic facts. It's just arguing against the bleeding obvious that if you shut down our major export, which is fossil fuels, it's the biggest, it's the equivalent – our beef exports are less than 40 days, 40 days of our fossil fuel exports. Your barley exports are less than three days of your fossil fuel exports. It's like fossil fuels, iron ore, daylight, daylight, daylight. Our Australian economy is completely different to the economies of Europe with exporting pharmaceuticals or motor cars or Boeings, you know, to the United States or Microsoft.

DAVID SPEERS: It doesn't sound like you're very keen on this net‑zero idea at all?

BARNABY JOYCE: I'm not keen on sort of one-line glitzy statements by people such as Mr Albanese, Mr Bowen, who don't actually then say, “And this is what the cost is” –

DAVID SPEERS: Let's just focus – you're in Government, Barnaby.

BARNABY JOYCE: – “and this is how we'll do it”

DAVID SPEERS: No, I appreciate that.

BARNABY JOYCE: I know I'm in the Government. Thank you.

DAVID SPEERS: It doesn't sound like you are at all keen on anything that's going to hurt coal industry jobs.

BARNABY JOYCE: No, no. It's the little old bush accountant saying that lots of clients have ideas but if you sit down with them and say, “Okay, that's your idea, let's prudently go about this” because otherwise you're going to get yourself in more strife than the early settlers.

DAVID SPEERS: What about farmers who are already doing pretty well out of soil carbon, including in your electorate, what's your view on carbon credits and the potential benefits for farmers?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well carbon in the soil is just a very good idea because it is how you increase the productivity, the soil retention, the fertility of the soil and it varies. I'll tell you the truth, if I want to get greater carbon sequestration, I should pull over that forest, it's a dry [indistinct] forest over there, and plant perennial summer grasses, maybe digit or buffel grass if it grew here, it doesn't, bambatsi or something. Because that absolutely sequestrates more carbon. If he was to suggest that the environmental movement would lose their mind, but it's a scientific fact. So all these things have moderations. I remember bringing this up with Penny Wong. I said that's just a scientific fact. There's a thesis on it. I can take you to the thesis.

DAVID SPEERS: Are you in favour of carbon farming –

BARNABY JOYCE: Well it's not just farmers, farmers are incredibly important and I'm one. I was mustering cattle yesterday and we managed to get two trucks full, but they're in the yards at the moment. It's also the town. Like you take New England, 12 per cent of my electorate are farmers. Incredibly important, I'm one of them. But that means you've got 78 per cent that are not and that 78 per cent also needs to be heard. You've got to understand in the main street in Singleton, the main street in Gladstone, what's happening up there in Townsville, what happens in Moura, what happens in Emerald –

DAVID SPEERS: And you're saying there's nothing in it for –

BARNABY JOYCE: – what happens in Muswellbrook.

DAVID SPEERS: You're saying there's nothing in carbon farming for them?

BARNABY JOYCE: You've got to make sure you protect them. See, a lot of carbon farming, if you just lock up areas then of course they don't run – if you're just going back to, I don't know, range lands, carbon sequestration, the more you increase it in many instances the more you have to develop the land. For instance, in dairy country it's about 16 per cent. Incredibly high. In the western range country it could be as low as 1 to 4 per cent and thereafter you need a high improvement.

DAVID SPEERS: It doesn't sound like you're sold on carbon farming as a great benefit for those regions, you're talking –

BARNABY JOYCE: No, no, I am, but all these things, they're not binary. They've got to take into account the temperance and understanding of what those conditions are. I've no problems with carbon farming. I've no problems with bio security offsets but you say well that's blanket. You say no, no, you've got to take into account what happens in the towns as well. You've got to be mindful of your constituency.

DAVID SPEERS: And some of your colleagues are, you know, divided on this. We know there are those who are adamantly opposed any net‑zero target.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yep.

DAVID SPEERS: There are those, and we see some of them in the paper today again, Michael McCormack, Darren Chester who as long as regional jobs are protected do want to sign up to net‑zero. How do you bridge that divide?

BARNABY JOYCE: That seems like a perfectly plausible position. I've read the total quotes of Michael McCormack and Darren Chester and they take into account exactly what I'm saying, the caveat of making sure we look after our people. That seems like an incredibly sensible thing to say, make sure you look after your people. I mean, see if I went, as I said, you've got to paint this in pictures so people understand. If I said, “Look, the way we're going to have a carbon mitigation in Sydney is to shut down three lanes of the Harbour Bridge, shut down the Gladesville Bridge, shut down the M2 and the M7 and I think we're there, folks”, you'd lose your mind. You'd go, “That's outrageous”. So you get it. You've got to think of how it works across the board. Because, see, in regional areas we are actually reducing our carbon emission, we're doing it. In your urban areas, they're going up. We played this game before with the Kyoto protocol where basically we used to own that, I own the vegetation. Then we woke up one day and we didn't own it. We didn't get paid for it either.

DAVID SPEERS: All right.

BARNABY JOYCE: So we're cautious and if you want to suggest what you're going to do in the cities to bring down carbon emission we're all ears, we're going to listen to that as well.

DAVID SPEERS: All right. Just on the divisions in your party though, Darren Chester has told a couple of colleagues, he told me as well, that he's taking a break from the National Party at the moment, not quitting at this stage but he's taking a break. He's fed up with you not reining in George Christensen and Matt Canavan with some of their comments. What do you think of MPs taking break from the party room?

BARNABY JOYCE: The National Party room is the most democratic organisation in that Federal Parliament. More democratic than Greens or the Labor Party or even the Liberal Party. You know, in the past, he was a good mate of mine, Kevin Hogan, sat on the crossbench. You know, these issues and that, these issues happened before. But I'll address the George Christensen thing. Now George Christensen's retiring from politics, and I do talk to George, but this idea that somehow you can just go up there and demand that he sits, that he no longer talks or, I don't know, put hobbles on him, gaffer tape his mouth up, that's not going to work. What Voltaire said, I think – it wasn’t actually Voltaire, it was – I can't remember the lady who used to summarise Voltaire's –

DAVID SPEERS: We'll leave that there.

BARNABY JOYCE: You can say what you like. I mightn't agree with what you say but I'll defend to the death your right to say it. Now is that principle now gone?

DAVID SPEERS: Will you have a chat with Darren Chester, try and solve his issues and concerns?

BARNABY JOYCE: We have a party meeting every Monday.

DAVID SPEERS: Okay. Just a couple of other things. A lot going on in the foreign policy space, the meeting of the Quad, the new AUKUS partnership. You've in the past described China as the greatest threat Australia faces. Why is that and what should it be taking from all of these movements in the strategic sphere?

BARNABY JOYCE: We always judge any person or country by their actions and obviously our job is to keep the freedoms and liberties of your children, your grandchildren to the same extent that you have them, and it's not just the actions of China. They go without dispute, what's happened in the South China Sea, hacking of computers, the incarceration of the Uyghur people, access roads into India, incursions there, other sort of territorial statements, the threats to Taiwan, the people who have gone off the street, just basically been whipped off the street in Hong Kong. Of course we've got to be mindful of that and to ignore that is a foolish thing to do. But the best way to bring about peace and have peace in our region is with a comparable deterrent. It's not just for us that we need peace. The Malaysians, Indonesians, everybody needs peace in this region. It's not just the Chinese that are becoming more overt. It's the Russians. You can see the actions of the Iranians. Australia has a job to do and first and foremost the role of government is to keep their people safe. We don't want war. Australians don't want wars, we don't want to go to wars. Especially the protection of Australian soil so we need strong allies and the AUKUS gives that. A re‑investment in a platform, an interoperability that can keep people safe and keep us in a region of peace.

DAVID SPEERS: Final one, Barnaby Joyce, earlier this year you said you'd fight for the Murugappan family to be allowed to return to Biloela. You've been Acting Prime Minister for the past week.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yep.

DAVID SPEERS: Few get that sort of chance in their lifetime, what have you done in the past week to help with that fight?

BARNABY JOYCE: We also have a Cabinet system of government and I've had discussions with previous ministers. My views, my views don't change and they surround the fact that the girls were born in Australia, you know.

DAVID SPEERS: Did you raise anything this week with the Minister?

BARNABY JOYCE: People know my views and, you know, and –

DAVID SPEERS: You're Acting PM, did you express those views to the Minister? He made a decision this week –

BARNABY JOYCE: I don't have to be repetitious –

DAVID SPEERS: – which keeps them out of Biloela?

BARNABY JOYCE: I'm aware of the decision, right, and I'm not going to go into any discussions or otherwise whether I might have had with Ministers or not had with Ministers. That's my right. Once you start doing that people will stop having discussions with you.

DAVID SPEERS: All right. Barnaby Joyce, thanks for joining us this morning.

BARNABY JOYCE: You're welcome, David.

ENDS