Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Breakfast

FRAN KELLY: We’re going to go now to the National Party Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, because he’s got a busy morning ahead and we can get him now or never. Barnaby Joyce, welcome.

BARNABY JOYCE: Thanks, Fran. Good morning. You can get me whenever you want generally. But anyway. Go ahead.

FRAN KELLY: Well, the clock is ticking on the climate deal after that meeting yesterday of your party room, it met for 4 hours. Is it any closer to endorsing – is the National party room any closer to endorsing net zero by 2050?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, Fran, it’s self-evident that if we didn’t come out with a yes, an endorsement last night, that there’s further to go. Fran, it’s such a titanic change to where our nation is going over the longer term that it absolutely insists on due diligence in how we go forward with this. To be quite frank, four hours on a Sunday night to make a change that could be part of a process of redesigning the economy of Australia is not prudent. We will continue on trying to understand the issues that have been brought in by members and senators from around Australia and what they see as the concerns and how we address those concerns or whether we can address those concerns and from those variant views, try and work out what our position is and what our caveats are if that position is to go forward.

FRAN KELLY: But, Minister, to be frank, trying to deal with such a massively important environmental and economic issue for Australia two weeks before we’re meant to be taking a result to the UN climate summit when you’ve been in government for eight years, that’s not prudent either, is it?

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay, well, what protections, Fran, would you suggest we get for regional Australia?

FRAN KELLY: Well, I don’t think that’s the appropriate question here.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, it is.

FRAN KELLY: You’re the ones in the Government.

BARNABY JOYCE: It’s the one, Fran, it’s the one we have to answer.

FRAN KELLY: One of your MPs is reported as saying there are even more concerns about the plan than before they had now that they’ve seen it. So is that true, and what is there of more concern since you’ve seen the plan as presented by the minister yesterday?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’ll leave that to the person who stated it. I can’t answer for others.

FRAN KELLY: Was that your sense? That there were more concerns after the meeting than before?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m going to make sure that I’m not an inference or a direction of where the party can exercise their democratic right, and their democratic right is to represent their people in regional Australia. If I start making inferences, there are two things that will happen: first of all, it will annoy people and they’ll most likely go in the other direction, and secondly, it won’t actually have an effect on the outcome because people are very strong in their views and they like in the Nationals to have their democratic right respected.

Now going back – and I’ll answer the question I posed to you – we have to make sure that the jobs and the livelihoods are protected in an area that overwhelmingly is associated with export dollars, export dollars from coal, from gas, from iron ore, from agricultural products. Because this wealth is not just that of the people who extract it or grow it, it’s also the wealth of the regional towns. The first point of contact for an economic mistake would be those areas. Now people talk about don’t worry, the modelling says this, the modelling says that. The modelling also in England said that everything would be fine. They’re in an energy crisis. In Europe, everything will be fine, they’re in an energy crisis. China’s in an energy crisis. That’s where it does go back to the urban towns and the Sydneys and to the Canberras and to the Melbournes if you get that equation wrong. And we can’t afford to do that on behalf of our nation, so we will do our job. Now the Labor Party has just said no questions asked, “We’ll sign up to it,” almost blind, which is really remarkable and shows that they really don’t care, or even if they have a certain view, are leaning a certain way, they’ve done no real discussion about their regional seats as to whether this is good for them.

FRAN KELLY: Well, I’ll let the Labor Party talk for themselves. Chris Bowen will join us after this interview.

BARNABY JOYCE: I use that line, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: But we know there’s an economic package for the regions on the table. There’s a real sense growing that the Nats are sitting around drawing this out trying to extract more money from the Prime Minister for the regions. Now you might say that’s to keep supporting the regional towns, but some are insinuating it’s also for the Nats to take sort of a cash splash to the next election. Is that’s what’s going on here?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, I think it’s to look after regional areas. Now, once more, you look at the alternate process. A diligent process where we’re not just jumping in there not just saying yes, I mean if we have to get concessions and changes to look after our people, we will. The Labor Party’s already said yes. Whatever Chris Bowen says now, he’s already said yes. He’s already married to this plan.

FRAN KELLY: I’m not talking about their –

BARNABY JOYCE: And if you went into the – if you went into the details with him –

FRAN KELLY: – plan because we haven’t seen it; we don’t know what’s on the table for regional Australia with their plan.

BARNABY JOYCE: If you went into the details with him he’d say, “Well, I don’t really know.” How can you say yes to something you don’t know? That’s foolish.

FRAN KELLY: Well, we don’t have the details of yours, but we do know there’s an economic package for regions on the table – support for a range of industries: infrastructure, communications, farming and the resources sector. One report today puts it at over $20 billion, which is a huge price tag –

BARNABY JOYCE: I don’t know where people get those numbers from. You know, I’m not here to confirm or otherwise those numbers. And, you know –

FRAN KELLY: Will it take tens of billions of dollars to protect the regional economies?

BARNABY JOYCE: We will do what is required to make sure that the people in Singleton have a job, the people in Muswellbrook have a job, the people in Gladstone, in Emerald, that people in Sale have a job, that people in Wagga have a job and that they can continue to bring in the income that supports the payments for their house, the payments for the cars, their kids in school and the standard of living that’s required. This will have really little effect in urban areas, in capital cities. You guys really don’t get affected by these decisions. We do. And, to be quite frank, your emissions keep going up and ours go down. That’s how you’re meeting your targets. But if there was a package that created massive changes in how people lived their lives in Sydney, this would never see daylight and so that’s why we have a job. We could reduce our emissions by shutting down motor cars in capital cities and shutting down bridges and making people walk instead of catching a lift et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Crazy stuff. And politically that would be devastating. So we’re not going to accept that, “Oh, well, we’re not going to do anything but you’ve just got to accept what comes your way.”

FRAN KELLY: Well, I mean, the complete burden of getting to net zero by 2050 does not just land on the regions. I’m not saying it doesn’t have a huge impact on the regions, but there will be a lot of elements to this plan, which you must know.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, it has a much, much greater effect on the regions. Remember, in capital cities by their very nature is overwhelmingly white-collar jobs which are not energy intensive. In our areas they are energy intensive. Blue-collar jobs especially are energy intensive.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. The point is the world is changing and our economy is changing. And the International Energy Agency just last week has said again that if countries make good on their pledges to reach net zero by 2050, the global demand for coal will fall by as much as 55 per cent by 2030 and 90 per cent by 2050. So this transition is out of your hands, isn’t it?

BARNABY JOYCE: Fran, like, let’s ground truth things. Modelling is not a message from God. Modelling is an opinion of other people, right? They did modelling in and they’ve got an energy crisis, so don’t put all your eggs in the one basket on modelling. What you can is ground truth it. We are selling more coal at a higher price than we’ve ever done before. So if these –

FRAN KELLY: And you think that South Korea, for instance, and Japan signing up to net 20 – net zero that’s going to keep happening?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, if they do, Fran, then you’ll note it by no ships on the water in Gladstone, in Newcastle, in Hay Point. Then you will have a true ground truthing of that statement and it won’t happen overnight; it will happen over a period of time.

FRAN KELLY: No, it won’t happen overnight.

BARNABY JOYCE: So we have got to ground truth this with the actual demand that’s happening now. In England, they are opening up closed coal-fired power stations because they got it wrong and it’s costing them a motza.

FRAN KELLY: And what we’re trying to work out here is a transition plan from fossil fuels to renewables. That’s what this plan is all about, so that that doesn’t happen. And that requires setting targets and setting a plan. And that’s what you’re talking about.

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay, so even you have a sense of caution, and that’s very good. Your next guest is going to say that not only have they signed up for it no questions asked, they’re signing up to quicker targets. How do they know that they’re just not going to put Australia in the same bind as the northern hemisphere? How reckless can that be?

FRAN KELLY: Why is it reckless to sign up to a higher target by 2030 if, as the Government is indicating, the already cuts that are in place are going to take us to 32 to 35 per cent anyway? Why wouldn’t you just sign up to that?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well – and I’m sorry for interrupting – because what you’re doing is you’re going to have to make decisions right now to get to that spot which inevitably are going to have consequences which could easily take us down the path of England, Europe and China. We can’t do that to the Australian people. There might be a desire on that part by so many people. We understand that. But they won’t reward anybody if what you do is cast the economy into the predicament that is so clearly seen. You want the best model? Just Google UK gas crisis, UK energy crisis, European energy crisis.

FRAN KELLY: It’s not the same. It’s by no means the same situation or the same energy mix as we have. Let’s talk about –

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, Fran – okay, well, let’s take that up. They’ve got nuclear. They take nuclear from Europe. We don’t have that. They put an overwhelming requirement on renewables to fill the void. They didn’t. They closed down their coal-fired power stations because they said they wouldn’t need them. They did, so there is a clear example of what happens if you get it wrong and we deny that reality at our peril.

FRAN KELLY: But Minister, there’s also a clear reality if we don’t move because the reality is about carbon imposts on our exports. We know that those costs are quantifiable too. Heading into the meeting you said it was highly unlikely that Nats would agree to deeper carbon cuts by 2050. That’s the mid-term target.

BARNABY JOYCE: And I stand by that. Because we’re not going to sign our nation up. I mean, other people can. But we’re not going to sign our nation up to something that is – we strongly believe is going to have dire effects because it forces you into an early trajectory to something that we cannot clearly deliver. Remember, this also takes you down the path of the reflection of bad decisions is in energy prices which ripples through to everything. You can see this in China, to almost inflationary aspects on what is happening. You start to inspire a whole range of other things in your economy and they do go back to capital cities. You get it wrong, you’ll see it in the price of so many goods and this is the stuff that the Nationals are standing up and saying, “No, slow down. We need a process for this.”

FRAN KELLY: But in simple political terms looking at the mid-term target is, as I said, Australia, according to the Government, is already on track we think to reach a cut between 32 and 35 per cent –

BARNABY JOYCE: Yes, and not only that – not only that, Fran – we’re ahead. We’re ahead –

FRAN KELLY: No, that’s what I’m saying. You’re ahead of the Paris agreement already. One of your Liberal colleagues Jason Falinski says you’re just being silly by opposing any increase because you’ve done the work to get there already. Why not take the credit? What’s your response to that?

BARNABY JOYCE: We’re ahead because regional people were divested of a private asset –that is their vegetation rights. They had an asset one day and without payment it was taken off them and then they said quod erat demonstrandum, “We’ve just reached our target.” Hooray for Australia. But it wasn’t the capital cities that reached the target, it was the divestment – basically the theft – of a private asset off regional Australia. That inspires absolute disregard, cynicism and we’re all eyes and ears because we believe that if that happened once it could happen again. When you listen to the rhetoric of the Labor Party and others, it seems they’re absolutely mindful of doing that again. Like, as I said, are you going to pay us for the asset that you stole?

FRAN KELLY: The Prime Minister needs a deal before he goes to the UN climate conference in a fortnight. If you can’t agree to terms, are you prepared to see Scott Morrison go to Glasgow without this net zero emissions target?

BARNABY JOYCE: We will always try to be an effective member of the Coalition. We will always try and do the best thing, but we don’t do it at the expense of our first and foremost job, which is look after the people of regional Australia who overwhelmingly want a Coalition government, and we understand that. We are not going to be belittled, beaten into a position because others say that that’s what they want. We are not representing the seats of Sydney, we are representing the seats of regional Australia. We don’t represent the seats of Melbourne, we represent regional Victoria. We don’t represent the seats in Brisbane, we represent regional Queensland. And, therefore, our voice in this parliament in the Commonwealth is on their behalf and to come out with the best outcome for them.

FRAN KELLY: So let me ask that again: are you prepared to see Scott Morrison go to Glasgow empty handed in a sense?

BARNABY JOYCE: To say yes or no is to also start telling the room what to think next. That would put more pressure on a no than it would on a yes. I can assure you of that.

FRAN KELLY: Was it premature of the Prime Minister then to announce he’d go to Glasgow without the Nats having signed off on this plan?

BARNABY JOYCE: Of course not, because the Prime Minister is master of his own ship and Leader of the Liberal Party. It’s not for us to tell the Prime Minister what to do. He doesn’t have to tick a box with the Nationals for what he does when he gets up in the morning. He is absolutely entitled to go there because he’s the Prime Minister of Australia.

FRAN KELLY: So how long are you prepared for this to drag on? How long do you think before we get an answer from the Nats? What’s your best guess?

BARNABY JOYCE: That’s for the party room. Once more, I’m not going to start telling the party room what to do, because the whole point of this – and the Nationals were so adamant about this – this will be the decision of the Nationals party room. It is not going to be a unilateral decision of anybody.

FRAN KELLY: When do the Nats meet again on this?


FRAN KELLY: Today. Barnaby Joyce, thank you very much for joining us. Hopefully we can talk after that meeting, too. Thanks for your time.

BARNABY JOYCE: Always a pleasure, Fran.