Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Breakfast

FRAN KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. It’s 25 minutes to eight. Well, apparently there’s been a major breakthrough in the decade-long political war over climate change with the National Party agreeing to a process to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Cabinet meets today to endorse this deal with the junior Coalition partner, which is expected to include more support for regional jobs and industries and an extra seat at the Cabinet table for the Nats. But in a sign of ongoing internal tensions over climate policy, several Nationals – reportedly also including the leader, Barnaby Joyce – remain opposed to a net zero target. Details of the deal agreed to by the Nats and sent up to the Prime Minister and then on to Cabinet are still unknown. I spoke with Barnaby Joyce a short time ago.

BARNABY JOYCE: Good morning, Fran. Sad to see you go, but anyway, on to bigger and better things.

FRAN KELLY: Well, hopefully. Thank you. As the Prime Minister has put it, the Nats have given “in-principle backing” for net zero by 2050. Do you personally support the Australian economy being carbon neutral by 2050?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’ve always said, Fran – and it’s the case for everybody – that we would go through a process which was led by the party room. Right from the very start I said this will not be a decision by the executive and not a decision by the leader. It’s not going to be a sort of Xi Jinping outcome. And so by doing that, I’m abiding 100 per cent by the process and the process is that we go to a goal of net zero by 2050. I’m absolutely assured that the deal that we are going forward with leaves regional Australia in a better position than it was prior to us going into those negotiations. The negotiations, obviously we saw a lot of them on television, it went for a period of time and they resulted in a better outcome. That was the purpose and the process. Obviously, I’m very happy with the outcome that we have negotiated. It’s very important that regional Australia understands that the Prime Minister was going to Glasgow regardless of whether the National Party agreed or not, so we had two choices: to negotiate a better deal or to resign ourselves to the thespian cries from outside and have no effect on behalf of the people who’d raised concerns with us.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. So this is a negotiated outcome. But you are the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Do you support the outcome? Do you support –

BARNABY JOYCE: I support the outcome, of course. I support the outcome. One hundred per cent I support the outcome.

FRAN KELLY: Do you support the target?

BARNABY JOYCE: I support the outcome 100 per cent. I support the goal 100 per cent because that is the negotiated position of the party. That was always the process we were going to follow.

FRAN KELLY: Because the word coming out of the party room was that you said – you addressed your colleagues at the end and indicated you did not personally think it was the best outcome for Australia. Is that true?

BARNABY JOYCE: I think it’s very disappointing that in the confidentiality of a party room where people have the capacity to openly discuss, what is the point of a discussion, what is the point of a confidential discussion if somebody thinks they’re above that confidentiality and they can therefore go and breach it? They do it for their own purpose. They do it for their own grandiosity. And I’ve –

FRAN KELLY: But I think it’s important for the Australian people to know, don’t they –

BARNABY JOYCE: I’ve given – Fran, we are now dwelling in the intrigue of –

FRAN KELLY: Not really, I’m just wondering do you think that it’s the best policy position for Australia to get to net zero by 2050.

BARNABY JOYCE: -- and the grandiosity of someone who believes they’re above the party process. I’ve said to you quite clearly, unambiguously I am 100 per cent on board with the goal to achieve net zero by 2050 because that was the decision of the Nationals party room. I’ve also clearly stated that it was always the case – told to you, told to everybody – that the process would be that no individual would make the decision, the party room would make the decision. The party room has made the decision. I abide by the party room. I am 100 per cent on board with the goal of reaching net zero by 2050. I can’t make it clearer than that.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. You’re 100 per cent on board with the goal. Yet, as we’ve said, some of your colleagues have indicated that you told the party room you didn’t think it was the best outcome. So –

BARNABY JOYCE: That’s a question you have – I mean, look, I can debunk this one straight away. Which colleague?

FRAN KELLY: Well, no, the question is, did you say it, not which colleague’s reported it.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, which colleague? I mean, surely –

FRAN KELLY: But did you say it? Well, did you say it?

BARNABY JOYCE: Surely if this is so important they’d give you their name, wouldn’t they? I mean, otherwise that would be a statement of character.

FRAN KELLY: Well, it’s easier for you just to give us the answer. Did you say it?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, I’ve told you, 100 per cent I’m on board with the goal of 2050 zero emissions. What more do you want?

FRAN KELLY: Okay. So you’re on board with it. Keith Pitt presumably is on board with it. Bridget McKenzie is on board with it. Keith Pitt is – we understand that one area of negotiations was that the Nats get another Cabinet position. You’ve had five in the past, you’re four at the moment. Will Keith Pitt be elevated to Cabinet?

BARNABY JOYCE: That’s a decision for the Prime Minister. I’m not going to start making the Prime Minister’s decisions for him. That doesn’t help.

FRAN KELLY: Is that in the Nats plan, though?

BARNABY JOYCE: Once more, that’s a decision for the Prime Minister. I suppose, Fran, I’m afraid this is going to be a rather boring interview because I’m not going to discuss what happens in the party room. I don’t think the Australian people are interested with the intrigues of the party room. They are interested in making sure the Nationals Party have negotiated an outcome which leaves them in a better position, which we have done, which we put our endeavours to, which was obviously a very forthright, tough process. We are absolutely assured and we can assure the Australian people that we’ve come to a better outcome than they otherwise would have had. I can also quite obviously tell the Australian people there was no option to stop the Prime Minister going to Glasgow. That was never on the table, so the most logical thing for the Nationals to do is to negotiate a better outcome for regional Australia.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. So a better outcome for regional Australia. But I go back – the reason I’m asking these questions is because given we’ve known the reluctance and heard it on this program many times of Keith Pitt to net zero by 2050, he’s the Resources Minister. We’ve known and heard the reluctance and the concerns of Bridget McKenzie to net zero by 2050, and she’s the Minister for Regionalisation. You are the Deputy Prime Minister. You’ve made your reluctance clear in the past. So we’ve got significantly important Cabinet ministers who don’t – who seem to have grave concerns about the target. Is that fair to say, or not?

BARNABY JOYCE: Fran, each one of us agreed to the process. Now, the only thing I can say, we would never have had to go into a negotiated process if the Nationals at the start were a hundred per cent happy with where the proposition was. There was not one – not to a person was anybody saying, “We’re completely happy with where the process is and it needs no changes.” So the Nationals – the Nationals – went into negotiations. I set down the process. The process came to a conclusion. The process is clear – the party has clearly said that they are in favour of a goal of net zero by 2050. I am now absolutely on board with the Nationals, which I lead, to make sure that that process comes about.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. So let’s go to what the Nats have put to the Prime Minister. You’re hoping and assuming, I presume, that they’ll be incorporated into the cabinet signoff. We’ve heard that there’ll be stronger safeguards for regional communities to protect their jobs and industries. What do stronger safeguards look like? What does that mean?

BARNABY JOYCE: We have to make sure that we leave regional Australia in the same or better position, to make sure that agriculture is absolutely and utterly ringroaded so we can go forward, that there’s no further encumbrances placed on agriculture like there was during the Kyoto protocol when the agreement was reached – sure, everybody was happy, everybody lauded themselves by saying, ”Oh, we’ve abided by all our agreement,” but they did it with basically the theft of a private asset of private individuals. Now, that happened before. We were going to make absolutely certain that didn’t happen again. Likewise, people in mining seats, it’s fundamentally important that there be no impediment on their capacity to pay for their houses, to do their job, to earn the very good incomes they earn in so many regional towns – whether it’s Gladstone or Gunnedah or Boggabri or Emerald – that we make sure that we stand by those people and let them continue on the process. If the world’s economics changes in the demand for a product, then that is something enforced on us by the world, but it will not be enforced by the Australian government.

FRAN KELLY: So how do you safeguard that? And is it legislated? How do you safeguard that, you know, no mining family, you know, is diminished in their capacity to pay their mortgage? How do you put that in legislation?

BARNABY JOYCE: Fran, I’m not going to go through the process now that is to be included in a Cabinet document. In a Cabinet document, you can’t litigate a Cabinet document on public radio prior to it going to Cabinet, which I’m sure will happen imminently. Then I’m only too happy to discuss the conditions in there and how they give better protections to Australian farmers, to regional towns and to our mining industry.

FRAN KELLY: You’ve said repeatedly to us and other places, too, that the Nats wouldn’t sign off unless you saw, you know, the plan and the price tag. The Australian people still haven’t seen this plan and this price tag. Can you tell us what the price tag will be, not just for the Nat’s support but the price tag of this package?

BARNABY JOYCE: It’s not going to be with taxes and caveats that diminish the rights of Australian farmers, that takes Australian farmers anywhere but forward or leaves them in the same position, that puts a threat to one of our greatest exports in the export of fossil fuels, which, if we didn’t have, we would not have the standard of living that everybody enjoys. You mightn’t see it, you mightn’t like it, but you like the fact that it supports the pensions, the NDIS, the ABC, social security, defence, all the things that are so vitally important and taken as a right, a birth right, of being an Australian.

FRAN KELLY: Just finally, despite your personal reluctance about net zero, which has been on show for many months now, you are the person who’s achieved, it would seem, a political consensus on climate change within the Coalition, which has been elusive now for over a decade. Is that a matter of pride or a matter of shame for you?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, it’s a matter of pride that I have made sure that the people of regional Australia are in a better position than they otherwise would have been, that we didn’t just blindly accept something, that we took the diligence over a period of time to make sure we made the deal better. That’s what your job is down here. Alternatively, the Prime Minister was going to go to Glasgow in any case, and there was not a prospect as clearly enunciated by the Prime Minister that he was going to not go. You always have to be logical, and you’re logical by saying, “Well, what are the cards before me and what is my number one job? To make sure that regional Australia, the towns, the farming community, the mining community, are not left in a worse position but are left in the same or better position.”

FRAN KELLY: Barnaby Joyce, thank you very much for joining us again on Breakfast.

BARNABY JOYCE: Always a pleasure, Fran.