Interview with John Laws

JOHN LAWS: Well, Barnaby Joyce hasn’t been in the news as much as he used to be. He’s probably enjoying a bit of a break. But last week there was news that the Inland Rail extension caused a rift in the National Party room, and there’s also been a few things of late which have caused significant headaches for the Federal Government – the pandemic, the state leaders, Queensland, Afghanistan, net zero emissions targets, women’s safety – it goes on and on and on, all the things we’ve been concerned about. As you know, Barnaby Joyce and I have spoken a lot over the years and I appreciate what Barnaby has to say. So I’m delighted to say he’s on the line now – hopefully. Barnaby, are you there?

BARNABY JOYCE: I am, John. How are you, mate?

JOHN LAWS: I’m pretty good. What about you?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, I’m in lockdown, but I’m in the best place to be locked down in Australia. I’m in Danglemah on my front veranda staring out over the hills, and I’ll go for a wonder later on, go for a look around the cattle. The thing about Danglemah, John, is you’re in lockdown from the day you’re born – it doesn’t really make any difference. There’s no one here.

[LAUGHTER]

JOHN LAWS: Look, I have to say, I’ll never even heard of Danglemah.

BARNABY JOYCE: That’s the way we want to keep it. That’s the way we want to keep it. But, yeah, it’s in the hills between Tamworth and Walcha basically. Well, it used to be a place. That’s the best way to explain Danglemah.

JOHN LAWS: Is it a town? Is it a proper town?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, no. It used to have a railway station. I remember getting off the train here. And a long time ago it used to have a school. Now it’s got the O’Brians, the Joyces and Josh Keville. Every day this population goes up by about 30 or 40 when the train goes through.

JOHN LAWS: Has it got a shop?

BARNABY JOYCE: No. No, it doesn’t have one of those. Kootingal down the road and Walcha up the road would be the closest ones.

JOHN LAWS: So, it hasn’t even got a pub?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, that’s Walcha. It takes 25 minutes to get there – not that I’d know. But I’m used to it. It’s where I grew up. And it’s great. It gives you a real perspective and let’s other people know I do television from here, morning television every Monday morning, and I get a real sense of pride when someone says, you know, “Here’s Billy Bloggs from Brisbane and here’s, you know, Joanie Kaphoops from Perth and here’s Barnaby Joyce from Danglemah.”

JOHN LAWS: Are you on a place, on a property?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, I am. My father lives – he’s 97, we still look after him. He lives in the big house and I live in the manager’s quarters. So it’s just a pretty simple house – three bedrooms, brick and corrugated iron roof. It’s – you know, just nothing flash, but that’s all right. I’m really comfortable here. And, you know, America’s got Camp David and England’s got Chequers and Australia’s got Camp Danglemah. So there we are.

JOHN LAWS: And you’ve got freedom and you can hear the sound of the rain on the roof?

BARNABY JOYCE: Definitely, yeah. Hear that definitely. We’ve had a bit of that lately, so it’s been very, very good. Very blessed. Good rain, good season. There might be a bit of barber’s pole in the cattle though, so just have to keep an eye on that. Might have to go – it’s been a bit wet so we’ve got to get them in and have a look through them.

JOHN LAWS: We’d better talk about this Inland Rail extension. Apparently it’s causing a few headaches in the National Party room, is that so?

BARNABY JOYCE: Not anymore, no. We’re going ahead with this. Let’s get on with it. The last study was 3,600 pages and 71 scientists, 90 combined degrees, a thousand years of experience, and I’m just over it, John. I want the thing built. The next leg’s worth a billion dollars. It goes from basically just above the Queensland border to Toowoomba, and once we get it there I’ve also put some money on the table – or, you have, the taxpayer, your listeners have – to start the process of getting it from Toowoomba through to Gladstone. And this is going to have a real economic boom for inland towns. For Narrabri, the mayor tells me it’ll double the population. For Goondiwindi, for Toowoomba, Parkes, it will be an inland port. And this is how we grow these areas inland. And it was right at the start, John, when Malcolm wanted Badgerys Creek in the Coalition agreement and I said, “Well, I want Inland Rail.” And so we got the money, we got it started and now we’re going to push it through, make sure it happens. Finish the studies. We’ve built the section from Narromine to Parkes and we’re building the section from Moree up to – sorry, Narrabri up to Moree. We’ve started on the section from Moree across to North Star. And we’ve got a bit of work to do at Stockinbingal. Narromine and Narrabri, that’s through the Pillaga, got to get that built. And this section here, which was a hot potato, but you’re never going to make everybody happy.

JOHN LAWS: No, you’re never going to. How long is all that going to take, though? It’s going to take a while?

BARNABY JOYCE: Probably in the next three or four years I’d say to get into it. But if you hang around waiting to make everybody happy you’ll never get anything done. So you’ll get some people saying, “I hate you, blah, blah, blah, I’ll never vote for you.” That’s half of my electorate. But, you know, you’ve just got to get on with it, otherwise nothing happens.

JOHN LAWS: Tell me, is David Littleproud happy or unhappy?

BARNABY JOYCE: Look, he had concerns. You know, I think everybody knows that. He had concerns. But, I think you know, we’ve dealt with them, you know, as best we can. And I think David understands, just like I do, you’re never going to make everybody happy. It’s just not possible. You know, what they wanted in the end, they wanted Inland Rail that levitates across the ground so no one’s actually dealt with it but manages somehow miraculously to go to every town and stop there. You can’t do that. You’re going to have winners and you’re going to have people who are not as happy because they didn’t win as much. And that’s life. Otherwise we’d never get a road built, never get a hospital built because ultimately, no matter what you do, there’s somebody somewhere is not entirely happy with it. But for the betterment of our nation, you’ve got to look after them, compensate them, do what you have to do, but get on with it.

JOHN LAWS: I’m looking at a picture of your railway station…

BARNABY JOYCE: Danglemah? It’s not there anymore. I used to get off there.

JOHN LAWS: You’re kidding? It’s gone? It looks very solid to me.

BARNABY JOYCE: No, she’s gone now. I was – I remember I had to – because I had to coax – when I was coming home from boarding school – everyone here went to boarding school – and I was coming home. I had to plead with the guard to tell the driver to stop there to let me off. Because my parents, they would just listen. They’d go, “Oh, yes. The train’s stopped, he must have got off.” And I’d walk through the paddocks back home with my bags. If I didn’t, it went to damn Woolbrook.

JOHN LAWS: And have they knocked that railway station down?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, they knocked it down. Yeah, like everything, you know, there’s not much here anymore. You know, there’s a couple of – just Justin O’Brien up the hill and myself down in the manager’s quarters, Dad and my sister over in the house and another guy just up the road. He’s another manager for us, just up the road.

JOHN LAWS: I’m looking at the railway station. It’s got a little house next to it. I presume that was where the stationmaster lived, was it?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, that’s gone as well. They put it on the back of a truck and carted it away. And there was another house up the road, they put that on the back and carted it away. That’s what happens to a lot of these towns. It’s funny, John, that drove a lot of my politics. I’d just had it. I was sick of, you know, everywhere being shut down. That’s why we’re trying to build the Outback Way from Boulia through to Laverton and on to Perth and get this Inland Rail built and try and get some people living back out west. Because I live in an area where they’re all leaving, and it's time to try and get people into some of these areas back, otherwise they’re all going to be living with you in Sydney. The whole lot. And, you know, you’ve got probably enough cars on your road at the moment and probably enough people there. You’re heading towards four and a half million people. You don’t need anymore.

JOHN LAWS: Yeah. Did you go to Riverview?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, I went to boarding school there. My brothers went to a place called De La Salle at Armidale, but that closed down. And then my neighbours went to Farrer. Everybody up this gully went to boarding school, because it’s just…

JOHN LAWS: Well, you probably had to.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah…

JOHN LAWS: Hey, listen, we’d better get on to talking about sensible things here instead of…

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay.

JOHN LAWS: Not that I don’t enjoy talking to you about your very interesting life. You announced on Friday the North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority is going to be relocated to Queensland. Why the hell was it in Canberra in the first place?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, I scratched my head about that, and, anyway, I don’t think – I don’t know whether they were entirely happy. Someone said they were going to take it to the Governor-General as to why I did it. God knows what he would have said. He probably found it on a map. But, yeah, no, I thought, well, the APVMA went to Armidale. AFMA had to be near a fishing – it was in Canberra, so I sent that off to Coffs Harbour. Murray-Darling Basin Authority, a lot of that was in Canberra, so I actually sent that out to more on the Murray-Darling Basin where it actually grows stuff. And the North Queensland Water Authority was in Canberra, and I just…

JOHN LAWS: Well, exactly. Why the hell was it there in the first place?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, so they’re on their way to Bowen. So the people of Bowen will be happy to receive them. And they’ll get a few jobs there and the kids will go to high school there at Bowen and have a chance to get a job around town that mightn’t be picking tomatoes or working on, you know, working on the cattle stations, you know, a job in town, if that’s what they want to do. And that’s what we’ve got to do. And they’re building Urannah Dam up there which is good. We want to get Hells Gate going, move water west into the, you know, black soils of Western Queensland and try and drive these agendas while you’ve got the opportunity. Because that’s the one thing I’ve learned since being on the back bench – your time in these positions where you can actually do things is nasty, brutish and short, so make the most of it. And so they’re on their way to Bowen, and that will hopefully drive the agenda for Urannah Dam, Hells Gate Dam, and maybe we can do a bit on Burdekin Falls and start that agenda of moving water west, like the Bradfield Scheme, which people have always wanted to do.

JOHN LAWS: Tell me this: do you think the Prime Minister’s getting a bit above himself?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, he’s had a fair bit on his plate lately with COVID and Afghanistan. And that’s…

JOHN LAWS: Barnaby, when I asked you that question – do you think the Prime Minister’s getting a bit above himself – I didn’t get an immediate answer. There was a pause there. What belongs in the pause?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, I think that in all these jobs you get so immersed in them that it can start appearing that way because you’re so immersed in the complexities of day to day. And I’ve got to watch for it myself. You worry so much about now that you’ve got to always take a breath and talk to the person in front of you. But it’s not arrogance, it’s just busyness. And there’s a difference between busyness and arrogance. When you’re the Prime Minister, and I’m not, it’s a very, very busy day. It starts very early in the morning and goes to late at night. And the Australian people are relying on you to do it to the best of your ability.

JOHN LAWS: Yes, but you’ve got to remember, this was Father’s Day. It wasn’t a big day of business, was it?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m not going to talk for someone else. All I can say is that I find him approachable. You know, as I’ve always said, it’s a business relationship. I’m trying to do the best for our people and he’s trying to do the, you know, he’s trying to do the best for his job, and I think that works well. You know, in politics you don’t start pretending people are, you know, mates and pals and buddies, because if you want them you go down to the pub, you don’t go to Canberra. And there’s not necessarily people to go to the pub with that would make good politicians, but they’re good to have a yarn with. And the job of politics is to get things done.

JOHN LAWS: When you stop being a politician you can become a diplomat. You’re very good with your diplomatic answers, Barnaby.

[LAUGHTER]

BARNABY JOYCE: Maybe I should be a radio announcer and see how I go with that. Anyway.

JOHN LAWS: I think you’d be probably a very good radio announcer.

BARNABY JOYCE: Let’s see, anyway. Politics doesn’t go on forever. So I have to think – I’d probably just come back to the land, to be honest, John.

JOHN LAWS: Go back to the wide open spaces. get out of this heavy stuff. Go back to the farm.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, my boys are here. And, so, you know, hopefully they get an opportunity to, you know – I don’t know, maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But if they get an opportunity to grow up on the land, I think that’s a good thing.

JOHN LAWS: Do you think the Government would ever recognise the Taliban as leaders of Afghanistan and engage in diplomacy, some acts of diplomacy, with that group?

BARNABY JOYCE: I think you’re going to be forced to in a way. Look at it this way, if we hadn’t had some sort of communication, even indirect, we wouldn’t have got anybody out of Afghanistan because they could quite easily have murdered them. I don’t think for one second that they’re, you know, somehow in their current guise a tolerable thing that we’d accept in Australia. I think they’ve done some absolutely hideous things. The trouble we’ve got, IS-K is worse and Al-Qaeda is worse.

JOHN LAWS: Yes.

BARNABY JOYCE: And, you know, sometimes you’ve just got a whole heap of bad choices but you’ve got to try and pick the worst of the bad choices that you’ve got before you. And Australia’s about to play them in cricket. So it’s not like a million, million miles away. I hope that cricket, that test, still goes ahead. I think it’s one of the great hopes of opening the doors. Because what you want to try and do is evolve, get a government to evolve to something that’s less noxious and more tolerable and to play in the international cricket competition, they have to have a women’s team. That’s part of it.

JOHN LAWS: Look, I think that’s a very good way to look at it. Very good.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, and it gets things started. And, you know, you’ve got to – no matter what, sometimes you’ve got to – you’ve got to start somewhere and hope for the best. You know, because it’s – you know, what are your options? The last thing we need is for the chaos of Afghanistan to continue on. You know, we want the Taliban, as odd as it is, to mollify in some of them extreme opinions. That’s most definitely required. But they’re not dopey, they know they’re going to – some people there are going to become very, very wealthy people as things settle down. But if they don’t settle down, they won’t. And sometimes greed is a pretty handy sort of motivator. Someone’s sitting back thinking, “I’m going to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars here if I can just get the railway line going and keep those resources going and open those mines up, or I can be a very poor person and let it go back to total and utter chaos. Now, how do I make sure it doesn’t go back to chaos? Well, I start tempering some of my views and mollifying some of my views and making sure that other countries want to talk to me.”

JOHN LAWS: What do you think that Annastacia Palaszczuk and Mark McGowan are doing are their borders? Are they out of control?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yep. Crazy. You know, they’re going to get to the point, John, where they’re not locking people out, they’re lock themselves in

JOHN LAWS: That’s right.

BARNABY JOYCE: You’re going to have people wondering around New South Wales and Victoria and going backwards and forth and just having a normal life, and if anybody from Western Australia wants to come over, well, their own government will lock them back up for two weeks when they get home. And they’re not going to accept that. Australia is a nation. It’s not little fiefdoms. I mean, it’s the same thing about Western Australia, what are they going to do? If something goes completely to custard, what are you going to do? Are you going to get out the West Australian army or the West Australian air force and deal with it?

JOHN LAWS: Yeah, it’s getting a bit that way, isn’t it?

BARNABY JOYCE: You know, it’s ridiculous. You’ve got to work as a nation. We’ve got a singular Defence Force, a singular policy, singular destiny. The people all speak the same language, the same accent. You can’t just say at certain times we’ve decided we’re a different country. But the Australian people won’t accept it. People in the Gold Coast are not going to accept that the border where the money comes from has just sort of shut or it’s so tenuous that anyone who goes there is concerned that if you head up to Queensland you might be locked up, you know, they might put you in quarantine. They just won’t accept that. They want the world to move on.

JOHN LAWS: Tell me this – or maybe you can’t tell me—Annastacia Palaszczuk, what is she trying to achieve? Do you have any idea?

BARNABY JOYCE: Just scare the bejesus out of people with the last comments. You know, that thousands of people are going to die. That’s a load of rubbish. You know, I think that – I don’t know. She’s just talking off the top of her head at the moment. She’s got to realise that what might have been really politically popular before – I get that and people say, “Oh, we’re safe, we haven’t got it” – is going to be completely and utterly impractical later on. And people’s opinions change on political issues. I may have been politics a little bit longer than Anna, and I can assure you that it happens. Something that you think is an absolute winner becomes an absolute dog of an idea and you’ve got to learn how to change with the circumstances. And my strong, sombre advice to her would be to do just that right now.

JOHN LAWS: I hope she is, incidentally, talking off the top of her head, because there’s precious little in it.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, you know, I just felt that comment of, you know, 80 people a day dying and thousands dying was just rubbish. And you just scare people when you say stuff like that. And then they sit back and go, “Hang on, you don’t know what you’re talking about because it’s garbage. No one’s suggesting that.”

JOHN LAWS: No. Nobody is even getting near to suggesting that. All right, Barnaby. We’ve covered a bit here and we’ve had a good – well, I’ve had a good chat. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, absolutely. Most importantly, hope your listeners do, and I look forward to when I come down I’ll go wonder into your office and say g’day.

JOHN LAWS: I’d like you to do that. And come around – come just before lunch so you and I can go and have a bite to eat together.

BARNABY JOYCE: That would be – that would be good. I’d appreciate that. And I’ll even split the tab with you. There you go.

JOHN LAWS: Oh, don’t overdo it.

BARNABY JOYCE: But I’ll pick what you eat.

JOHN LAWS: All right, you can do that. Barnaby, thank you very much for your time. Good to talk to you, as always.

BARNABY JOYCE: You too, John. All the best, mate. All the best to your listeners.

JOHN LAWS: Thank you very much. Barnaby Joyce, an enjoyable man, no matter which you way look at it.