Interview with Leigh Sales, ABC 7.30

LEIGH SALES: Negotiations are continuing between the Liberal and National parties over a net zero emissions by 2050 target for Australia. Time's running out ahead of the Glasgow Climate Summit in two and a bit weeks. To assess how far, or otherwise, the government is from a position, I was joined a short time ago by the Deputy Prime Minister and National Party leader, Barnaby Joyce.

Barnaby Joyce, where are negotiations up to between the Liberals and the Nationals on emissions targets? Are you anywhere near an agreement?

BARNABY JOYCE: Leigh, I keep saying this to people: I'm not the negotiator. A plan will come to the Nationals' party room on Sunday, I know that's going to get out. And when it arrives there with the information that we have that I can give to my colleagues, they will go into a discussion, they will ask serious questions, they will expect to hear answers, and I imagine not everybody in the room will come to the same position, but we'll get a fair guide as to what's happening then. The worst thing I could do for anybody, for Mr Morrison, the Prime Minister, for anybody, is to start saying, "Oh, well, I, Horatio Joyce, have now determined that this is the direction the Nationals are going" because I'll just get a size nine up my backside if I do that, so I'm not going to do it.

LEIGH SALES: But you're the leader, and so you've got to have something you’re comfortable with to take to your colleagues to say, "Hey, gang, here's what I think we should sign up to". Are you far away from something you would feel comfortable with?

BARNABY JOYCE: I would make sure that my party is equal in any of those discussions. I'll have my views and other people will have theirs. Most of us have been around politics a long while. You know, egotism is the best way to sink any deal, so I won't be showing any of that.

LEIGH SALES: So what are the sticking points for the National Party at this point?

BARNABY JOYCE: It's always the same. First we look through the eyes of the nation and we say, “Does this leave the nation in a stronger position or a weaker position?” And then the next question after that, of course, is the regional people. I hate to be trite, but the people in the weatherboard and iron, and say well, "Where are they in this? And what is their position?" Our job is to go and fight for them. Remember, the richest electorates in Australia are Greens electorates, the next ones are Liberal electorates, then Labor electorates. The poorest electorates are Nationals electorates, so we have a different set of eyes on the issues because they're also energy-intensive electorates.

LEIGH SALES: So, as you point out, people look at things in different ways and there's different ways that you can cut emissions. So let's go to a first-principles question. As the National Party Leader, regardless of how you get there, do you support a net zero by 2050 target?

BARNABY JOYCE: As soon as I say something like that, I've already given an endorsement, or otherwise, to the decisions which are my colleagues', right?

LEIGH SALES: Well not necessarily, you could say you could support reaching that figure, but where your point of difference is how you get there?

BARNABY JOYCE: I'll tell you what, I don't support it without the support of my colleagues. There's your answer.

LEIGH SALES: Okay, so it's still not clear to me, although you're saying obviously you want regional areas prioritised, it's not clear to me what would actually get you over the line in a practical sense to support a net zero by 2050 target?

BARNABY JOYCE: We look at things and I ask the question, “Are these people who live at Alpha, who live at Alpha in Queensland? Where is their life after this?” This is the prism in which we see things through. And how things are going in Mildura, and making sure that we are focused on these people who live in these towns, in Sale, and make sure what we do on their behalf is make a prudent assessment and whatever is required to leave them in the same or better condition, preferably, and always striving for better. But don't take them backwards.

LEIGH SALES: So, just so I can understand this, is your position that, on Sunday, you're going to have something to take to the party room to see if they approve of it? Is that what you're saying?

BARNABY JOYCE: I've got to have something to take there, Leigh, otherwise I can tell you what the answer's going to be. If you turn up with nothing, then nothing's what you get.

LEIGH SALES: Sorry to interrupt. I guess what I'm trying to get to is, how far away are you from actually having something that you can take to the party room? Do you feel like you're close or far away from that?

BARNABY JOYCE: I think that relies on the Prime Minister and Minister Angus Taylor. I'm sure these people come forward with the best intentions and they come forward with, I don't think they're playing a game. It's a serious issue, probably one of the most serious political issues. But I'll tell you what, Leigh, you're probably saying, "Oh, you're a bit apprehensive. You're not doing cartwheels around your office about it." The last time we had a serious experience of this was Kyoto. And what happened then was we got done over. People played a sneaky little game, and we ended up with the divestment of our private property. We actually owned the vegetation on our place, and then we -

LEIGH SALES: Do you think Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor are going to play a sneaky little game on you this time?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, I don't think they will. But we've been once bitten, and twice we're going to be diligent. The first time it happens, the fool is them. The second time it happens, the fool is you. So we're going to make sure we go through this forensically and that, in the assertions and the assumptions that were made, that we clearly think that they convey the truth of the modelling. We want to make sure that where we end up is a position, if it's going forward, that takes our people not backwards, that takes them forward. That is so vitally important. We're talking to all comers, we're getting lobbied left, right and centre. I field questions but people say they'll never talk to you again if you do it, followed by the next caller saying they'll never talk to you again if you do. It is a vastly more heated issue out here in regional areas than you would ever contemplate, to be quite frank, in a capital city.

LEIGH SALES: Have you been advised if the PM's going to go to Glasgow?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, it's a choice for him. I don't write the PM's diary. The PM has his own decisions.

LEIGH SALES: But you would have been told at some point if you'd be acting Prime Minister at a certain period if he went. I'm wondering if you're locked in for that.

BARNABY JOYCE: That's correct, you're dead right, I would be told. And if I was told and I were trying to keep it quiet, I'd keep his confidence, so it's really a dilemma for your listeners. I can either say, "I don't know and I'm telling the truth" or I can say, "I don't know because I can't tell you the truth". So either way, you're going to get the answer "I don't know".

LEIGH SALES: Barnaby Joyce, thank you for your time.

BARNABY JOYCE: Always a pleasure, Leigh.