Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Victoria’s construction industry has been told to down tools for the next two weeks in the wake of yesterday's violent protests in Melbourne's central business district. Crisis talks were held between the CFMEU and the state government last night, after the union's headquarters were badly damaged during hours of chaos.

LISA MILLAR: The protesters were demonstrating against a vaccine mandate for the sector. The building industry says its COVID rules were too heavy handed, but the Industrial Relations Minister says action needed to be taken following what he called widespread non-compliance. For his take, let’s bring in the acting Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce. Good morning, welcome to News Breakfast.

BARNABY JOYCE: Good morning, Lisa.

LISA MILLAR: Do you think shutting down the industry for two weeks was the right action taken by the Victorian Government?

BARNABY JOYCE: I'm going to have to leave that to the Victorian Government because it's not a decision that the Federal Government made. This falls in the remit of the state governments. It's their orders, their health order. In regards what is happening within the CFMEU, I don't have the answer to that question. I think that's something for Terri Butler or Penny Wong, who have a close association with that group. We just don't want violence. No one wants it. I think it scares people and achieves very little, but raising people's antagonisms when they watch it on television because they think it's unruly and threatening.

LISA MILLAR: One of the issues that relates directly to the Federal Government is this idea that extremists, or right-wing groups are infiltrating the protests we're seeing around Australia, the anti-vax protest. What do you know as the acting Prime Minister about the extent of extremists being involved?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, Lisa, really no more than what you read in the paper. I don't really curry favour with that idea. I don't think those guys we saw on television are going to be influenced by anti-vaxxers. I think they have got their own ideas in their own mind. What we've got to say to any person, violence and those sort of actions in a public space just scare people and you lose support. And I ask people such as Terri Butler and Penny Wong, they've a strong affiliation with the CFMEU, they have to come out and be leaders and condemn those actions and make sure that we don't get a repeat of this. It's not a matter of if they're infiltrated by anti-vaxxers or not. I don’t care if you’re an anti-vaxxer or you aren’t. But I do care about actions on a public street that scare people and that's what the concern is here.

LISA MILLAR: Can I turn to Christian Porter. You suggested yesterday he could return to the Ministry. Does that mean you think it's acceptable for an MP, a backbencher, to have taken anonymous donations?

BARNABY JOYCE: In all careers, even if a person goes to jail, there's a time when they come out and we believe they get a second chance. We don't condemn them forever. We don't just kick someone to the curb and never pick them up again. It's not the Australian lexicon, it's not what we do. We say to people, you have to have your time in Coventry and Christian will, but we hope that after that you get an opportunity again, like you would want me to say to you or to any other person out there. You don't take a driver's licence off somebody forever, you give them a period without it and then you give it back to them. I just think it's really odd that we say we're going to throw this person to the waste paper basket forever. He’s obviously incredibly intelligent, he's been an incredibly capable minister at a state and federal level. Yes, he’s had a very bad day at the wicket, as I keep repeating, but that shouldn’t mean he’s gone forever.

LISA MILLAR: But isn’t the issue that he still has the money? The details about it are still unknown, so while he may be in Coventry, until those issues are resolved, aren't there still legitimate questions that people deserve to have answered?

BARNABY JOYCE: It's a legitimate parliamentary process if they wish to go through it and that's the privileges committee. I hear the Labor Party is going to utilise that and that's completely and utterly their right and that’s what it’s there for. It shouldn't be by kangaroo court. We’ve got to work off if someone’s obeyed the law or if they haven’t…

LISA MILLAR: It's not a kangaroo court, the questions that obviously haven’t been answered. He has taken up to one million dollars possibly and the Australian public doesn't know who gave it to him.

BARNABY JOYCE: If he has broken the law, then he's broken the law and it won't be us investigating, it’ll be the police and that’s not happened. So let’s just dispense any idea that he’s broken the law. He hasn’t. He has not broken the law.

LISA MILLAR: There's issues for MPs in Parliament...

BARNABY JOYCE: I understand, Lisa. I agree with you. But there's a process in Parliament, the parliamentary privileges committee, which has the capacity to look at all these things. If they have further questions to ask, I imagine they will ask it.

LISA MILLAR: Your Liberal colleague Dave Sharma is today going to make a call for an emissions reduction target of 40 to 45 per cent by 2035 because he says Australia needs a firm target, it needs a plan to get to net zero. He says it's achievable. Is that achievable?

BARNABY JOYCE: I let Dave Sharma explain how he would achieve that target. I have great respect for Dave, he's an incredibly competent person. We always look at these things through the eyes of job losses in these areas. He is looking it through the eyes of Wentworth and I get that. Wentworth is his constituency and he must speak to the constituency of Wentworth. I must speak to the constituency of Muswellbrook and the constituency of… [CONNECTION LOST]