Interview with Matt Wordsworth, ABC News

MATT WORDSWORTH: It’s just over a month to go before a major climate change summit begins in Glasgow. The Prime Minister is yet to make a call on whether he’s going, but has promised to release a new plan on dealing with climate change before the November summit where hundreds of countries will outline their plans to cut emissions. So what will Australia do? Barnaby Joyce is the Deputy Prime Minister. He joined me a little earlier.

All right, Barnaby Joyce, thanks very much for your time today. The Nationals had a party room meeting this morning.

BARNABY JOYCE: Good afternoon Matt.

MATT WORDSWORTH: We’ve got this News Corp report about a new climate change report coming from the Morrison Government. Obviously there’ll be huge interest in states like here in Queensland and WA. It talks about transitioning energy exports. What does that mean?

BARNABY JOYCE: What I believe is really important in transitioning is obviously driven by the global outlook on products. But we know that right now, and especially from Queensland – it’s so important for Queensland – record volumes of coal at record prices, and that’s thermal coal. And that goes on the back of a whole range of issues such as what’s happening in the UK with the gas crisis where they’re having to open up old coal-fired power plants which is costing them a motza. In the long term we understand that there may be a transition to other fuel sources and we’ve got to make sure that we’re also part of that transition. But any sort of jump off a cliff now will just put Australia in a financially perilous position because you lose the biggest income earner in the house by far.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Well, yeah, particularly so with the coal industry. So what are you preparing the coal industry for here?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m going to be preparing the coal industry to continue on work because we’re not putting the coal industry at threat. That’s an interview you need to have with the Labor Party who believe that they’re going to basically legislate to close them down. That’s all that can happen. So long as those ships are there at Hay Point and Gladstone picking up coal, we’re going to be selling it to them because we need the money. And if people think, “Oh, well, we don’t need that money,” you’ve got to also be honest about it and say what pensions you don’t want, what NDIS you don’t want and what drugs you don’t want on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme and what other social payments for government enterprise, for government services you don’t want. Fossil fuels are our biggest export. You can’t just shut them down and think that life will go on the same. So my message to the coal industry will be that the coal industry continues doing the job it’s been doing for our nation now for some time. If as we progress towards an alternate fuel source it won’t be jumping off a cliff and hoping to get a parachute on the way down. We’ll be transitioning from one to the other when the other is apparent.

MATT WORDSWORTH: And so you’ve always been concerned about jobs in those regional areas. So is that like a jobs guarantee you’re offering them?

BARNABY JOYCE: You shouldn’t have to guarantee people the job they’ve already got, like you’re doing some sort of a service to them.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Because you’re saying that there’s going to be a demand drop from overseas customers, from what I can tell from your words there –

BARNABY JOYCE: No, the thing, Matty, I don’t know whether that’s the case. You hear that all the time, but the facts – the facts – we hear the rhetoric, but the floats are floating on the water of Hay Point, off Mackay, off Gladstone, off Newcastle, I imagine off Port Kembla. That’s the facts. It’s floating in the water, and they’re exports of coal at record volumes at record prices. And this is weird, China saying that they’re not going to buy our coal. So really and truly, I think we’re a long way from the end of the coal industry. And that’s probably lucky for Australia because we need the money. And if people say you don’t, okay, you’ve got to tell me in the same breath or in the next breath what you’re willing to give up because if we don’t have the money to pay back the debt, you can’t borrow the money for whatever that service is.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Well, in the same breath of transitioning out of energy exports like coal, you’ve got net zero by 2050. Did your Nationals party room colleagues talk about that today? Were there any concerns raised?

BARNABY JOYCE: Obviously it’s an item of discussion, and I’m not going to sort of try and play ducks and drakes and say it’s not. But we’ll continue on the process of making sure that the party room is part of that process. That has always been our position. It’s not a unilateral decision. The musings of mine are merely that. It's the view of the party room which will prevail at the end of the day.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So when do we get a decision on whether you’ll support net zero by 2050?

BARNABY JOYCE: When the party room decides that they’ve come to their conclusion. And, you know, we’ll follow that process along.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So should the PM go to Glasgow in November for the 26th climate change summit?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m not here to tell the Prime Minister what to do and what not to do. I understand completely the views of many people within the Liberal Party and some people within the National Party, and this is a very vexed issue. I can only talk about the paradigm that I see it through and I think others do – and that is making it factual. It’s making sure that we don’t harm regional communities, that we keep the capacity for the jobs that are currently there and to make sure – and it’s the one-off jobs. It’s just not the jobs in the coal mines or people talking about that the National Party is a party of farmers. In New England 12 per cent of the electorate are farmers, and I’m one of them. That means that 78 per cent are not and we’ve got to be very mindful of the money that comes into their small businesses, whether it’s their coffee shops, their hardware stores, their clothes shops, hairdressers and on it goes. Because if you go to Muswellbrook or go to the Gladstone or Emerald and just rip the economic rug out, you might even transition some of the workers but what are you going to do with all the shops and the people there and the commerce there that was built around an industry? Do you just wave goodbye to them? We can’t do that.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Well, I’m guessing that this plan, this transitioning plan that you’re working on right now is going to answer some of those very important questions?

BARNABY JOYCE: I think anything is, first of all accept the facts. The fact is our largest export is fossil fuel. If you start saying I’m going to transition away from the biggest income earner in the economic house of Australia, then that’s a mighty big statement. Remember, our economy is not like the UK, it’s not like France, it’s not like the United States. We don’t have Microsoft, we don’t have pharmaceuticals, Boeing, we don’t have the financial City of London. Our economy’s entirely different. And so we have to be a lot more cautious. And we have to be also be very aware of what’s happening if you get the mix wrong, and that’s called the UK-Europe energy crisis with a six-fold increase in gas prices and pushing up energy prices just in the last year. And we’ve seen 850,000 up to a night losing their energy provider, putting at threat their capacity to keep themselves warm through a European winter and even putting under pressure their capacity for their food manufacturing industry. That’s what happens if you get this mix wrong. That is not going to happen in our nation. We’re going to be prudent and we’re going to make sure that it’s not just the jobs but also the whole economy that we look after.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Can I just get back to the Nationals party room because you were missing one of your members, usual members, Darren Chester today. Was that discussed today and what was the view?

BARNABY JOYCE: I don’t discuss what happens in the National Party room. But in the past there’s always been issues that we have to deal with and we understand Llew O’Brien was on the crossbench. We had Kevin Hogan on the crossbench. I’ve reached out to Darren. We want to make sure that, you know, we hear the concerns of people and try to make sure that we do all we can to keep everybody in the tent.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Yeah, it’s interesting you say you’ve reached out to him because one of the reasons he used for stepping away was he felt he needed to call out some of the comments of his fellows MPs – Matt Canavan – after saying will the Taliban adopt net zero, George Christensen about the cops in the Melbourne protest being heavy-handed. He said that he felt unsupported. Did he reach out to you for support and, if so, do you agree with him that he feels unsupported?

BARNABY JOYCE: Let’s just go through them. First of all, I think the comment by Senator Canavan, it was one of those pieces on Twitter or something like that. It wasn’t an op-ed he wrote in The Australian or a piece he did to camera on the 7.30 report. I think we’ve got to see things in context. The next issue with George, George has also condemned the violence in protests, absolutely condemned them and condemned violence against police and the desecration by people drinking and swearing and throwing litter around the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. So I think a more fulsome discussion is important. I think the issues that raise concern need to be addressed at times, but we’ve had issues like this in the past. I remember under Michael when people were coming to him to talk about the position of Craig Kelly or of Matt Canavan, it’s very hard. And as Michael said in that interview, it depends on how you see an event as to how you call it. But, really, the issue is you can have discussions with people, you can try and guide people, but you can’t instruct and the moment you do that things will go in completely the opposite direction as you intended. People are not going to say, “Well, I’m going to do it. You are my master and you can tell me what to do,” because that’s not how the democratic system works that we love so much and we try to protect. It might have been – well, it wasn’t Voltaire who said it, but, you know, I might not agree with what you said but I’ll defend to the death your right to do it. It was a summary of Voltaire’s thoughts, actually, by a biographer. But that is the sort of issue that if you go in and say, “I’m now going to script us as to what you can say and what you can’t say,” it’s just not going to work.

MATT WORDSWORTH: But this is about the direction of the party. It’s a broader issue than just a couple of one-off comments, to be fair, because Darren Chester said that those MPs are pushing a very hard right-wing agenda. Do you agree?

BARNABY JOYCE: The National Party is a broad church. I don’t know if it’s a hard right-wing agenda, but it’s a broad church and we have people of all views. That’s what it’s about. The common thought that we have is to make sure we look after regional Australia, and everybody – Darren, Michael, myself, everybody – has said that we can’t be at the expense of regional jobs. It can’t be at the expense of our community. I don’t see it as a hard right-wing agenda. I do see it as a broad church. It always has been for the 16 years I’ve been in the National Party and I hope that’s the way it goes into the future. I’d hate to see sort of cookie cutter politicians all of the same view preaching like a chorus. That is not the National Party that I joined. And what I love about the National Party is you’ve got you’re right to say what you like. You’re scripted in the Greens. They’ve never across the floor. In the Labor Party if they cross the floor they kick you out. You know, and even the Libs, very, very occasionally. The National Party is the freest party in politics at a federal level without a shadow of a doubt. And by reason of it being the freest party it has the freest expression of views.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Can I just move on to the New South Wales road map, because I know you’re a big fan of opening up the community once we hit that 80 per cent double dose, but the disability sector in particular has a real fear about what’s going to happen to the people who have disability who aren’t vaccinated and they haven’t had a chance to get vaccinated and they blame a serious deficiency at the federal level. This is the disability royal commission draft report released today. Do you accept that there’s been a seriously deficient national rollout for those people?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, I don’t. Over three-quarters of Australia now has had one inoculation and well over half of Australia has had two. And it’s still racing ahead. Millions of inoculations, millions of the dose, whether it’s AstraZeneca, whether it’s Moderna, whether it’s Pfizer, we have the capacity and it’s getting better and better and better in our process of inoculation. We hope that soon – end of October, early November, in that space – we will have had the capacity for people who they want to get inoculated can. And if they choose not to, well that is also their choice. But we can’t say, “Well, we’re just going to wait for everybody to get inoculated even if they don’t want to,” because that would be another economically catastrophic outcome and would turn Australia into a place that is just not accepted. People want their freedoms and their liberties back. The sooner we get to that 80 per cent the sooner we can start handing that back. You can see so many people are frustrated. So many people are sick of being locked in their houses. They’re sick of being told what they can do. They’re sick of being told how they can act. And we understand that completely, but the way to get through this is to get the inoculation rate as high as possible but over 80 per cent because we know that when we do open up – and we will – there’ll be like a mini pandemic and some will get sick, some will get very sick and have to go to the intensive care unit. That’s the issue. We’ve got to make sure the beds are there. And tragically some will die. But if we don’t want any of that, well, get inoculated. Simple as that.

MATT WORDSWORTH: Yeah, well in Queensland the border is locked down. No Delta in Queensland. Very few cases and very few deaths – only seven since the start of the pandemic. How do you convince Queenslanders that there is a date when you’re going to let Covid in to the state, when we know on the other side of that date there will be deaths?

BARNABY JOYCE: The alternative is that they just stay locked up like a hermit kingdom. I don’t know – is that what they want? This is a fact of the globe. It’s a fact of the world. There are businesses right now on the Gold Coast that are going broke. Is that what you want? Do you think you can just live by an economy by yourself? After October are you going to get your own navy, your own air force, have your own little army? Is it now complete isolation? It’s just untenable. The nation must go on as a nation. They have to get to a point where they become part of the nation again. Likewise, they’re lagging behind their inoculation rate. And this is I think because there is a sense of, “Oh, we’ll just stay locked up forever.” Well, in the end you’re not locking people out; you’re locking yourself in. You’re locking yourself in your own little jail. And we’ll be flying backwards and forth around the world and Queensland won’t.

MATT WORDSWORTH: And just finally on that point, Barnaby Joyce, Gladys Berejiklian wants you to increase the flight caps from December the 1st when they’re opening up, when they’re expected to be at 92, 93 per cent double dose. Are you involved in those discussions, given you do have responsibility for aviation?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yes. Yep. Yes, and also for part of –

MATT WORDSWORTH: So you’re happy to lift the flight caps?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m not going to make that decision right now, even though it would be a great coup for the ABC. We’ll go through and I’ll get the prudent advice as to what we should do. I’ll be listening to the statisticians and the epidemiologists and the psychologists on some of this, because mental health is becoming a big issue in this now, as to what is the most prudent step when you take the advice from the most expert people.

MATT WORDSWORTH: All right, Barnaby Joyce Deputy Prime Minister, thanks very much for your time.