Interview with Meecham Philpott, ABC North West Queensland

MEECHAM PHILPOTT: I think we all know, even those of us that are on holidays at the moment that, well, it’s a big deal coming up, we’ve got a federal election coming up in a couple of months, so therefore we can expect quite a few visitors in regional Queensland. Currently in regional Queensland is the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and he’s with us this morning. Welcome along to the program Deputy Prime Minister.

BARNABY JOYCE: Good morning Meech. Good morning, central North Queensland.

MEECHAM PHILPOTT: So how come you’ve been up in Queensland? What’s the go?

BARNABY JOYCE: You’re dead right, there’s an election coming up and you’ve got to go out and put your best foot forward and show people the reason you think they should vote for you, or give them a reason that they shouldn’t vote for you. I’m back in the state I was the senator for, and it’s great to be back. I would have been back earlier, but of course with all the restrictions, can’t really get around it. Now we can get across the border. Gladstone up to Mackay today with Andrew Wilcox, and telling the story about why we’re in here, batting for the people and their jobs and their coal jobs, and the jobs that underpin the economy of our great nation and making sure that that message is loudly and clearly heard up here as well as in Canberra.

MEECHAM PHILPOTT: Deputy PM look, the one thing we’re all talking about it, and I’ll bet that you even talk about it when you’re having a beer with a few of your colleagues, and it’s the state, the whole pandemic thing. There’s plenty of people pointing at the Federal Government, that it’s all your fault. What’s your response?

BARNABY JOYCE: I think if you look, overall, the fact that Australia has had so few people compared to other countries that have died from COVID shows that the process, ultimately, for what really matters, counts, that we’ve been incredibly successful. It’s been a hard road and working with the states at times is a hard task. Right now, Omicron is everywhere. I mean, the place is alive with it, and it always seems a bit ridiculous coming into Queensland, having to get tested when there’s hundreds of thousands of cases on one side of the line, hundreds of thousands of cases on the other side. I think it’s coming back down to personal responsibility, and people just want to get their lives back. I think the layout of conversation now is people just want their lives back, they want to get back to their normal life, they don’t want the Government in their face. That’s the conversation people are having now. We’re going to have to live with this Omicron virus. We are going to have to live with COVID. After this variant is gone, another one will start. We’ve got to keep the economy ticking along because if those boats aren’t going out of the harbour full of coal, or going out of the harbour with cattle, or going out of the harbour with agricultural product, then the wealth of our nation is lost and we become poorer people. We’ve just got to get moving and get moving quickly.

MEECHAM PHILPOTT: Now, I know one of your favourite sayings is mud equals money. Plenty of mud around Maryborough at the moment. But seriously, I mean you’re a country boy, can we do a better job protecting our towns, particularly in regions from floods? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get into a levy building program and protect all our towns rather than pay out these enormous damage bills every cyclone season?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m a big fan of dams and if you can get dams up river from them, that gives you a mitigation effect. They also have the capacity to store that abundant water now for a time later on when there won’t be as much. On the way through, increase agricultural production, produce hydroelectric power, give yourself the capacity ultimately to move water to the western regions of Queensland, where we’ve got the great soils and the sun and not much rain and increase the wealth of that area. So, yeah, levy banks, dams. Also in my portfolio, better roads, higher roads, roads that are better constructed for floods and we’re doing that, we’re working our way up and we’re spending billions and billions of dollars on the Bruce Highway. Ultimately, the goal is to get from Melbourne right up to north of Cairns, on what hopefully will be in the decades to come, a dual carriageway road all the way. We finally keep chipping away on that and building it.

MEECHAM PHILPOTT: It’s a matter of interest on you too, are you driving or are you flying?

BARNABY JOYCE: I drove up to Queensland and now I’m with guys who are flying, I think, quite frankly, I think they call personal protection police people they fly around with us. I don’t know why anybody thinks I’m worth killing.

MEECHAM PHILPOTT: Deputy PM, look, I’ve got about a minute and a bit to go to the news. One quick question. What really excites you about Queensland’s economic future?

BARNABY JOYCE: Everything you’re wearing comes in from overseas – your shirt, your watch, your car, your fuel, and somebody somewhere is going to be putting something on a boat and sending it in the other direction, and they’re Queenslanders. They’re the coal miners, they’re the cattle producers, they’re the grain producers. This state produces the wealth that sustains the terms of trade of our currency and this state has still got such a huge future and I just love the decentralised, parochial nature of Queensland. If it wasn’t for Queensland, Australia would be a much poorer place.

MEECHAM PHILPOTT: I’ll leave it there this morning. Deputy PM, enjoy your time when you’re back in the regions with us.

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay, thank you.

MEECHAM PHILPOTT: Barnaby Joyce there. Deputy PM speaking to us from Gladstone, on his way to Mackay today.