Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Moving to another huge story today, the diplomatic fury over the dumping of the $90 billion French submarine contract has been ratcheted up again. The French Ambassador labelling the leaking of text messages between French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Scott Morrison an “unprecedented low”. Jean‑Pierre Thébault says trust has been breached and warned the world Australia may weaponise messages sent in confidence.

Barnaby Joyce is the Acting Prime Minister and my guest. Barnaby Joyce, before we get into this issue, obviously this press conference on Cleo Smith where the police were able to talk about their process is an incredible moment. I’d just like to get your reaction to this news that she’s also doing well. They say she’s not injured and she’s with her family.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well the first thing is, I suppose, the finding of Cleo has left the whole of Australia with that sigh of relief. I mean sometimes your prayers are answered, and I don’t know, it’s like everybody else, it genuinely and emotionally affected me this morning when I heard it. I think because we’re just seeing our lives I suppose, PK, peeking through that little girl, thinking, “Man, how terrified is she? What’s happening?” We just want her back with her mum.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yep.

BARNABY JOYCE: And then we’ve heard that – I don’t care, I mean the big thing is she’s alive, she’s safe. The process will find out all the other things and that’s – she’s alive, that’s all that matters.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, it’s good to finally get a positive outcome to one of these stories. Look, let’s move on to the story that’s been dominating politics. The French Ambassador says leaking private text messages is an unprecedented low and not how governments should behave. Is this behaviour befitting of a country like Australia?

BARNABY JOYCE: This issue now, it’s got to go behind us. Even the Ambassador coming out and prosecuting it again. This issue in regards to these subs, it didn’t happen overnight. Right back in February, in the AFR, Andrew Tillett was writing about it, talking about Admiral Mead looking at contingency plans. In the Senate back in June, we had Shadow Minister Penny Wong and Rex Patrick, a former submariner, asking questions, where the head of Defence, I think it was Moriarty was saying yes, they were looking at contingency plans. There’s no surprise to this.

ATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay.

BARNABY JOYCE: And this feigning it was a great surprise, well, I suppose that’s not a surprise but it’s just not the truth.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But the Ambassador is concerned about the leaking of these text messages. He warned the world to beware that there will be leaks in Australia and that, you know, partners can’t be confident that we won’t weaponise text messages from leaders. Are you concerned about that?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, not really. We dance around it but let’s cut to it. We had a major political leader call the Prime Minister of Australia a liar and you just can’t – that’s what you can’t do diplomatically. You can’t go round calling other leaders of other countries a liar – not in the great nation of France. If it was some tinpot nation in the middle of nowhere, well I suppose you can say what you like, but when a great nation goes out and makes a statement that someone’s a liar, well, what else do you do? You’ve got to defend it and say well, we’re not.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: All right. So you’re saying leaking the text messages is defendable, you can defend it because of the original comment by the French President?

BARNABY JOYCE: If someone calls you a liar it, especially a person of the prominence of the French President, it either stands that you’re a liar or you defend your position and prove that you’re not. It’s quite evident that the Prime Minister is not a liar and if the leader of the great French nation had not sort of thrown that pejorative out there, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay.

BARNABY JOYCE: You can’t walk round calling people liars. It’s not –

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, but isn’t it the role of the Australian –

BARNABY JOYCE: – what international diplomacy does.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: No, but it isn’t the – that sounds like, you know, “You swore at me, I’m going to swear at you back”. Isn’t the role of a Prime Minister –

BARNABY JOYCE: No, no, it’s entirely different.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: – not to be leaking text messages but to be trying to actually fix the situation?

BARNABY JOYCE: We’re trying to fix it, but you can’t just have a person of the substance and the position of the leader of France talking to a journalist just around the corner calling the Prime Minister of Australia a liar. That’s a pretty big statement. And when it goes down that path, well it either stands or you say the person’s lie is not the truth. It’s pretty serious for the President – when the leader of France –

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so you think it’s okay to leak text messages from leaders?

BARNABY JOYCE: Look, I’m being straight with you. What else do you do? If I call you a liar, you say you’re not, I say, “Well you are”, I mean where does this end? “What you’re saying is incorrect because this is what you actually said to me.”

PATRICIA KARVELAS: With respect I’m not the French President, am I? This is the thing.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yes, exactly right.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: This is a substantial –

BARNABY JOYCE: That’s exactly right.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So leaking against a foreign leader is an extraordinary decision to make. What has it done for trust in the Australian Government?

BARNABY JOYCE: It’s not as extraordinary as calling someone, another leader of another country a liar when they’re not. You can’t just go round calling people liars. If you’re the president of blop blop, who cares? You’re the President of France. You can’t walk around calling people liars.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. Do you want President Macron to apologise for calling the Prime Minister a liar?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, I don’t. I just want everyone to move on and get on to the next issue. This was a contract. A contract. If I had a contract to build your house and I came back to you and I said, “Look, it’s going to take a lot longer than we expected”. You go, “That’s no good.” “Oh, it’s going to cost a lot more than we expected.” “That’s no good”. And then you found out I had enquiries with other builders which you found out, obviously it was in paper, AFR, Admiral Mead going through it, it’s been noted also in the Federal Senate. It’d be hardly surprising, would it, that ultimately you did find another person to build your house because you’re concerned about the process that was happening.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, but the Ambassador says it wasn’t just about –

BARNABY JOYCE: No, no Australian –

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But the Ambassador says it was not just about a commercial contract. It was about this important alliance, that we were disrespectful to an ally.

BARNABY JOYCE: It was a contract. It was a contract, and we will still –

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you don’t think –

BARNABY JOYCE: The other –

PATRICIA KARVELAS: – there are alliance implications?

BARNABY JOYCE: What’s really important is that we build on that going forward. This, for the Australian taxpayer, was a contract that was attached to cost, which was attached to outcomes to the Australian people attached to the defence of our nation, and it was clearly spelt out as a contract. This was not no questions asked, written in blood. It was a contract. And contracts have terms, terms for extensions, terms for cessation, terms for improvement, terms of reduction. Within this contract, one of the terms of the contract is we had the right to get out of it if it wasn’t working out. Now this wasn’t out of the blue. The AFR are not ASIO. If the AFR back in February are reporting about this –

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay.

BARNABY JOYCE: If we have Admiral Mead looking into this, if we have it brought up in the Senate, Senate Estimates were looking into this. This is no great surprise. And we want to keep our respect for France because it’s a great nation and we haven’t impugned Napoleon, defaced the Eiffel Tower, stolen a Polynesian island. We were within our rights and a contractual obligation to step away from it. We have done that and because we have done that we can’t have a person of the position of the President of France giving impromptu press conferences around the corners with Australian journalists calling the Australian Prime Minister a liar when quite obviously he’s not.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well he obviously thinks he is because today the Ambassador stood by those comments. Changing topics, Mathias Cormann –

BARNABY JOYCE: Hang on, I’ll take on that because I’ve been down here at Old Bar with Dr Dave. What, he said in the press conference that the Prime Minister was a liar?

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well, no, no, no, no. The French Ambassador –

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay, he didn’t.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: No, no, no, no. That’s not what I said, Barnaby Joyce. Let me explain to my viewers. He spoke today, the French Ambassador, to the National Press Club, was asked some questions.

BARNABY JOYCE: He was let in the Press Club, yes.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And certainly backed his President in terms of accusing Scott Morrison of being a liar. Let’s changes topics. Mathias Cormann –

BARNABY JOYCE: Hang on. Did the Ambassador call the Prime Minister of Australia a liar at the National Press Club today?

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I’ll get the exact words right now after I ask you my next question, which I really need to ask you because I’m running out of time. Mathias Cormann, the OECD Secretary General and former Finance Minister is backing a globally consistent carbon price as the best way to reach net‑zero emissions by 2050. He’s convinced. What do you make of that shift?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, everybody has changing views and changing directions in their lives, but I don’t necessarily have to agree with it. You know, I know Mathias well. We all know Mathias well. He’s now head of the OECD, is representative of that organisation. I suppose he can’t have discordant views from the people around him. But our nation is not the OECD. We might be a part of it but we’re not the OECD. Our largest export is iron ore, our next is coal and then gas, fossil fuels, and then daylight and daylight and daylight. If you make a move towards reducing coal then to be honest about it you have to make a move towards reducing pensions because the money’s not coming in from that from the royalties, so schools, hospitals, Defence, NDIS. I mean if you want to be poorer and have less money, well just stop some of the income coming into the national house and you’ll have your desire, you’ll be poorer because there’ll be no other industry taking its place.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: More than one hundred countries have vowed to halt and reverse deforestation by the end of the decade. Australia is on board. Do you personally support this target?

BARNABY JOYCE: Look, I think what’s happened to us is we’d had no choice in whether we support it or not because our trees were stolen off us, our vegetation rights were stolen off us between the Kyoto protocol. They were private assets of ours.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, but I’m talking about –

BARNABY JOYCE: It should have been our right to sign that agreement.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: – this new agreement. Are you behind it?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m telling you about the substance of the new agreement and where our position is. We now have laws in place, like the Labor Party are going to bring in again, new legislation, they’re going to bring more legislation in, that says that if we touch a private asset that was ours on our own land, it was never bought, it was just by caveat taken off us, we go to gaol. We’ve got no choice because the Government stole the asset off us, the state governments, you stole it off us. You didn’t pay for it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You know that Malcolm Turnbull’s had a few words to share.

BARNABY JOYCE: How surprising.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: He says Scott Morrison has always had a reputation for telling lies. That’s an extraordinary critique of the Prime Minister overnight from his predecessor. Does he have a reputation for telling lies?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well you know the marvellous thing about Malcolm is I don’t think I would have ever heard John Howard say something like that or Julia Gillard, former Prime Ministers. But Malcolm, he’s one of a kind and I think he’s got to really reflect on what he’s doing to his own legacy and how people, you know, will remember him. Wasn’t he talking about diplomacy? I mean, Malcolm, is this your example of it? Is this from the book, chapter one of Malcolm diplomacy that you also will get yourself on international television bagging the living so and so out of the nation that you were once the Prime Minister of?

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on that issue that you challenged me on, I’ve actually got the quote and it’s a doozy.

BARNABY JOYCE: Oh good. Well not – I’m serious, I just never heard it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Look, I’ll help you. “So maybe there’s a difference between misleading and lying”, he said, “But, you know, amongst heads of states and governments, when you mislead a friend and an ally, you lie to him”. I thought it was pretty clear. Do you agree, pretty clear?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, I think he’s toning it down a bit to be quite frank with you.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, I’m not inviting you on for your analysis but that’s the quote. The High Court has overturned the backpacker tax which required working holiday makers to pay a higher rate of tax, agreeing it is discriminatory. How do you respond to the ruling?

BARNABY JOYCE: We’ll now deal with the ruling in its substance and see where we go from here. Backpackers are essential in Australia. If we don’t have them there’s so many jobs that just won’t get done. There are so many areas that we just can’t get labour into. So backpackers, like they are in so many other parts of the world, are an essential part of the year 2021 global workforce. It’s not just static in a country, it moves around. Part of being a modern nation is you have to accept people coming in, that labour also is mobile. The better jobs are overwhelmingly held by Australians but jobs that don’t want to be done are held by other people from other countries and it’s one of the best forms of foreign aid you’ve got and it’s one of the best forms of support for agriculture and industries. And for backpackers it allows them to pay for their trip as they go round the world and become more aware of a globe beyond their country. We’ll just have to look at the ruling from the court and make a decision of where we go from there. But we’ll still have to have a form of backpackers in Australia because we’ve got nothing to take their place.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thanks for joining us this afternoon.

BARNABY JOYCE: You’re welcome, PK. Thank you very much for having me on your show.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce there, the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Nationals.