Interview with Peter Stefanovic, First Edition, Sky News

PETER STEVANOVIC: Let’s bring in the Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. I’m going to send a couple of topics over your way, Barnaby Joyce. Good to see you, by the way. Thanks for your time. So I do want to start off with the protests in the last couple of days in Melbourne, and the Prime Minister was also just asked about this, too. But I just want to get your take on the protestors who gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance yesterday, what’s your reaction to that?

BARNABY JOYCE: They might have had their issue and what they were thinking about the thing that concerned them, but they should have reflected on the issues of the mothers and the fathers and the partners and the wives and the sons and daughters who are represented in that Shrine by tens of thousands of Australians who offered the ultimate sacrifice. The Australians who were maimed, basically broken in mind, the families that were broken up, of the lives that were destroyed by reason of service to their nation. It was built, and we could go right back to Sir John Monash who said this is sacred ground and on sacred ground you don’t swear, you don’t throw litter around, you don’t yell and scream. That is not the purpose of the Shrine. The Shrine has a purpose way beyond what the circumstances of those demonstrators were yesterday. Rather than preaching to them, I ask them to reflect. And that’s why Australians – Australians are touchy about very little things, but by gosh they’re very, very aware of the sacredness of a shrine and what it’s there for them and their families and the heritage of their nation. So, you know, you didn’t help your cause at all doing that one.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Do you think it was lost on those protestors, and particularly those who don’t want to be vaccinated, that our diggers would have had an array of vaccines before they were deployed?

BARNABY JOYCE: That’s right, predominantly to try and keep them alive, to protect them, to protect Australians when they came back. But I think it goes even beyond that, you know, sort of reflecting on the point of vaccines and people’s positions. I’m fully vaccinated. I absolutely support and implore other people, if not for themselves but for the people around them and for our economy to get vaccinated for a common purpose – to get our freedoms and liberties back in the way that we enjoyed them in the past. But way beyond that – way beyond that – our Shrines of Remembrance around the nation are not to be used for a political point for an alternate purpose. Just not. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the shrine at the Walcha Road Hotel, outside the Walcha Road Hotel, between the Walcha Road Hotel and the Walcha Road railway station, or the shrines in so many little country towns, or the shrines in the big cities – they are there and they have strict rules for a real purpose. You’re talking about people’s lives – people’s lives that, just like yours, and they went and offered them for their nation. Really? Why? You can’t desecrate that. I remember being up at Cairns, some kids were skateboarding around the War Memorial, and I just walked up to them and said, “Fellas, do you realise what you’re doing? Like, do you understand?” And I tell you what, I have to credit them – these, you know, kids late at night said, “Yeah, okay, never thought about it that way,” and they went on and went down the street and probably skateboarded somewhere else they’re not supposed to be skateboarding. That’s what I ask of the Australians – those protestors. Just reflect on exactly the deeper meaning to so many people of the place you were at.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Barnaby Joyce, some critics have pointed to comments by George Christensen, when he called protestors freedom fighters, suggesting that those comments may well have contributed to the unrest. Do you see it that way?

BARNABY JOYCE: They are not freedom fighters, they are protestors. I’ve spoken to George a couple of times. I know other people want me to somehow tackle him and, you know, gaffer tape him or something like that. That’s not going to happen because George is a person of his own mind and as a free individual he can do what he likes. But other people can make their choice about whether you agree with him. I don’t agree with him. I’m saying it publicly, and I’ve spoken to George privately first, which I think is the proper way to go about this process. So I say again that they’re not freedom fighters, they have an issue. They might call themselves freedom fighters, but they’re not freedom fighters. Civil disturbance is not going to win you any support, especially civil disturbance where property is damaged, people are threatened, where police are threatened and assaulted, which basically drives division in our nation. If you want to have a cogent debate have a cogent debate. Find the appropriate forums and put forward your cause. You’re totally and utterly entitled to do that, but you’re not entitled to do it at basically completely at odds with the laws that are put down there by the Australian people for the Australian people. And if we don’t have any process there we have anarchy. And if we have anarchy we are not a strong nation. I understand people have different views, and they’re entitled to their different views, but that is not freedom fighting, that’s a public debate on an issue for which I’ll be quite frank I’m on the other side of the debate. I’m on the side of getting yourself inoculated because I want to get on with life, and so does everybody else. We’re over this. We’re sick of being locked down. We’re sick of all the impositions on our freedoms. But the way out of that is to make sure that we don’t end up in a position where our intensive care unit beds at the hospital are full of people and we don’t have the capacity to manage it and save their lives. We want to get for our economy to a position where we can start trading and start paying back some of the debt for the money we’ve borrowed. You know, this is what we’ve got to get to. I want to be able to travel around my nation as a nation – not a heap of hotchpotch parochial states with parochial laws that turn it into some sort of 1850 return to the colonies. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re taking this nation forward. In any decision, in any form of government, there are sacrifices that have to be made. I mean, we all do that in every part of our day. We make sacrifices for the betterment of our nation, and we have to work to a common purpose so that we can be the Australia that we used to be.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Joe Biden has apologised to Emanuel Macron overnight for not including him in the AUKUS agreement, Barnaby. Do you think the Prime Minister needs to as well?

BARNABY JOYCE: We understand completely the concerns France has. But we have to think once more to our nation first. We have to look at the defence of our nation. Circumstances have changed, and it can’t be on sort of commercial principles to find the best form of platform to defend our nation. That’s not how it works. France knows that as well. They’d do exactly the same thing if they were in a similar position. This issue of French concern, French umbrage, I understand it now, but we share too much – liberty, fraternity, egalitarianism. We share too much to make a contractual arrangement over a submarine bigger than those common essence core purposes – core ideologies that we both have, in a world where those ideologies are fading, in a world where democracy in its pure form and its true form is slipping, in a world where other areas may be called democracies but are slipping towards quasi democracies, of limited capacity of franchise and limited capacity of alternate candidates. France holds that at the core of their being. We hold that at the core of their being. So much so – and I’ve said before – that we have sent our soldiers represented by that Shrine of Remembrance to their nation and to the nations that surround them to protect their nation, to protect those freedoms. And in so doing tens of thousands died. I’m sure that is a bigger issue than a contractual relationship about a submarine.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So he doesn’t need to apologise?

BARNABY JOYCE: That’s a decision for the Prime Minister, but I don’t think that every time a contract is changed within the terms of the contract – remember, the Prime Minister brought up concerns with this contract. He brought them up some time ago. If a contract is broken, that’s why contracts are written. That’s why they have gateways in contracts. If conditions change and the terms of the contract – remember, we’ve still got to pay penalties. We don’t just walk away from it.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Yeah.

BARNABY JOYCE: That is contractual relationships. It’s not about apologising.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. And just finally, Barnaby – and still with Joe Biden as a matter of fact – he said yesterday that the world is fast approaching a point of no return and that every nation needed to bring their highest possible ambitions to the table when it comes to climate change, and so he wants the highest possible ambitions when it comes to meeting in Glasgow. What do you say to his comments, and will the Nats be supporting a net zero commitment?

BARNABY JOYCE: Let’s start with the last thing first – the National Party room is precisely that, and I want the National Party room on any discussions to be part of those discussions and I won’t unilaterally sort of announce a position as the President of the National Party and Leader of the National Party. I’ll discuss with the party I’m a part of about any discussions that might come our way. It’s not like President Biden’s listening to me, I’m sure it’s not like, “Oh, well, we’ll switch everything off and we’ll listen to Barnaby for a second”. We’ve met every agreement that we’ve made – other countries have not. I’m not saying America hasn’t, but other countries have not. We’ve met every agreement that we’ve ever gone into. We also note that we’ve got to make sure that we respect our people and our people make sure we look after their jobs and understand the nature of our economy and where our export dollars come from and make sure we can support our economy to be a good ally. I’m sure that those within the American administration clearly understand that – that a weak Australia is a no-use Australia, and to be a strong Australia we have to have a strong economy, we have to earn the export dollars, we have to be able to support ourselves, and that is also of vital importance in the discussion of this equation.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Barnaby Joyce, appreciate your time this morning. Good to see you. Talk to you soon.

BARNABY JOYCE: Always a pleasure. Thanks.