Transcript - Keiran Gilbert, Afternoon Agenda, Sky News

KEIRAN GILBERT: Welcome back to the program. And with lockdowns, COVID lockdowns, returning in a number of states and territories, I caught up with Barnaby Joyce, the newly returned Deputy Prime Minister. Barnaby Joyce, thanks very much for your time.

BARNABY JOYCE: You’re welcome, Keiran.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Now, we’re seeing this perfect storm at the moment it seems – half the nation in lockdown as we speak this afternoon.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yep, oh, Keiran, I’m probably going to be tragically unpopular saying things like this, but, yeah, we’ve got to manage this, but I think Australia, we’ve really all got to get to a point where we understand that we’re not going to eradicate this disease. It’s like saying you’re going to eradicate the flu. It’s not like polio where you can take one, you know, treatment not long after you’re born and in your first few years and you’re done for life. This is something that mutates, it changes. There’s the Alpha variant, Beta variant, now we’re up to Delta – I think Gamma variant. And so we’ve got to learn how we manage our lives and deal with this issue without destroying our personal liberties and wrecking small businesses up and down the main street of every capital city.

Now at this point of time we’re still dealing with that. We’re rolling out the vaccine. I’ve had a shot. You’ve had a shot. You know, this is how it works. And our greatest mark of outcome of success is not one person in Australia has died from community transmission of this virus since the start of the year, right? Now, I heard from a reliable source that in the United Kingdom 13 times as many people have died from the flu as have died from Covid. That doesn’t mean that either way to die is somehow acceptable – it’s. We should be reducing, reducing your risk. But if you say, “Well, I’m going to remove the flu from the planet”, well, good luck, God bless you, but it’s not going to happen. So we’re going to have to sooner or later work out how we roll out – we’re rolling out the vaccine, how we deal with this issue and acknowledge, actually, the success we’ve had, which is no-one’s died – this year.

KEIRAN GILBERT: You point to the vaccine rollout. Should we, though, have spread our bets more widely?

BARNABY JOYCE: Look, with the benefit of hindsight you win every Melbourne Cup, don’t you? I mean, we’re all so wise on Monday after the game, you know, the Monday morning experts. But we would have known that the Italians were going to welch on the deal? You know, when you sign up for a contract, do you think, “Oh, what is going on before, mate but why are we going through this”. You think it’s on – it’s contractual, it’s in good faith. You look at the person and say, “I’m hoping that what you say to me you’re actually going to do, otherwise there’s no point of us going through this process”.

KEIRAN GILBERT: So in terms of the vaccine acquisition, I know there have been setbacks, but we’re still well behind. The Prime Minister said it’s not a race. He was wrong to say that, wasn’t he?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, it’s – we’ve got to be as efficacious as possible. I mean, the vaccine is vitally important. But it is not the ultimate judge of outcome. The ultimate judge of outcome is people are alive who would otherwise have died. That’s the ultimate. And that must be the case, because we’ve not had one community transfer that has resulted in a death, one community transfer that’s resulted in a fatality this year. One person tragically came into the country and died. I think right now we’ve only got one person in intensive care. You know, sometimes you listen to others and you think that it was, you know, there were thousands dying a week. That is not the case. Not one. So does that mean you’re sort of absent minded and forget about all your protocols? No. You’ve – I’m – it’s like a parking fine. I got bounced the other day. Walked in, paid for some fuel. I was on my way to the airport. Forgot about putting on a mask. Bang, 200 bucks. Accept it, take it on the chin.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Where was that?

BARNABY JOYCE: That was in Armidale. I went in and – I was going to the airport and I looked at the fuel gauge and I thought, “You know, the car’s just about empty”. Vicki – she was taking the car, “If she jumps in the car and drives off with it, she won’t – she’ll run out of fuel. So I’ll just duck over here, get some fuel on it, then go to the airport”. So I went over there got some fuel. Walked in, paid for it. Bingo, someone saw me, busted. Then I went to the airport, got a mask. But it’s wrong order.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Indeed. I guess it’s annoying for you.

BARNABY JOYCE: That’s life.

KEIRAN GILBERT: But it’s maybe a message as well for everyone else to be more vigilant.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, it’s a message for everyone and just take – you know, it’s take it on the chin. People – you know, we’ve all got to do the right thing, including politicians, including me.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Yeah, well, you might be popular in New England but obviously not universally – someone was happy to pass on the information.

BARNABY JOYCE: As they always say about politics, if you’re going to have friends, you’re going to have some really bitter enemies.

KEIRAN GILBERT: On the federal government’s response, though, we’ve seen the PM yesterday via the National Cabinet expand AstraZeneca to those under 40 if they want to get it. You know, there’s an indemnity there. Do you welcome that?

BARNABY JOYCE: Once more, in Tamworth we’ve had one death from Covid and one death from the vaccine, right? So there is a risk, but it is an incredibly, incredibly small risk. You’re probably at vaster greater risk going for a drive in your car. And so, you know, in life there are risks. There is a risk for you to get out of bed, and it’s probably a smaller risk if you stay in it. We live day to day. One day these risks come to fruition and we die. And, you know, we don’t want that, but, you know, if I say I can offer you a risk-free process, that’s yet another fairy tale. There’s no such thing as a risk-free process.

KEIRAN GILBERT: But you can reduce risk, though, like with the purpose-built quarantine facilities. Should the government have had more urgency around that? I know you say in hindsight things are 20-20, but Jane Halton said, “Build these things”, and this Government still hasn’t done it.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, we’ve got to work also with the states in that process. And ultimately you’re going to be building it on state ground. The Commonwealth can’t just turn up and say, “I’m going to build a facility here”. We’ve got to work with the states. I think we’re doing that in Victoria. And we’ve got Howard Springs, also – what is it, Bladin Point, up in – I hope I’ve got the pronunciation right – up in the Northern Territory. I think these things evolve as you go along. I’ve always wanted quarantine facilities out in remote regional areas. I’ve been public about that. Now, in my discussions, further discussions I’ve become – people have said, “Well, you’ve got to have a tertiary medical facility near there”. And obviously I don’t have one of those behind Longreach, which is, you know, for my part, I think land them in a remote area, take them to an even more remote facility and there you’ve got better control and – but –

KEIRAN GILBERT: Why has the Government been so cautious? I mean, should there have been more urgency?

BARNABY JOYCE: I think, you know, what the advice they get about being near tertiary medical facilities and if something goes wrong how quickly can we get that person to a hospital. You know, that’s about it.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Have they been too cautious on that?

BARNABY JOYCE: I don’t know. I mean, that’s –

KEIRAN GILBERT: Nothing’s happened, though, that’s the problem.

BARNABY JOYCE: Oh, well, we’re still – for all our problems, you know, we all know about the taxi driver who didn’t wear a mask and should have been checked. Got that. Once more, cause a problem, nobody died. This is – and this is why it’s incumbent upon me to, as now back in a senior position, to try and make sure we have the discussion with the Australian people saying, “Look, these things are going to continue on. There’s always going to be new variants. You’re going to have to get vaccinated again next year, probably for a different variant. I don’t know, can’t read the future. But we’re going to have to live with this. We’re not going to eradicate it. We have to live with it. Our job as a government is to stop you from dying. That is our ultimate responsibility. And what we’ve done here is vastly better than what they’ve done in England. England’s got excess of 80 per cent of people vaccinated. Last night they were still dying, right? So the vaccine is important, but it is not everything.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Darren Chester, the former Veterans’ Affairs Minister, he’s had a bit of a crack at you in recent days. He said he wouldn’t normally comment on private conversations, “But I’m going to say, the conversation I had with Barnaby was so incoherent yesterday I couldn’t explain what he was even saying to him”. That’s what Darren Chester said. Not a lot of love lost between the two of you.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, I also don’t believe in going to the media and talking about private conversations, and I won’t. Look, it’s a tough game and I understand. I understand the hurt that happens. I understand the change in positions that it’s – politics – you know, when you go into politics, as senior politicians, you know what the world’s like. We were watching the State of Origin, watching football, watching AFL; there are good players that get picked and there are good players that some weeks don’t. You know, it’s just the nature of the game we’re in. I was basically on the backbench for in excess of three years. It’s tough, and I acknowledge that toughness. And, you know, I still think, you know, Darren’s a very competent politician and it’s – you take the good with the bad and you clear and you roll in, you roll out and get ready for the next –

KEIRAN GILBERT: Could you have done more to unify the party?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, you’ve only got so many positions, Keiran. You know, you don’t have 21 frontbench positions to offer. You know, you’ve got to – needed women back in the cabinet… You know, we needed – and Bridget’s there not because she’s a woman but because she’s competent. But it helps – it certainly does on the policy front, help us tick that box. We’ve – we needed to make sure that there’s a path forward for people who are coming into – you know, who are sort of recent. That’s why people such as Susan McDonald has got the envoy position. We’ve got to make sure that people stay there. And that’s why you’ve got people like Michelle Landry still there, Hoges is still there, Keith is still in there David Littleproud’s still in there. You know, this is – so there is consistency. There are newbies and there are the people already there. And then it’s really up to all of us, the party, to unify.

And, you know, I’ve said to them all, and I say publicly, I don’t see this as a transition to me; I see this as a transition to basically a new guard. But, you know, I’m in my political career closer to – obviously closer to the end than I am to the start, You know, you and I have been knocking around, so you’ve seen it all the way through. And I want to make sure that, you know, when that time comes for transition, that the Nationals have a whole suite of people who have worked at the highest level, that have competencies to be senior frontbenchers, leaders and we can present as a party back to the Australian people and say, “Mate, there’s a whole suite of people. They’ve got a whole heap of people who play State of Origin. Make no mistake about it”.

BARNABY JOYCE: Have you finalised your working arrangements with the Prime Minister?

BARNABY JOYCE: That goes – with all working arrangements that’s – well, I haven’t had a face-to-face meeting with the Prime Minister yet, because he’s in lockdown. So, you know, I’d like – I’ll keep obviously any discussions private, but I think it’s fair to the Australian people to say, you know, you need ultimately to have a face-to-face meeting. I know the Prime Minister wants that. I want that.

KEIRAN GILBERT: And that’s where you can nut out the –

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, you’ve just got to –

KEIRAN GILBERT: – final sort of framework for it?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, just so people know, he doesn’t need a letter from me for numbers, right? He’s got them. He got them at the last election. You only need the letter for numbers, which are Coalition agreements are always strongly attached to –

KEIRAN GILBERT: It’s done after the election then.

BARNABY JOYCE: So – to become the Prime Minister. Once you are the Prime Minister, you’re there. And, you know, that’s definitely [inaudible].

KEIRAN GILBERT: Do you have some demands on climate change or policy like that to put to him?

BARNABY JOYCE: You know, I think a lot of that you can probably pick from The Nationals party room. They’re pretty clear on where they are. And so I can be open with you, the issue we have is our – in our areas, whether it’s agriculture, emissions intensive; coal mining, emissions intensive. It employs an awful lot of people in our seats. Manufacturing, which we still have, and I mentioned before like BOSS Engineering, it makes the biggest farm implements in the world.

KEIRAN GILBERT: But you accept there’s opportunities in agriculture, too, for farmers, abatement and so on as part of this?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, we always listen. We listen to the balanced argument. But we live – the first thing in the top of our head is jobs. And jobs come from cash coming off the land, going into the shops, going into the hairdressers, going into the chemists, going into the accountants, going into the tyre businesses. See if I just say, “Well, all the cockies are right because they’ve made all this money from, you know, basically shutting up a heap of country”, and, you know, I’ve got land myself. I’ll say, “Beauty, I’m off to the Gold Coast and I’ve got this passive cash flow that’s going to come from, you know, the trees and the bees”, but what about – what does the hairdresser in the town say? “Well, where’s my cash?”

KEIRAN GILBERT: But on the broader thing about the exports, you spoke about the coal mining and so on. Isn’t the problem that a lot of our export markets are declaring net zero. Who’s going to buy it? Who’s going to buy the exports?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah, but, look –

KEIRAN GILBERT: Shouldn’t we transition –

BARNABY JOYCE: – there’s the narrative –

KEIRAN GILBERT: – those industries?

BARNABY JOYCE: No – well, yeah, I’ll tell you when you transition. When there are no ships, Keiran, sitting off Newcastle and sitting off Mackay, you know what you can come back and tell me? We’ve got problems in the coal industry, right? We’ve had record sales of coal, right? Record sales. At record price for thermal coal. Guess where they use that? In coal-fired power stations. So, you know, spare me the mythology of this. The reality is floating off the water off Newcastle, floating off the water off Port Kembla, floating off the water of Hay Point, you know, floating off the water in Gladstone. Because the world is buying this product. And we’ve got to also be adults. You say you don’t want it? Right, take me by the hand and show me which hospital you don’t want, which schools you don’t want. How you don’t want pension increases. How you don’t want money in the NDIS. Remember, our biggest export bringing in – and in terms of trade –

KEIRAN GILBERT: So no net zero?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well –

KEIRAN GILBERT: Under you? You wouldn’t agree to it?

BARNABY JOYCE: I would – at this point in time no-one’s shown us what the effects would be in regional areas to regional jobs. And if you say, well – see, it’s like saying you won’t eat what’s in that fridge? You’re going to tell me you’re not going to eat what’s in that fridge? I’ll say, “Well, show me what’s in that fridge. It might be a dead pet. You know, tell me what I’m about to eat, mate”.

KEIRAN GILBERT: We’re out of time. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, we’ll talk to you soon.