Transcript - Media conference on revised ministry

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And obviously COVID times brings on COVID press conferences and this is a brilliant one because the only person here is speaking, but I’ve got everybody else on the conference call.

We’ve had a change in the ministerial arrangements. I, as you’re probably aware, I’ll be taking on the regional Infrastructure and make sure that we continue to do the work. But we’re driving there forward.

I’d like to thank at the very start the work that’s been done by Michael McCormack with Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. I’ll have my work cut out, but the work on the back of the great work that’s been done by so many other people in this portfolio in the past.

David Littleproud will be Agriculture/Northern Australia and he will obviously continue the work there that he’s been doing, agriculture being a huge part in his part of regional Australia.

Andrew Gee goes on to the front bench for Veteran Affairs and Defence Personnel. Senator the Honourable Bridget McKenzie will have Regional Education, Regional Communications, Regionalisation – which is just a change in name from decentralisation – and Emergency Management, which includes Drought.

Keith Pitt remains in Resources and Water. David Gillespie comes back in as Deputy Leader of the House and Regional Health. Which as a former doctor and a big issue there in regional areas is health. He’ll be a great addition there.

Kevin Hogan, Local Government, and he’ll be assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister, myself. Michelle Landry remains with Children and Families. There will also be another position outside of the executive for Senator Susan McDonald and she’ll be the envoy for Northern Australia, and I imagine working very closely with David Littleproud. Damian Drum remains as Whip. Llew O’Brien, I imagine he remains as the House will remain as Deputy Speaker.

Now, of course, all these are at the behest of the Governor General. These are the recommendations to the Governor General and the Governor General will then make his views known and his decision will be made. So these are recommendations to the Governor General and, till the Governor General accepts it, they are merely just that, recommendations.

PHIL: Yeah, Barnaby –

BARNABY JOYCE: How about you, Phil? You can talk.

PHIL: Okay. Barnaby, you’ve been   you’ve said a lot in the last week about the importance of the mining communities and the resources sector. What sort of message do you think you’re sending by demoting that portfolio to the outer ministry?

BARNABY JOYCE: I’m absolutely certain that Keith Pitt, who is absolutely – has been exemplary in his advocacy of people in the resources industry – will continue on. The way I see it – I do keep talking about the resources industry, and it is important, and it’s also important for the Treasurer of Australia to know about the resources industry. It’s important as Deputy Prime Minister that I’m across the resources industry. It’s important for regional development that we understand the resources industry.

Even if you go to health – if you want to pay for health expenses, you’ve got to make money. Our nation’s biggest export is iron ore, and then we have coal and gas and gold and the other minerals. Then, obviously, next year’s going to be tough for education. And then agriculture comes in there as well.

Now, the resources industry still gets to ask questions at question time. It still is on the blue carpet,– and I bet you London to a brick that Keith Pitt will be – remain over this portfolio like a bad suit. He’s been doing a great job. He’ll continue on doing a good job. And I – as a [indistinct] in an election, I’m sure that the advocacy that Keith has shown will continue on.

ADESHOLA: Barnaby, it’s Adeshola from The Australian. Jacinta Price has won the CLP’s top senate slot in the Northern Territory. Have you been given any assurances – any assurances that she’ll sit in the National Party room?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, I’ve heard as recently as today that that is the case. I’ve been led – I’ve been told that that is what the intention is. And, you know, I welcome Jacinta. Not – obviously it’s incumbent upon me to always back colleagues and I was quite open that I’ll – making sure that to do what I could to assist there, but democracy is democracy and a decision’s been made by the CLP. I accept it and now I look forward to working with Jacinta.

I think she brings an incredible skillset into the Parliament and she’ll be a great advocate for the issues of the Territory – and not only the Territory but across Australia, as a woman and a person that is of Aboriginal heritage. These are the sort of people we need in the parliament. And now I look forward to working with Jacinta to do the very best job we can, not only for the Territory, not only for Aboriginal people, but for the whole of Australia.

Clare: Mr Joyce Clare from the Daily Telegraph. Andrew Gees appointment as Veterans Affairs Minister makes this Australia’s 8th Veterans Affairs Minister in as many years and we are on the eve of a royal commission into the suicide rate among veterans. Are you   how can this veteran community that is about to go through quite a traumatic long-term thing like a royal commission have faith that the Coalition take this portfolio seriously when it’s become a hot potato of sorts over the last eight years?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, I don’t believe it’s a hot potato. We’ve obviously fought for – and I was part of that process   for a royal commission. We have got a royal commission. The royal commission now is going forward and we want to make sure that the issues that are pertinent to that royal commission are actually vastly more important than any minister. We’re talking about hundreds of people who have taken their lives. So the issue is more important than any minister. And we will make sure that, with the requisite skills that affirm in Andrew Gee, a barrister   a regional barrister   that as the process of a royal commission goes forward, he is the sort of person that has the capacity to go through all the nuances of what is required. And I think Andrew will do an exceptional job.

KATINA: Barnaby, Katina from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age you’ve said a couple of times that the Coalition agreement doesn’t need to be renegotiated, even though, obviously, you’ve – The Nationals have changed leader. Can you just talk about how you believe – if you don’t have things in writing that are important to The Nationals, how can you hold the Liberals to account to make sure they do pursue those policy goals?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, it’s just a matter of the statement – well, the statement of facts that you need a letter from – to the Governor General to show that you have the numbers to beat the government, and that’s how a person becomes the Prime Minister. Now, obviously Mr Morrison is the Prime Minister, but he doesn’t need a letter from anybody to say   to tell him about the job he’s already got. We will be working – I have been in close contact with the Prime Minister to make sure that the issues that are so important to regional Australia, as advocated by the National Party, are clearly heard. And that conversation will continue on.

Obviously, we’re heading towards an election and that election – regional seat, I believe, will determine who is the Government. It will be a large part of determining who is the Government. And so it’s incumbent upon both of us – and of a statement that for our own capacity – to be the government after the election that we hear the issues of regional Australia.

Now, with working with the Prime Minister – that that’s – he’s a smart a man as I and as smart as most. He’ll understand that. So that negotiation with the Prime Minister will be ongoing and will be for the purpose of – not parochial wins of one party over the other, but it will be for regional Australia.

And I – now, I’ve already started those – that process of discussion. This issue of making sure we get ministers in place is essential. Now, we’ve ticked that box, and we’ll continue on as we get ready in the next year for an election and make sure that the people of regional Australia are absolutely certain that The Nationals and the Liberals and Coalition are in there batting for them.

JAMES: Barnaby, you’ve heard –

ANNA: [indistinct]

BARNABY JOYCE: Okay. Who spoke first? You go first.

JAMES: I – I’ll jump in then. James [indistinct]

ANNA: Barnaby, it’s Anna Henderson here. You go, James. You speak.

JAMES: Thank you.

BARNABY JOYCE: Let’s go ladies first and then gentlemen after that.

JAMES: Thank you.

ANNA: Thank you. Anna Henderson here from SBS, Mr Joyce. You’re out there in regional Australia right now, and I imagine there are a lot of people who are pretty worried about the COVID situation. Where do you think your Government has gone wrong? You’re known for your straight talking. What needs to change now with this rollout?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, I – as the COVID issue progresses, we learn more and become better at what we do. Now, I have to say at the start Australia has been exceptional and we do not have the fatality that they’re having in other nations where we have hundreds of thousands – we have two million so far this year who’ve died. There are no people in Australia who have died from community transmission of COVID. The – whilst the tragedy of one person who came in, but that is an exceptional record.

Now, to go further to your question, you say, “How are we doing a better job?” In the last nine days – in the last nine days we vaccinated a further million people. At the start in 45 – it took 45 days to vaccinate a million people. If you think about the process, the wheels of dealing with the COVID issue are working better, are better oiled and are getting through the process quicker.

Now, I’m not saying for one second that we just rest on our laurels. We’re going better. We’re doing better. We’re getting a better outcome, and we’ll continue on that process till we have as many people vaccinated as possible and, by so doing, get ourselves back to the normal operation of the economy and the better freedom that people wish to enjoy in their everyday lives.

JAMES: Barnaby, James Glenday of the ABC. I just wanted to ask about Darren Chester. He seemed like a relatively competent minister. Did you think about keeping him on to promote unity within the National Party? And, secondly, will you continue to give your MPs and senators free rein to vote against Government policy that you personally don’t agree with?

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, what I’ll be doing is make sure – we have a whole range of people – and Darren has absolute competency, and so do so many of my colleagues. As I said, I’ve spent a bit over three years on the backbench myself. So where you are is not a representation of the qualities you have. There is – there’s always the mechanism in any political organisation where tough decisions are made – I want to compliment Darren for the work that he has done, but that is the process of politics and it is now really an issue for how the new ministers go, how the ministers who get the jobs continue on, and also the aspiration of other people.

And people come into a political party – they all have the field marshal’s baton and I suppose they all want an opportunity to show their capacity to do a job. Ultimately, I see this, as we go forward after the next election – I have every intention of winning this election and I will do my very best job, as will my colleagues – but the National Party has a suite of people, people of – incredibly competent people – because I’m not a fool. I’m at the – I’m probably the longest-serving – I am the longest serving member of The Nationals. But I think it’s a statement of reasonable intuition that if a person is going to retire, then I’m probably a lot closer to it than someone who’s just started. But those people who are in the National Party, part of the National team, will be able to select from a range of people who have competencies and have experience at the highest levels of government, and that is a great attribute for our party to have.

TOM: Mr Joyce, you talked – sorry, Tom Minear from the Herald Sun. You talked a lot over the last week about the importance of sort of bringing unity back to The Nationals. How do these moves sort of square with that when you’ve got, you know, people who have supported you in the leadership ballot being promoted and people who didn’t then being demoted and moving out of the ministry? Are you confident that these changes will actually sort of not inflame any further divisions?

BARNABY JOYCE: I can assure you, absolutely 100 per cent assure you   yes, there are people who supported me who are now within   who were in Cabinet, out of Cabinet and a different ministry, and there are people who didn’t support me, 100 per cent. And I’ve got no problems with that. I have people who openly said to me, “I didn’t vote for you in the ballot” – and I understand that completely – and there are people who did. And that’s exactly the way it should be. There is – you’ve all had, I know – by the way, unless they tell me, I have no idea – a secret ballot – but I have been offered by – I won’t say how many – who said, “We didn’t vote for you”. And I understand that. And that’s probably why it’s so important to have them within this group.

ANDREW: Andrew Messenger from the Leader in Tamworth. I just wanted to ask you to reflect – like, whether you figured out your ministerial office arrangement? In the past you’d had a ministerial office in Armidale. Is that likely to happen again? And I also wanted to – you to reflect on your appointment as infrastructure minister – whether that’s – what effect that’s going to have on Tamworth’s new Dungowan Dam.

BARNABY JOYCE: Well, they’re both really good questions, Andrew. You hear that everybody else? They’re really good questions, right? But let’s go to that. Dungowan Dam – we have to get moving on that. One of the biggest issues I want to do in this nation and in this electorate is make sure the infrastructure projects that we have started, such as inland rail, such as dams – Dungowan Dam, Wyangala Dam – the water infrastructure projects started before when I was – as the Deputy Prime Minister, such as Scottsdale the money we got on the table for the Inland Rail. These things – these projects – we try our very best to expedite them, get them moving, getting them built.

Now, we’re doing that, but I want it to happen quicker, and I’ll be making every endeavour to see that happen. One of my first jobs when I got to the ministry was to make sure that you run a dam up in the   up near Mackay – that we expedite that process and get that – get that dam – that water infrastructure happening as quickly as possible.

Now, when you talk about where the ministerial office will be, I believe in decentralisation. My last office was in Armidale, and I believe in decentralisation. So if I can bring apples into regional towns – and this is my electorate – and Armidale’s a regional city in this electorate – I’ll be doing that. I have to go to that elector – go to that ministerial office – obviously it can’t be on the other side of the nation, but I want to see it in a regional town and I have every intention of making sure we get that into Armidale.

ANDREW: Can I also ask you to reflect on the fact that there’s been a COVID case in your electorate today in Glen Innes.

BARNABY JOYCE: Yeah. Well, I am [indistinct] actually, obviously from the mine in the Northern Territory. I’m completely across this. We’ve had a COVID case that’s come back into the electorate. We’ve got a – this is the situation and we’ve got to manage it. We’re aware of it. We’re across it. I’ve been briefed on it and it’s – it’s a mine in the Northern Territory this seems to be emanating from. We’ve got to see how the situation came about. That’s part of our – that’s part of how we learn as we go through to make sure we deal with this virus. This virus is not going to leave the planet. We’re going to have to live with it. We’re going to have to deal with it. We just have to manage how we work with it in the best possible way.

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