Minister Littleproud interview 4RO with Michael Bailey

MICHAEL BAILEY: On line, the Honourable David Littleproud, MP. Minister for Ag in Northern Australia, and Deputy Leader of the Nationals. Good morning to you, David. How are you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. Good, good. Thanks for having me.

MICHAEL BAILEY: Yeah, good. Mate, I just, I have to about- because the word is, these visas for the overseas people. How's, how is that tracking? Because everyone's worried about COVID, you know, isolation. Where are they going to go? Are they going to be locked down for 14 days? How long do they stay here for? How come them and not us? It's very, very confusing, isn't it? But I suppose we should kick it off by saying Australian's don't really want to go out there to pick fruit. It's very weird, isn't it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It is. It's sad. I mean, when I grew up, mum wouldn't let me stay at home in school holidays, I had to go out, pick potatoes or rockmelons in Chinchilla, and I graduated to become a cotton chipper. But the world and society's changed, and so farmers don't have the luxury to sit around and wait for someone to turn up to pick their crop. If it's ripe it has to get from their paddock to your plate. But Australian's are given first crack at these jobs.

MICHAEL BAILEY: Yes.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Every one of these jobs are market tested, so Australian's do get the opportunity. We tried to incentivise them, to even reimburse their travel costs, to go and take these jobs up with up to $6000, but they still haven't done that. So, we've got the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program that look at Pacific nations, and that's been going for some time, and that still continues.

But the ag visa is complementary and supplementary to that. So, it's not only looking for seasonal workers, it's also looking for skilled and semi-skilled workers, particularly through South East Asian countries. And we're expecting, in the coming days, for this to commence. We've started bilateral conversations with those countries in South East Asia. You've got to understand, while we might want to provide this visa, those countries are sovereign countries that have their own rights, and they can, they can say: no, we don't want to be part of this.

MICHAEL BAILEY: Yep.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: But we're having very, very fruitful conversations, for want for a better term, over there with those countries around what this ag visa might look like for their citizens. And this one, the ag visa, will give a pathway to permanent residency. What we…

MICHAEL BAILEY: Yeah. That, that's the carrot, isn't it? You know, a pathway to permanently staying here?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It is. So, what we're trying to say is, we're trying to bring the next generation of migrants to Australia. Ones that want to stay in regional Australia and be part of agriculture. So what would happen is, they'd do three years here in Australia, in regional Australia in agriculture. They would then have to commit a further period of probably two years plus within regional Australia within agriculture to get a pathway to permanent residency. We think if you commit five plus years in a, in a community, you're more likely to settle down, and your kids are going to school, and you want to be part of that community - you're not going to rush off to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. So we're looking at refining that to make sure we get those settings right.

But effectively, that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to bring that next generation of migrants to Australia, to grow regional Australia and to grow agriculture. So very close to, to finalising some bilaterals as well, but again, you'll have to be respectful of those countries. We can't talk too much about that because obviously they need to make their minds up and we want to do that in the right environment.

MICHAEL BAILEY: Does that same carrot extend to the Pacific islands?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, it doesn't at the moment, and in fact, we haven't extended that. Mainly because the Pacific, we, we don't want to drain those nations of their best and brightest. We, The Pacific needs to continue to develop, and we're just cognisant of the fact that if we give pathway to permanent residency then there'll be no one left in the Pacific islands to grow their, to grow those islands. So we're working with the Pacific, we want to be very sensitive about that, they're part of our family, and we're just being mindful of the fact that any scenes we have here, what impact that could have back in the Pacific. So, we'll work with them around that but that's something that isn't on the cards at the moment.

MICHAEL BAILEY: Okay. I want to talk about a company that's just about to open in this great city of ours, Alliance Airlines. They got a $30 million loan from NAIF. You've got to be proud of that, that money's being poured into this region and jobs, jobs, jobs. I know that Michelle Landry has been working on it very, very hard. We can't forget the Deputy Mayor of Rockhampton Regional Council, Neil Fisher. He's been jumping up and down. It looks like October they're putting the shovels in the ground.

This $30 million line from NAIF, it is alone. They do have to repay it, don't they?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: They do. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. It's a $30 million facility. It's up to $30 million that they'll be able to draw down on, but they'll have to repay that. And this is just trying to bring some competitive tension into the financial market and to de-risk some of these projects that the banks may be a little hesitant to do by themselves. But if they're in partnership with- like the Australian Government through the NAIF, then they're more ready to partner with us and lend the other portion of it. Got to understand that this would not have happened if it hadn't been for Neil and Michelle Landry, who had secured the $25 million for the airport upgrades, because that underpinned the infrastructure that allowed Alliance to come here. And what they're going to do- this is an exciting thing for Rockhampton. They are going to import 100 jobs from overseas, back to Australia, back into Rockhampton. And these aren't just jobs that are sweeping floors, and not that there's anything wrong with that, but these are highly skilled jobs that are getting paid high, high amounts of money, which means it's diversifying the Rockhampton economic base, and it really will make a significant difference to Rockhampton.

There'll be over 100 jobs in the construction, I think full time when it is up and running, I think it'll go from around 100 to 125. Scott McMillan, the CEO of Alliance- and I've got to shout out to Alliance. They didn't want to stay in Brisbane. They said, why don't we go to regional Queensland? And this is what we need from our companies is to think a bit differently, to understand, have faith and confidence in regional Australia and cities like Rockhampton that can back it and can support these companies to get what they want. They're already on a recruitment drive to get these jobs, not only for construction, but actually to come and operate this facility that'll repair all their 75 fleet of aircraft.

So, you know, if it wasn't for Michelle Landry and Neil Fisher fighting hard for Rocky, you might have missed this out and another place might have got it.

MICHAEL BAILEY: I've got to say at long last, the penny has dropped for big corporate companies. I know Alliance looked all around Australia and Queensland. But when you look at how much rent and everything was available from the airport, I mean, they bent over backwards. I mean, this is a good deal. This is a win/win, isn't it, for Rockhampton city and Alliance?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It is. In fact, when I flew into Rocky on Sunday, I've got to say, my offsider walked off and he said, this is one of the best regional airports he's been in. And it's a credit to the airport corporation out there. They've done an outstanding job, and the fact that council is involved with it meant that that gave greater confidence to Alliance. It gave them security, that the council had skin in the game. And the fact that we were able to get them that seed funding for that $25 million upgrade meant that this just underpinned it and sold the story for Rockhampton. So, to the council, Michelle, to the council, you know, they've done- the airport, they've done a fantastic job.

MICHAEL BAILEY: Now, all we have to do is open up more land for the builders to actually get into it because it's at a premium at the moment, I've got to tell you, David Littleproud. It is at a premium. Whether you want to live along the coast or in the heart of Central Queensland in Rockhampton, trying to find accommodation is just crazy at the moment, but that's happening all around Australia, isn't it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It is. They're not making any more of it. So, obviously land prices are going up. Even the agricultural game, we're seeing significant increases. Ken O'Dowd and I were out at Duaringa yesterday, and just hearing the actual prices for land- agricultural land is just going through the roof because people are making money out of it. And that's the pure economics of it. You're not going to pay it unless you can make money out of it. And that's what's happening. There's real confidence out there. And if we can open up the borders at some point when we've all got jabs, I think the Australian economy is poised to really take off. So, you know, we're in a really sweet spot. We've got a bit of work to do with COVID. But once we get through that, I think Australia is primed to take it advantage. Probably better than any other nation in the world.

MICHAEL BAILEY: The Honourable David Littleproud, of course, Minister for Ag in Northern Australia. Thanks very much for being on 990 4RO, and make sure you pop in next time you fly into Rocky.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Will do, sounds good. Have a good day.

MICHAEL BAILEY: Okay then, thanks very much.

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