Minister Littleproud iv ABC Capricornia

PAUL CULLIVER: Today could well be quite a significant day in terms of deciding what Australia’s climate policy will be going forward. Today the Nationals will meet over the decision over whether to support net zero emissions by 2050 or not. Of course, a very active member of that debate will be the Deputy Leader of the Nationals and the Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud, who is in Rockhampton today. Good morning to you, Minister.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning. Good to be with you.

PAUL CULLIVER: What is your position going into that conversation?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, just to clarify, there won’t be a decision made today because we haven’t seen the plan.

PAUL CULLIVER: Sure.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: So the party room has nothing to discuss in terms of what those details are.

PAUL CULLIVER: But the debate will begin?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, there’s nothing to debate because we haven’t seen the detail. So once the plan’s presented to us in terms of what that technology road map is, then the party room will sit down and make a decision about where our beliefs in terms of protecting jobs in regional Australia – and I think the Prime Minister’s also been clear on that. He said that the technology road map will protect regional Australians. We’ve already footed the bill, so it’s important that we embrace technology to protect regional jobs. But we live up to international commitments. So the reality is no decision will be made today. Everyone’s jumping the gun because the plan is still being devised.

And you’ve got to understand, this is a whole-of-government plan. So what Angus Taylor has to do is to bring together every department across the whole of government – agriculture, transport, resources – and see where technology fits into that in terms of reducing emissions. And so that will then form the technology road map. So that piece of work is extensive and it’s huge for Angus Taylor and the Prime Minister to work through that. Once that’s created we then will look you in the eye and tell you how we’re going to get there and who’s going to pay for it.

So that hasn’t been completed because we haven’t seen it in the National Party, and we just said, we want to have a look at that, we want to be clear that we understand that so that we can look you in the eye, our constituents, and say this is how we’re going to get there and who’s going to pay for it. That’s the responsible thing to do. To simply blindly sign up is irresponsible.

And let me tell you, there’s about 130 countries that have signed up to net zero by 2050. Only 14 can tell you how they’re going to get there. So there’s a lot of platitudes out there at the moment, and Australians are honest people. And what we want to do is be honest not just with our own people but with the global community and say this is how we’re going to get there this is our road map, and it is achievable. And we’ve got a good record on that. We’ve met Kyoto and we’re going to meet and beat Paris. So we’ve got standing in the community. What we want to do is when we say we’re going to live up to another commitment we want to be able to look you in the eye as the Australian public but we also want to look the global community in the eye and say this is how we’re going to get there.

PAUL CULLIVER: On that, Matt Canavan, senator for Queensland, of course based right here in Rockhampton, he’s already come out and said he is dead set against net zero emissions by 2050. He hasn’t seen the plan – just like you. So is it a problem that he’s blindly going against the plan?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, Matt has strong philosophical views, and I respect that. That’s a good thing to have in a democracy – to have divergent views. I’m more pragmatic; I want to have a look at the details before I rule anything in or out. That’s what I believe as a member of the electorate of Maranoa that is probably one of the most exposed like here, I have four coal-fired power stations. When we export over 75 per cent of our coal, I don’t export any coal out of my electorate; it all goes into four coal-fired power stations. I’ve got the biggest coal seam gas reserves in the Strat Basin and the Cooper Basin in my electorate, so I’m the most exposed member of Parliament probably of anybody in there because exports overseas will continue for decades. We’ve got to understand that the demand will continue to be there.

We’re looking – I think the Prime Minister announced today – really smart in looking at how do we also get the part of where transition fuels may come into the future, making sure we’re at the start of that and we’re leading that. So we’ve got to understand there’s a long way to go and there’s divergent views. But – and I think that shouldn’t be shunned. That’s a good thing living in a democracy where we have people that have differing views. But ultimately our party room will come together and we will make a determination and there’ll be some that will be disappointed. I’ve walked out of the National Party party room sometimes disappointed that my stance hasn’t got up. But I respect that. And as the Deputy Leader I will respect what the party room says.

PAUL CULLIVER: Obviously we have both mining and agriculture in this region. That’s obvious. Do you expect that a carve out for either of those industries could be discussed, could be on the table?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that’s obviously what Angus Taylor and the Prime Minister are working through now, bringing that whole of government. New Zealand has excluded agriculture because basically most of their emissions are through methane. And methane has a shelf life, so it does abate, it does remove from the atmosphere. And so those types of discussions are what Angus is working through now in making sure that we understand if there is a carve out for agriculture does that include the fact that we can remove that. But agriculture should still have a seat at the table. We still have an opportunity to participate in reducing emissions, and I think we can do that, and not only through carbon farming but there’s got to be some tweaks to carbon farming. There’s been some perverse outcomes with that, particularly in my part of the world where we’ve just seen – we’ve just seen large tracts of land bought up and people walk away. What’s happened is the biodiversity’s gone down and we’ve actually had perverse environmental outcomes. So what we’ve done is create a biodiversity stewardship program where we reward farmers for carbon plus biodiversity, so your improvement in biodiversity – we are the first country in the world to be able to measure biodiversity.

And so now that we can measure it, businesses can buy it. And so what that means is that if we are more sensible about not saying just large tracts of land locked up but small percentages, then you not only abate carbon but you get a better environmental outcome. That’s common sense. And when you look for businesses that want those – want those solutions, instead of going and buying an acre off the Amazon where there is no currency about what they’ve just bought, they can buy that here in Australia and know there is a secure measurement internationally recognised and farmers will get rewarded not just for carbon plus biodiversity but we will put a seal on their beef or their sheep that have the biodiversity seal that will demand a high price in Europe or the United States or in Asia because we are producing the most sustainably agricultural product in the world.

PAUL CULLIVER: Well, then on that, that’s the thing – all those things you’re talking about there, there are ways in which the agricultural industry is working really smart, working really cleverly in that space, obviously Meat and Livestock Australia carbon neutral by 2030, there’s all those approaches. Is there a danger, then, that giving a carve out, if that’s the road it goes down, doesn’t reward the agricultural industry for everything they’re already doing in that space?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: But you’re forgetting that we footed the bill to start with. So what happened was to meet Kyoto, land rights were taken off farmers. Property rights were taken away and when they stopped vegetation management clearing. And no-one’s saying that that was a bad thing. I think there’s some tweaks to that to make sure that sensible clearing can take place, so long as there’s offsets, and that’s what the biodiversity stewardship program can also provide – is offsets to have sustainable development. But what happened was the Federal Government backed then paid all the states to be able to stop land clearing. And what the states did, instead of handing it to the farmers, taking away their property right, they put did in their pocket instead of the farmers’ pocket. So the farmers lost a property right and they weren’t paid for it.

It’s like if you’re renting out your house here to someone in Rockhampton, you’ve got three bedrooms and the state government walks in and says, “No, I’m only going to let you rent out two bedrooms, but I’m not going to compensate you for it,” that’s what happened to Australian farmers. And so that’s why we’re saying when we talk about in squaring the ledger we footed the bill because farmers weren’t rewarded or weren’t, sorry, compensated for a property right was taken from them. That’s a key tenet of Australian society. If you lose a property right, you pay for a property right, you should be compensated if it’s taken off you by the Government. And unfortunately state governments – and I’ve got to – I will be honest, it was my mob that was in parliament in Queensland when that happened – we didn’t square that ledger. We put it in our pockets and we said we’ll allow regrowth.

And then what happened is this regrowth debate has taken place and it swings back and forward for generations since. So farmers have footed the bill in the past, and that’s why I’m saying we are the ones that have actually got us a long way to meeting our reductions in emissions because we stopped land clearing, but farmers had a property right taken off them without being compensated.

PAUL CULLIVER: All right. Well, we look forward to seeing that technology road map when it’s been decided, and I think we’ll have more conversations about it. David Littleproud is my guest this morning. He’s the Minister for Agriculture. As you can hear, he’s here in the studio in Rockhampton today. And you actually have a Rockhampton-specific announcement: you’ve got some funding that you can announce for Alliance and the maintenance facility.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, and Alliance, a great announcement today, mate. They’re going to invest $60 million in Rockhampton in moving up their maintenance facility here. What we’re doing as part of the NAIF is going to fund $30 million of that, up to $30 million. And the only reason this is coming to Rockhampton is Michelle Landry got $25 million to upgrade the airport. So that gave Alliance the investment confidence to come to Rockhampton. So we’re going to see up to a hundred jobs in construction and nearly a hundred jobs in operation. But the things about these jobs is that they are highly skilled jobs. So highly aeronautical jobs that are going to be highly paid. So what they’ll do is diversify the economic base here in Rockie and give us a greater economic base to work from.

So this is a great announcement. I mean, there’s over $350 million world of economic value over the next 30 years to Rockhampton. And this is a huge announcement Alliance is backing Rockhampton. And I’ve got to say, Alliance is one of those airlines that has backed regional Australia where some have actually gone away, where they’ve taken away air services. And, I mean, I’ve got that in my electorate where Qantas have left little places like Charleville and Roma go by the wayside and Longreach. But here Alliance is investing in Rockhampton and this is great announcement for Rockhampton. You’re going to see, you know, real jobs here creating real wealth and growing the economic base. And it’s all because of the investment that the Federal Government and Michelle Landry fought for and got to be as the base for that $25 million and now another $60 million on top of that, of which $30 million we’re going to fund through the NAIF as a loan.

PAUL CULLIVER: And just on that, I’m sort of curious why it seemed necessary to put federal funding towards this as opposed to them deciding that Rockhampton was a good business case anyway and just going ahead on their own steam?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: So the $25 million that Michelle Landry got was about improving the facilities at the airport. So that just wasn’t for Alliance, that was for the whole community.

PAUL CULLIVER: Yeah, sure.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: And that’s a great thing for Rockhampton that you’ve got a better airport out there. And I’ve got to say, as I landed last night, my offsider said to me, “Geez, this is one of the best regional airports we’ve been through,” and it is. It’s a real credit to the Rockhampton community and Michelle fought hard for that.

In terms of the NAIF and what the NAIF does, this is a loan facility; they pay interest on that. And so what this does is de-risk some of their investments. So some of these big companies, what we’re trying to do is incentivise them to move out of South East Queensland and to think regionally. And so what that does is de-risk some of their projects, and particularly when they go to the banks, the big banks, unfortunately, have turned their back much on regional Australia. So we’re taking up the slack and saying you should back regional Australia. They do have the capacity and capability to make a quid for you, and by doing this in Rockhampton is a perfect example to do that. So we’ll get a return on investment as well for the Australian taxpayer. So this is just common sense – making Australian taxpayers’ work to create jobs, to create wealth outside South East Queensland. Isn’t that a great thing.

PAUL CULLIVER: Right, Minister, thanks for your time today.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, mate.

PAUL CULLIVER: The Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia, he’s the Deputy Leader of the Nationals, in Rockhampton today, David Littleproud.

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