Transcript iv Sky News Regional

JAYNIE SEAL: Well there have been some big announcements this week to boost Northern Australia's businesses, $111.9 million for two simultaneous grant streams, and also Aussie farmers are set to grow and sell a record number of produce. Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud joins me live now. Good morning to you, Minister.

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

JAYNIE SEAL: Nice to be with you as well. You're in Darwin at the moment, you've been in the Northern Territory for close to a week now. Talk us through what you've been up to.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, started down in Alice Springs and in fact made an investment through the NAIF, $13.5 million for some cold storage that will underpin their food supply. There's obviously challenges in maintaining prices, particularly in the centre of Australia, and so lifting the supply by increasing the cold storage means that a lot of those little communities outside Alice Springs will benefit from that.

But obviously the big announcement is nearly $112 million to partner with businesses 50/50 to turbo charge their investments into Northern Australia. Those that are already here and those that want to come to Northern Australia to have transformational infrastructure, we'll split the bill with them 50 per cent, up to $10 million for large businesses and $2 million for small businesses.

So this is about just making sure that Northern Australia understands that we're about to take the step with them. There's a lot up here that have had the courage and conviction to put their own money on the table and made a great start on Northern Australia. This is just taking it to the next level. That'll be businesses right across the board in terms of being able to take advantage of these grants, and it's about making sure they have the infrastructure and the equipment to be able to employ more people, to take their businesses to a greater capacity and greater scale and that's really what is the last missing link here in Northern Australia.

JAYNIE SEAL: Minister, I mean Northern Australia has more than 96,000 businesses, 1,100 of those which are indigenous owned. So a lot of businesses, when can people apply for the grant applications?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well look, the Office of Northern Australia's taking expressions of interest straight away. We're expecting that this money will be out the door early next year, probably in February, March. The applications will formally open in the coming month and the reality is we'll have to then assess them, it will be a competitive grants process because this is Australian taxpayers' money, so we have to be careful with it, but we want to get bang for buck, we want to get a return on investment. So we're working through this as quickly as we possibly can to get the money out.

There's plenty of businesses both here in Northern Australia but also those down south that are interested in coming that are ready to take advantage of this, so we're wanting to make sure the process is as simple as we can, as broad as we can, but it'll be competitive in who can bring the most return to the Australian taxpayer and to Northern Australia.          

JAYNIE SEAL: Minister, we've had some good weather conditions and this week a big announcement as well looking promising that farmers in Australia are in for a record-breaking season surpassing the $70 billion mark.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, we had a cracker year last year but we're going to break some records this year, for the first time get over $70 billion worth of agricultural production. That's just been off the back of decent seasons. We've got catchments that are full. We'll see cotton and grain, a nearly $55 million grain harvest in the coming couple of months. So things look good. We need more rain to keep it going.

But it just shows how resilient Australian agriculture is. You only have to cast your mind back a couple of years and nearly all the country was in drought. Once you add rain, once you add water, Australian agriculture will do the rest. The fact that we've gone from around a $48 billion industry ten years ago to now a $73 billion industry just speaks volumes of our Australian agriculture sector, and the fact that they adopt new technologies quicker and more frequently than any other industry shows that we are up to the challenge of whatever's thrown at us.

JAYNIE SEAL: Absolutely. Now let's turn to the mouse plague because, Minister, we are hearing that the plague could be worse than before and it's becoming more widespread as well.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, we've been working with the CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, we've been spending money about doing new research, working with new technology for farmers to be able to identify where these mouse numbers are so that we can target resources.

I've written to all the state ministers of agriculture to ask them to now work feverishly with producers in baiting. We're going to have to work quickly. And the more that we do now the less the damage will be. So we're still working hard around new chemicals that we can use safely, and safe not only to crops and to agricultural production but also to the environment. We're working through as quickly as we can on that.

We've also got farm household allowance we hope no one will need for those that are devastated by any plague of mice. But this is a serious problem that is coming. The states know it's coming and we're just saying to them you need to start throwing some bait out now with farmers. We're making sure the supply is there. We just need to work together to make sure that we minimise the impacts of a mouse plague.

JAYNIE SEAL: You're absolutely right, it is a serious situation. How far are we seeing the mice? It was predominantly in New South Wales, are we seeing it spread even further?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, we've seen them up in Central Queensland and then spread down even to my part of the world on the Darling Downs. I mean I've had crop dusters dropping bait for the last couple of weeks around my own home, so that's how serious it is and spreading right across the eastern seaboard.

We're even concerned across in the West because they're having a bumper season. They had a bumper season last year and so there's a lot of fodder on the ground. That's why we're saying to the states you need to move quickly, don't be lagging in this, you need to work together. Mice don't work on state borders. You need to coordinate your approach and that's what we're trying to say to them and working with the Grains Research and Development Corporation in trying to ignite some energy out of the states to do some work on this with us.

JAYNIE SEAL: Finally, Minister, you wrap up your visit to the Northern Territory today. I can see people behind you getting out and getting some exercise. It looks quite warm there. How is the weather and what will you be doing for the last few hours of your stay?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, as someone from Western Queensland I'm used to the heat but not the humidity and let me tell you I don't think I'm going to be doing what those people are doing today. They're better than me. But look, we're catching up some round tables with the tourism sector.

I've got to say the tourism sector is probably the one sector across Northern Australia, whether it be on the east or coast or here in the centre, that's doing it tough because of the lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria, so we're doing a round table with them to appreciate the issues they're facing. And talking to the miners today at lunch and then heading home to get back to Queensland.

JAYNIE SEAL: All right, well really appreciate you coming on and spending time with us this morning. Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud and we look forward to seeing you again soon, take care.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, any time.

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