Interview with Rod Henshaw, 2CC

24 June 2021

ROD HENSHAW: Well, it's been quite a week in federal politics. It ends today, of course, with the last sitting day before the long winter break. A week where we saw the Deputy Prime Minister and Nats leader Michael McCormick, defeated by the Lazarus-like Barnaby Joyce. But the Deputy Nationals leader, David Littleproud, has retained his position without any challenge. He's on the line with me now. David Littleproud, good morning, Minister.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning. Thanks for having me, Rod.

ROD HENSHAW: My pleasure. Are you happy the way it's all turned out this week? That's not a loaded question at all, is it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, no. But it is democracy, Rod, and that's the beauty of our country. We should be fierce defenders of that. It's a principle that has guided our country and our society to where it is today. And it's one you shouldn't ever turn your back on. And whether you like the result or not, that's the result of democracy, and we have to respect it and now get on with the job of delivering for my party, regional and rural Australia.

ROD HENSHAW: I can talk to you about that in a sec. But you just sort of answered half my question there. But whether you like it or not, whether you like the result or not, did you like the result?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I respect the party room, and obviously, I made my comments very clear before I went in there, and I lived up to that. And obviously I think it's now time for the party to heal and make sure that we simply just unite and get back. And obviously, they are traumatic events, and it's just important now to unite behind Barnaby and get on with the job. We've got an election in less than 12 months, so it's important now we get the settings right and get out there and sell our message of what we've done to get us through this COVID recession and how regional Australia has pulled us through, particularly through agriculture.

ROD HENSHAW: You mentioned regional Australia, there's been a lot of spotlight, of course, on regional Australia. And depending on who you talk to, the consensus would suggest that Barnaby has more, I think they use the term cut through in the regions and is likely to stand up to the Liberals more effectively. Is that what you're looking for?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think he brings a certain degree of colour that Michael didn't. And I think we all have different styles. I have a different style to Barnaby, as to Michael as to the other 20 in our party room. So we all have- bring something different. We all have a different style to it and Barnaby definitely brings colour. You've seen that already. So…

ROD HENSHAW: Mostly in his face.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah.

ROD HENSHAW: Be honest. Be honest.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah…

ROD HENSHAW: He looks as though he's about to internally haemorrhage sometimes.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: That's the passion that Barnaby has. I think you will some colour. And that's why he does have the cut through with his messages, that, you know, he has that colour of of phase that he uses, but there's also that passion. I think the colour that comes through his face, in fact, is that passion.

ROD HENSHAW: I'd noticed in - I've been watching Question Time this week, that's how boring I've been. That's how desperate I am.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Been a bit rough for you, Rod.

ROD HENSHAW: I know. I've got to get out more often, mate. But, yeah, I've noticed all a sniping little things from the other side. This is not a Dorothy Dixer so much. But the question is, you know, he does carry a bit of baggage, and it- I'm just wondering how long before the Opposition let it go?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, I'm not sure. But as Barnaby has said, he needs to acknowledge the wrongs of the past. He acknowledged that by standing aside as the National Party leader. But he then needed to reflect on his behaviour and how he needed to change that. And I think what he has got to a juncture in his life is, as he said in Parliament, is that he's acknowledged the wrongs. He's remorseful for that and what he wants to be able to do is show that he's not only repented, but he's adjusted his behaviour, and he can now prove to everybody that he's a different person now. And I think all he's asking for now is a fair go, have a crack. And let his actions do the talking.

ROD HENSHAW: Yeah, that's it - let the action do the talking. You're spot on there. And you know, I thought, you know, did they really need to harp on this? It's three years ago, for God's sake, let it go. Anyway, a new Coalition deal is being worked out between the two parties as we speak. Would you like to see more National representation in the ministry, on the frontbench?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we always do. But that's always limited by the quota. And so the way for us to get more ministry is always to get more seats as part of the Coalition. And so that will be a challenge for us. But we always want to have more, because if we've got more seats at the table, we get more for regional Australia. So that's the- that's the challenge that Barnaby's now having a discussion with the Prime Minister, and I think in the coming day or so, there'll be an agreement around what the ministry looks like. And then other things that, as part of our Coalition agreement, we expect our Coalition partners to respect.

ROD HENSHAW: Yeah, the news reports this morning are saying that there is a bit of a wedge between you and the Libs with the net zero emissions. Is there a compromise in the offing, do you think?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think it will depend on the detail. And I think this is the thing that we need to understand as regional Australians. We can be pragmatic about this to make sure that regional Australia doesn't pay the bill again. We've paid the bill to get us where we are with respect to the reduction in emissions. We've had land management uses taken off us and no one's saying that wasn't- not necessarily needed. But what we're saying is that if you take a property right off someone in this country, you should be compensated for it. And unfortunately, our primary producers weren't, and they paid the heavy price for that.

So I think we need to be pragmatic, and that's why you never turn your back. I think it's dangerous to say never. I think it's important that you enter this with a pragmatism that you can work through. And I think that if we can get comfort for our communities, that they not only don't have to pay the bill anymore, but actually start- square some of the ledger for what we have paid. I think there's an opportunity for us to consider, but that will ultimately be the decision of our entire party room, and the majority of the party room will have to be in agreement, and we're waiting for those details. But- and that- those details also, Rod, is around where the technology trajectory can get us. Because we have to also be honest to the Australia public. I mean, there's 130 countries who have signed up to net zero by 2050. Only 14 can tell us in an articulated way how they're going to achieve it. So at the moment, there's a lot of platitudes being thrown around, but no one really means it or is really showing how they can do it.

I think Australia's got a good record of meeting Kyoto and Paris. And I think if we're going to put our hand up, not only so to the Australian people, but also to say the global community, we're going to get there, we've got to tell them how…

ROD HENSHAW: Well, even Scomo saying preferably by 2050. Preferably is the operative word, isn't it? And you know, I mean, for goodness sake, what's going to happen between now and 2050 that's going to change?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think technology, and this is the thing, Rod, is there's emerging technologies now. I think between now and 2050, because of this- the sheer investment in research and development into this, means that we will see new emerging technologies that will get us over the line. And that's where I think the Prime Minister's been very pragmatic in saying well, he doesn't want to tax anybody, but if technology can do it, and then people prepare to invest in that technology to deliver our energy and to reduce our emissions, then that's actually a good thing, because ultimately, we don't pay as much. So the important thing is we can do it through technology, and we back ourselves as being the best and brightest and creating these technologies - well, that's a good thing. We've met our international commitments, and we've lived up to trying to look after our planet for the next generation. And we're trying to reduce the costs for everyone. That's just common sense.

ROD HENSHAW: Okay. Now, David, I've counted about three Dorothy Dixers I've given you. So I expect- there's no such thing as a free Dorothea Dixer so I expect the scoop. Who's going to be on your front bench?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I'm not sure, to be honest. I can't tell you. That's Barnaby's decision. He hasn't brought me into the tent on that one, so I'm expecting that we're going to find out in the coming day. I would suspect tomorrow, or even early next week. They'll have to be sworn in, the new ministers. But I think, from what I understand, obviously Michael McCormack's decided he's not going to be there, so we'll obviously wait…

ROD HENSHAW: Was that his decision?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, I think Michael wanted a rest. But I haven't been privy to those conversations, and I've just got to say the dignified, statesman like way that he's handled himself is really a reflection of the man himself.

ROD HENSHAW: What about Darren Chester?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I couldn't speculate.

ROD HENSHAW: Oh, come on.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Obviously, Darren would like to stay, I would presume. But I don't know where Barnaby's thinking is and that's obviously decision for him. So I can't give you any scoop today, Rod, but as soon as I know, I'll be sure to let you know.

ROD HENSHAW: Okay mate. You've been described as- let's talk about you. You've been described as ambitious. And, quite frankly, not many pollies are short of that attribute. Are you a leader in waiting?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No one is a leader in waiting. No one is able to [inaudible]… in this game. And as you saw the brutality of it this week, anything could happen. So, the political gods have been very good to me. They've been very kind. I mean, I've been here only five years. So if it's not my time now, it may never be my time. But I can honestly- if I get kicked out by popular demand at the next election by my electorate, I can look back and say, I've probably been luckier than most in this place. I've not only represented a great electorate in Western Queensland, but I've been able to be a cabinet minister and in the leadership group and experienced a lot of things people will never get to do. And I hopefully, more than anything, you've left a legacy, which is what I want to do for people in regional Australia. So it doesn't happen right, I can still put my head on the pillow at night, shut my eyes and have a good sleep.

ROD HENSHAW: I've got to ask you, was there any deal made that saw Barnaby Joyce get a clear run the other day when he stood?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. And this is where post spills- finger-pointing and covering tracks. The reality is no one can make a deal on the leadership of the National Party. There are 21 members that all want to be leader. So no one has- can give any assurance to take any deal. And as I said before I went in there, that if Michael McCormack wasn't standing, then I would stand. Michael lost the spill. I probably, at that point, had every right to put my hand up. But when Michael stood up, I felt that I'd made a commitment, and I could not stand knowingly against Michael McCormack after I made that public statement, and because I'd made it to Michael as well. So in that respect, had Michael not stood up to contest the leadership after losing the spill, I would've stood up, but that didn't happen.

ROD HENSHAW: Maybe next time around.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, maybe, but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. But the reality is now, we've just got to get on with the job and back Barnaby.

ROD HENSHAW: Alright. Better let you go mate, but before I do, all the best to your dad and wish him a happy birthday for me, good old Brian.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yes, thanks Rod. Big 80 on Saturday.

ROD HENSHAW: Big 80, good. Have a drink- tell him I'll drink to his health on Saturday.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I will. Good on you Rod.

ROD HENSHAW: Thanks David, take care mate. David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture and Deputy Leader of the Nationals. And referring to his dad, Brian there. Brian Littleproud was a long time minister in the Bjelke-Petersen era, way back when.