DEBORAH KNIGHT: Now the US Consul-General in Sydney, Sharon Hudson-Dean was on the show yesterday. She joined me in the studio for International Women's Day and we touched on this issue of kangaroo exports. Because there's currently this campaign in the US called Kangaroos are not Shoes. And it's lobbying the Government there to ban the importation of all kangaroo products. It's an $80 million industry and this bill in the US has bipartisan support. It was introduced to the US House of Representatives last month and our embassy is on the front foot here, working on the ground to pushback against it. Here in Australia, a lot of work's also being done with the industry to stop this bill from passing. But a lot of listeners got in contact yesterday, or a few did, to say that the cull of kangaroos is cruel and it's something that should be stopped. So I thought we'd find out some more about it. David Littleproud, is the Minister for Agriculture, he's on the line for us now. Minister, thanks for joining us, when did you first hear about this bill in the US?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I was made aware by industry only in the last month. Obviously, I reached out to our ambassador in Washington to make sure that it - only two, the Democrats and Republicans; it has now grown to six Democrats and two Republicans that are sponsoring this bill - understood the science behind this. There's a lot of misinformation by young welfare groups around kangaroo cull and the number of kangaroos in this country. And it was important that if someone, some 20 odd thousand kilometres away was to impose their will, they should have all the information and we've obviously had the ambassador try and reach out to them. But also invite them to Australia to understand how the industry works and that's why we're going to continue to work with this. But also put this into context, if the bill will be introduced and has been introduced in the Congress and will probably never see the light of day. But it's an important conversation to have, an important conversation to getting the facts out there around the kangaroo industry. How important it is, not just in terms of dollars, but also in terms of environment sense.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, that's what I want to touch on here, because there are claims being made by these animal rights groups in the US that the cull of kangaroos is cruel and saying it's crueller than the way that the baby fur seals are culled in Canada? Those awful scenes that resonated all around the world, the baby fur seals being clubbed on the head and the blood on the ice and just terrible imagery. Is the cull of kangaroos in Australia done in a cruel way?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's an outrageous lie and one that slurs on the actual standing of the industry and farmers themselves. Animal cruelty is not accepted by Australian farmers, nor by the industry in any way, shape or form. There is a strict code in terms of the culls that must take place, and you actually must be skilled to be able to do this before you can get a licence. So, it's not just anyone can just rollout and start to do this and then go and sell these skins. That's an abhorrent lie. The reality is, is what these animal activists forget, is what is a crueller death is that we have many of these kangaroos, particularly in drought, dying of starvation. And the reason that we have at the last count, just before the last drought, was around 44 million macropods across this country and the reason there's so many of them is because of farmers.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: So, macropods, kangaroos?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Kangaroos. So what's happened is our farmers have created the numbers, by putting in watering points all over their properties. So, before white man came, there was no watering points, there was no dams, there was no bores. And what's happened is because they have a secure source of water across much of inland Australia, these numbers have exploded. And so, what happens when drought comes; farmers remove the livestock, their cattle and sheep and they sell them off and the dams go dry, the bores shut off and there's no water. And I've seen it in western Queensland, area I represent, [indistinct] got the greatest concentration of kangaroos and wallabies in the country. And I've seen firsthand the devastation, the environmental catastrophe of the fact that these large numbers die. So, it is a resource that, if managed properly, that is commercialised, would actually see better environmental outcomes than this knee jerk reaction that animal activists have. And that's what should happen, is that we work in a sustainable way to manage the resource, of our farmers to manage the resource, for industry to manage the resources. You get better environmental outcomes and in fact, it is more sustainable to be able to do this and shoe companies like Nike and Adidas have been weak to these animal activists. Instead of coming over and understanding the industry, going out on these properties and understanding the numbers that are out there and how this could be managed sensibly, instead of emotion that animal activists play on.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: What about the bushfire? The impact there, though? Because the summer bushfires that we saw in New South Wales, in Queensland, in large parts of the country and South Australia as well, a lot of native wildlife was killed - three billion koalas, kangaroos and other animals estimated to have died during those bushfires. Has that had an impact on kangaroo numbers?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No as much as other species because kangaroos are very mobile. So, unlike a koala they're stuck in a tree and can only move small distances. Kangaroos and wallabies can move very quickly. And the latest populations are, in fact, were outside the bushfire, but there'd still be an impact and that's why we've put over $70 million into species rehabilitation and environmental rehabilitation bushfires. But there are still significant numbers out there. And this resource should be made to- it's actually one of the leanest meats you can eat and it has health benefits, but also the skins that can be used as well is a resource. It's one of the few animals where you use all of it in a responsible way right through the chain - whether it be leather, right through to food. And that's why you can do this sustainably.
But for people 20,000 plus kilometres away telling us how we should do it, without even setting foot in the country and understanding the industry, taking the word of emotive activists, just doesn't make sense. We'd never imposed that on the American people.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: But we know how, we know how sensitive these global, global companies are to social media campaigns, Nike and Adidas, you mentioned them in particular that they should step up and be more forthcoming in supporting industry. So how do they use them? What, in their sports shoes?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Their sports shoes. This is where you've got to remove the emotion and look at the science. And this is what animal activists have done well, they've got a great business model and I've accept they've done a great job on that, on playing the emotions of people that don't understand this. They've never set foot in western Queensland or western New South Wales and seen how this industry operates. But if you are going to make a judgement, make an informed judgement predicated on science, on the industry and how it operates, and the opportunities that are there - not only economically, but more important, environmentally…
DEBORAH KNIGHT: What about the- what about the joey's, though? Because this is the comparison being made to the baby fur seals - that if a kangaroo is culled and there's a joey in the pouch, what happens to it?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, you know, this is where the standards in terms of what they're shooting and the times in which they can shoot is imposed on the shooters. So those are all taken into account, our state environment departments that work through the breeding cycle...
DEBORAH KNIGHT: So the timing of it to do with the breeding cycle?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Exactly. And there's a whole range in which their given quotas of whether they be bucks or does in terms of what they can shoot. And there's a responsible, there's a responsible mechanism for our shooters and for them to be very well skilled to make sure that there is no pain to these animals. They don't- In fact, they can't have that because if they damage the animal, that is worthless to them as well. So, this is where it's important, we just take the emotion out and take a step back. Come out and understand it, look at it and understand how these men and women drive this industry. But the environmental opportunities that are there, if we look at this through the lens of science, not emotion.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. No, your phone reception is a bit scratchy today for good reason, because I know you're on the New South Wales Victoria border in Corryong with the recovery with the bushfires, which - it's coming back, isn't it?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It is. I had to walk up what is a mountain up there in the bush watching where some of the fencing's been done.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Did you?
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: An amazing- and it's an amazing effort what's been happening here. And it's important that we get a lens on Australian taxpayers' money - we've put nearly $2 billion into this so far, we've got to make sure that we've got this right and what we can learn into the future. We haven't got it right entirely, we've got to acknowledge that, and I think what the opportunity is, how do we do this better in the future? And listening to Michael, sitting around kitchen tables, listening to farmers is the way we get a lens of, of improving into the future. But there's been great intent by, not just the governments, but community members, and I think that's what as a nation we should be damn proud of.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Have there been any calls for, for you to fix the infrastructure so that farmers don't have to climb the mountain to have better phone reception with NBN roll out.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, totally. Well, it's not just- and our good friends at Telstra have a got a lot to answer for, let me tell you. They've been really gone missing in all this - not just in bushfires, but in terms of services right across regional Australia. And now, it's getting into the edge of Sydney. You're seeing people like [indistinct] jump up and down because his community's right on the edge of Sydney and they're missing out on proper telecommunications because of the lack of investment by Telstra. That is their job, the is their responsibility, that's what they're paid for. But they've gone missing in this and we're going to have to have a serious conversation about what telecommunications in the bush, and even in the peri urban areas around the likes like of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne look like as well, because Telstra is failing us.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, we're a big country and we've got to get it right when it comes to infrastructure and communications, you're dead right about that. Minister, thanks so much for joining us.
DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me and thanks for the interest, Deb.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: David Littleproud there, the Agriculture Minister here on Afternoons.