Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

23 June 2021

BEN FORDHAM: There is talk this morning of a compromise on energy, and the Liberal Party is apparently now open to overturning the ban on nuclear energy. Nuclear energy has been banned in Australia since the late 1990s. But more than 30 countries, including the UK and the US, safely use nuclear reactors every day and we have a massive supply of uranium. It's sitting right under our feet. So, in return, the Nationals would be open to agreeing to net zero emissions by 2050, but there would be some conditions, including guaranteeing jobs and possibly compensation being paid to farmers.

David Littleproud is the Nationals Deputy and the Agriculture Minister. He's on the line. David Littleproud, good morning to you.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning mate.

BEN FORDHAM: So, let me ask you first of all. Is there compromise coming on energy?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Not until we see the detail. I mean, you don't make compromises on anything unless you can see the detail of how we're going to get there and who's going to pay for it. But you've got to be open to the opportunities that lay particularly for who we represent as regional Australia. And if that can be done and it can be demonstrated, then obviously you never say never.

BEN FORDHAM: We know that Barnaby Joyce has been campaigning for some time for the ban on nuclear energy to be overturned. Is that now going to form part of National Party policy?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think that's part of the conversation that our party room will have to have. And there's new technology in small cell gen nuclear that's starting to be tested in the United States and Canada. Now, it's only early days, but that obviously takes away some of the community concern about having a huge nuclear power plant on our backyard. So, you've got to look to technology. You've got to be pragmatic about that and understand your technology provides you a pathway, then that's what you should undertake. And that's what we're saying, is we don't want to tax people to make any international achievements, we want to do it through technology so the bill isn't paid by the Australian taxpayer.

BEN FORDHAM: Alright. Well, just on that, this proposal that farmers would be compensated to reduce emissions. That sounds like a tax.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, they already are. So, there is carbon farming as we speak at the moment that is available, and that has been around for some time. And I've got some issues with that; there's been some perverse outcomes, particularly in south west Queensland and north west New South Wales where we've got passive investors from capital cities buying large tracks of land that are quite cheap and just walking away, taking a passive income. And what it's done is it's taken away productive agricultural land, and families from small communities. So, we need to look at how that current carbon farming model exists, and you shouldn't be able to lock up entire property. But we are also creating a model where we can make it more sophisticated, paying farmers not just for the carbon but for biodiversity. And because we're the first country in the world- we've just cracked the code in the last couple of months of how to measure that and we're about to do some pilots across the landscape now to prove that. And then if that's the case, there'll be a trading platform where businesses can buy these biodiversity credits, paying farmers for the stewardship of land - much of which they're doing anyway.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. Should agriculture be included in the net zero emissions target?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we're about 13 per cent of emissions and I think that's a conversation we have to have as part of the entire conversation around net zero by 2050 because countries such as New Zealand and Mexico both exempted agriculture, because most of the emissions are from methane, and the world hasn't actually worked out how to address methane, and it doesn't stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide. So, there's a number of questions around it and that's why New Zealand exempted agriculture. But agriculture is- if we are to play, can still play a part in obviously helping, so long as farmers are being rewarded for it. If they're not, then- you know, we've already paid the bill of this country's social conscience to get us to meet Paris, and we can't do anymore heavy lifting. We have to square the ledger, and farmers have to be rewarded for what they've done; they haven't been in the past. And if we go further, they have to be front and centre of financial reward.

BEN FORDHAM: Now that Barnaby Joyce is back, do you feel like the Nats have got their mojo back?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, there's a little bit more colour I'd have to say. I think Question Time demonstrate that. And look, it's- Barnaby has the energy and enthusiasm. He's obviously a great retail politician, and we've simply now got to just unite and come in behind him and get on with the job of getting regional Australia's fair share of representation and dough to keep us going because we're the ones that have kept the nation going through COVID, whether it's been resources or agriculture. When other industries were sent home to go into the doona, we were still out there providing food and fibre for Australia and sending it around the world, as well as digging the holes to keep the coal- to keep the electricity on and send it around the world to pay our bills.

BEN FORDHAM: He's certainly made Question Time a little bit more interesting. We'll catch up again soon David. Thanks for your time.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me mate.

BEN FORDHAM: No worries. The Nationals Deputy and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.