Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

21 January 2021

JIM WILSON: Well, the Australian Open and this tennis. I said they should've postponed it like the Australian Grand Prix. There've been 10 coronavirus cases linked to the tournament now. Now, players are complaining about the conditions of hotel quarantine. Mind you, these whingers are guaranteed $100,000 bare minimum for their time. Sam Groth was actually on the Wide World of Sports with Mark Levy last night and talked perfect sense about this. The entitlement is just gobsmacking from some of these players. Now, there are also questions over who will foot the bill for quarantine. There hasn't ever been a tennis tournament with so much anticipation or controversy leading in.

And well, while this is all going on, farmers across the country are suffering, including in New South Wales. Planeloads of international tennis stars are touching down in Victoria, but farmers are without fruit pickers who need to make them money. Now, we spoke early this week to Shepparton farmer Peter Hall. Peter's lost tens of thousands of dollars due to wasted produce. He now has to wait another 12 months before he can actually pick his crop. It's just- it reeks of double standard. Let's have a listen to Peter.

PETER HALL: It's a complete joke. I mean, we've been banging on the State Government for about eight or nine months to get organised. We knew this was going to be an issue, because the majority of our workers come from the Pacific Islands and backpackers, and yet they've sat on their hands, saying it's all too hard. And yet - hey, presto - they just organised quarantine for a bunch of elite tennis players who are now whinging about their food standards. It's a complete joke.
[End of excerpt]

JIM WILSON: He makes a lot of sense. Peter Hall's angry. And as I said rightfully so, tennis players are making a [indistinct], but he can't make a cent in his own country.

David Littleproud is the Federal Agriculture Minister and he joins me on the line this afternoon. Minister, welcome back to Drive.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, thanks for having me, mate.

JIM WILSON: You have to feel for Aussie farmers right now, especially when you hear stories like Peter.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh, totally. And the frustration in his voice is- not just with Peter, but right across the country. As he said, we knew this was coming. And in fact, we sat down with the states back in March and we said we've got to plan for this. We've got to put an ag workers code to allow workers to finally move between states. And we couldn't even get the states to all sign up to that. But then in August, we said we needed to not only incentivise Australians to try and do these jobs, we're going to have to continue to rely on the Pacific and seasonal worker programs. And we were able to open that up, and we went out there and pre-vetted 25,000 men and women from ten Pacific nations that we said we can bring in. We'll stamp the visas. The states at National Cabinet, the premiers all decided at National Cabinet: that's great, but we don't trust one another in terms of quarantine, and we don't trust us, as a Federal Government. We want to do it ourselves. We want to own the quarantine protocols. We said: cool, we respect that. Just go and do it. And industry- and Peter's industry in particular, in October last year got a proposal from Aspen Medical, an internationally recognised health organisation, the WHO and nations around the world rely on, not only in pandemics, but also in natural disaster, to come in and to provide elite health care and quarantining protocols, put a proposal to the Victorian Government, to Dan Andrews, and said they could either take over the hotel quarantining, they could either put it on farm and do the on farm quarantining for the farmers, or they create a tent city in a regional community and have it a closed loop, and have it between farms. They sat on this for six months. Now obviously, Dan Andrews planned meticulously for the Australian Open, but he forgot to pull this one out of the drawer. It was just put in a drawer and left there. And Peter and farmers right across the country are waiting for the states to sign off on these agreements. South Australia, in fact, bought some Vanuatu workers in yesterday, which was brilliant. And Northern Territory were able to do this back in September after we opened up for a month. So Victoria and other states are still sitting on their hands.

JIM WILSON: Well, it just reeks of double standards. And that's why you can understand Peter's frustrations and farmers around the country. Tell me how these fruit pickers are coming from non-COVID hotspots in the South Pacific, and yet these tennis players, a lot of them are coming from COVID hotspots around the globe, including the US and Europe. You shake your head.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's insanity. And there's no common sense in this. And federation is failing our farmers. This is more about populism by state premiers to maintain themselves high up in the ratings rather than actual practical action. We tried to work and we're saying to them: we'll continue to work. We went and found the 25,000 for them and said: here's the opportunity. If you want to own and have the responsibility that you wanted to sign up to, that's great. But actually do something. And that's why Peter, the VFF and the NFF have just had a gutful. This isn't a new problem. We saw it coming. And the fact that it's just being ignored just goes to show that we're the forgotten Australians in regional Australia. And it's just shows that federation needs to change. And if it doesn't, then Australia won't be what it could be.

JIM WILSON: Well, this is going to be the hot topic, I reckon, at National Cabinet tomorrow, is the inconsistency. This is the big issue. We're all supposed to be in it together and yet some states are just political point scoring.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, you only have to look in my home state of Queensland. It's worked very well. The Premier was re-elected with an increased majority. In the Northern Territory and the ACT, they were re-elected. And I suspect in WA, there'll be a clean sweep over there. But the good thing is it's a great business model for the states. They put up all the barriers and beat their chests and say: we've kept all those pesky Victorians out, or Queenslanders out, and we've kept you out of Queensland. But the problem is the Australian taxpayer pays for it. And at this case- in this state, sorry, the farmers are paying for it, because they're losing billions of dollars out of income; not just in Victoria, but in New South Wales and Queensland, right across the country. Because this is a cancer that has grown and it started up in Queensland. It's now grown right across as we get into the season. And farmers are paying the price for this. All we want, all farmers want, all the Australian Government want is action. We are respecting state governments. They are a sovereign government within Australia and we respect it. They have signed up to wanting to own this. We are just saying to them: please, do something about it. You have an international organisation that can give you the security of knowing that they can do this in a COVID-safe way protecting the community. But to ignore it is just mind numbing.

JIM WILSON: Well, I can hear the frustrations in Peter's voice and also in your voice, Minister, and rightfully so. Just before I let you go, we have this unbelievable news today, I mean, it's just political correctness gone crazy. Cricket Australia aren't calling games next Tuesday, on our national day, Australia Day games.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, Cricket Australia should just stick to cricket. I mean, they've got bit of work to do after the test series to invest in getting our players to becoming number one again. And I think- you know, this is just insanity. Every year, there's another new stump as we come up to Australia Day. We are one nation. There are wrongs that have been perpetrated, but we should not sweep them under the carpet. We should face up to them and we should face up to them again together as Australians. And in Australia Day, whether it's right, wrong, or indifferent, that is the day that this nation was formed. But together, we can only make it better by standing together and facing up to the good and the bad.

JIM WILSON: Well, hopefully, Minister, they have a change of mind between now and Tuesday, because it is one of the dumbest decisions that I've ever heard of, especially as we come together on Australia Day on Tuesday. I appreciate your time this afternoon.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, mate.

JIM WILSON: Good on you. That's Federal Agriculture Minister David.