Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB

9 November 2020

CHRIS SMITH: David Littleproud is the Federal Minister for Agriculture, and he joins me on the line. Minister, thank you very much for your time.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, mate.

CHRIS SMITH: Just briefly, your reaction to the election of President-elect Joe Biden?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, obviously, America’s a close ally of ours. We respect their democracy, and we welcome the President-elect Biden and hope to work with him constructively as we have with President Trump. There’s many issues for us to deal with together, and it’s important that we have a good line of communication. And I’m sure that we’ll be able to achieve that with President Biden, and we certainly enjoyed that with President Trump.

CHRIS SMITH: Could the election of Joe Biden, who everyone predicts will pacify China a lot more than Donald Trump, could this mean a way in to get communication back between China and Australia?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that’s yet to be seen, but we don’t intend to compromise on our values and principles as a nation. In your intro, you quote fairly articulated that we felt as a good global citizen we should ask the questions about how this pandemic started, because we are a global community. It’s a lot smaller place the world than hundred years ago, and so we need to understand that we impact on one another. They’ve also, through one of their media outlets, there’s been talk and rumours about the fact that our foreign interference laws has upset them and also some joint operations we’d done with Japan and India. Well, we’d rather talk to them about that, but we will not compromise on that. And anyone that says that we shouldn’t be undertaking a legislative change about protecting our democracy or working with our allies is- unfortunately, we’re going to have to tell them to their face that that’s our sovereign right, as we respect their sovereign rights. So, we won’t take a backwards step on that, but we will continue to try and have our hand out. We have to take a leadership role on this. No point throwing your toys out of the cot. You’ve simply got to have your hand out, and Simon Birmingham and I have. We continue to try and engage with our counterparts and will if we’re given the opportunity.

CHRIS SMITH: So they don’t pick up the phone still?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. In fact, I wrote a letter only in the last couple of weeks wanting to engage again when there were rumours about cotton, and they haven’t been substantiated. And a lot of these haven’t been substantiated, but that’s why it’s important [indistinct] we hear rumours through media outlets, it’s important that there is dialogue. And that’s why we’ve continued to try and will continue to make sure that they understand that the best way to resolve any misunderstanding or any dispute is through dialogue. But someone has to lead that, and we’re going to continue to do that, and if the United States wants to play a role in that as well, well, good. We’ll obviously accept that.

CHRIS SMITH: Yeah. Look, when you hear things like, oh, we’ve got to check the efficacy of certain produce and certain commodities, you know that it’s just a massive beat-up because our quarantine restrictions and the kind of material we send abroad is as perfect as you’d get from any other country on earth.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, we’re not infallible, but the standards that we impose on our exporters is, I would contest, the highest in the world. Now, not suggesting we don’t make mistakes from time to time, but the reality is when we have found errors, we’ve been able to demonstrate quite quickly that we can rectify them and demonstrate that they are an anomaly rather than the norm. So we have a very strong reputation, so if Chinese businesses don’t want to consume and purchase Australian products, they are highly sought after in other places around the world – our agricultural products particularly. So we’ve opened up; there’s now 14 free trade agreements. Most of those were started under this Government, and we’ll continue to try and get more free trade agreements finalised for EU, UK, alongside the others we put in place and the market access that we’ve got. So we’ll be out there marketing our product, but obviously there has been an increase in our trade with China, but our exporters now will have to manage that risk and understand that risk and decide whether they continue to negotiate and deal with Chinese companies with any degree of certainty.

CHRIS SMITH: When will the time come where Australian- all of the Australian Government goes to the WTO to try and get China back on track to keep to their promises within our agreement?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that’s always a last resort. Dialogue’s always the best way to fix these types of issues. We also have to be able to demonstrate that with, obviously, proof, and we are quite confident on a number of issues that they’ve raised, particularly around barley. They’re yet to give a determination on wine, just at the moment, but we will obviously work with industry. Now, industry will guide us around the extent in which we go to the WTO. You’ve got to appreciate as well, any action we take with the WTO will practically take some three to four years. And we’ve already the WTO against India at the moment on some sugar dumping along with another countries that are with us on that, and we went to the WTO with Canada on wine. But you’ve got to appreciate that does take time, and while we may do that if we feel aggrieved and we work with industry, we would prefer to have dialogue to sort this out. Free trade will benefit not just Australia but China as well.

CHRIS SMITH: And do we have a number of public servants working with key sectors to try and find new markets together? Is that going on at the moment?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, that’s continued to go on. In fact, last Budget I got an additional six agricultural councillors. We have 22 of these jobs around the world, and what they are is they sit in high commissions and embassies, and they work at the government level about getting rid of technical barriers and also about getting greater market access. And we’ve, for the first time, put some into South America because of the TPP-11 that we put in place. So that works through. But we get that advice about what the technical barriers and what commodities we should be trying to get market access on by the commodities themselves. So there’s a structured process where each of the commodities [indistinct]… particularly in horticulture, they’ll make their priorities. It may be apples this year with China. It may be grapes in Indonesia the next year. And each one of those councillors’ jobs is then to go and to get that market access in-country, and that’s very pivotal to us having that on-the-ground relationship.

CHRIS SMITH: Alright. This is usually a food segment where we talk about different cuisines and talk to cooks and authors and all sorts of [indistinct]. I can’t let you go without asking you, David Littleproud, what’s your favourite Australian produce or your dish, what your favourite dish is, and what do you cook?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, I’m from western Queensland, and we had a mixed farming operation with cattle, so I’m sort of- beef sort of is the norm for me. So a real delicacy for me is a pork roast with a bit of crackle, and you’ve got to make sure the spuds are roasted and gravy with apple sauce. That is Christmas right there any Sunday you get to have that, as far as I’m concerned. So I’m a big, big pork roast man.

CHRIS SMITH: Love it. You’re onside with all of us. That’s all fine. Thank you, mate. Much appreciated. Have a great rest of the weekend.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks, mate. You too. Bye bye.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay. Federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud.