Interview with Leon Byner, 5AA

18 March 2020

LEON BYNER: Let's talk to the Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud. David, thanks for joining us today.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me Leon.

LEON BYNER: First of all, you might just give us a handle on many of the food producers have big export markets and much of that's dried up. How is that affecting them?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, look, this is more of a challenge to the agriculture sector than us getting produce in supermarkets. Obviously, with the number of flights that have been reduced for tourists, what happens is underneath those planes, in the belly of planes, normally goes agricultural produce. So, we're trying to work as quickly as we can, and in fact, I'm talking with all industry in less than an hour about how we can continue that supply into key markets and pose an opportunity for us, Leon. To be able to provide secure food supply of the best food in the world to other nations, because as you alluded to earlier, we produce enough food to 75 million. We oversupply, we're only a nation of 25. So here's an opportunity, out of all this disaster, for Australian primary producers to actually stake their claim on the world stage of being able to provide the best produce in the world, but also, to be able to do it in tough times. So, we're working through that as quickly as we can to make sure that we can also maintain our international markets and expand them, where the opportunities arise.

LEON BYNER: One point. Local supply chains, from what I can gather, they're fine as Roger Drake explained to us yesterday; the big challenge is getting it from the warehouses, into the shops where the shelves are?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's just plain stupidity what is happening out there in supermarkets. There are old ladies getting pushed over to get the last piece of meat, or the next toilet roll; it's absolute stupidity. The reality is there is no strain about us being able to supply supermarkets and the Australian people with groceries. The only strain that is coming, that is being perpetrated by the stupidity of a few, that are bulk buying. And meaning that we are now having to change local laws to allow trucks to be able to get in to these supermarkets at all hours of the day, taking away curfews, where they were quietly doing it in hours that weren't impinging on our ability to sleep at night and do the right thing. We are now having to get trucks in, change local laws to be able to get trucks in to stop this stupidity. Australians can do this by themselves, calmly get on with it - like Australian farmers are. Australian producers are just calmly going about their business, producing the best food and fibre in the world and we are looking at this in making sure that we secure Australia's security, food security. But also an opportunity to grow our sector further, globally.

LEON BYNER: I know the seafood sector has been commiserating over the fact that much of what it sells at a premium price into China, has dried up. Have other food sectors had this happen to them?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Not as bad as the seafood industry and their timing was just absolutely ordinary to be candid. It was over the Chinese New Year and obviously this virus hit China over that period and that meant that Chinese New Year celebrations ceased and that meant that obviously the large market that we have in there was taken away. What we've tried to act quickly on is open up new markets for the seafood industry, particularly in the United Arab Emirates. We've already got an agricultural counsellor there on the ground trying to open up that opportunity for our seafood industry. So, obviously that was the challenge and that's probably the one industry that's been hit the hardest. We're making sure we're working with the industry today and I'll be meeting with them in less than an hour to talk about the continuity of that globally and where opportunities pose themselves for us. But we are well positioned, not only as sector, but as a nation because of the work that our men and women do on those paddocks out there, producing the best food and fibre in the world.

LEON BYNER: Just got a question and because you're a member of Cabinet you might know this. What's the latest on our fuel supplies?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: In fact, our fuel supplies are better than what they have been because there's an abundance. Obviously, there's less use of it at the moment, we're obviously monitoring it but this is one of the things that contingency planning; your Government, state and federal level are working together to make sure all levels of continuity for our economy and for our nation. Our society continues on, we've looked at all the essentials, whether they be groceries, whether they be fuel, all the way through electricity, water, making sure the essentials of life are there and we are best placed than any other nation in the world and we should be damn proud of that rather than allowing panic and social media - that will kill this country - overtake common sense. That's all we're asking the Australian people now, is to show some common sense.

LEON BYNER: David Littleproud, thanks for joining us.