Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

8 February 2021

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Well, the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack says the Federal Government may consider excluding agriculture from a 2050 emissions reduction target, if indeed the Federal Government sets one.

David Littleproud, the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management joins me now from Warwick in Queensland. Minister, good morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning, Michael. Thanks for having me.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: As the relevant Minister, would you like agriculture excluded from any net zero 2050 target the Government ends up setting?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think Australians need to understand that agriculture's already done the heavy lifting, with respect to us meeting Kyoto and putting us on the trajectory to not just to meet but beat Paris. Because back when Kyoto came in, agriculture had an impingement of rights for particularly our farmers to managing their vegetation.

They weren't financially rewarded for that. So, this is an opportunity for there to be a balancing out of that ledger but understanding that agriculture can still play an important role in us, in particularly through technology, in meeting those extra reductions in emissions that we're going to commit to. I think particularly through soil carbon, and also through an improvement in biodiversity, I have a Biodiversity Stewardship Project that's up and going now.

So, there's a lot of ways that agriculture can, but farmers should be rewarded for their efforts, rather than being penalised as they were back when we committed to Kyoto.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Now, you've got the likes of Barnaby Joyce, former leader now backbencher, threatening to cross the floor if agriculture is not excluded. Is that the best way of putting pressure on your Liberal Party Coalition colleagues?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's democracy. We represent regional and rural Australia, we represent particularly agricultural sectors right across the country as National Party members. As I've said, they've already done the heavy lifting; they should be rewarded not penalised again. We're around 13 to 14 per cent of emissions, but we also rely heavily on the energy and transport sectors as well. So, how do farmers actually not be penalised for this, but also be part of the solution? I think we should back ourselves in being able to find that solution.

But until we find that, the National Party's made it very clear, that until you- we can be honest with the Australian public about how you reach net zero by 2050, we're simply signing up to platitudes. It's important we're honest with the Australian people - the Labor Party went to the last election not being able to say how you could pay for it and how you'd get there. It's important that we commit to real targets that actually can be achieved and how we get there. And that's what the National Party's saying: we've done the heavy lifting, but we want to see how we're going to get there and who's going to pay.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Well, that's up to the Prime Minister. He is inclined, more now than he was in the past, to signing up to a 2050 target. When can we expect to hear the how, I guess, from Scott Morrison?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think that's where the technology road map has been the starting point for that. And Angus Taylor's working not only through soil carbon sequestration, but around carbon capture storage and coal-fired power stations so it has the capacity to reduce emissions by up to 90 per cent. In fact, the Biden Administration's also signing up to this, and I think there's a real opportunity for partnerships between ourselves and the United States on that, and on advancing that technology. So, there's ways that we can do that.

But we have to be honest, and when we've got that road map with the technology and how we can achieve that and quantify it, then I think that gives us currency, not only here with the Australian public, but with the rest of the world about us continuing to lead. It's great to see the United States is catching up to us and signing back up to Paris - we never got off that pony, we stuck with it. And we're not just going to meet it, we're going to beat it. So, we've just got to be calm, but we've got to be honest with the Australian people about how we get there and who pays for it.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Before you go, I want you to put your emergency management cap on and respond to something that came up on the show last week. Greg Mullins, former New South Wales Fire and Rescue commissioner strongly criticised your Government for not enacting the Bushfire Royal Commission's recommendation. He was particularly exercised by the Government, the Federal Government, not agreeing to the recommendation to set up a national aerial firefighting fleet. Why won't you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, Greg Mullins wouldn't know because he hasn't been a bushfire commissioner for more than four years. The Royal Commission recommendations are ones that we're working through with the states, and in fact, having very constructive conversations. And so much so that we've put a tracker up online with those to be updated every month so the public can understand the progress that we're making.

I'm just simply waiting now on the states who make the decision about the type of aerial aircraft, not politicians from Canberra. You do not want that to happen. You actually want the fire commissioners from each state to decide what type, what suite of aerial aircraft they have. And I've asked them to provide that to me in light of the recommendations, and then we'll pay our proportion to the states with respect to that. That's a mature conversation that we've had, and in fact, we're just about to finalise; the commissioners have gone through that.

But we've had adequate air services here this year, as we've just proved in Western Australia. We had a large aerial tanker in Western Australia before the bushfire season ever started, because our fire commissioners have planned meticulously. And this has been a little bit disrespectful to our fire commissioners, because Mr Mullins knows very well that they are the ones that plan and give the advice, not the politicians. We need to get out of their hair, we need to let them get on with the job. As I'm sure those that came before Mr Mullins, as the commissioners, did not give advice from the side-lines, they simply allowed them to get onto the job.

We've got to be proud of our fire commissioners. I have to say, they're the best in the world, I back their judgement. And when they give me that, I know the state ministers and I will work collaboratively to answer and to provide them with the resources they need. 
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Out of time, Minister. We'll leave it there. Thank you for joining us this morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, mate.