Interview with ABC Country Hour Queensland

9 February 2021

AMY PHILLIPS: So, you might have heard it on the news, but the Nationals are pushing to have farming carved out and excluded from any pledges to cut Australia to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. They say ag has already done its hard work cutting emissions and shouldn't be further penalised. But not all agree with the likes of Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, including the NFF, who say agriculture is too important to leave out, it needs to be included. Tom Major caught up with the Minister David Littleproud in Charters Towers this morning. He was there to officially launch this year's Beef Australia week-long event. And in fact, it's the first time it's ever been launched in north Queensland.

            [Excerpt]

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Firstly, I have to congratulate Bryce Camm and his team for coming to Charters Towers. This is a big Rockhampton event, but Beef Australia is [indistinct] by all Australian producers and no better than the heart of it here in Charters Towers at the bull sale. I think it says a lot about the future of this event, but also in the beef industry. I mean, we've got record prices at the moment. Things will change, but we take them all we can. And I think there's a big future. And a good thing that I'm seeing is young people, as [indistinct] say, the exciting thing is that young people coming back to agriculture. Generations, we've lost generations of young people in agriculture. I think finally they're coming home and it's time that we continue to make sure we put an environment around them to come home and make it easier for them to get into agriculture, or service to agriculture.

REPORTER:  Well on that, you were doing the rounds last night, speaking to some of the graziers, producers, people involved in the industry here. What are some of the things that they're highlighting as concerns that could be a handbrake on future growth of the northern beef sector?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: More so international markets. And those are things that we can't necessarily control entirely. We've done some good work and now have a free trade agreement with Indonesia, have a very good relationship with Vietnam. We're making sure we continue to enrich that. We've got work to do in China. But you got understand the Chinese market, we were able to use up all our free trade agreement quota by July last year, it normally takes about nine to 10 months to do that. So, the demand for- in China for Australian beef continues to rise. We'll continue to work. And I've written to the new Chinese agriculture minister. I'm yet to get a response, but we will continue to have our hand out, ready to talk when they're ready, but we won't compromise on sovereignty and we'll be patient. But they know the rules of engagement, but we'll be there to engage when they're ready.

REPORTER:  Meanwhile, Livestock Australia, as well as the National Farmers Federation are backing a net carbon emissions- net zero carbon emissions industry by 2050. Why won't your colleagues in the Cabinet get behind those calls?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we don't know how we're going to get there and who's going to pay for it. How can you commit to something you don't know how you're going to achieve and who's going to pay for it? That's not what a responsible government should do. We want to be honest with the Australian people. In fact, the Labor Party took that policy to the last election and Australians tell them to take a running jump. So, we want to be honest with the Australian people. If we are going to get to net zero by 2050, we have to chart the way how we do it and who pays for it. Now, I want to make sure that Australian agriculture is protected and that. There are ways that we can protect but also participate. And I think there's some good things, particularly around soil carbon, carbon farming with the biodiversity offsets as well. I think there's some real ways that our farmers can be rewarded. Because if you look back to when we first signed up to Kyoto, unfortunately, it was Australian farmers that paid the brunt of that. They weren't compensated for any of the impingement on their rights to manage their lands, to be the stewards of their lands. So, we need to make sure that they're at the table and they're part of the conversation. So, we're not saying no to anything. We're telling- tell us what it is first before we actually turn our back and say, well, this isn't good enough. I think we can have a mature conversation. If the zealots from both sides take a step back and let the sensible senate talk this through and understand the ways that we can achieve this through science, through carbon soil, through carbon capture storage on our coal-fired power stations, we can reduce emissions by 90 per cent. If the end game is just to reduce emissions, it should be about the technology and the way we get there. We shouldn't be worried about whether that philosophically sits with someone's ideology about coal.

REPORTER: On that note, however, if the industry is being that optimistic and being that ambitious about the move to carbon neutrality, shouldn't the government follow suit?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. We're elected by the Australian people. And I would suggest that their members also have very diverse views. While their heads are making clear that they have an ambition and they're signing up to that, I'm sure there are many members that don't necessarily agree. And that's the beauty of democracy. They'll have to work through that. But I'm going to work responsibly as an elected official, that I'll sign up to it when I see how we get there and who pays for it. That's just- that's what anyone with responsibility should do. You've got to be honest with the Australian people. People want honesty, not platitudes. And if we're going to achieve it, we've got to be honest, how are we going to achieve it and who pays for it?

REPORTER: If Senator Canavan moves and does cross the floor, will others join him?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's a democratic right. That's the beauty of this democracy that we live in, something that has fiercely been protected by many Australians who've lost their lives. And that's something we should always be proud of. And that's his democratic right.

            [End of excerpt]

AMY PHILLIPS: David Littleproud at Charters Towers for the big country bull sale this morning, as well as the launch of Beef Australia.