Interview with Kath Sullivan, ABC Country Hour

12 May 2021

KATH SULLIVAN: Well, that's enough of us chewing over the budget for now, Jess. This morning, we did catch up with the Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, and I began by asking him, with the agriculture industry really on the up at the moment - there's so much positivity in farming it feels like - I asked him if there really was much need for Government support?

[Excerpt]

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yes, there is. And $850 million we announced last night is particularly around supporting Australian Agriculture and protecting brand Australia. Over $400 million in biosecurity spend - we've announced some of that last week, but there's an extra just under $30 million for eradication of feral pests. So we want to see cartridges on the ground, we want to see dingoes, and deer, and pigs lying next to them. That's the only way that we're going to clean up the risk of biosecurity risk, particularly with our pork and beef industries, and our sheep industry. And making real money, real action on the ground.

KATH SULLIVAN: Okay. Biodiversity - this is somewhat of a feather in your cap, or at least I think you hope it'll be a legacy of yours in this portfolio. There was more funding in last night's budget for the Biodiversity Stewardship Program, including funding to trial a trading platform. Can you explain yourself?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. So this- we want the market to come and pay our farmers for this, not the Australian taxpayer. Now, we've got a lot of corporates out there that want to have a social conscience - well, they can pay farmers for it, the Australian taxpayer shouldn't have to put their hand in their pocket. So, what we're saying is we'll pay them for biodiversity plus carbon. And now, the carbon - there's an already entrenched model in place. What we want to do is we are the first country in the world to be able to measure the improvement in biodiversity. No one else has ever done this. So, we want to add a biodiversity payment on top of the carbon payment, but we want to limit it from people going in and taking out entire properties and locking up. Because there's been perverse outcomes of carbon farming in the past. This is about managing landscape that is unproductive at the moment, and turning it into productive land by a payment for your stewardship - which you were invariably doing anyway to reduce pests and weeds on it. 

KATH SULLIVAN: So, you're getting paid to do your job?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Exactly. But, we paid the bill already. You've got to understand, Australian agriculture are the ones that have paid the bill for our country's social conscience, to get the reduction in emissions. They've- we've had the vegetation management laws imposed on us, we were taken property rights away from us, but we weren't rewarded for it. We weren't compensated for it. So, this is the way to square the ledger.

KATH SULLIVAN: When will we see that trial?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We hope that the trading platform will be out by the end of the year. So, the money set aside - in fact, we're working with proponents on that as we speak, so we're not taking the foot off the accelerator…

KATH SULLIVAN: Who will run it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's being determined as we speak. And we're also working with the Business Council of Australia who're very excited about this. And Jennifer Westacott has been very mature about her members coming on this and making sure that it has currency. Because, if it has currency then their members will buy it. But also, if it has currency, our farmers will be able to put a biodiversity seal on their product. And we'll be sending that to Europe and the UK where they have this social conscience wrapped around their psyche. They can pay for it, and they'll pay Australian farmers for it. 

KATH SULLIVAN: There's also funding for remnant veg in the Biodiversity Stewardship Program. We haven't seen that before. Can you explain how that will work?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. So, this is where we've got landscapes that, through state government legislation, is locked up - through vegetation management laws. It's, it's the country that can't be, can't be cleared and can't- in some ways can't be managed. So, what we're saying is, if we can, if we can measure the improvement in biodiversity through the stewardship of the farmer, then we'll be able to pay them the biodiversity payment. We can't pay them the carbon payment because state- that's already being, that's already being accounted for by state governments when the Federal Government paid them. And that's how we meet Kyoto, and how we met Paris. So, the reality is, is I can't pay them for the carbon, but I can pay them for the improvement in biodiversity country. But there's probably costs in them to manage, that I can now pay them for the improvement in biodiversity. And they'll also be able to put the seal. So they'll get the biodiversity and the premium on their product, they just won't get the carbon payment. And that's on remnant vegetation that's been locked up under state laws. 

KATH SULLIVAN: We're in the noisiest spot in Australia. But also, $200 million for the national soil strategy, and as part of that I understand there'll be rebates for farmers who get their soil tested, potentially for the carbon levels, share that information. There's also funding to buy private soil data. How do you think farmers are going to feel about that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's a decision that I have to make. But we're going to have to put a framework around giving them confidence that data is only being held by the Government. Because what we're trying to do is to build up that databank, and that helps Angus Taylor in terms of the measures that he's trying to do around soil carbon measurements. And that's the exciting thing, you can only do that and have currency to those measurements if you've got the data. So we want to get new data, but there's also decades of data that's sitting out there that farmers are sitting on, that if they share will actually accelerate the work that Angus is doing. So this is an incentive for them to participate in this and help us support that mechanism that Angus is undertaking, and do that quicker. Because we think that you- we can support farmers financially for biodiversity stewardship, but also for soil, but we have to be the first country to crack that code. And Angus is committed to that, and this is where we can accelerate that process. 

[End of Excerpt]

WARWICK LONG: That's Agricultural Minister David Littleproud, ending that Budget coverage from Canberra. Jess Davis and Kath Sullivan presenting there.