Interview with Sandra Moon, ABC Radio Goulburn Murray

9 March 2021

SANDRA MOON: Well, the green is well and truly returning but how are people coping up in those areas and how is recovery progressing? The Federal Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management and Deputy Leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, is in Tangambalanga this morning and is with you now. Good morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning, thanks for having me.

SANDRA MOON: What is your mission for today? Where are you heading to and why?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It's simply to come and listen and to understand how the recovery's gone. Obviously, we're trying to get across as much country as we can and revisiting places that I came 12 months ago, and hearing the pain and the anguish and also the hope of recovery, and one of those places is Cudgewa. I remember sitting there with the publican and they weren't big- they weren't big demands or needs, they were actually quite reasonable ones and they were somewhat symbolic. You know, it was about a new tennis court, fixing the playground in the park and they were just looking at things that would bring the community together. So, we want to make sure that the money - the Australian taxpayers' money that we're using is hitting the ground, it's working and if it isn't, we'll adjust. But the only way to do that is to get out of Canberra, to get out here and listen to the real people and understand that the healing process is different for each and every one of us. Some can get through it quicker than others. We just need to persevere with and work with and make sure they're listened to. So, we try to go as quickly as we can with recovery, but not leave anyone behind and that's probably been the balancing act for the national Bushfire Recovery Agency and ourselves, along with state governments have tried to make sure we got right. And not saying we've got it right all the way along, but we're learning and trying to understand and just listening.

SANDRA MOON: David Littleproud, we've had people contact us on this station who have been concerned with the amount of red tape involved with trying to get this recovery happening. What are you hearing on the ground?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, and look, this is - whether it's bushfires or whether it's flood or whether it's drought, the red tape is a frustration and we get that. The challenge we've got is that we're using Australian taxpayer's money. So, we have to have some accountability measure, but how do we do that better? I think is one of the things I'm also interested in understanding. We're trying to do that with the with the states as well. So, we work in partnership with the state governments and what we're trying to do is harmonise a lot of that paperwork, get rid of the duplication, simplify it, but have that accountability measure to the Australian taxpayer's. Because the Australian taxpayer is passionate about making sure the money gets out, but they don't want it to be abused and unfortunately in society, there's always someone that tries to cut a corner. Bu, we got to get that balance right and I think that's what [indistinct] task the Bushfire Recovery Agency, to try and streamline those processes and this is where it's important to sit and get specific. So, you know on particular program, if there's paperwork there that just really doesn't make sense, well, that's the opportunity for us to work with the state governments and streamlining that between us and there's been some really good cooperation between state and federal governments. Particularly since the bush fires and the Royal Commission and that's what we want to continue to work, to make sure we just- we just support people and stay out of their lives and let them recover.

SANDRA MOON: And you are or you have done, I'm not sure which it is, have met up with some people who really have gone above and beyond - just locals who have thought all right, I need to get stuck in and start making something happen here? Yeah, and look, that's part of today will be to listen to those and I also met with the mayors and they showed extraordinary leadership in trying times for our communities and we're lucky that people have the courage to put their hand up to lead their communities and local government has a very important role in that. So, not only local governments but also local community members today. Just trying to say thank you to them and as I say, everyone's affected differently, people heal at different speeds and- but, you need people in the community stand up. Because, ultimately, what we said from the start is we didn't want this to be a Canberra-led recovery. It had to be a locally-led recovery and the best thing to do, the best way to do that was to just, to put an environment around those people that were prepared to stand up that we're ready to lead their communities to come forward and tell us what they needed. And so, I think, you know, out of all this disaster, all this misery, the best thing we can do is to continue to learn so, that -unfortunately, there probably will be another time where we'll face a natural disaster. We're better prepared to lead our communities out of this and I think - I have to say those men and women that stood up, put their hand up, are great Australians. They're ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things.

SANDRA MOON: Minister, On Friday, you launched a roadmap for the Agricultural Workforce, along with the release of the National Agricultural Workforce Strategy Advisory Committee report. What can you tell us about that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, this is a pathway for us to look at long-term sustainability of agricultural workforce, to actually invest in skills, not- particularly of our fellow Australians and young Australians, in incentivising and encouraging them to get into Agriculture and understanding there's a pathway to a career. And living in Regional Australia, also protec- in skills and protecting those foreign workers that come in and making sure we get the balance right and there's some regulatory work that we're doing and the Attorney General will be bringing legislation in to make sure that the regulation of those organisations, those labour hire companies is tightened to protect those workers. But looking at longer term solutions, you've got to understand the world's changed into COVID-19 with respect to labour. We had around 160,000 working holidaymakers which are backpackers. They're down to around 30,000, 40,000 and before that, around 30 to 40 per cent of those were working in ag. We had about 8000 Pacific and seasonal workers. So, we've lost the working holidaymaker, the backpacker. They're probably a couple years away. So, we've got a real short fall there and so, what we'll be making some announcements on very soon is around how do we look to Pivot to the Pacific and other Asian nations as COVID starts to retract and we get it under control quickly, to bring those people in? And that's the challenge that we're trying to work with the states because they have to give the health stamp, in terms of the health protocols and we're looking at different ways to do that. But it has to be a long-term sustainable model that we're looking at and the main thing is we want Australians to take this work up first and foremost. But, if we can't, we can't leave farmers waiting. They don't have the luxury to sit and wait for someone to come and pick their crop. When it's ripe, it has to get from the paddock to your plate and farmers need that support. And so, this is about wide ranging from domestic to international labour supplies. How do we do it responsibly? How do we protect those workers and make sure that we get the best food fibre off our paddocks and into the marketplace as quickly as we can?

SANDRA MOON: Deputy Leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, with you on ABC Goulburn-Murray and a message has come through as we would probably could have predicted that it would. Michael asks you the question, Minister, that the Nationals MP, Barnaby Joyce, has backed calls for an independent inquiry into rape allegations against Christian Porter. Would you like to see an inquiry take place?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, there's still processes to take place and there is the likelihood, the possibility of an inquest in South Australia. So, we need to let those processes run its course. I think what we've got to do is look at this through the lens of two systems; one, the legal system and making sure that we respect that as the rule of law and I think there's probably things within that rule of law that can prove to incentivise women to come forward. I think there's some barriers within the legal the system, particularly around giving evidence in court. That, you know, if they've gone through a traumatic experience, such as a rape, that they've sometimes been reluctant to come forward because it's just too traumatic. So, we need to look at the legal system and how we can improve that but our legal system should be the process in which protects our society and has protected our society. But we shouldn't be afraid to look at the intricacies within that process, to make sure we put an environment around women to say it's okay to come forward. The process shouldn't be traumatic and is probably too traumatic at the moment and I think that the stats show that around 87 per cent of women don't come forward, because of the trauma that was within the legal system. So, we should protect the legal system. But we shouldn't be afraid to change the legal system to encourage and to put out- put the environment around women knowing that it's okay to come forward and that we're going to minimise that trauma of reliving it through the court process. You know, having to give evidence in front of your accuser and simple things like that that I think we need to listen to women in those that have gone through this. We really need to [indistinct] how do we improve the process. But, the rule of law in this country has kept us safe. It has kept the order and we should always respect that. So, I think once you start deviating from that, you start going down a slippery slope in society whereby individuals outside that process become judge, jury and executioner and it doesn't matter who you are in Australian Society, that's a place we shouldn't get too, but we can do better and our legal system should be better, to support women in coming forward and making the process less traumatic.

SANDRA MOON: Minister David Littleproud I believe that a little later on today, you'll be meeting up with one of our great friends on this program, Jamie Wolf, from Fencing For Fires and doing some fencing as well?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. Look, I haven't done some fencing since I was a kid at the fencing centre in Western Queensland, and Dad probably won't be proud of me today. My straining skills have probably slipped over the last 20 years and we were pretty rough and ready, I suppose. We used to cocky gates rather than swinging gate. So, Western Queensland weren't the greatest fencers, but I'll give it a crack. But it is great, I mean, these are the men and women that just make our country what it is. You know, the government can give money, but if you don't have people in the community to put their hand up and come forward and lead through trying times then, you know, we don't have this great country called Australia and we should be fierce custodians. Bu, we should be damn proud of people like this that are prepared to come forward and do something for the community. And you know, in the trying times, it just shows what sort of nation we are and I think when we do have these trying times, it's always good to reflect back on what Australia actually is and you know, when we come to the fore and lead our country, just ordinary Australians doing great things.

SANDRA MOON: Minister, David Littleproud, thank you for your time this morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me. It's great to be back in Vic.