Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

14 August 2020

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Federal Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, is worried the closures could hit supply chains - increasing the cost of groceries and jeopardising animal welfare. The Minister joins me from the Southern Downs in Queensland. David Littleproud, good morning to you.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning, good to be with you.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What are the particular issues - I guess, case studies, that concern you about some of these border closures?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. Look, it's just the practical application of them. While I respect the fact that states have made arbitrary decisions to close off borders as a result of COVID-19, in regional areas where it's not as pronounced, COVID-19 - there's not as many cases, the practical application is that agricultural movement between states and most of those regional communities out there don't really care about borders. They actually have businesses on both sides or they actually deal with businesses on other side of the borders just because it is convenient, because otherwise it's hundreds of thousands of kilometres away. So, it's more convenient just to deal with your closest community that could be on the other side.

So, the practical application of some of the arbitrary closures means that supply chains can be interrupted. We're coming up to harvest and if we can't get our harvesters there, if we can't even get our vets into some of these communities there's also animal welfare issues. And we've got farmers with properties on both sides of the border that can't get up and make sure their stock have got food and water. And there is a real challenge that we've got to just - I'm asking the state premiers to come together and understand and appreciate that regional Australia is a little bit different. Not asking them to take back the border closures, but just say work in a practical sense with these communities, with industry and understand it, as well as the human toll. And that's also what I am hearing, very much so, right across regional Australia from some of these arbitrary calls.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What practically do you want the Premiers to do? Just this week the South Australian Premier, Steven Marshall, tightened the border controls with Victoria. Were you suggesting mini bubbles? And practically, how would this work?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we've already got mini bubbles between Queensland and New South Wales but they haven't been well thought out and they don't go far enough, and they've got to be predicated on science, I respect that. They need to make sure they are going into areas that don't have COVID cases that are alive and active and that can be achieved, and I think there is a framework. But you need to understand and work with these communities locally, not just make the call from Brisbane, or Sydney, or Melbourne but actually get out and understand from these communities what the practical application is for them about living their lives, but also about feeding and clothing us.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Now while I've got you, Minister, we have a story this morning by our colleague, Lucy Barber; about farmers cranky about being duded by a Federal Government water scheme - the On Farm Emergency Infrastructure Rebate. Some farmers say when they paid the money to put infrastructure on their properties they found there was no money left in this Federal Government scheme? What's going on here?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well unfortunately the states can't count. What happens is the Federal Government hands the money over for the states to administer these programs, we give them a certain amount of money and we expect them to go and deliver the projects up to that level of money. Unfortunately, the states have taken applications for more than what the funding was provided to them. Unfortunately, they haven't been able to administer this money properly.

I know, Keith Pitt, the Water Minister who is in charge of this program is working through that with the states. But I get their anger and they should be. I mean, when- we're angry as well, because in essence we've handed this money to the states and asked them to administer it on our behalf because they know where the farmers are that need them, and if they can't count well, you know what, really, what good are they to us? And this is where we're just saying that states-

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Turning that back on you. The Queensland Government is saying, well hang on, it's all because the Federal Government slashed your 25 per cent contribution rate to this scheme?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, it has always been that there was an arbitrary amount that was put in place for this. The Australian taxpayer's been very, very generous to drought stricken farmers - over $8 billion - but there is a line in the sand, and there was always an end date and an end amount to this program. And the states knew quite clearly, put the politics aside, they knew that was the cheque that we had cut to them, that was how much they could administer. And if they couldn't count, then sorry, they ain't worth two bob.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. And also before you go, Clive Palmer has loomed back on the national stage care of this $30 billion legal action he's taking against the West Australian Government. The Government says, if it is successful it would effectively bankrupt WA. Have you got a view on what your fellow Queenslander is up to here?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, it's safe with Clive Palmer not to have a view at all. I just think I'll let Clive Palmer do what he wants. I think Australia has made their mind up about Clive Palmer, I think we are better to leave it at that. Some of us get relevance deprivation and want to be on TV, but sometimes you want to it for the right reasons. I think we just leave that alone.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: You reckon he's missing the limelight?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I'll let you commentate on that, Michael. 
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Thought I'd have a go anyway. Hey, David Littleproud, thanks for joining us this morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good on you mate, great to be with you.