Interview with Sally Sara, ABC RN Breakfast

22 October 2021

SALLY SARA: Let's go to federal politics now, and the National Party has delivered its list of demands to the Prime Minister as the country slowly inches towards net zero. And there's not much time to get an agreement, with the PM leaving for Glasgow in less than a week. David Littleproud is the Deputy Nationals leader and the Minister for Agriculture. Minister, welcome back to RN Breakfast.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, thanks for having me.

SALLY SARA: What's on the list?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I'm not going to get into the details of our policy discussion with our coalition partners. That's something that obviously will become public in due course. But obviously, we're going through these discussions to make sure that we can get comfort and security for regional and rural Australia through this.

SALLY SARA: What's the principle that is guiding the list?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Basically securing regional Australia's jobs and then growing them. I think we're trying to keep it simple and make sure that there are mechanisms that protect them, but also the opportunity to participate and grow. And I think some of the technology roadmap that Angus Taylor's already started goes a long way towards that, and that's encouraging. But we want to make sure that there are safeguards for future governments that don't turn the tables on regional Australia.

SALLY SARA: Minister, has everyone in the Nationals' party room seen this document yet?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, they haven't. What the process was is that we obviously were presented with the plan last Sunday. From that, there were concerns that were raised and how we could put in place mitigants to address that and what would give us comfort. All the members were given an opportunity to express that, through myself, Bridget McKenzie, Kevin Hogan and Keith Pitt. We formulated that, in fact, there was a lot of intersection in terms of how we saw some of those mitigants that could be prosecuted to give comfort to regional and rural Australia. We put that together and gave that to the Deputy Prime Minister, who will now obviously have those discussions with the Prime Minister.

SALLY SARA: So there'll be people in regional Australia who are listening. What does that mean in a practical sense? Does that mean saving industries? Does it mean retraining opportunities? And how do you measure if communities are better or worse off? What's, in a practical sense, what are we talking about?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, this is the thing I think we've got appreciate, we're already on much of the trajectory already with the technology roadmap. When you look at carbon capture storage, that has the propensity to extend the life of coal-fired power stations in this country, and if the technology is adopted around the world, it could also extend the life of them in other countries while reducing emissions, which is the first principle that we should always stick to. That's what we're looking at. And when you have the Biden Administration also signing up to that technology and the development of it, then that's exciting. Also for gas, but also when you look at the new technologies that are emerging, like hydrogen, how does regional Australia participate in that, and making sure an overlay of where that technology will be implemented against where the current existing fleet currently is in terms of coal-fired power stations and gas. 
So we're being pragmatic, we're trying to make sure that regional Australia isn't hurt. We think agriculture can continue to play a role in the solution, and I think there's been- whether that be through our soil strategy, moving towards soil carbon, but also the stewardship program, rewarding farmers for the stewardship of the land, that's already up and going. We think that we're already on that trajectory, and that's what we're trying to get towards, is technology, not taxes. Making sure but we're honest with the Australian people. We can look them in the eye and say, this is how we're going to get there, who pays, rather than blindly sign up to something without being honest.

SALLY SARA: At the local government level and at the state level, much of regional Australia is already on board. Why has it taken so long?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's a little bit more complicated at the federal level. Obviously, at a micro level, it's very easy to look inwardly and be able to achieve that with the remit that they have. But at a federal level, we're going right across multiple industries, right across multiple states that have different geographical concerns and say, we've got to work that through. And that's why the National Party is the last line of defence for regional Australia. That's our remit. We're not interested in representing anyone in the cities. They've got plenty of politicians running around looking after them. We're simply looking after regional and rural Australia, that's what we're looking after.

SALLY SARA: Your colleague, Bridget McKenzie, warned that if the process doesn't go well, it could get ugly. Do you agree?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I hope not. I think that we've entered into these discussions and these policy settings with maturity, pragmatism, understanding that we are part of a global community. And even if you look at from an agricultural perspective, we're 26 million people, we produce enough food for 80 million people. So if we don't engage with the world, we don't trade with the world, we don't need the number of farmers we've got now, nor the rural communities that support them. So we're trying to be mature and pragmatic about this. There's got to be give and take, and there's got to be an understanding that the passion that our members bring is about representing those men and women who live in regional and rural Australia, who have been paying the bills for this country, while much of other industries have been under the doona, forced under the doona by lockdowns. But resources and agriculture have paid the bills, and it has got us out of that COVID recession.

SALLY SARA: Is there a price tag attached to this list? What are we talking?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's about securing regional jobs and growing regional jobs. That's what we're basically putting the price tag on, is how- what are the mechanisms to achieve that? And ...

SALLY SARA: What will that cost?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think we've already seen some of those costs in terms of our investment in the technology roadmap and we've seen that. That's the heartening thing of this, is I think there's a lot of zealots on both sides of the debate, but when you look pragmatically of what's been achieved with the technology investments that were making with carbon capture storage and hydrogen, if you're a coal miner in the Hunter or in central Queensland today, you shouldn't be shuddering in your boots. You'll still have a job well beyond 2030, well beyond 2040. That's the practical reality. We'll still be digging coal up and we'll be exporting it, we'll be using some of it here. And if carbon capture storage takes hold here and around the world, it could go well beyond that. So there's a lot of anxiety and fear that's being created, but I think we have to calmly work through the issues, pragmatically look at the solutions and many of which we've already put in place. And that's why I say what Angus Taylor's already got in terms of his technology roadmap takes us a long way down that track already. And that gives us some comfort, but there's still some caveats the Nats want to make sure are in place.

SALLY SARA: Minister, it's reported that you want a socio-economic safety valve to protect livelihoods. What exactly does that mean?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that- there's a lot of speculation going on out there at the moment, and I think a lot of journalists are trying to piece small pieces of the puzzle together and taking a bit of a punt and a guess on what is in that document. I'm not going to speculate what's in that document. These are discussions we'll have with the Prime Minister now, and hopefully get to a position that gets us to move forward.

SALLY SARA: But what does that term mean? People are a bit confused by that, socio-economic safety valve.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I'm not the one that's used it, so I'm sorry, I can't help you on that. I think there's been a lot of guess work undertaken by a lot of journalists and you'll have to ask them.

SALLY SARA: The Fin Review reports that one of your colleagues says there are one or two requests in the package that the PM will balk at. What do you think they might be?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I'm not going to speculate. I don't think it's great to speculate when the Prime Minister hasn't had the time to reflect on the document. And I think we'll obviously we'll work through with him, pragmatically, in trying to find a solution. This is something that we want to try and achieve. We've handed- we'll be handing it to him. I think he's got it now. The Deputy Prime Minister has that remit, and then obviously, he and the Deputy Prime Minister will work through those issues.

SALLY SARA: Are all the Nationals on board with this, including George Christensen and Matt Canavan?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, they've made it very clear they're not. And we respect that. That's this beautiful thing called democracy. And in the culture of the National Party, that's celebrated, not lambasted. The facts are that we expect those members and senators that come to Canberra to fight passionately for their communities, that have ideological views, should stand by them. And I respect that. I'd rather stand- have Matt Canavan and George Christensen standing beside me, than someone I don't know where they stand, I don't know their values or principles. I'd much rather have a Matt Canavan by my side, than another politician that you don't know, that isn't- they don't know their values, aren't convicted about their values and principles. I'd rather have those guy standing next to me than anyone else.

SALLY SARA: What's the timetable here? We've heard about this process in bits and pieces. So the PM is looking at this now; the Nats are meeting again on Sunday afternoon, is that right? What happens next?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well that's- our hope is the Prime Minister be able to give us some indication about how that plan could be implemented, and how that would allay our concerns about signing up to net zero by 2050. So we've set in place a pretty quick timeline. We've put into perspective that we only saw this plan last Sunday, which is very complex and to be able to turn it around in the pragmatic way that we have, I think, shows an intent to try and work with our coalition partner. And now the ball's in the Prime Minister's caught to be able to work through that and come back to us, so that our party room can meet on Sunday and obviously, get to a determination.

SALLY SARA: Does it really matter when it's a Cabinet decision anyway?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we're part of a coalition, and as part of that coalition, we- the Liberal Party relies on the National Party to form government. And that respectful relationship has taken us to many election victories, and will take us into many more. And that is what our coalition has been built on, and respect. And that's why the Prime Minister has been respectful all the way through, in making sure that the National Party is given an opportunity to come with him and his party on this journey. And obviously, because the National Party is the last line of defence for regional Australia, we're the only ones that really represent regional Australia down here, is that he's given us the time and opportunity and the environment to be able to get our heads around this and make sure there are protections for regional Australians in this plan.

SALLY SARA: Minister, we've seen a story breaking this morning - an investigative unit from the environmental group Greenpeace has obtained a number of documents of governments and others lobbying the IPCC. It says that Australia wanted to be deleted from a list of the world's major producers and consumers of coal, despite Australia being the fifth largest coal producer. It is that on, to be lobbying like that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I haven't seen the details of these reports. Obviously, it comes from Greenpeace, so I'll take that with what it sounds like. So I'll obviously work through that and understand it. But I think we've been trying to prosecute the case on a global stage for some time around things like carbon capture storage, and that coal can still be part of the solution. And that's why the Biden administration's backing us as well. So I think we've been pragmatic about this, not only here domestically in a technology roadmap, but prosecuting that on a global stage. And if that upsets Greenpeace, well, I'm sorry. I think if you get back to first principles, the first principles is to reduce emissions. So if we're reducing them through carbon capture storage with coal-fired power stations, what's the problem?

SALLY SARA: But we can't deny we're a big producer of coal.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No- Well, no, we're not. And we're a big exporter, well, in fact, we're about four or five per cent of the global market, to be candid. And that's the last…

SALLY SARA: But we're big, so why try and take our name off that list?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well hold on, we're big to Australians. I think you've got to understand our place in the world. We're about four or five per cent of total coal production and exports, from what I understand, the last figure that I saw. So, I haven't seen the details the report, I'm not going to be drawn on it. Greenpeace are Greenpeace. But we will continue to prosecute the case that technology should be the solution, not just blind ideology. If we get back to first principles of reducing emissions, if we can do that with coal-fired power stations, why shouldn't we? If it's cheap, its reliable, it's affordable for everybody so they can turn their lights on. That's what the technology roadmap's about, is reducing and putting pressure down on your electricity prices, while living up to international commitments of reducing emissions. And if that's done through carbon capture storage and burning coal, well I don't think Australians care. If we got a cleaner environment and they've got cheap energy, that's a good thing.

SALLY SARA: Thanks very much for joining us, Minister.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.

SALLY SARA: That's the Deputy Nationals leader and Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud on RN Breakfast.