Interview with Luke Grant, 2GB

23 December 2020

LUKE GRANT: Now, you've heard plenty on this station, plenty of me whinging about the bullying that's been going on from China. Tariffs imposed and lockdowns on all sorts of things, goods, services, the lobsters, the wine, the barley, now the coal, but not the coal, then the coal, and oh, God. The world has, I think, done what it should have done, which is get behind Australia, perhaps not as much as they might have. But nonetheless, we're feeling the love here, aren't we? I want to have a chat to our Federal Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, who's been up until late today, I think, up there in Queensland on the island- remember we had that massive fire on Fraser Island? That massive fire. They had some arrests - I think it was today the Queensland police told us that they'd, I think, four young fellows that they found and were able to put them before the court system. And I guess at some point we'll see how the- what happened to them through the court process. But anyway, the Minister's on the line right now. David Littleproud, merry Christmas.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, merry Christmas. Thanks for having me.

LUKE GRANT: Not at all. So, wine, let's get there first. We've got to buy Australian, don't we?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We do. We got a real opportunity to help our wine producers who've done it tough, not just because of what China has done to us, but the bushfires really hurt them, not only with smoke taint, but also then when COVID hit, it meant that Australians couldn't go and visit a lot of the cellar doors that were out there. So that was shut down. So it's been a horrible year. And what we're saying is we can make some things right as Australians; buy an extra bottle as a gift for your fellow Australian, but also have an extra glass. Drink responsibly but have an extra bottle at Christmas and make sure that you can support Australian wineries around the country. Just look for that Australian produced wine when you go to the Bottle-O or go to the local- to your local winery and support them, because there's over 4000 of them across the country and they're employing a lot of Australians. And it's just important. This is our opportunity to give back to them.

LUKE GRANT: You've been very measured, David, if you don't mind me saying, for this whole process. I guess you had to be, but there must be, part of you anyway, completely frustrated with the fact you can't get a return phone call, and you'd never know where the next grenade's coming from, so to speak.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, and look, that has been frustrating and disappointing. I've got to say, we continue to make sure that we'll be the adults in the room. We'll continue to make sure they understand we'll never turn our back. When they're ready to talk, we'll be there. That's how you resolve any difference of opinion, whether it be on a global stage or whether it be at home. And so it's important they understand we'll be there, but there is mounting evidence to suggest that this is not about technical trade matters. This is more about Australians standing up for their own sovereignty. And we won't compromise that. I'm sorry. They'll be waiting a long time if they think we will. The reality is there's hundreds of thousands of Australians who've given their lives to protect that, and we owe them and their legacy never to compromise on our values and principles and our sovereignty as a nation. But we respect their sovereignty, and we just ask our sovereignty be respected in return.

LUKE GRANT: Well said. What about support from other countries around the world? I get just- I'm just reading media reports, and you're obviously a lot closer to the action. But it seems to me other countries are looking at China. They mightn't be forthright in what their commentary is, but you can sense that they shake their head and are not impressed.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, the world is watching. And this is the thing that we are saying to China, the best way to rectify this and clarify your actions is to be open and transparent and have a conversation because the world is starting to get anxious about their actions. And what that means is - I am not an educated man - but in Grade 8 business economics it taught me a simple principle, the higher the risk, the higher reward. And if it's a high risk of doing business with Chinese companies, then what exporters not just from Australia but around the world will be saying is if there's a high risk, we expect to get a higher price, because we just don't know what your government will do. So this is where it's important for China to come out, be transparent, be part of a global community and engage with us. And that's what we've said we'll continue to do and be ready to. In fact, tomorrow I'll be making some further announcements about supporting our farmers to diversify their products, not just into existing markets, but into new markets as well. So the Government's been working with industries, the wine industry and many of the agricultural sectors, about how do we continue to diversify and spread their own risk as exporters.

LUKE GRANT: What about other customers? I mean, you can't just flick your fingers and rather than go to Masters you go to Bunnings. It's a long, drawn-out process it seems, but there have been occasions, I think Matt Canavan was telling me last week, where other countries have picked up the slack, but are we making progress in getting deals done elsewhere?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We are. So, there's 13 other free trade agreements that we have with countries around the world, and then there's countless countries that we have market access to. So, what we did the budget before last was actually put on more agricultural counsellors. And they're in my department. They sit in embassies and high commissions around the world, and they get market access, commodity by commodity at government level, and so there's 22 of them, and in fact some of the announcement tomorrow will be enhancing that as well as some of the science. So, you've got to be- to get market access, you've got to be able to prove the phytosanitary requirements of the other country, the biosecurity requirements. So, we'll be looking to put on more scientists to be able to streamline and expedite that. And in the budget this year, we put out $330 million to have a one-touch modernised trading platform. At the moment, if you're if you're a citrus producer and you want to export somewhere around the world, you'll fill out 20 application forms before we can get you into another country. We're just streamlining that into one form online and digitising it. So, there's a whole lot of work being done there, as well as streamlining our regulatory work. The meat sector has done an amazing job. They're now using Google Glasses to do external meat inspections. So [indistinct]- we don't have to send our meat inspectors from Canberra around the country. We get one of their employees to put on Google Glasses, and we ask them to walk around the plant and we do an inspection. And that's saving the industry over $45 million a year.

LUKE GRANT: Gosh, David, that's extraordinary. Hey, before I let you go, what did Fraser Island look like?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Pretty ordinary. You know, it's pretty scorched over there. And in fact, four young men from my own electorate were charged this morning with having a fire. It's illegal to have a fire on Fraser Island. It's a World Heritage area. And I can tell you that Happy Valley, the little community there, was so lucky. I mean, it was literally within metres of their township that they were able to pull it up. And it was only through luck that the wind changed. So, our thoughts are with them. They are obviously just trying to mop up all the damage that's there now and get back to normal. But what I'd say to every Australian, and particularly Queenslanders, is get over Fraser Island, because those tourism operators need your support. Go and have a week there on the beach or in one of the resorts because they are open for business. They're ready to go. It'll just take some time for much of the island to recover.

LUKE GRANT: Great stuff. Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management and Deputy Leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud. Merry Christmas. Thank you for your time.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Merry Christmas to you, mate. Thanks for having me.

LUKE GRANT: Not at all. That's David Littleproud.