Interview with Luke Grant, 2GB

1 January 2021

LUKE GRANT: From today, there's a bunch of new laws coming into place. But one that's of significant importance has to do with biosecurity. From today, harsh new biosecurity penalties come into effect, the Government is stepping up measures to protect the country, they're clamping down on people trying to bring risky products into Australia. Anyone caught now sat with fines upwards of $2500 per breach. Previously fines for these offences were just $400, or thereabouts. Agriculture Minister is David Littleproud, he says everyone needs to understand, and we do, how important this is. He's on the line, happy New Year Minister.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Happy New Year, thanks for having me.

LUKE GRANT: Not at all. You're cracking down on people trying to do- well, effectively they're doing harm to Australia, David, aren't they?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: They are. And look, some of it's unintentional, but others aren't, and it's about just simply disclosing it. You can declare and let the biosecurity officers have a look through it, you may be able to take those goods with you on your merry way, but there's too many people that aren't declaring. And before there was a voluntary fine, in which biosecurity officers at their own discretion were saying, well, we might charge you $444. The risk to agriculture, and the environment for that matter, is in the billions of dollars. If we got foot-and-mouth disease in Australia, it'd cost us in excess of $50 billion. So what we're saying is, the best way to educate. We've been kind, we've been trying to educate through all sorts of means, but it doesn't seem to be getting through to people. Not only international visitors, but also to Australians returning.

So what we're saying is, if you don't declare, you're now going to pay $2664, because if you don't want to respect the biosecurity of our country, the environment of our country, then you are putting too much at risk and this what price you'll have to pay. And this goes on top of what we changed back in April last year. I bought in some new legislation that we were able to actually - for those that maliciously doing it - we were able to cancel the visas of those people as they hit the airport, and put them back on the next flight. And they're not allowed back for three years. And in fact, we've now extended that to other visa holders, like students, international students. So you think, if you're an international student, and you're two years through and internat- through your degree here in Australia, and you maliciously breach our biosecurity, well, you may not be allowed back for another three years. It's a pretty costly mistake. So, we're now saying, the gloves are off, we can't afford to have any breaches, and not only may you be sent home, but you'll be paying fines.

LUKE WILSON: Yeah. You know, that's a really good point about- I think Australia's say well done we need this, but there are a group of people, and I'm one of them, and you're not sure. So, last time I came back, I actually said I had something packaged in my bag, and I said to the fella, he said; oh you're the bloke on the radio, yes I am, which was entirely embarrassing. But I said, what about this mate? He said, no, you're not allowed to bring that in. And he went through my gear, I think if you're not sure, you're entitled to say, listen I'm not sure just in case. And you get a civil conversation. It's not like they're going to throw you up against the wall, cuff you and say book ‘em Danno. If you're not sure, you should probably- you know, you're entitled to ask, aren't you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, you are, and exactly. That's all our biosecurity officers are asking at airports and ports around the country. They're great people, they take great pride in what they're doing, but they actually take great pride in catching people who are doing the wrong thing. But if you're trying to do the right thing, they're up for a yarn. And they'll actually help you, and help educate about what they're looking, because it's in their best interest, it's in the country's best interest, and in fact, I have great fun and pride going and spending some time with our biosecurity officers, some of the things they find is just mind blowing. But they just- they really- it's seen as the pinnacle job in the Department of Agriculture, working with dogs and x-ray scan machines. And we're investing more in x-ray scanning machines, so it's going to get a lot trickier for anyone that even thinks that they might be able to put something through their bag into the future. Technology is coming, and we're working on that. But the dogs also do a significant amount of work, nearly 50 per cent of the interceptions we make at Sydney airport in particular are through canines. So they play a very significant role in being able to intercept those pests and weeds that do harm to agriculture and the environment.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah. Well, let's hope we can all travel a bit more at some point so we can put these new laws- I was going to say to the test, that's not what I meant. One of the other things you've announced today, I think it's really good, is trying to get more young people travelling down the road of entertaining agriculture, as a career. It's worried me Minister, for a long time, that we so often talk down life on the land. I'm not pretending it's easy, not that I know from first-hand experience, but from mates and others who tell me, it's actually a really noble pursuit, and it's actually a really good, decent lifestyle. And sometimes you need a hand, sure, but it's not always as negative as sometimes it's portrayed. And you're doing some stuff to help younger people travel down this road, aren't you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, definitely. And look, I'm from Western Queensland and when I wasn't academically gifted, my old man said to me; you can't come back to the land, it's all too hard, go and get a job. And I was fortunate enough to get a job outside, and we do talk ourselves down. But there's a quid to be made in agriculture, because of the free trade agreement and because of what we produce. The world actually wants what we produce because it's the highest quality in the world. But to get into agriculture is very difficult in terms of having land, and the capital cost is a big inhibitor. And that's the challenge that we're trying to face up to. At the reasonable investment corporation, we've started agri-starter loans. So a young person that might want to get into ag, we're letting them have a low interest loan of up to $2 million to get into agriculture, to go and buy their first block of land. And I used to be a bank Johnny, and I can say it was hard, for young people to get up and going. And we're saying to the states, if you got rid of stamp duty for them as well. Because stamp duty, you buy a $2 million block of the country, you're up for $50 grand plus just in stamp duty alone. But we're saying to them, we'll give you a head start with some interest rates. And I've got to say, the banks have been really good on this. This is the first iteration of it, we're actually looking at ways where instead of it just being a straight loan, we may actually be able to partner with the banks and take an equity stake rather than a loan. And then that allows them to get in with banks quicker and to a larger scale. So, where- this is the first tranche of it, and we're just exploring further with the banks to go another step. Because if we can do this, we've lost a generation of young people out of regional Australia, it’s time to bring them home. I've never left my electorate of Western Queensland and I'm proud of that, but, I've seen my mates go and they've gone to the city, and they want to come back. We've got a better lifestyle, you make a quid, you can have a career pathway, you can do what you want out here. And its now time to bring our young people home, our best and brightest back. And this is just a small way to try and deal with some concessional loans.

LUKE GRANT: Have we done enough in the way of infrastructure? I agree, and I think we've all learned, haven't we, through this pandemic, that you can nearly do anything from anywhere if you really want to. It's taught us, I think, quite a bit. But in the area of the water infrastructure. Now you've said a lot about this over a long time, can we say to Australians to you and I chat now, fairly and squarely, can we say we've actually done something about water storage, done something about the availability of water, to parts of rural Australia?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. Not enough. And you've got to be honest, since 2003, there have been 20 dams built in this country, 16 of those have been built in Tasmania. The East Coast of Australia have done three fifths of bugger all on this. We've got $3.5 billion, we're prepared to cut a cheque to dig some holes to plumb the eastern seaboard. But we can't get the states to want to agree on digging that hole. It's illegal for myself or the Prime Minister to pick a shovel up and start digging a hole in any part of the country to build a dam. Our constitution says that the states own it, and that's okay. Not blaming you for that. What we're saying to them is, you let us dig the hole, we'll help pay for it. In fact, we'll pay for most of it. But we've just got to a juncture where there's just this aversion in our country, a psychology in our country, as to say, why we should do things rather than how can we. And that's the psychology we've got to change in country, is how can we do things, rather than why can't we? And it's not that hard. It's simply about changing that mindset, getting on with the job, and- we're a smart nation. And it’s just time to back ourselves with that. We've got the chequebook to do it. Because I can tell you, the story of agriculture is, just add water. If you start running water, and plumbing this country, I can tell you, there's more than enough money to be made out here. And that is the future. But we've got to be honest, we've got to get the states to work with us. Not a blame game, it's not pointing fingers. It's just owning up to responsibility. And I think that's all the Australian people want. They don't really care about the constitution; they just want outcomes. They don't actually care who delivers it, they just want to know someone's digging a hole with an excavator, they've got a D-8 moving, to dig some hole and we're storing this water. And that's what we've got to start to think about, and just be more bold and back ourselves as a country, and we've got to be honest with ourselves, we haven't done a good enough job. We've got to be honest. We just haven't.

LUKE GRANT: Brilliant. Good to chat David, thanks a lot, all the best.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Any time, happy New Year, stay safe on the roads.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah, you too. Thanks a lot Minister. That's David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, deputy leader of the Nationals.