Media conference in Rockhampton

16 December 2021

MICHELLE LANDRY: It's wonderful to be on the banks of the Fitzroy River today, and I've got my colleague David Littleproud here, the Agriculture Minister, and Jeff Krause from FBA. And the Minister's got some exciting announcements today. I just wanted to touch quickly on carbon in soil. I've been very involved in this down in Canberra, and I think that it's very important. Some- a lot of the farmers that I've been talking to really want to make a difference on what they do with their soil. And I think that this announcement today is very exciting and that certainly the people that I've been talking to will make great use of this technology. So I will pass over to the minister. Thank you.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, thanks, Michelle, and to Jeff, it's great to be in Rocky. This is a world first. We are the first country in the world that can measure biodiversity. And what we are now doing is commoditising it and we are saying that farmers will be part of the solution of our pathway to net zero by 2050. And we want to encourage them to be part of that and be rewarded financially, another income stream for them. They don't need to be penalised, and this means that also we'll be able to invest in the new technologies that will keep our coal miners going because farmers will be able to be part of the solution. And so today, $18.8 million as part of our Biodiversity Stewardship Program, which rewards farmers with carbon payments plus biodiversity, because we are the first country in the world that can measure an improvement in biodiversity. And what that means is, is that we are going to rejuvenate landscape that is costing farmers to actually manage, and we will reward them with payment. And so that carbon payment, plus a biodiversity, and today our market platform goes live. So that means that the big corporates around Australia can reward a farmer, pay them physically for the work and the stewardship of their land, and get the carbon payment, but also now a biodiversity payment. And we are finalising a seal that they'll be able to put on their beef, on their wool, on their sugar that will be recognised around the world. The Americans, the Europeans, want this technology, this science that we created here in Australia. But here in the Fitzroy Basin, we will be piloting one of our second phases of this right here on the ground. And then we're also making sure that we can try and get rid of the aggregators and get real people on the ground through our natural resource management groups to be able to help farmers do the paperwork and to reward them for their stewardship in not having to pay someone else to do the paperwork, but to get someone that they trust that understands the environment, that can do the paperwork and get these programs up and going. So this is an exciting part of our net zero story in not taxes, but real solutions. And by paying farmers with a passive income that will give them the reward for what they are invariably already doing is a smart way of us reaching net zero by 2050. So this is a big day for us achieving our net zero in rewarding farmers. Our platform goes live, and I say to all those corporates around the world, it's time to give up on those junk credits that you are buying from countries that have- don't have the currency that we do in how we actually manage our ecosystems, that we know we can abate carbon, but we're doing it a more sophisticated way of not just abating carbon but improving our environment.
And that's the real goal that we as a government are trying to achieve. It's not just abate our carbon but improve our environment. And we are the first country in the world to do it. So we should be damn proud, and I'm glad to say that the Fitzroy NRM group here is going to be part of that. They're going to sit at kitchen tables. They're going to help the farmer fill out the paperwork, because it is complicated, and it has to be complicated because we have to say to the world that this has currency in what you are doing and it can be tested. And so therefore we need someone that is trusted that can sit with them to fill out the paperwork and get the job done. And I can say to farmers that we are going to give them a financial reward, not a penalty, for us reaching net zero by 2050. This is just common sense. It's not just the Australian way. Jeff, did you want to say anything?

JEFF KRAUSE: Well, thank you very much, Minister, and to Michelle, our local member, as well for making this announcement here today in the Fitzroy Basin. We're very pleased to be involved with this pilot. It's an exciting time for us. As the minister has mentioned, we're used to sitting around kitchen tables, doing property planning, supporting landholders through that process. And this pilot allows us to do more of that and to work with landholders so that their carbon and biodiversity offsets can be better recognised. And hopefully there'll be some sellers and some buyers in that market as well. So we're really appreciative of the opportunity of being involved in this process and look forward very much to the rollout over the next few months as we're embarking on that process of working with landholders in this region. We've already seen that landholders have come to us in relation to these sorts of issues, so we hope this builds further on the opportunities that are available. FBA's been in this region for over 20 years, 23 years now, and part of our process has been to work with the 80 per cent of graziers and farmers, the graziers and farmers who hold about 80 per cent of our landscape and own this landscape and manage this landscape, and we're looking at working productively with them around that for this next little while.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question? What are farmers actually doing at the moment to reduce carbon?

JEFF KRAUSE: Well, farmers at this stage are working through a whole range of different processes. They're able to link to emissions reduction funds, they're able to grow more grass, and that's where we come in. We look at how we can improve soil health, improved carbon sequestration and work with landholders around processes to do that, but also link to these markets that, as the minister has announced, they're international markets, and there are great opportunities there that we're hoping to link landholders with.

QUESTION: And so once before, landholders just weren't being recognised for this work?

JEFF KRAUSE: Well, I guess this provides a new platform, as the minister has said, for landholders to become engaged and to understand more about the opportunities that are available to them.

QUESTION: So I guess an incentive to try their best to reduce carbon?

JEFF KRAUSE: Landholders hopefully will be compensated through this process. They'll actually have opportunity to gain rewards, financial rewards, for sequestering carbon in their properties.

QUESTION: Perfect.

QUESTION: I might just ask, I think this- the funding was announced a few weeks ago, but it's officially open today. In that time, have you had much interest from people [indistinct]… about taking part?

JEFF KRAUSE: We continue to have interest from landholders in relation to this issue of carbon and biodiversity, the offsets issues. So it has increased over the last little while, I guess, as a result of activities such as this. So we're looking very much forward to seeing the further rollout of this in the way in which we can support landholders better.

QUESTION: Great. And so the uptake has been quite great. A lot of interest has been shown and several people have been coming to you guys?

JEFF KRAUSE: We're at- sorry… So, through the current programs we've had, landholders have been in touch with us in relation to carbon and biodiversity offsets. We expect that given this is the Christmas period, it's a busy time, but they have another couple- three months for us to work with them around this particular activity. So, we're very much looking forward to spending that time profitably with landholders and seeing that there are great outcomes for them as part of this program.

QUESTION: Minister.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Right. Can I just say, just to put this in perspective, this is the second tranche of this funding under this pilot. In the first tranche on biodiversity plus carbon, in the 6 NRMs we started with across the country, it was oversubscribed. And in fact, there are over 50 odd farmers that came forward in those and we aren't able to support all of them through this. We've also done a remnant vegetation trial and that had over 191 farmers that came forward in those six NRM regions. So this is something that we are trying to simplify but encourage farmers to participate because it is a passive income that they will receive, and we are also going to make sure that this ties in with what we're doing with soil carbon as well. So, Angus Taylor and I have got $200 million out there to try and get the science right in terms of getting the cost of that test, of soil test for carbon abatement, down to around $3 a hectare. And if we can do that, we'll not only be able to reward farmers below the below the surface with that, but we are now rewarding them above it.
So, this is really exciting stuff is that if we can get the soil piece to match up with this, then farmers will be rewarded financially, not just for producing their crops or their beef or their sheep, it'll actually be for abating carbon and we'll be able to back it with real science that the world can trust. And that's where the next conversation globally we'll have to have, is we'll have to say to the world: are your credits as valuable as ours? Does your science stack up? And our science will because we're investing in it and we're making sure that we can justify it and look people in the eyes and say: we're going to get our target because we're going to reward farmers, not penalise them. We're not going to tax them. We're actually going to reward them financially and give them a passive income while they can still produce the best food and fibre in the world, and make sure that this is actually also a drought measure, so that even in drought times, they're going to have an income stream. So, this is just using common sense and the smarts to make sure we meet our emissions reduction targets, not penalising anyone, not taking coal jobs away, but saying to farmers, you can do the heavy lifting but be paid for it finally.

QUESTION: Do you think that it's quite important that we do have the support of our farmers when it comes to trying to reach these targets?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: They'll play a pivotal role in us meeting our net zero target. There's over 90 million hectares of productive country that can go into soil carbon. We believe with this with the carbon and biodiversity program, there's probably well over 10 million tonnes of carbon abatement that can be done nationally, and that's just at small scale and we will go national outside these pilot regions in the new year. So it will be opened up, but we need to validate the science. And that's what this pilot is about, is validating the science, making sure that we can say to the rest of the world, these are carbon credits that have halos around the biodiversity improvement that's done nowhere else in the world. And this is a world first that we should be damn proud of, and what we are saying is carbon abatement is just being a blunt instrument, and we've got to understand that we need to improve the environment, not just abate carbon. And so this is really smart technology that we've pioneered. And now, the United States want to take it up. The Europeans are interested in it. And what it means is that our farmers will not just get paid for the abatement of carbon and biodiversity in the market here, they'll actually be able to sell their product with a premium, a biodiversity premium, that our export partners will pay a premium for. And so, this is the exciting thing is that we're going to reach net zero because our farmers will do the heavy lifting, but they're not going to be penalised like they were last time. We're now saying to them they're part of the solution and they need to be rewarded financially for it.

QUESTION: It's currently a pilot program. At what point will it become a permanent implementation?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: The legislation is going before Parliament in February to make sure that the market platform can be regulated. And so, we believe that before June next year that we will have opened up to the entire country. The pilots are done, and that has validated the science in which ANU has undertaken to prove to the world that we can measure an improvement in biodiversity, not just carbon abatement. And so that's why this extra payment can be made to our farmers. And so, the legislation is in front of the Parliament. We'll get that through and then we will open up to the entire country. We'll make sure that the market platform that goes live today is regulated to the extent that we can, and then the final market platform will be finalised in terms of an ASX style before June next year, and that money will be announced very soon. Obviously, we're going through a tender process now to make sure that that platform can be up there. And we're trying to simplify it because what's happened previously is that been a real barrier for farmers to get involved with this because it is an ERF project and the project is very complicated to get approved, and that's why we're investing in NRM groups to be able to help farmers do the paperwork so it's not a barrier to entry. Rather than have aggregators come in that clip the ticket off the farmer, this is a farmer who'll get the full payment because we're going to pay the NRM groups to sit around the kitchen table and fill out the paperwork. Nothing against aggregators and farmers can still use aggregators, but what we're saying is we're going to give them choice to use trusted people in their community, come out and sit in the kitchen table, fill out the paperwork and get them these payments without the hassle that they have to go through at the moment.
All good?

QUESTION:   A question on a separate [indistinct].

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Okay. All done on biodiversity?

QUESTION: That's right, yeah.

QUESTION: We might just change [indistinct]…

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. Yeah. You might want to duck for cover.

QUESTION: Well, I have a question about the AWU very quickly, if I may, and the agricultural visa. You've noted that they've made representations to foreign ambassadors and that those ambassador- from those representation, the ambassadors have expressed some concern about the visa and may have pulled back. Is it true to say that the AWU has delayed participation in this scheme? And if they hadn't made this move, would we be seeing workers coming in today or this month?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: The AWU has actively sabotage the ag visa. To go on and actually meet with ambassadors from foreign countries, to tell them not to sign up to the ag visa is disgraceful. They are not just sabotaging this. They are demonising Australian farmers and they are shattering farmers' reputation around the world, but also Australia's reputation. There is a small cohort that do the wrong thing in agriculture, as there is in every industry. Our job is to weed them out and to remove them, and we will do that, and we've got legislation to increase the penalties, and we're working with the states to help us regulate those employers that do the wrong thing, to have higher regulation around them, approved employers.
So, we are doing what we have to. But to go and actually sabotage this ag visa, to take away workers, that is the biggest constrain on Australian agriculture at the moment, is to have the labour, is disgraceful. That's un-Australian. I don't understand why the AWU hates Australia so much. Really. I mean, every Australian is given first crack at these jobs. Every job is market tested. Australians get first crack, and if they don't want it, farmers don't have the luxury to sit around and wait for someone to turn up to pick their produce. It has to get from their paddock to your plate. And the AWU is demonising farmers, sabotaging the ag visa, and putting doubt, doubt in these countries' mind. And to do it to ambassadors and to say that they don't believe that we can be trusted as Australian farmers, that we will exploit their citizens, is absolutely disgraceful. It's un-Australian, and the AWU should take a running jump and get out of the way.

QUESTION: Have their representations altered the AG visa in any way? So, the ambassadors have heard these negative reviews of Australia's agricultural industry and they've gone away and said we want additional protections now for the ag visa. Is that what's happened?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. They've had doubt about whether they can trust us. And so what we've had to do is continue to reinforce that we are going to look after their workers, that we are going to make sure that if there is someone that does the wrong thing, we are going to go after them and we will find them and we will weed them out. That's the Australian way. But to sit there and to demonise in this generalisation against Australian agriculture is the most disgraceful and lowest act I've seen in my political career. This is absolutely disgraceful. Why a union would hate Australia so much and go out and demonise an industry the way they have is absolutely just disgraceful.

QUESTION: And so the details haven't been altered in any way of the visa?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We're still- the visa has been clear from the very start, and we work with industry to make sure that there are safeguards - like Fair Farms, a program that's already there. We've invested a further $3.2 million to make sure that that can go across the nation to make sure that we can have portability in this ag visa so that if a visa holder goes from one farm to the next, if they don't sign up to Fair Farms and there is that accountability, then they can't go. And this is what we're trying to do and make sure that we can give that comfort and reinforce much of what's already there. You've got to understand also that it's not just the Australian government that is auditing and checking on these employees. So top are our supermarkets. The supermarkets have signed up to the legislation around protection of people, and they actually do audits on our farmers as well. So it's not just the government checking up. There's already procedures in place where our supermarkets are checking on our farms as well.
So we're not reinventing the wheel. We're simply saying- reinforcing these are all the layers of protection that your workers have. And the only real issues that we are seeing at the moment, and I can tell you there are cases that are coming alive at the moment, those are visa holders that have left the programs that they came in and have absconded, and they go from outside the protection of our visas, and what we're saying to them, you have to stay within that visa category, and with the employers approved under those visas. If you don't, then you open yourselves up. And if we find not only them, but we find the employer, then we will square up with the employer and we will send you home.

QUESTION: And just finally, the trial phase was originally going to go until March 2022, the trial one phase. Given the sort of delay in participation, is that going to be extended now further down the line?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we just want one of these four countries that we're in bilateral negotiations with to sign up, and they're obviously a little shaky because the AWU have personally tried to demonise Australian farmers and sensationalise some of those issues that have been out there. And there are some bad issues that need to be addressed and we are addressing them. But they're not happening right across the board. And we've got to understand that in any industry, there's always a small cohort that does the wrong thing, and our job is simply to weed them out. And agriculture shouldn't be singled out like the AWU has. So we're hoping that as soon as one of these countries sign up, we actually have approved employers.
And many of these, I've got to say, I met one last week, an abattoir down in Singleton. Let me tell you, they're a family business, and they actually accommodate their workers in houses that you and I enjoy every day. The standard of living that they provide, they take their workers to the abattoir free of charge every day. They clean their houses for them once a week. These are the types of things that they're providing to their employees because they need them. That's the biggest constraint. So, we're only saying to these family business, they're the ones that we're approving to sign up to this ag visa. And to- for the AWU to say that these family businesses are doing the wrong thing is absolutely disgraceful. I'll just say to AWU, get out of Melbourne, go and have a look. Go and have a yarn to a couple of these farmers and understand exactly what you're prosecuting, because at the moment you're sitting from a high rise, never been west of the great divide, and you're making some pretty big claims that are putting at jeopardy the ag visa, that will give us the structural change to the agricultural workforce that this country has been screaming for for years.

QUESTION: I've got a question. I'm not sure if you can answer it or Michelle, because I know it's not your portfolio, but six months since the release of the Aged Care Royal Commission's final report, they say- some people that are in the aged care sector are saying that confidence still remains low from any regulatory changes that are being made in that space. We've got our federal Labor candidate for Flynn saying that, you know, workers that he he's spoken to say that, you know, some centres are at risk of either losing workers or even shutting down. Like, what is the Federal Government doing to alleviate some of these concerns? And are the, I guess, the sensationalist claims by Labor unfounded?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, they are sensational claims. The reality is we're working through the royal commission. We've increased it to $10 per resident per day. And what we're doing now is that will increase again in the new year to another $16, around $16 in the new year. And then for regional remote, there'll be an extra loading. So, we are now assessing across every region what that loading is, because the cost of aged care in Rockhampton is different as it is to Brisbane, as it is in Longreach, as it is to Sydney. And so what we're saying in these remote and regional areas, there has to be a loading for that so that we can make these aged care facilities more viable. And we're doing that with science so that it can't be exploited. We're using Australian taxpayers' money. The Labor way is just so- fistful of fifties everywhere and good luck. No accountability.
This is Australian taxpayer's money. And what we're making sure we're working with the industry to use science. So $10 now per resident, $16 in the New Year, and then, there'll be a loading for everybody in regional and rural Australia to understand what the cost is and make sure that we can use science, and we spend it wisely.
So this is being addressed. And I can tell you, aged care has had billions of dollars thrown into it, and we'll have more. We'll do it responsibly. It's not about the dollar amount. It's actually about making sure there are real results; and that we're getting a return on investment for the Australian taxpayer; and we're looking after our elderly. So, regional and rural Australia is going to be treated a lot differently to those in the cities, because the cost is different out here - we've recognised that. So $10, plus 16, plus a loading into the New Year is what we see will keep a viable aged care sector.

QUESTION: And as our age- our population is aging, can the Coalition, you know- I guess, pledge that, you know, we will be looked after? That we will have a, a superior health care system?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think we already have a superior aged care system in the regions than what we do in the cities. Because, invariably, they are local citizens and they've grown up with many of the people who are residents. I'm from a small country town in Western Queensland, and I'm proud to say my mum is, is in an aged care facility in a regional community. And they know and care for her, because they've known her all her life. 
So this is the important thing, is making sure that there is financial sustainability to it; that we understand aging in place is so important for regional and rural Australians. You just can't slip, slip across to the next suburb to see mum if, if you don't have an aged care facility here in your local community - you have go to hundreds of kilometres away. So, it's important that we get the balance right. Choice is important about this - not just aged care facilities, but also home care. 
They're- If people want to stay in their own home as long as they want, then we should give them that choice. But when they need to transition to aged care and, and greater care, that it is there, and that regional Australians look differently - you don't have a cookie cutter approach. And that's what we're saying, is that we're going to have a regional and rural loading to say that we acknowledge that regional Australia needs to be paid more because the costs are more, and we want them to stay and age in place.

QUESTION: But I guess, for example the one example that the, the candidate for Flynn is using is that with, you know, Blue Care and Grasmere as an example, they're saying that, you know, up to 14 staff, they don't have enough staff to provide that, that quality care. Like is enough, enough being done to, I guess, maybe increase that ratio per patient?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, well the issue is, is the number of nurses available. And that's why last week we announced that we're- for those that go and get a nursing degree or a, or a medical degree we'll actually pay their, their HECS if they go and work in the regions. So the issue is about the number of medical profession- professionals that are available - and we're finding that right across regional Australia. Even in Western Queensland I've got problems where we don't have enough nurses to go into these facilities. 
And what we're trying to do is partner with the states and say, let's have a, a complementary model whereby we work together. That nurses that work in the public health systems and come across into an aged care system. Even though the state does the health, we do the aged care, why don't we work together until we can get the supply back up? And that's really the biggest constraint, is getting the number of nurses on the ground. And that's why we, as the National Party, made sure that we fought to ensure that those young men and women that are doing nursing and medical degrees, can go to the bush and we'll pay their HECS for them. I mean, that's a great incentive to get out. And that will not only fill in, in those medical places in hospitals, but aged care as well. 
All good?

QUESTION: I might just ask you about the aged care as well; about the Member for Flynn talking about that place in Grasmere and a lot of other examples about [inaudible] here in CQ. I suppose you have similar sentiments to those, Minister.

MICHELLE LANDRY: Yes. Look, I do. And you know, what we announced last week about-

QUESTION: [Indistinct] Sorry.

MICHELLE LANDRY: Sorry. What we announced last week regarding the HECS being wiped for doctors and nurses to train in, you know, in the regions, work in the regions and that will cut that back. And I think as we see, like right across every sector to do with health, there's a shortage. And what we are trying to do is encourage people to actually- Sorry. Excuse me. What we are trying to do is encourage people to train in the regions, then actually stay in the regions. And it is- there is a lot of difficulty with staffing. Like- And you know, this is why, when you go back to things like the ag visa, why did it take unions trying to stop people coming into this country to help us.
I do encourage people that are not working to get off their backsides and get a job, because there are a lot of Australians that are sitting at home not working. So you know it is difficulty - my father's just been put into aged care and, you know, he's being cared for very well. But I know that there are problems with staffing and it's something that we certainly are working on to address.

QUESTION: I might also just ask about vaccination rates [indistinct] in Central Queensland are a bit lower than elsewhere in the country.

MICHELLE LANDRY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And mandates, state wide mandates comes into place tomorrow. What's your message to the public ahead of that?

MICHELLE LANDRY: The message to the public is: get out and get vaccinated. You know, I did a western tour a couple of months ago and, you know, Isaac Regional Council, for example, is very, very low in vaccinations. It's pleasing to see that council and some of the mining companies out there are, you know, making vaccinations more readily available. Also, some of the chemists out in those areas, the mining companies are actually paying for nurses to go there so people are getting vaccinated.
COVID is coming into this state. The borders are now open. We need people to be vaccinated. You know, just watching people that have actually had COVID, and have been vaccinated, the illness does not affect them as badly. You will still get it, but it won't affect you as badly. 
We look at Barnaby Joyce. He's, you know, stuck in America at the moment and he's been double vaccinated. He said, you know, it's like a heavy flu. But I encourage people, please - because people are throwing away their careers, their jobs, because they don't want to get vaccinated. I encourage people, get off Facebook, listen to what the medical advice is, and get yourself vaccinated.

QUESTION: Can I ask very quickly about an activist group hijacked a coal train outside of Collinsville late yesterday afternoon. If I, if I understand correctly, you've, you'd give tougher penalties for this sort of activism? What do you think is an appropriate punishment for these folks who are shovelling coal off the trains?

MICHELLE LANDRY: Oh look, obviously that's up to the police to decide that. It's state government legislation. But they need, they do need tough penalties. This is ridiculous. They are putting people's lives at risk doing this. 
And you know, when we're down in parliament we have the activists there every day going on about coal mining and all the rest of it. Well, I say to these people, if you're fair dinkum, turn your power off, hand in your phone, hand is back the keys to your car, turn the air conditioning off, because all of this is done by coal fired power. And I just get really frustrated when these people think that this is a big game to go and, you know, hijack, basically, coal trains; the stuff that they've done out at Adani on [indistinct] with the cranes and all the rest of it. It's putting people's lives at risk. It's disgraceful. 
And you know, some of those bombs that they, they've been making up, you know, they're full of bolts and nails and all the rest of it. Like people get injured with this stuff, and it is an absolute disgrace. Everyone has the right to go to work safely, without being intimidated by these activists that come up from down south to cause trouble.

QUESTION: I just have one last question. This is more for the local radio. [Indistinct] Your office has been offering help for people that want to link to their certificates. What can you tell me about that?

MICHELLE LANDRY: Yeah. So look, we've had a lot of phone calls from people that are having difficulty linking- Excuse me. Sorry. We've had a lot of phone calls from people ringing that are having difficulty linking their, their COVID certificate to their vaccination- what is it?

QUESTION: Check in app?

MICHELLE LANDRY: Oh sorry. I'll start that again. Check in app. So I should be doing it too, shouldn't I. [Indistinct…] 
I didn't do my mine, mind you . Yeah. So we've had a lot of phone calls with a lot of people having trouble connecting their, their COVID certificate to the Queensland app. And so we've been getting- we've been doing a couple of sessions in the office, and I think we're doing one down in Yeppoon today or tomorrow. And- But people need to bring us to book.
And look, my daughter did mine so I can't- I don't know how difficult it actually is - but people are having difficulties with it. So, they'd give my office a call and we can help you do that. And I encourage the other political offices in town to do the same thing. Because if you haven't got some young people around when you're a bit silly with technology, like myself, it's good to have someone that's there to help you. So that's why we've been doing that. And people have been really grateful, really grateful that we've been doing that. So I, I think it's just a good service we can do for the community.

QUESTION: Thank you.