Media conference in Toowoomba

21 August 2020

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, over 100 years ago our forefathers put on a map lines that formatted our states and since then, over that 100 years, regional and rural Australia has evolved past those - we become integrated in terms of agricultural production systems, in terms of our community, in terms of our healthcare. And what we've seen from COVID-19 is that some of the arbitrary restrictions being placed on regional and rural Australia by the states have had serious impacts on that integration.

Now, I'm not asking the states to tear down their border restrictions, I'm just asking them to use common sense. I'm asking them to engage with the agricultural sector, with regional communities to understand the practical solutions that continue to help regional and rural Australia put food and fibre on your table but also look after their wellbeing. This is where our federation will need to prove itself. We need our premiers today to come together to form the solutions that are going to help regional and rural Australia get through this.

At the moment we feel like the forgotten Australians. We feel as though the decisions that have arbitrarily been placed on us have been predicated for capital cities, not regional Australia. There's been good work done by some of the states and I acknowledge them for that, but there are still some ways to go. When we are seeing agricultural production supplies hindered by arbitrary decisions that don't use common sense; when we see animal welfare put at risk because of arbitrary decisions that don't make sense; and, above all when we see human health put at risk for regional and rural Australians it just doesn't make sense.

We are in this altogether but we have to work together, and this is the unique opportunity that federalism provides today to our premiers today - to come together hand in hand, and give one another a pact to work together with regional Australians to get a workable solution. We cannot continue with the way that this is continuing on, and the arbitrary decisions that are being made. We need to predicate all our decisions on medical advice, but we need the medical officials in the room and we need the premiers to grab them and to bring them in the room to talk with these communities and industries to make sure we have workable solutions - that's all we're asking for: practical, common sense solutions.

This is a time for federalism to shine. This is where we have the spotlight on our federalism to make sure that we can work together. Above all, we're Australians, and I'm just saying, this is the opportunity to prove it, to prove that we can get through this crisis and make sure that regional and rural Australia isn't left behind, that we're not the forgotten Australians.
Happy to take questions.

QUESTION: David [indistinct] has Prime Minister told you about the National Cabinet meeting today?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well look, I haven't had any direct conversation with him but I understand there's a range of topics that'll be discussed at National Cabinet, but I don't think that anything will be resolved firmly in this. I think what the Prime Minister has already done is created a framework in which he's discussed with the individual premiers around formatting practical common sense solutions for regional Australia.

We don't have the cases that they do in metro, and this is what we're just saying to premiers - talk to your chief medical officers, understand that you are making decisions predicated on clusters that are severe in capital cities, they are not in regional areas. We can create bubbles, we can create avenues of commerce for regional and rural Australians to continue to feed and clothe you.

And this is where the Prime Minister has been very forward leaning in trying to bring these premiers together, but ultimately they have the sovereign right under our federated system - we respect that. we respect that wholeheartedly. But this is when the spotlight is on it. This is when leadership will come through and prove whether federation works or not, if we can have premiers that come together, work together - not just for city Australians but for regional and rural Australians as well.

QUESTION: You mentioned common sense. What are some of the most obvious examples you've heard coming through? Perhaps people crossing from one side to their property on the other side. What are the chances of catching COVID-19 when they're going to feed sheep and come back again? That sort of thing.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, this is where the medical officers need to be in the room - they're the ones that can tell us how you can mitigate those risks, particularly when most of regional Australia hasn't had cases or have very minimal cases. And, in fact you can lock down those particular areas and interconnect them with other areas on the other side of the border. I mean, this is where regional and rural Australia has evolved past this line on a map - we actually have forgotten about state borders.

And it's great that we have parochialism, and Queensland turns up and tears up New South Wales in the Origin every year, and everyone bar Victoria is happy if they win the AFL. The reality is just beyond that - this is about people's lives and livelihoods, and I think this shows that there's just some impracticalities that need to be fixed. And it can be fixed and there's been some good work done around the bubbles between Queensland-New South Wales - I think they could be expanded in a practical sense further down, and I think also, particularly between Victoria and New South Wales, there are some significant challenges there where it's just going to take some more common sense. To say an arbitrary line of 100 kilometres and then say if you're on the other side, you want to move hay to your property on the other side, you got to put it on a plane out of Melbourne isolate it for 14 days in Sydney and then send it into your property in New South Wales - that's not common sense, that's stupidity.

So, this is where I get that what our medical officer- chief medical officers has done has been an exemplary job - they have done- they've done an outstanding job that we should be very proud of, but now we've got to understand that until we're able to get a vaccine and eradicate this we've got to use common sense. We've got to learn to live with this, we've got to learn to understand that regional Australia is a little bit different. And you got to govern for the entire nation, not just for those capital cities.

And that's all I'm saying - is the opportunity's there, the practical solutions are there. You want to go out and sit at the table and listen to some of these people, they'll give you the solutions. I mean, even- look at Goondiwindi, they can even put an electronic gate on the border and only allow those from New South Wales that are in the bubble - I mean that's common sense. That's workable common sense, we have that out here. And I'll just say, this is the opportunity to engage properly with us and we will give you the solutions, but we need the chief medical officers in the room to make sure that we are protecting Australians.

That's why I say, I'm not asking them for broad scale opening up of borders, I'm just asking for common sense, I'm asking them to retrofit what they've done, but to listen. Because we don't feel as though we've been listened to, we just feel as though we've been forgotten.

QUESTION: Yeah. A question from down south. You sort of touched on it. Shepparton and Bendigo ag workers as of last night were excluded from crossing into New South Wales under their new permit system. How vital is some resolution from the premier on this today?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We're seeing animal welfare issues, we're seeing farmers who have done the right thing spread their risk, bought properties in different geographical areas to be able to stand up to drought, and then when they finally get some rain they're not allowed to go and get their crops off or look after their livestock.

This is where we just need them to understand, people in city to understand exactly what we do and how we do it for them. This is what we're doing to put food and fibre on your plate, on your back. This is the opportunity where we can create these bubbles and these corridors of commerce for agriculture to keep production systems moving, to keep Australia moving. But we need to be listened to and that's all I'm imploring. The premiers have the power in this today. And it's not going to happen today, it's going to take some time to get this right. But you've got to have the intent, you've got to have the intent to turn up and to look one another in the eye and say: this isn't about parochialism. This is about Australia. This is about your fellow Australian, not just in an economic sense, but in a human welfare sense.

I mean, when we've got people just on the New South Wales side of the Queensland border, a gentleman that was meant to have an operation on Monday who's got Stage 3 melanoma could not get a permit. That's not what Australians do to one another. That's not what humans do to one another. We're better than that.

And that's where the premiers have the power, they can really fix this and sit down and make sure they get workable solutions. It won't be fixed in one day because it is very complex and I grant you that, but they have to have the intent to want to fix it. And that's what we're saying - is that regional Australians feel as though we are the forgotten Australians.

QUESTION: David, do you have any thoughts on families who have been split by the border as well?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. I mean, this is another human complexity to it, is that you've got, again, how regional Australia's evolved in that we've forgotten about border lines. Not just healthcare but education is also one that we've been able to work with those on the other side of the border because it's closer, the schools are just as good as they are in New South Wales and so parents have made life decisions to send their children to Queensland boarding schools because of the distance in which they live away from proper- bigger schools. So, these are the types of things that are also impacting children's education, and I think we need to appreciate, again, what are the workable solutions that are being sought to look after these young people's education into the future and now.

We don't know how long we'll have COVID in our lives, and this is the issue that we've got to understand. If we don't actually tackle the practical application of some of the restrictions we've been on, we'll have some Australians who'll be left behind, not just rural and regional businesses, but children as well. And this is why there's a real opportunity to look at us differently, not just as a line on a map, but actually look at regional rural Australia as a whole. And that's what we're saying - forget the line on a map, forget about the parochialism but actually look at us as regional rural Australia as a single entity and how you can work with us to do something different, to retrofit what you've put.

QUESTION: David all those powers, will the federal government reconsider rejoining Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look I'll leave that for the Attorney-General, but I don't think that there's any intent for that. I think what we have shown is- as federal government is that we want to cooperate and collaborate with the states. They have the sovereign rights in this - we're not being bully boys, we're actually respecting the fact that they have the power, they have the jurisdictional power that our forefathers gave them from the Constitution - we're respecting that wholeheartedly and we're not going to try and overstep that. But we're just saying, you need to show that what our forefathers put in place over a hundred years ago can still work in the modern era, in a modern era where we have a pandemic that's put our nation in crisis. Can it work for all Australians, not just city Australians?

QUESTION: David, just on trade. You know, with the [indistinct] mines area?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Sorry, I just couldn't-

QUESTION: Do you know if the Treasurers objective kind of [indistinct]?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, I'm unaware. The Treasurer will make that decision in due course. That's obviously well within his remit and I know that he'll be giving due consideration, and he'll be making his decision predicated on the national interests as he has in the past and will in the future.

QUESTION: And do you know where the government at with the suspension of meat exports to China? Where they've got?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We continue to work with Chinese officials in Beijing, but we still await their response. I do remind everyone of those four abattoirs - one of those abattoirs is in fact majority Chinese owned. And again, it's a reminder to all our exporters to make sure that we respect the protocols of those countries in which we're exporting to. They have every right to challenge us if we have not done the right thing, and we are working and respecting that process with Chinese officials as we speak.

QUESTION: And David just in your role as Emergency Management Minister. First of all, the busfire royal commission is due to hand down its interim report? Have you received that yet?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, haven't received that, we're expecting to receive that next week - the end of August is when it's due, the interim report, and obviously the government will consider it quickly and make whatever actions required to address the recommendations. We've already seen the season start here in Queensland, in fact in Nanango, in my own electorate again it started here, the bushfire season. I've got to say that I take great solace in our fire commissioners from around the country that have again this year meticulously planned for the season ahead - they are well prepared, well resourced. But obviously it's the responsibility of every Australian to be prepared, particularly those in bushfire zones to prepare now, to have a plan and to act, and don't wait for it to get too late.

QUESTION: David, are you committed to release the report publicly  once you receive it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Obviously I think the government has every right to have some consideration of it before it releases it. We would obviously like to bring out and address the recommendations in it as quickly as we can. So it'll be released in a timely fashion and I suspect with our response to those recommendations, I think- we ask for it to be accelerated to the end of August because we understood the fire season was starting and we wanted whatever recommendations we'd placed put into action - so I don't think you'll see any delay from the federal government. We've been very transparent with this. We're the ones that instigated it, we're the ones that want to make sure we get this right.

Thanks guys.