Media conference in Cairns

6 October 2021

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, today I'm pleased to announce $1.1 million to go to 22 Indigenous ranger groups to help protect our borders. They've done an outstanding job. In fact, since the budget back in October last year and the subsequent budget in May this year, there's been $1.25 billion worth of money provided to support biosecurity measures here in Australia, and the Indigenous Ranger Program plays an important role in that. Recently, we put on five new trainees that were very much welcomed to make sure there are more boots on the ground. But what these Indigenous ranger groups are is they are the frontline of our border security and against biosecurity threats, and those threats are increasing and emerging day by day, particularly in Asia, and are making their way down. And if is not for our Indigenous rangers bringing together thousands of years of traditional knowledge with cutting edge technology, we would have seen far greater incursions across Australia as it is now. And it's because of these men and women's hard work we have kept Australian agriculture safe, but the environment safe. So these grants are about going to these Indigenous ranger groups, which are businesses. These are businesses that provide a service to the Australian taxpayer and one in which we are getting a great return on investment on. But what these do is provide them with new tools, new training to be able to continue to enhance their skills, continue to use their traditional knowledge, coupled with the technology of the 21st century. And to give you a perfect example, only in the last couple of weeks, this group behind me were able to find a mussel out here that would have had a serious impact on agriculture and on our environment. If it was not for them being able to use their traditional knowledge, as well as underwater drones. They found a mussel that we do not want to see in this country. Now, it was because of their hard work, their diligence, knowing their country, understanding their country better than anyone else, using technology, that we are saving Australia's borders from incursions and billions of dollars' worth of costs.
So, to the Indigenous rangers, this is one of the most important programs I think we run in biosecurity. We're looking at technology in our ports and airports, but this is the front line. This is the front line where we will see serious incursions. And if it's not for these men and women, I can tell you that it will cost a lot to this country. So, this is an investment in making sure that we're building businesses, building strength, building the knowledge, the traditional knowledge that we should be fierce custodians with, our traditional owners in this country, to make sure we continue to make sure that that goes on from generation to generation. So, thank you for all you do, guys. You do an outstanding job. We're damn proud of you.
Does someone want to say anything? Who's brave enough? Come on.
            [Laughter]

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: … former radio man. Tell me- give me my microphone.
            [Laughter]

QUESTION: … And can we just get your full name, spelling into best title for you?

WAYNE SEE KEE: Yep. Wayne See Kee, S-W-K-W, surname, and my title is Assistant Secretary for the Science and Surveillance Group, Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment. Really just wanted to say this is a fantastic opportunity and it really does reinforce the partnership that our department has with the Indigenous ranger groups across Northern Australia. As you're probably aware, it's a really big area that we've got to cover. And as the Minister said, this is the front line for pests and diseases coming into Australia, especially unregulated or natural pathways. So they form and actually perform a very, very important role in the country. Like the Minister says, a lot of- hundreds and thousands of years of knowledge of cycles and to be able to couple that with the technologies that we have - so we're trialling a lot of things in the biosecurity space - but also from our perspective, working with them to actually increase their opportunities for employment via the fee for service [indistinct] we're doing with them and with the capacity building that the grants that the Minister has announced today. That really is going to not just enhance their ability to do biosecurity, but also to also open up other doors for economic opportunity.

QUESTION: But part of this funding is going towards new things like underwater drones, thermal cameras. When can you expect to see those technologies up and running?

WAYNE SEE KEE: A lot of those are going to be rolled out as soon as we get the grants out. So what that means is they'll start to get the equipment on board and that'll be operational in that day within the next six or seven months. Exciting times.

QUESTION:   Maybe a question you can answer, perhaps throw it back to the Minister if you want to. How many drone, underwater drones, thermal imaging cameras, these sorts of things will the average of $50,000 per Indigenous ranger group actually buy? We got 22 Indigenous ranger groups, 1.1 million bucks. Fifty thousand is the average. It's not what everyone's getting…

WAYNE SEE KEE: Yeah.

QUESTION: …But if we average out…

WAYNE SEE KEE: Just- really it depends on, I mean, what the groups are wanting. So not every ranger group wants a drone or a flying drone or an underwater drone. So it just depends on the demand what they put in for. So like, we mentioned, 1.1 million is what's going out this time around, and it covers a whole suite of things - as the Minister said, training, ICT, equipment that they need. But I can come back to you with numbers if you want that sort of specific numbers.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: But it's complement and supplement [indistinct]…

WAYNE SEE KEE: Yeah.

QUESTION: [Indistinct question]

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I've got to say this is complemented and supplemented by what the Department does and the announcements we made during the Budget in new technology, boots on the ground. And not everybody's- the Rangers are looking seaward. They're obviously land bound, and they're looking at different technologies and different skills but also boots on the ground to be able to achieve that. So the fee for service complements that as well. So as they put the boots on the ground, the Australian taxpayer supports that and pays for that service. That has a great return on investment. So this is one piece of the puzzle, and that's why we're not just looking at technology, we're looking at the skills of thousands of years [indistinct] and to make sure we get the mix right. Money's not the issue; it's making sure that we've got the skills to be able to complement, be able to identify the threats that are there to Australian agriculture and to the environment.
[indistinct]

QUESTION: Minister, have you seen the plan the Government has been working on to reduce emissions that will be presented to MPs and Senators?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, I haven't, but I know that it's a whole of government approach. You've got to understand this is a complex piece of work. It's not just agriculture, it's resources, it's energy, it's transport. And overlaying the technology roadmap over that and how we reduce emissions and how we can be honest with the Australian people and the global community about how we could commit to net zero, and that's obviously a piece work that Angus Taylor and the Prime Minister are working through now, and I'm sure that there'll be a mature conversation about that. We're not going to blindly sign up to something without seeing it. The Labor Party already has. They haven't told anyone how they're going to actually achieve net zero. All they've said is we'll put a few electric vehicles on the road. That's not going to solve the net zero issue at all. They haven't told anyone how are they going to get there and who's going to pay for it. When we do it we're going to look you in the eye and square up, and we're going to say this is how we do it and who's going to pay for it. We've said there will be technology, not taxes, and that's the commitment. I'm sure the Prime Minister and Angus Taylor will present it not only to their party room but to our party room as well.

QUESTION: In your position, though, are you frustrated at all you haven't seen any details about what could be a potentially massive change in policy?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, because I want it to be right, and I think that's what the Australian public want, they want it to be right. And we also want to make sure that we can put our head held high global in saying that we've met not only commitments we've already signed up to in Kyoto, in Paris, but this one as well. And we have to be honest. There's about 130 countries that have signed up to net zero by 2050. Only 14 can tell you how you're going to get there. So Anthony Albanese would be country 15 of 131 if we were to elect Anthony Albanese because he hasn't got a plan. He's got a whole lot of ideas out there with no cost to them and the Australian public doesn't know who's going to foot the bill. That's not a responsible way to have policy. And we're going to look people in the eye and tell them how they're going to get there and technology is the answer. The Prime Minister has been clear about that. He's been clear that regional Australia shouldn't foot the bill again.

QUESTION: And on that, do you support that 2050 goal and then do you think the rest of the National Party room does as well?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, look aspirationally I think we all do but we obviously want to see how we get there and who pays for it. I never pre-empt what comes out of the National Party party room. That would be a dangerous thing to do. There are 21 passionate regional representatives there that all have their own beliefs around this, and that's something we should preserve and be fierce custodians of. This is a beautiful thing called democracy. And that should be celebrated, not demonised for the fact that there are differing opinions within our party room, I'm sure in others, it's just that ours has been prepared to say what we think publicly. I mean, Joel Fitzgibbon had a little crack, and then he ended up leaving because it all became too hard in the Labor Party. That's not democracy, but National Party is about making sure we have this conversation in a mature setting. And if we get to a position, then we will come out and support or we won't. And that's where the party room, the sanctity of party room needs to be respected.

QUESTION: The head of Australia's COVID-19 vaccine programme was warned complacency is slowing down the rollout, particularly in Western Australia and Queensland. Are you concerned or worried about the fact that the vaccine rate for double dosed people is still below 50 per cent in both those states?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I am because the COVID-19 Delta strain is coming. Make no mistake, you're not going to be able to keep it out of Queensland, it'll hit WA at some point and you can become a hermit state, that'll work for a little while. But unfortunately, at some point we're going to have to come back as a nation. And that's why we need leadership from the states and us to say, put your arm out and get a jab. It's time for individualism to be over. It's time for us to come together as a nation to work together and understand this thing is not going away. And the only way that we as a nation will come back together is we put our arms out, our states, particularly Queensland and Western Australia put their shoulder to the wheel in trying to encourage as many people to understand that this thing will hit them. And when it does, they're going to go through the anguish and the mental pain that those in southern states already are. This is devastating mentally. I've seen it personally, people that are just falling apart of another lockdown in regional New South Wales, hearing stories of people just having trouble to hold on. And we've got to save those Australians, you've got to hold on, we're going to get through this, but we all have a role to play in supporting them and that's by us putting our arm out and having a jab. The jabs are there. You can get a jab anywhere across the country. Put your arm out, because that's the only way that we're going to get this country going again. And we're going to protect those fellow Australians that are doing a bloody tough at the moment and need our help. So if you want to look after Australia, you want to look after your fellow Australian, put your arm out as quickly as you can. And I'll just say to the Premier, particularly here in Queensland, we shouldn't be last. We shouldn't be second last. We should be ready because when Delta comes, and if you haven't got those jabs in the arms, you're going to feel the pain that those southerners have been feeling and no state premier should want to see their people go through what they've gone through.

QUESTION: Aside from encouraging people to get the jab, what can be done to increase the rate further?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's about appreciation. We're all in this together. And no matter what we think about just shutting the border off, a line put on a map 120 years ago won't cut the mustard after COVID-19. We're going to have to come out from underneath to doona and we're going to have to work together as an integrated society, that which we were before COVID-19 hit. And we all have a role to play in that, to your fellow citizens. And it's great being in Queensland, sitting up here thinking, well, you know, hasn't hit us. But you know what? I've got a responsibility to those southerners as well to make sure that we put our arms out, we get this country opened up and we get on with the job and live with COVID-19. We're given a pathway to do that and vaccines are the way to do that. I'm just saying, you've got to do this for your country. Forget about the fact we've got anxiety and fear. I get it. We don't want it up in Queensland, but it's going to come. It's time to stop thinking as individuals and start thinking as Australians.

QUESTION: One of the local mayors of one of our local indigenous communities has called on for extra Incentives from the Federal Government to encourage some of the particularly hesitant and vulnerable communities that he is obviously responsible for, to get them to come forward and get the jab. Is there something that you've been hearing about or looking at in terms of trying to encourage those incentives for those vulnerable communities?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, I haven't, but I've got some of those vulnerable communities myself, and many of those have shown the leadership to stand up and understand that it will come to them and that they are part of a modern society that has to come back together. This isn't what your country can do for you, it's what you can do for your country. And this is where Australians have to understand, this is a responsibility of each and every one of us to come together, to work together and understand what we do as a significant impact on one another. And that's the time and the opportunity we have as a nation. And I think to belittle it, to say that we need to pay you to do it, says more about our society than anything else. I think as Australians, we've got a whole responsibility to do it for one another.

Warren Entsch: Can I just make a comment on that? [Indistinct]. If you go around the Cape and you have a look at the communities, you can see those communities where the mayors have actually accepted their role and their responsibility as a leader and a mayor in their communities, and they have led by rolling up their sleeves and provided innovative ways in those communities. And you see the vaccination rates have soared. I would suggest to a mayor that's saying somebody else has to fix my problem, he has to realise that he is an elected leader in his community. He has a role to play in that community. And by using his leadership, he can actually encourage his community to do a lot better rather than pass it off to somebody else's responsibility. He's paid. He's elected as a mayor. He's paid as a mayor. He's expected to have that leadership, and I would actively encourage him to have a look at some of his colleagues in other communities and to see the amazing work that they're doing and the amazing success rates that they're doing and take that- take a leaf out of that book and get it done because it can be done. If you have a look at the likes of [indistinct] and [indistinct] they are absolutely outstanding. And I would say have a look. Have a talk to one of his mayoral colleagues and see if he can't emulate that himself.

QUESTION: All good? Thank you.

QUESTION: The Samoan Prime Minister has appealed to Australia to re-join the Green Climate Fund. Will the Government do that at the Glasgow talks next month?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, we'll make statements around our international commitments, but this self-loathing in our country where we beat ourselves up about our international standing has to stop. We signed up to Kyoto. We beat it. We signed up to Paris. We're going to not just meet it; we're going to beat it. So we have more international standing than any other country in the world, and this self-loathing isn't helping us. The reality is, we've got a proud record. We should have our heads held high about what we've achieved in terms of reductions of emissions. And if we go forward with a further commitment, the world will know we'll make it. We're one of the few countries that have done it. And if you say we're going to do it, we'll do it because we're Australians.