Media conference at Parliament House, Canberra

23 June 2021

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning. I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Does the National Party have a settled position on the net zero target?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, nothing's been presented formally to the National Party party room, but we are pragmatic and open to whatever is good, to look through that and to make sure we put it through the lens of rural and regional Australia. That's who we represent and that's what we will consider if something is put to us.

QUESTION: Do you see any path in which net zero would be a position of the Nats?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, obviously, if it can be demonstrated that regional and rural Australia can benefit, and obviously some of the ledgers squared up from the fact that we've done the heavy lifting in the past. You never close your minds. You never say no, particularly in an age where technology is continuing to advance. But we have to be honest, not only with National Party members, but also, I think the men and women of Australia, that if we're going to commit to this, we can achieve it.

QUESTION: As part of negotiations, what exactly are you asking for from the Liberals?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we haven't seen the detail of how we're going to get there, and that's obviously predicated on new technologies and how far that will get us. So we'll have to see what that looks like and then how farmers in regional Australia can play a part in that. And that's not just farmers. That's also things like carbon capture storage, things that the Biden administration themselves are investing and partnering with us, hydrogen. So those are the things that you've got to be pragmatic about and understand if we're looking at this through the lens of what regional and rural Australia, the role that they can play, agriculture, the investment in carbon capture storage, can we play a role in that? Then those are the pragmatic discussions we'll have as a party room, then collectively as a party room, we'll make that decision.

QUESTION: How is it there is such a huge divide between the Liberals and the Nationals? Prime Minister Scott Morrison is going to the UK and saying preferably we'll have net zero by 2050, but then you're here saying that the Liberals haven't even approached you about it. How is that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, there's been a commitment by the Government to obviously want to look at ways to try and achieve it. I mean, no one is running away from that. But we're just saying let's go through a process where we can be honest about, if we do adopt this technology, we can achieve it. That's a sensible way and a pathway forward. That's no divergent between the Nationals and Liberals. They're just saying let's be pragmatic about it and let's see what's on the table, what can be achieved before we make any final decision. I think that's what good government should be.

QUESTION: What would you like to be on the table?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, obviously, we want to see that regional and rural Australia doesn't pay the bill. I mean, we're only meeting our Paris commitment because of what regional and rural Australia- what farmers did, and they weren't compensated. They lost their property right and they weren't compensated. So, we have to make sure that any change doesn't take away productive agricultural land. It doesn't detrimentally impact our farmers. But there are solutions and practical solutions, and we've already started, whether that be soil carbon abatement, whether that be biodiversity stewardship programs, those things, but it can't be the cost of productive agricultural land and communities.

QUESTION: This is a decade long argument. It's torn down prime ministers in the past. Why are we still talking about this? Why are governments incapable of setting climate policy?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, with respect, I think we've done a pretty good job of achieving our international commitments. We are going to meet our Paris commitment. We're going to beat it. So, with respect, I think our government's got a pretty good record. And in fact, there are nations around the world that are now signed up to 2050 but won't meet their 2030. So I would say that's a platitude, whereas we have a commitment and we have made it and we have lived up to it. Of the 130 that signed up to 2050, only 14 can tell us and articulate a pathway to achieving it. So let's be honest with ourselves and honest with the global community. We signed up to something. We're going to meet it. So I don't think we should get into this self-loathing that we're not doing our bit. We actually are. We're one of the few countries in the world that are going to meet our 2030, not just kicking it down the road to 2050. But if we make that 2050, we're going to be honest about how we do it, because we've got cred about what we've done now and we just want to build on that and make sure that if we do commit, we hit it.

QUESTION: You talk about regional Australia being compensated. What would be the case- would that look like? Would it be some sort of direct compensation scheme or direct payment? Would it be some sort of…

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No.

QUESTION:   …what would it actually look like? Sorry, not to pick over your words…

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, no. And I think this is where the technology piece is where we can play a role, a proactive and pragmatic role in being part of the solution, and making sure that that adds to the incomes of regional and rural Australians. If we're going to do the heavy lifting again, we get the premium and we get the quid.

QUESTION: As Eliza said though, we've been talking about this for years and now the governments saying that there's going to be- we're finding a way on how to get to 2050. Why haven't we found some actual solutions as yet?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Because the technology continues to evolve. And I suspect before we get to 2050, there'll be new technologies that come out of left field that will be taken up- that will immerse themselves and we'll have to then look at those as well. So, that's the exciting thing. I don't think we should knock ourselves around. We've got a good track record of what we've done, but let's look at the practical ways that we can get there, and the technologies that can come that'll help us achieve it.

QUESTION: What- you've spoken about the cost burden on regional Australia. Can you just articulate what you mean by that and also can you acknowledge there are benefits to…

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: So, what happened was- for us to meet the Kyoto commitment and to achieve that. What happened was that farmers had their property right taken rate- around land clearing Now, no one's saying that large scale tree clearing was a good thing. But if you take away a property right in this country, you should be compensated for it. Now, what happened was the Federal Government paid the state governments for that- for those vegetation management laws to be coming in place, but the state governments didn't compensate the farm for it. So, they took the lifting on that. They took away productive agricultural land. And so, our farmers and our communities paid the bill for that. So I'm saying is that has to be squared up and there are ways to try and achieve that. And that's where the stewardship program is looking to achieve that. That's where soil carbon could try to reset that bill. So those are the things that need to be taken into account and understood that we are what we are because of what's happened, particularly by our farmers.

QUESTION: Minister Littleproud, you made this case very strongly as recently as February for this sort of arrangement, this deal in an interview with us. Scott Morrison made it at the Press Club where he talked about a national soil strategy to help farmers and exempt them from agriculture. It was flatly rejected then by Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce. You're making the same push again. What's changed? Why do you think you might get it through those fellows this time?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we've already committed cash to it in the budget. Cold, hard cash. In fact, we're getting proof of concept as we speak. So…

QUESTION: I'm talking shifting attitudes of your colleagues.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, ultimately, who makes the decision on behalf of the National Party is our party room. And so that's why as a party room, we will make that determination about any commitment. And that's the democratic way of the National Party. I can't speak for any other party. That's the National Party way. And there will be divergent views. And that's a good thing. That's this beautiful thing called democracy, and we should embrace it as much as we can and we should protect it. So, I have no problems that there'll be divergent views. But if we have divergent views, we have to have all the facts on the table so that we can make a pragmatic decision based on fact.

QUESTION: How does the coalition reach a consensus though when the Nationals can't even agree amongst themselves?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, with respect, we're not- we're not going to be the same as the Liberal Party and everything, and nor should we. And nor should Australia want us to be. Our job is to represent regional Australia. And we're going to make sure that we're pragmatic about that. We're pragmatic to us playing a role. We think we can play a role in regional and rural Australia. But how we get there is what we want to determine now. And we want to do that just calmly, methodically working through what's in front of us so that everyone can make a decision and we can be honest with the Australian people, not just blindly sign up to something that we can't be honest with and say we are going to achieve, because otherwise you're on the never, never. And then we do need to be self-loathing as a country that we've signed up to something we couldn't achieve, whereas we've got a good track record. We've hit Kyoto, we're going to hit Paris. If we're going to hit 2050, let's be honest.