Media conference at Parliament House, Canberra

11 August 2021

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Good morning. Sorry for that. Ran a bit over. Happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Has Barnaby Joyce had a word to George Christensen after his anti-lockdown, anti-mask speech yesterday?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I haven't had a chance to speak to Barnaby this morning; I've been doing breakfast TV. But I'm about to meet with him in the coming 20 minutes.

QUESTION: Are George Christensen's comments just another distraction for the Government?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. They're the comments of a backbencher. One's of which I don't agree with, the Government doesn't agree with and in fact, the party room, those in the National Party, House of Representatives backbench, voted in support of the motion condemning his comments. That is the most powerful and public statement that National Party members can make to one of their peers.

QUESTION: But doesn't he represent the Government?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, he represents himself and the people of Dawson and the people of Dawson obviously will reflect to him about those comments. But they do not reflect, as the National Party clearly said yesterday in supporting that motion by his peers, we sent a powerful message that we do not support his comments.

QUESTION: Were his comments dangerous given that they are not Government lines or thinking?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, they're comments from an individual. They're thoughts of an individual. We respect...

QUESTION: He's a politician, so people listen to him.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: And that's this beautiful… And that's this beautiful thing called democracy and the freedom of speech that hundreds of thousands of Australians have lost their lives protecting. And you should not condemn someone for have- in utilising that right. But with that comes a responsibility. And that is why his party room sent a clear message, a clear message and a public message that we did not support his comments.

QUESTION: [Indistinct]… no regrets, so is he just going to keep spreading these comments unchecked?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, that's a matter for George and obviously a conversation that Barnaby will have with him. But there is a responsibility as we are coming through a national pandemic, that while there are divergent views, that we understand that we have a responsibility to keep the public safe. This is an evolving situation. The circumstances of COVID today are different to what they were nine months ago. Delta has thrown another curveball at us. So it's important that everyone understands their responsibility, but we respect everyone's right to freedom of speech. But he does not represent the Government's views.

QUESTION: Should Christensen move to the crossbench?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. George is quite, quite welcome to stay in the party. But there is a clear message sent by his party room yesterday, that his comments did not sit well with the rest of the party room.

QUESTION: What's it going to take for the Nationals to agree on a net zero by 2050 target?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Details of how we get there and who pays for it. It's as simp…

QUESTION: Why haven't those details come out yet? Aren't you as the government supposed to be working, supposed to be part of that plan to get that net zero target? Why is it taking so long?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Because there has to be currency in those details. And that is exactly what the Prime Minister and the government is working through, to make sure that not only can they show the National Party party room, but they can say to the Australian public, this is how we get there and who pays for it. We want to look people square in the eyes and tell them how we get there and who pays for it. The alternative is the other mob has just signed up and can't tell you who's going to foot the bill. That's frightening. That's dangerous. And that's not how an alternative government should operate. And I would have thought that after the last election had a crack at that, they got told resoundingly to take a running jump. So they haven't learnt anything and just goes to show that their type is simply to go out to commit and to worry about who pays the cheque later.

QUESTION: So who's job is it to come up with this plan?

QUESTION: Yeah, whose job is this?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: So, so the Government is working through this. Obviously, Angus Taylor has taken a leading role and this will obviously come through at some point with the Prime Minister and through- then obviously through Cabinet and through our party rooms, respective party rooms, once the details. And this is- this isn't just one single solution. This is a range of solutions that have to be fed in and modelled. So this isn't just pull it out of the back pocket and put it on the back of an envelope sort of stuff. And if we did, I'm sure you'd be sitting here scrutinising us, saying, well, this doesn't have any currency. So, again, we've got a proud record of meeting our global commitments. And we've been able to look at the global community square in the eyes and say, we will get there and we've achieved it. And if we do it again, we want to be able to say the same thing, because there's about 130 countries have signed up to net zero by 2050. At the moment, only 14 can give you a pathway of how to get there. So at the moment, there's a lot of platitudes flying around, but here's not a lot of detail.

QUESTION: But don't the Nationals want to be part of this policy setting? You're part of the Coalition government but you're taking a backseat?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, we're not. And in fact, agriculture has an opportunity to be part of the solution. That is being fed into the modelling. So this is bringing together a number of portfolios, a range of portfolios: resources, agriculture, energy, this- transport. This is an opportunity. This is why we're saying it's not just the back of the envelope sort of stuff. I know everyone's keen and eager, but it's got to be done properly. It's got to be done right. And if it's not done right, then we don't have standing. And ultimately, you'll probably pay a bigger bill. 
QUESTION:   On that plan, you know, the Coalition's been in government for years, so how come the plan hasn't been finalised?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, the plan was to achieve Paris and we have been focussing on that. And we will not just meet it, we will beat it. Then we will, obviously, looking at our net zero 2050 commitments and how and if we can make it and who pays. So I would have thought that going from the report, the existential threat was right here right now to 2030. I think instead of this self-loathing that goes on in this country, we should proudly put our chin up and say to the rest of the world, catch up, because you know what? We've achieved it. And if we've go- say we're going to go to 2050, well, we're going to have more currency than all these other countries that couldn't meet their 2030 commitment and then expect us to say, oh, we'll kick it down the road to 2050. I think we've got to be serious about this and I think the question also comes to those developing countries like China, as to what role they play. They've been given a free kick up until now, but this report clearly says that they probably now have a different role to play. And that's a conversation, a mature conversation, that should have at any forum to make sure that we are all doing the heavy lifting, not just Australia. And I think this is- this is the tragedy of this, and this is where regional Australians get somewhat upset about this, is that we have not celebrated our achievements, because you know what? We've done the heavy lifting. We've footed the bill. And that really is disingenuous to those regional Australians that have given us the social licence in this country to operate on international markets. And it's important that we should celebrate our successes. Because a lot of countries can't put their chin up like we can.

QUESTION: All of that heavy lifting, though, is just the absence of land clearing, which helped beat those Kyoto targets and are helping to beat those Paris targets. Our actual emissions, our electricity, our energy use, has gone up. Why are we not doing more to curve our actual energy use?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: With respect, have you sat at a farmer's kitchen table and had vegetation management laws imposed on them, property right taken away from them and they were given nothing in return? Have you sat with one of those?

QUESTION: No. But I'm saying that why shouldn't we be encouraging the average Australian…

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I think just be careful about devaluing the efforts of Australian agriculture. We took away a property right of someone that bought it with their own hard money. They took it away from them and did not repay them. The Federal Government gave the states the money to compensate them, and the states kept it in their pocket. That is not the Australian way. So, diminishing the value of what Australian agriculture has done and farmers had done, I take offence to. That has cost a lot of livelihoods in regional and rural Australia. We're trying to find ways to reward them now, to look at ways around biodiversity, even those in remnant vegetarian that are locked up. I'm trying to square the ledger and also get an environmental improvement. Not just a carbon abatement.
So, there are a number of ways, and we have seen significant reductions in emissions. And we are doing it not just in- through vegetation management laws, but also through our management of landscape, through savannah burns. We're also looking through our processing sector to make sure that we can get to net zero on that well. So, with respect I think agriculture, while it accounts for 14 per cent of emissions, I think demeaning it in any way or diminishing its efforts, I think is offensive. And I apologise if that's offended you, but I'm sorry, I live with these people, and they had a gutful. They're prepared to do their bit but they just don't want to have to keep footing the bill.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow up on that? Given your concern about regional Australia and those farmers, what can you do now to make sure that we can get to net zero and those farmers can get a financial reward? How can that be structured and how hard are you working to make sure that they do get a payment of some kind?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, the pilots have started. I haven't messed around with this, the biodiversity plus carbon pilots have started and the remnant ones are now being worked through to start those as well. We'll have a trading platform up by the end of the year in which businesses can trade these biodiversity credits. We are the first country in the world to be able to measure improvement in biodiversity because the reason I came up with this was exactly the point that these farmers had missed the boat in being paid for a property right lost. So I'm trying to square the ledger. This has significant opportunity, not just around carbon abatement, but improvement in the biodiversity, not just a blunt instrument of abating carbon, but actually improving our environment and our landscape. And so this is actually in train , and so- but to do it again, it has to have currency. So, it has to have currency in that not only what we are measuring and then what we are selling to the corporate world has a value. And we are the first country in the world to be able to do that. This is an astonishing achievement. We own that intellectual property right here in this country.

QUESTION: So, is it possible then if the governments were to go for net zero target by 2050, is it possible to scale up the schemes that you're talking about, have it done by the end of the year, to scale that up, to hit a net zero 2050 target?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think this is where the modelling and the detail has to come into, because agriculture and agricultural landscapes, around 50 per cent, and still has to be productive land for agriculture, so they can make a quid. Those programs about looking at rejuvenating landscapes that are scarred and need rejuvenating and in fact, are costing farmers money, so they can get a repayment and get a reward for that. But it's more than just agriculture. So, to sit here and say agriculture can just fix it in one fell swoop just isn't plausible. There's a whole range of industries, and that's why the modelling has to go across a whole range of portfolios to make sure we can look people in the eye and say this is how we're going to get there and who pays for it.

QUESTION: Minister, I think you said a moment ago, if we get to net zero by 2050. Do you still believe that is an if we get there, not a when or how we get there?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, until we see the detail, I mean, I can't make any statement until we see the detail. And that's what our party room will expect, and that's what we'll make a decision on. Our party room will sit down and look at the detail, because we want to be fair dinkum with people about how we get there, if we can get there. But above all, who pays and how do we pay.

QUESTION: When do you expect the party to get the details on that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh, I haven't got that detail for you. That's a question probably for the Energy Minister. Thanks, guys.