Interview with Jane Norman, ABC Afternoon Briefing

7 October 2021

JANE NORMAN: Agriculture Minister and Nationals' Deputy Leader David Littleproud supports the net zero target. I spoke to him a little earlier. 
David Littleproud, it is pretty clear that the Prime Minister needs this target or needs an agreement on the target. So what is it going to take to get the Nationals on board?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we need to see the plan, the technology roadmap and what impact that will have on regional communities. We take great comfort from the fact that the Prime Minister said that regional and rural Australia will not foot the bill again and we think there is an opportunity to square the ledger and also being part of the solution. But we need to see what that technology roadmap, which is whole-of-government, it's not just agriculture it's not resources, it's also energy, it's transport, bringing that together and overlaying that technology roadmap across how do we reduce the emissions? What does the technology look like? Where are the jobs and where do we move forward? So we can give a commitment not just to the Australian people but to the global community. And that's what we've been able to do with Kyoto and Paris and should we have a proud record that we should celebrate in this country, rather than self-loathing and saying that we don't do anything and haven't achieved anything. We should be proud of what we've achieved because we've said what we're going to do and we have done it.

JANE NORMAN: Okay. Well you had a leadership meeting this morning with the Nationals. Barnaby Joyce is in negotiations with Scott Morrison over the plan, so where are those negotiations at? When are we expected to actually see the plan?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we haven't seen the details. Obviously Barnaby and myself and Bridget meet regularly. We're making sure that the primacy of our party room is respected. That's how the National party operates. We're making sure that any discussion takes place, takes place with the party room at the heart of it, that we come together, we work through these issues together and that we have a structure that'll achieve that. And that's all that we're talking about until we see that plan. We want to make sure that the primacy of the party room is respected and that whatever is presented to us is given consideration to all 21 of us.

JANE NORMAN: Okay, but Barnaby Joyce is actually in those negotiations so what's he telling you? Are we days away from finding out about this plan? Will it be presented to the Nationals' party room when Parliament returns later in October?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well no, it's more about us making sure that when it is presented to us that there is an understanding. That while we're in Coalition, we have cultures within the National Party that need to be respected that may be a little bit different to the Liberal Party. But in the National Party, the primacy of the party room has to be respected and we're making sure that we can give comfort to all those members in our poorly room, that they will have input in understanding of what that plan looks like, what the impacts are and how we're going to get there and who pays. And that's contrary to the other mob who have already signed up to net zero and haven't told the Australian public how they're going to get there apart from a few electric vehicle cars. That's no plan, that's no pathway. That's a lie. That's a platitude.

JANE NORMAN: Yeah. You guys are in government so let's focus on your policy. Your Nationals' colleague and Resources Minister Keith Pitt has today put a bargaining chip on the table. He wants the Commonwealth to create a $250 billion loan facility for future mining projects. Is that under consideration as part of this deal?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well no, that's an individual's thought and obviously there will be some ambit claims put out. But what we'll do is work through as a party room but…

JANE NORMAN: He's a resources minister though, I mean he's not in Cabinet but he is the minister?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: But with respect, what we need to do is understand the plan first, understand what the technology roadmap is before we ask for anything. I mean, we need to see the details of it, see where the pressure points are and understand what the impacts will be for generations to come. So, to make ambit claims straight up is a little premature, but there will be individuals that are thinking through this and understanding what the pressure points will be. And as the Resource Minister I would suggest he has a very good understanding of what the pressure points might be in generations to come. But just understand that if we pull the trigger and sign up to net zero 2050, it does not necessarily mean that you're going to turn the switch off on coalmining tomorrow or coal fired power stations tomorrow. And that's why we've taken the technology roadmap and want to understand that, because our coal fired power stations not only here in Australia, but around the world, could be powered with carbon capture storage technology that means our exports continue, but also some of our generation jobs, many of which of the four coal fired power stations in my own electorate, would be impacted by. So that's why we want to look at the plan, the detail of the plan, and understand it and understand what the impacts will be. Not just here and now but more importantly for generations to come.

JANE NORMAN: Is that message about coal though more to members of your party room? For example, Matt Canavan has said he is dead set against net zero. Are your colleagues like him just opposed to the phasing out of coal all together?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: I don't think anyone wants to phase out coal if we don't have to. And that's why we're saying, if you can get technology to reduce emissions and get back to first principles. First principles is we want to reduce emissions and we want to get back to net zero by 2050. If technology can do that, through carbon capture storage to reduce emissions from coal fired power stations and gas, which I also have in my own electorate, then why wouldn't we embrace that? So what we're saying is let's embrace the technology to protect the jobs that are there, but also look to the future and the Prime Minister has made that clear. There will be new jobs also in where energy may evolve to, global demands and here in Australia about what that will look like and what those new jobs and how regional Australia will participate in that. But I don't think any coalminer should be shuddering in their boots that they're going to lose their jobs tomorrow. They will have their job for some time to come. The coal exports will continue to go out of this country. There's been coal-fired power stations built in many nations that will need clean coal from Australia for some time to come. But what we are saying is we've got to be honest with the Australian public about what that looks like into the future and if carbon capture storage is one of those technology solutions that keeps not only coal fired power stations going here in Australia but around the world, and which the Biden Administration is also signing up to, then that's a good thing.

JANE NORMAN: But if you're being honest with the Australian public, don't all signs point to the fact that there will be a gradual phasing out of coal fired power stations at least in Australia over many decades? I'm not saying this is going to happen tomorrow. The Prime Minister talks a lot about a new energy plan. Does that not assume that we're going to be phasing out coal, using gas as a transition energy towards renewable energy projects. Isn't that the direction we're heading in?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, where the technology sits at the moment, yes, that's probably right. But the reality is, is there's new technology that's coming that's looking to extend the life of coal-fired power stations, like carbon capture storage. In fact, there's some trials being done announced today in Japan where they're mixing the coal that's being burnt with ammonia to reduce emissions, and that also helps in carbon capture storage. So, this is the thing is, we're being very binary about just saying yes or no, rather than saying let's open our mind up to the technology that's available. Because we're getting- we're losing sight of the first principle. The first principle is to reduce emissions, and if we can do that with coal and gas, we can do that with hydrogen, whatever that may be, let's look at the technology, let's be pragmatic about this, rather than let the religion of this take over from both sides. Let's be pragmatic down the middle, understand what the technology mix may be, and have an honest conversation about extending those jobs, preserving those jobs, and making sure that new industries are also part of the solution as well.

JANE NORMAN: Are you comforted by the Prime Minister's public comments? Are you comforted by what you're hearing from Barnaby Joyce about the negotiations that Scott Morrison is being respectful of the national party room, its primacy, as you say, as the Prime Minister appears to inch towards committing to this target?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, the Prime Minister's been honest all the way through. He hasn't wanted to tax Australians, he hasn't signed up to something without being honest with the Australian public. I mean, you can have a platitude. There's 130 countries that have signed up to it at the moment. Only 14 can tell you how you get there, and if the other mob were in, it would be 15. And we wouldn't know who's going to pay for it. So the Prime Minister's being honest not only with the National Party, but with the Australian public. Because if we're going to sign up to this, not only do we have to achieve it as a nation together, but we also have to walk out on the international stage and maintain the standing that we have because of the work that we've done in reducing emissions and meeting the Kyoto and Paris goals.

JANE NORMAN: You say if the government signs up to this, is there a sense of inevitability here that, ultimately, Australia will have to commit to net zero by 2050?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, obviously that's the aspiration, but we want to see the detail and we want to be honest to the Australian public and the global community and the Prime Minister, and it goes to your heart of your previous question. The Prime Minister has given the National Party comfort that he understands that regional rural Australia has footed the bill previously and it's time to square the ledger. We think we can be part of the solution as well, make no mistake, but there has to be a last line of defence in protecting regional Australians, and that's the National Party. And we'll do that pragmatically to make sure that we live up to our international commitments as best we can, but we can't continue to foot the bill. The social licence of this country has been gained by the hard work and the sacrifice and the loss in asset value, in income, because of regional and rural Australians, and that can't continue. Everyone has to share the work in this. And that's all the National Party is saying.

JANE NORMAN: And just before we move on to another topic, David Littleproud: On principle, you have suggested before that you do support committing to net zero. You've got colleagues like Matt Canavan who are dead set against it. Where does the party room sit? I mean, how widespread is a view like Matt Canavan's?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, you never pre-empt the National Party party room. It's probably the first lesson you get as soon as you walk in. But let me just say we'll make a determination. There's 21 individuals there that wear their heart on their sleeve for the people they represent, which are regional rural Australians. So we'll sit down pragmatically as a party room. We'll work through the issues. There are divergent views. And that should be celebrated, it shouldn't be denigrated. That's this thing called democracy. It's a beautiful thing that's served our country well, and served the National Party well. And so we'll work together. We'll understand the issues. We'll work through the issues pragmatically and come to a resolution as a party room.

JANE NORMAN: Okay, overnight we've learnt the French ambassador to Australia is now returning to Canberra, three weeks after he was recalled over the fallout from the subs deal. The French Foreign Minister says his job will be to redefine his relationship with Australia. How do you interpret those comments?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I think, obviously, we accept there's been disappointment around the submarine decision. But the Prime Minister and the Cabinet had to make a decision about our nation's sovereignty and security. We were provided an opportunity to take up a technology that only one nation had ever been provided to before, which was the UK by the United States. It would be beholden on any government, no matter political persuasion, to take up the best technology to protect the men and women that serve us, so they have the greatest chance of coming home in the unfortunate event that we have to protect our nation's borders. And so you've got to understand it's also more than just submarines. This is a historic agreement around protecting our sovereignty and our security for generations to come with partners. So it's not just about submarines, and I'm sure that the long and rich history that both the French and Australian governments have shared together, many and much of which has been blood spilt on French soil by Australians preserving and protecting their liberties, is one that I think is a great foundation for our countries to come back together. To understand that there has been some difficulties, but have a foundation stone in which to rebuild and to reset the relationship in a positive way, not just on a security setting, but also trade and cultural.

JANE NORMAN: Just putting aside for a moment the deal, the AUKUS Agreement Reports out of the US suggests that the Biden administration has acknowledged that it was mistaken to leave it to the Australians to tell the French they were tearing up the subs deal and launching into this agreement with the US and the UK. Have we bungled this diplomatically? Because it seems so from afar.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Nah, well, look, there's plenty of gratuitous advice being thrown around, but only a few - and I'm not part of this - are part of the National Security Committee. They had very strategic advice that is sensitive to our nation's security. And in handling that and making sure that we've made the right decision ourselves. Unfortunately, it's not something we could shout at the rooftops, and nor would I think any government responsibly do that. So while, unfortunately, the French are disappointed, the reality is, is that these decisions had to be made in an environment where we could do that clearly, thinking through the strategic direction of our nation's security, and then being able to do that in our best interests. And ultimately, that is a government's responsibility to keep its people safe, to make tough decisions. And obviously, we will continue to work through with the French in terms of rebuilding that relationship.

JANE NORMAN: Okay. David Littleproud, thank you for your time today.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, Jane.
[End of excerpt]

JANE NORMAN: And that was the Agriculture Minister and Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud.