Media Conference with Professor Philip Gibbons, ANU

12 June 2020

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, thanks for coming today. Today's a very important day for me. Many years ago, I became very concerned about the way that in Queensland, that the Queensland Government was dealing with their farmers. The draconian vegetation management laws that they brought in on Queensland farmers wasn't right, and how they did it wasn't right. What I want to do is to make sure that I created a way to reward farmers for the stewardship of their land. This is about acknowledging their stewardship, and the improvement of it. And we have to acknowledge that in the distant past, farmers weren't as good as they are now. They didn't have the science, didn't have the understanding of the environment. But now they understand the environment is intrinsically tied to their profit and loss.

So, today I'm pleased to announce as part of our $34 million election commitment to introduce a biodiversity stewardship program for our primary producers, that we're awarding a contract to ANU to create methods in which we can measure the improvement in biodiversity so that farmers can be paid in the market. It's as simple as putting a repair in belt ways, putting in shelter belts, looking after rivers, improving the biodiversity of our landscapes and making sure farmers are paid for it. And that's about making sure they get money. It has integrity, the scheme, and we can measure that improvement. Those are the simple principles that we want to be able to undertake. And then you couple that with them be able to create a certification brand that they can put on their product to go around the world, that the world can have currency and knowledge and faith in that our produce is the best in the world, being produced in the best environment.

So, this is a win/win for farmers. We've got some ways to go, and ANU will have these methods completed by the end of the year. And then we'll look to be undertaking some pilots by probably March, April, next year. So, Professor Gibbons from ANU is here today as the lead scientist on it, so I'll hand over him to put some more meat around it.

PHILIP GIBBONS: Thanks Minister. Well, good morning. My name is Professor Philip Gibbons from the Australian National University. So, I'm one of the team members who will be designing the Farm Stewardship Program that Minister Littleproud has introduced. We've developed a few of these stewardship programs in the past at state and federal level. And we've also been involved in the design and implementation of the Emissions Reduction Fund, and we've been researching in this biodiversity space on farm land for over 20 years. So, we're in a good position to learn from the mistakes and the things that have been done well in the past in terms of developing this program for the Minister.

As the Minister said, we'll be developing a stewardship program that rewards farmers for conserving biodiversity on their properties and sequestering carbon. Farmers are really important for conservation in this country. They manage over half of our native vegetation. And some of our key threatened species and ecological communities occur primarily on farm land, and this includes things like the superb parrot, which occurs- you might hear around here. Red-tailed black cockatoo, plains-wanderer, you know, lots of species that occur primarily on farm land.

Alright. So, one of the objectives of this program is to provide a perpetual funding source to farmers to provide genuine conservation and carbon outcomes. And this is funding that farmers can rely on through drought and bushfire. And finally, this is a program- we're going to provide advice to government on how farmers can be certified, farmers who provide genuine wildlife and carbon benefits can have their products from their farm certified in the marketplace.

So finally, this project is going to be guided by a steering committee that will include farmers' representation- for farmer representatives. It will include the relevant government departments. It will include conservation groups and regional bodies. So, thank you very much.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Questions? You want to ask the professor first?

QUESTION: I'll probably get to you first because I had a follow up question, if that's okay.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, fine. Yeah.

QUESTION: This is quite a departure from the $34 million program that's been in place up until now. What prompted the shift?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: There was no departure. There was always- you always have to calculate and create and understand the methods around the improvement in biodiversity before you can be part of a marketplace. Unless you can do that, basically it's worthless. So, this was always- in fact, if you go back to my press release in March 2019, it actually- this was one of the founding principles that we were going to get ANU to do back then. So, there was no departure. This is a step process to make sure that this whole program has integrity.

QUESTION: So, will farmers now be locked into the certification scheme devised by ANU, effectively, if that's the government [indistinct], because there are already marketplace mechanisms that are starting to flower. Are you worried about the invalidation of the free market? It's already grown up by endorsing in advance what ANU are yet to come up with.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, no. So, this is the beauty of what ANU will do, is they'll be working- as you quite rightly point out, there are mechanisms starting in the states and around the country. And what we wanted to try and do is harmonise those as best we can, bring some of those principles together to make sure it's a more efficient program, and we can make sure that the market price is one that has faith and trust in the veracity of what we're putting there. And make sure that there's a harmonisation. So, this an important step but it is no departure from what we announced back in March 2019.

QUESTION: Does it remove the ability for industry, that's already been working on this stuff, to help develop the certifications by empowering ANU to do the government-endorsed system?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, we're building on that. We're not going to ignore the work that's being done, nor the consultation that's been done by NFF. It'll be built on. That's the exciting thing of this. A lot of work has already been done for us. This is about making sure that we can harmonise that, bring it together and try and create something that has real currency, create a marketplace that will meet environmental outcomes that the nation asked for. But farmers being rewarded for it. This isn't a takeover, this is building on it, and harmonisation of it.

QUESTION: Minister, on another topic. Is the Commonwealth going to be appealing last week's federal court ruling regarding the live export ban?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, as I understand, the Attorney-General is working through the findings, and that will take some time. There's 150 pages of it, as I understand. So, he needs to work through that and he'll give advice at some point in the future and obviously, the Government will work through that. We've already had conversations with NFF and the plaintiffs to make sure that they understand the Government is very sympathetic to what happened to them back in 2011. Joe Ludwig's decision was abhorrent. It's hurt a lot of lives, a lot of people, and we want to make sure that we get the compensation piece right, we work through with those people that have been hurt, calmly and methodically, and I'll leave the legal matters for the Attorney-General to work through.

QUESTION: And just sticking with live exports, China's decision to ban exports from four Queensland abattoirs. The Australian Government had an opportunity to appeal that. Well, I suppose, make representations to that. What's holding that process up, is it Australia or China?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, we don't. We had 30 days and now we work with those four abattoirs to make sure that we can then get that information to Chinese officials, and as I understand, it's being assessed as we speak. It's important to understand, one of those abattoirs, in fact, is majority Chinese-owned. So, there are technical matters around labelling and it is again, a reminder to every exporter, that they meet the specifications of the country, whether China or anyone else, that they make the specifications of the country in which they're exporting to.

QUESTION: But you're now waiting on China to come back to you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, our officials are working with Chinese officials to make sure they understand the questions that they put to us and the concerns they have. And we're doing that at government level in Beijing.

QUESTION: Minister, you're a proud Queenslander; you previously have been critical of the Premier's decision to keep the borders closed. Has it gone on for too long now?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I mean, I'm just a confused Queenslander. I mean, I don't know what she's doing up there; one day it's September, now it's July, she's in step with us, she's not. I mean, we don't know whether we're Arthur or Martha in Queensland. The Premier has just watched this. I mean, what is she doing? I mean, I thought she was paid to lead the state. All she's done is leave confusion and frustration. It is time for her to come clean. What is the medical advice that her chief medical officer has, that is different to the National Committee, that her chief medical officer is part of? She won't come clean. She hasn't given advice. I suspect she made a slip up and she- when she said September and she's too proud to admit she got it wrong, and just come out and say: hey, there's no reason for this board to be shut, let's open it up. I mean, that's leadership. What she's doing at the moment is confusing the hell out of Queenslanders and we've had a gutful of it.

QUESTION: What do Queenslanders think though? Because I know in WA, the border closures there actually have a lot of popular support despite the political pressure to reopen borders.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: But you see, this is the problem. This is where there's a lack of leadership, because all it is doing is feeding anxiety to people that are concerned about COVID-19, rightfully so. But it should be allayed by medical advice. And when you have confusion about medical advice and you can't articulate the difference between your state and the National Committee, which your state is part of, that adds to the confusion, adds to the anxiety, might not necessarily be there. So, this is why her leadership has been lacking on this and it's important that she just does the right thing now. A good leader would just say: you know what, I stuffed it. I'll fix it and we'll get on with the job.

QUESTION: What's it doing to the Queensland economy and the tourism industry?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's buggering it. Let's be honest. I mean, Western Queensland and even in my part of- not just thinking about the Gold Coast and North Queensland. Outback Queensland would have 40,000 or 50,000 visitors going through it at the moment. We're coming out of drought; those communities rely on tourism. And in fact, it's been it's been a godsend that they diversified into tourism in a lot of those places, and it's kept these towns and people employed. And when you don't have an answer to the medical advice, as to why you are taking these decisions, it really just reeks of someone's either botched it or they're trying to create anxiety for a political angle, and that's where the Premier could just come clean and fix it in five minutes.

QUESTION: Minister, just back to the certification scheme, if I can? Just one last one. What guarantees are there that the market-based mechanisms that are already in place, like CVH and [indistinct] for example or the land valuations that we're seeing come through NAB, won't be devalued by December if ANU get their certification in place by-

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, the Government won't be putting anything in place that actually is detrimental to anybody. That's why we're doing this calmly, methodically, using the experts.

QUESTION: But you didn't need to appoint ANU to develop a scheme that looks like it's been endorsed. I'm just wondering about if the market impacts are being considered?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, you do. That's why if you want to market, you've got to be able to measure what you're doing, and improvement in biodiversity. You've got to be able to measure it, otherwise who's going to buy? Simple market principle. That's what we're working through and that's what ANU will deliver to us. That's what we'll work- work with all the other schemes and everyone else that's running around to make sure that we can get some consistency across the country and have some currency in what these schemes can achieve. Because that's what farmers should be rewarded, for their stewardship, for what they've done for this nation. And so, that's the important step that we're working through now.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] live export very briefly. Is there a contradiction in the idea that the Government thinks that the federal court's decision is on the one-hand problematic? But on the other hand, the damages should be paid? If the decision is problematic and you potentially appeal it, if it's overturned, why should damages then be paid also?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's little bit more complicated, and I'm not the first legal officer of the country and I think the Attorney-General would be able to articulate a lot better than me. But there was details in those findings that could have implications. The principle that the Australian Government has said is that Joe Ludwig's decision was wrong and we want to right that wrong. Prime Minister's been really strong on that, we want to right the wrong of Joe Ludwig. But we've got to understand the implications of the detail in which that finding has been made. It's 150 pages. The Attorney-General's got a lot of reading to do and a lot of understanding of each line, of what that- what implication that might have. And I'll leave that for him to get into the detail and I know and have faith that he'll prosecute that very carefully.

QUESTION: So, you would consider then, splitting out possible money for graziers who were affected, separate from the trial?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, there's a process that we're going to work through with the plaintiffs, and understand, not all those that have suffered damage are actually identified yet or have come forward. Because there's about 21 plaintiffs, as I understand in this action. But there are a lot more that were hurt by Joe Ludwig's decision and that'll be fleshed out very soon. And then we'll have a lens and mature conversation with those to make sure we right that wrong. But the legalities of it, I'll let the Attorney-General articulate, because I'm just a bloke from Western Queensland without a legal background and I wouldn't like to put us in any position that I don't understand. 

Thanks guys.