Rural Press Club of Victoria Speech and Q and A

4 June 2020

NAT KOTSIOS: Thanks, James, and thank you everyone for tuning in today and please keep the questions coming in. Our guest today is the Federal Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud. Born and raised in western Queensland, Mr Littleproud was elected to Federal Parliament as the LNP Member for Maranoa in 2016. A Member of Cabinet since December 2017 he has overseen various portfolios including agriculture, water resources, drought, rural finance, natural disaster and emergency management. In February this year, he was elected Deputy Leader of the Federal National Party.

I'll now hand over to you, Minister, and thank you for joining us.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks Nat. And can I just firstly acknowledge the Rural Press Club of Victoria and acknowledge the challenges, particularly rural media, is currently facing. And I think it's important we all understand the important role they play as a single source of truth for regional Australians in bringing our news to us, and extending our story to the rest of the country.

Obviously, COVID-19 has exacerbated a number of issues for a number of media outlets but we want to try and continue to work constructively with the media sector to ensure that we continue to have that continuity of support for our new young journalists that invariably move into the city and become national journalists but it's important that we have that conduit from the bush into the city in telling our story. So, I do acknowledge the hard work that our rural journalists have undertaken and the challenges they currently face and the whole nation has but particularly agriculture over the last couple of years. In particular, we've had drought, fire and, in fact, we even had flood in northwest Queensland only 12 months ago and now COVID-19.

But one of the things I think we should be profoundly proud of is the fact that agriculture has stood tall all the way through that. We haven't forgotten the drought, we'll continue to roll out our over $8 billion worth of programs through the Drought Fund and, in fact, the Drought Future Fund will go live and the first $100 million will be procured out to services on 1 July. And, in fact, that's sitting on the table at Parliament as we sit waiting for that to be passed as a disallowable instrument so we understand that there's no challenges to that, and in fact we should see that money continue to flow. We'll continue to see the packages we put at around Farm Household Allowance. Our three pillars to a National Drought Strategy being the here and now, supporting the farmers from the here and now putting money in their pockets, the communities that support them.

And, in fact, tomorrow the Deputy Prime Minister will be announcing $200 million worth of the Building Better Regions Funds that was designed just for drought communities. That's on top of the $300 million that we've put out through local councils to empower them. So that's $500 million of stimulus to the community and the Future Fund this is the third pillar of our drought- National Drought Strategy which is about the future. Looking to the future, being the first government to understand that your next drought starts the very first day after it stops raining.

So, we haven't forgotten that and obviously, those where the fires intersected, we're going to continue to work with those communities and the last package announced just recently was $450 million to empower local communities to be able to go out and to empower them to decide what their recovery looks like. We didn't want it to be a Canberra led recovery, we wanted it to be a local led recovery so it's important we continue to work through that.

But I think one of the things out of COVID-19 that positive things if there can be any is that there's been an awakening by all Australians in the importance of agriculture. The important role that we play in feeding and clothing Australians, and not just Australians but the rest of the world as well. We continue to be able to export; we continue to be able to keep this the supermarket shelves filled because we've calmly and methodically gone about our business. And the Federal Government made it very clear from the outset that agriculture and the services that support agriculture that being from the tyre centre at the local shop, the mechanic, the vet all the way through the supply chain was essential to keeping Australia safe. It underpinned our nation's security.

Please do not underestimate the importance that we played in securing our nation's security. You only had to see what was happening when people thought they were going to run out of a toilet roll, or that last mince or meat was going to be on the shelves, they panicked. And the fact that we had calmly gone about our business and continued to stock those shelves that kept calm throughout our communities. And farmers have done that and we should be proud of the fact, be very loud and proud about the fact that we were the ones that kept our cool and kept the nation going.

But we'll also be I think it's important to understand the future that'll underpin our nation's recovery from this, us and the resource sector I think there's an appreciation from all levels of government that with our agricultural and resource sector our economy, this recession that we've gone into, is going to be far deeper if we are not part of it. So it's important that we put the framework around agriculture to move forward, and there's been some challenges not just through those that I've articulated, but also through trade, we got to understand that and we've got to continue to work through that and making sure that we bring the best and brightest.

I'm not the beholder of all wisdom and knowledge and so, the next couple of weeks, I'm bringing together some of the best thinkers within the agricultural industry together to give me a pathway and empower them to put together a pathway answering three very important questions in driving agriculture into the future.

First one's about those markets and the challenges we face. What does the new market look like after COVID-19? What's the changes that we'll see, not just from consumers, from exporters right around the world? We got to understand we're a nation of 25 million people, we produce enough food for 75, so we need to engage the world; we need to trade with the world; but we need to understand the world post COVID and get an appreciation of what brand Australia looks like after that. And I think we're positioned very well because of that continuity that we continued to provide during COVID-19 because we continued to export, we continued to make sure our products hit the shelves not just here in Australia, but around the world and that stands us in good stead, not just because of the quality of our product but because of our reliability.

So how do we enrich that brand Australia? And I think that comes, underpinning also that our biosecurity standards that's been the cornerstone of being able to have brand Australia. And we'll continue to make sure that those investments go into biosecurity. In fact, I just announced another $25 million into looking at new technologies, new technology needs the smarts of the current age to be able to mitigate the risks of biosecurity challenges to this country.

But it's also deeper than that, I think it's about enriching our brand, and that's why in the coming week I'll be announcing the successful university that will be undertaking the methodology to finalise the stewardship program, the Biodiversity Stewardship Program to be able to understand the stewardship of what our farmers are doing for our environment and how do we pay them and reward them for that? Not just for their carbon abatement, the premium for their improvement in biodiversity, but how do we have certification for those farmers that have hit those levels, to be able to seal their beef, their lamb, their product with a biodiversity seal that is recognised around the world, and here in Australia, that consumers are prepared to pay a premium for. And that is the first step in making sure farmers are rewarded for their stewardship, but Brand Australia is enriched further in terms of our clean green image.

Second question, I really want to pose to these thought leaders is around the modernisation of regulation. How do I get the hell out of people's lives while giving them the parameters in which to work, or give them the guiderails that they need to know that they can work in? And how do we embrace new technologies? How do we unlock the potential of technology while maintaining that brand, that image that we have portrayed around the world because of the quality of our product? And I've already tasked one aspect of this with AMIC and I have to shout out to AMIC, and the leadership of AMIC around this in looking at the meat processing sector. How do we maintain the regulatory requirements that not only we expect domestically but internationally, while embracing technology? And I've challenged my Department around the culture that they have is embracing this in looking at new ways, and then making sure that that's accepted in the international markets and that it even meets our standards. We shouldn't just keep doing the same thing because it's being done the same way all the time, we should look to new technology, new ways, to streamline the regulatory requirements we have on industry because invariably, that makes us more productive, that makes us more efficient, and that makes us more money.

That's, in essence, what we want to try to do and we'll continue to do. And there are other sectors that we continue to do that. In fact, I did a one of these webcasts with the Queensland Rural Press Club, and I challenge you and your industries, if there are things where government is a roadblock, or there are ways that we can address the regulatory pace that we have, then I'm happy and I'm all ears. I think that the Prime Minister has set this gauntlet down himself and made it very, very clear that the expectation is that we need to get boat rowing quicker, and we can't do that, you can.

And that's the thing, is governments don't create jobs, businesses do and all we did was put the environment around you. We have to give you guiderails to work with it but effectively we have to try and empower you to do the work that you do more efficiently and productively and that's where the regulation piece I think it's a real opportunity for us to look at. And in fact, internally, we have to look at our own trade mechanism within the Department. They're a still paper-based system in terms of people wanting to trade internationally dealing with the Department of Agriculture. We've already started making investment in creating an IT infrastructure program but we need to modernise that, streamline it to cut through the red tape that's there, that their Departments are because of an under-investment in the past of our export systems internally.

And we've got to put our hand up when things need to be done, we also have to take ownership. So we're working through that and started that, in fact last time I was Ag Minister we put some money into streamlining that and creating the IT system, and now there's more work that needs to be done to get that further all the way through.

The third question, and I want to ask these thought leaders is around innovation systems. And last time I was Ag Minister I got EY to do a report on our innovation systems. We are ranked number 20 in the world yet we have the same number of researchers and scientists as the United States and Netherlands who are 4th and 6th in the world. We are far superior with our human capital, and the men and women that are leading our science and research innovation.

And now we're working to a point where in fact this week I've just signed off on the last piece of that to work with our Research Development Corporations it's been streamlining that, greater collaboration, coordination of the work that we do and unlocking them in many ways, and taking the shackles off them in not being afraid to fail. Sometimes I think as governments, we put too much, too many shackles around them but in, too afraid to look for some big sky ideas that will pay off invariably, rather than just sticking to the safe one per centres. And the 1 per centres are important, but we shouldn't be afraid to dream, we shouldn't be afraid to stretch ourselves and go further.

And that's one of the challenges that I want to put back to the RDC's is how do we challenge one another further and beyond to stretch agriculture, and research and development? How do we collaborate? If a failure in grains, maybe a success in hort. There's no collaboration, we're working in silos and how do we break that down? And how do we attract new capital? I'm going to be honest with you, between ourselves and the farmers we're putting in $1.1 billion a year into research and development. I don't have any more money to put in there but what I do have is the brightest minds in the world right here in Australia to be able to attract that corporate dollar, as well as foreign state money, to be able to partner with us to let our best and brightest create the research and develop the technology, and then how do we adapt that into their countries? And we've already had conversations with a number of nations around that, and that's the opportunity that poses itself around the innovation system and how we can modernise it.

Because I think this can become the next pillar of agriculture. I mean, that's important to bring back the next generation of young people. We've had generations of young people leave regional Australia, leave agriculture, because it's all too hard. Like my father said that to me when I finished school, I wasn't academically gifted, but he said you can't come back to the farm because it's just too hard. We need to change that narrative. We need to change that narrative that there is an opportunity for the next generation otherwise they won't come back. But not everybody has the capacity, the financial capacity to get back onto a property, but they have other skill sets to be able to provide agriculture and that's why I think that our innovation systems can become the next pillar of agriculture that will be, see us as a world hub of our R&D technology right here in Australia.

And so that's why I want to challenge the RDC's to challenge themselves, to stretch themselves, to come together and collaborate. In fact, AgriFutures is very close to finalising the platform, for want of a better word that will coordinate all these RDC's work so that there is a one stop shop that not only we can see here within Australia, but we can show the world what we're doing here, what we're working on. And that's very important, it's called Ag Grow, and it's about making sure that the world knows what we're doing and how we're doing it. And AgriFutures, we'll tie that in with AGEvoke which has been very important around tying our best and brightest with the world, and the capital from around the world to bring them in.

So this is the pillar to bringing our young people home, not just to the land but to the new jobs of agriculture, the exciting new jobs that will grow not only agriculture but importantly regional and rural Australia. And one of the elements of this that EY report created was that we should have hubs around this innovation. That we shouldn't be in sandstone universities in capital cities but in fact we should be out in the regions and having centres of excellence in the regions. Because one of the things we have lost in the past is the extension work from the research and development to the farm gate. Invariably, it was states who took that but that's diminished in all states of all political persuasions, make no mistake, I'm passing any dispersions there. The reality is we need to rebuild that and how do we do that is have R&D closer to the farmer so that they can touch and feel and smell it quicker than reading it in a journal.

So this is the important aspect of us now coming together and we got to put the foot on the accelerator and make sure that we go from number 20 in the world to number one in the world by 2030. The EY report says 2050, I think we can challenge ourselves we're better than that. And I think that if we collaborate with our RDCs to come together and coordinate a better strategic way, it provides a real opportunity not just for the one per centres but for some of the other far reaching research and technology that we want to gain.

So those are the opportunities that I see us as, an agricultural sector being able to embrace. But understanding the important role that we play in Australia I think is something that many Australians have lost for some time. And I think as it started with this, the COVID-19 has awoken Australians to our importance. It's important now that we don't let that window shut on us. It's important now that we continue to make sure that Australians continue to understand what we do and how we do it.

Thirty, forty years ago, most people in metropolitan Australia had an uncle and aunt who lived in the bush that came out and understood what we did, now they don't. They live on if they're lucky they live on 600 square metres of dirt with a six-foot colour bond fence, if that's living, good luck to you. But we need them to understand our story and our story is a long and proud one. But we cannot be complacent in them understanding that. And so these are the elements that I believe will not only encourage our fellow Australians to understand what we do, and cherish and value what we do, but will have the world understand and cherish what we do and make sure that that flows, back most importantly, to the farm gate.

So I don't intend to talk, I think it's more important to listen and take questions. So I think I've gone long enough but I think it's important that the one message we take away is considerable pride in what we've done, what we've achieved but be very buoyant about our future and that every one of us, the narrative around what we do and how we do it, is so important because if we don't, people will forget us.
So thanks for having me and happy to take some questions.

NAT KOTSIOS: Okay. Thank you very much, Minister, for your speech. We'll get straight to some Q&A. Starting with press, with media as per Press Club guidelines. To begin with, one there's been a few questions on is in regards to Tuesday's landmark Federal Court decision on the 2011 live export ban. Minister, will the Government be appealing that decision?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well look that was an abhorrent decision by the former minister, Joe Ludwig, in what he did to those people in my home state and in the- particularly Northern Territory in Western Australia. And it had ramifications for the whole industry.

We've had a conversation around this only yesterday in Cabinet and we are working through the judgment and the implications of that judgment. And obviously, while proceedings are continuing, we will, we will now probably engage most likely within the next couple of days, with those plaintiffs, around a pathway forward. Obviously, we respect the harm and hurt, particularly to the Brett family. And can I just say to Emily Brett, and the grace in which she has handled herself over the last couple of days has been inspiring. And obviously, as a Federal Government, we understand the hurt that has been inflicted by that decision by Joe Ludwig, and we will now work with him constructively around a pathway forward and that might start as early as today.

NAT KOTSIOS: The decision sets a fairly significant new precedent, however, in terms of Cabinet decisions, ministerial decisions, even those of government agencies could be challenged in a very new way and be found to be, you know, unlawful or invalid. The government must be quite concerned that this could pave the way for more litigation?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well the Attorney-General obviously is working through that judgement, and there is some time for us to work through that and we appreciate that but we understand the anguish of those plaintiffs, so we're trying to work through this quickly. So the Attorney-General has, has had some initial understanding of that judgment and what is in the judgement, I think that's important to understand as well, is appreciating the wording within it because that has the implications that need to be worked through.

So we've worked through this as quickly as yesterday in Cabinet. There's more to happen today and over the coming couple of days. We don't intend to this, for this to be protracted, we intend to try and address it as quickly as we can. But it is a complex judgment that needs to be worked through, as you've articulated, the implications around executive government and what that would look like in the future is something that we would have to make sure that we appreciate while also understanding the needs of those plaintiffs.

So that's the challenge we face and we don't intend to take it backward step on it. We intend to address it as quickly as we can and as fairly as we can.

NAT KOTSIOS: Okay. The next question comes from Clint Jasper from ABC Rural. India has just announced a reduction in red lentil tariffs until August as the Prime Minister meets with his Indian counterpart today. What is the Government doing to ensure grain trade with India can grow and be less volatile than it currently is?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, we've been working continually with India and in fact we had some wins on barley only in the last couple of weeks around some of their fumigation requirements which obviously helps our barley producers. It's an emerging market that provides considerable potential for Australian farmers. I think what we should all take out of international trade and the recent events here in Australia is that exporters, in simple business principles, should not have market concentration it's important that we spread the risk. And that's a simple business principle, that's not passing dispersion on any foreign state. That's simply saying that's a good business principle in which to adhere.

And obviously, we need to make sure that anything we send makes the specifications that's been asked. And that's why the Government has been very, very forward leaning with respect to trade agreements with Japan, China, Korea, the TPP 11, a $13.2 trillion marketplace that we've given access to, Peru, Hong Kong and now Indonesia comes into place on 5 July. A trade agreement, formal trade agreed with India is obviously the gold standard that we're trying to achieve, we've got to continue to work through that. But having a closer relationship with India is the first part of being able to achieve a free trade agreement. We've got to understand their domestic political situation when it comes to agriculture and how we can get them to understand that in essence of us producing enough food for 75 million people, we will not flood an Indian market, Australian producers will not be able to do that with this 1.3 billion of them over there and all we will do is be able to provide them with a very high quality and source of food and fibre from this country.

So, these are pleasing developments and we'll continue to work on that as it was with barely. There's some other challenges, but as exporters, our, you've got to understand, our job as the Federal Government is simply to give exporters choice. It's then up to the exports to make their own business decisions and to spread that risk appropriately.

QUESTION:  And while we're discussing grains, in regards to China's barely tariffs. Is there any progress there that you can inform us of? Have you had a conversation with your Chinese counterpart yet?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Unfortunately, he hasn't been available to take my call. But as we made it clear to Chinese officials, my phone is always on and my door is always open, as is the same for Simon Birmingham. But we are continuing to work through that and obviously, the four abattoirs that have been impacted. There is an appeals process that we're undertaking with China domestically. And obviously, we've made it clear that we are prepared to go to the WTO. But it's important we respect the process and I think while emotion can rise through these times, it's important that you stick to the process and you calmly work through it otherwise it can get it messy. So it's better to stick to the process. We're working with the grains industry and both Simon and I have had hook-ups with the grain industry to make sure they're aware of the processes that we're undertaking and we'll continue to do that. We'll work through this first appeals process, then there'll need to be a decision around whether we go to the WTO after that. And Simon Birmingham's got form on that. I mean he's taken Canada on wine and he's taken India, who we're now looking at now reducing some tariffs, we've taken them on sugar. So we've got form, but you've got to appreciate the other piece of this is it will take time. These WTO appeals take years. So I just think people need to manage their expectations and that's why we've been very, very keen to try and open up other markets, particularly Saudi Arabia and other opportunities for our barely in which we can send our boats to.

So there's opportunities around that we'll continue to work with our trading partners as well as there is a need domestically. I know up here in Queensland, a lot of feed barely is going to be sought after in feedlots in particular. But we've got to continue to open up those opportunities and give our exports the choice to send boats left and right if there's a problem with one market.

QUESTION:  Are you optimistic of an early outcome in regards to China on this, on these tariffs?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I think we have to be pragmatic. They've made a ruling. We'll obviously try and articulate quite clearly through the appeals process. And I think I ABARES was able to demonstrate, only in the last week, that of all the nations in the world, there's only one that subsidises their farmers less than Australia and that's New Zealand. So we'll be demonstrating quite clearly the premise that Australian farmers and particularly barley farmers were subsidised to the fact, to the point that they were able to dump grain into China, is a premise we strongly reject and one that we'll continue to defend and we'll put the data in front of Chinese officials. And as I say, we'll work through that process. And afford Chinese officials the respect that we would expect in return.

QUESTION:  Okay. We'll move onto some dairy questions. It's been a big week for the dairy industry. Pete Somerville from ABC asks, Minister, in relation to increasing farm gate milk prices, you're pinning your hopes on the supermarkets doing the right thing and voluntarily increasing prices on a lost litre product. However, you described Woolworths' moves this week as a one finger salute to the industry. Why not entertain a proposal like that of John Dahlsen?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well you only have to look at barley. If governments regulate, are seen to regulate a price of any commodity, then our trading partners will do exactly what they've done on barely. They will say that the government has interfered or there has been something wrong with the trade agreements that we put in place. We are not living up to the terms and conditions of that trade agreement. Now, we've gone out and achieved these trade agreements, predicated on the fact that we don't subsidise Australian farmers and we don't set prices. Once you start interfering, you then leave yourself open for an exporting partner to do exactly what they've just done now, is that they will go and put a tariff on that commodity. That is why it is dangerous for any person and particularly politicians who have got on this bandwagon to go out and ask Australian governments to regulate prices. Once you do that, it won't be just dairy; if you're a grain producer, you're a beef producer or a cotton producer, you are then opening the whole Australian agricultural sector up to trading partners contesting how we treat Australian agriculture and you risk tariffs. You risk retaliatory action that has been seen by China on barely. Same scenario would take place.

So I just say it's important that we put this in perspective and understand that we have to work through these issues the code and in fact those opening prices came out two days ago. We've seen some lift in some of the processes already. There's still a long way to go and there's some international price pressures there. But the markets do have a role to play in this and what I did was have a conversation with them as I did about 12 months ago, just over 12 months ago, in asking them to break a dollar a litre milk because you know what? They are the perpetrators of much of the misery in the dairy industry because they are the ones that devalued the industry by bringing in a dollar a litre milk. And effectively they have a role to play, had a responsibility to work with us, as they did, back 12 months ago in adding a 10 cents, to actually engage with the industry through the process that's backed to understand exactly what it takes to produce milk in this country. And this is the disappointing thing, is that effectively, the supermarkets have tried to put tokenistic gimmicks out there to try and fool metropolitan Australians that they're all caring, they're all loving of dairy farmers, when in fact they have devalued the industry and they don't want to be part of the solution.
So there's some more complementary work that I want to continue to work on with industry. In fact, I have to say that the UDB had been very, very collaborative and cooperative in how do we work forward on this. And we understand that there's different markets, and we don't want to have an unintended consequence of a regulatory reform that would impact one of those markets against the other, so we've got to make sure that we have a round table of the whole industries there, and so, we understand the concerns.

But there's some complementary measures that we're continuing to engage with the industry and I'll continue to engage, probably in the coming couple of weeks, as we go back to Canberra. I think there's, there's got to be a link from the supermarket back through the processor to the farm gate at the moment the code is really just from the farm gate to the processor. That link we've got with the supermarkets is the grocery code.

Now, I've got some questions about it being voluntary because when it's voluntary there's no stick, if they step out of line, what does the stick look like if they step out of line. And it's not just dairy, this is the problem I also I have around supermarkets. Dairy is not isolated in its treatment, there has been other industries that I would say the supermarkets have not been, and not behaved the way that you would think an Australian would behave.

So I'm going to explore those over the coming couple of weeks and we'll continue to engage with the dairy industry, all the players in the dairy industry, and we'll do that. In fact, and in fact, even John does I think has a lot to offer on this with his history within the supermarkets, and I think even as early as yesterday we reached out with some of the former extra work that was being done by the Department on strengthening or complementing the code, and looking at the grocery code, and getting his feedback and I think it's important to engage as many players with the expertise as possible.

Because at the end of the day all we want is not charity from supermarkets, dairy farmers just want a fair price and we've got to have a platform that achieves that.

NAT KOTSIOS: Just on the discussions around regulation and minimum prices and that sort of thing, your comments there about the possible consequences of that. Does that also rule out any discussion around mandatory levies and that sort of thing which parts of industry have also been calling for? And there's been a bit of discussion around that too.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, the levies go into research and development in particular. I'm happy to work with industry, in fact the dairy industry themselves have come to me around their current structure. My job is to make sure that, if they come with a structure that sits within the rules in which they've been designed to achieve, what that structure looks like, if I can get that put in place then I'll definitely facilitate that and I know that the dairy industry is having conversations about that as we speak and I've had conversations about, I mean, to be able to try and help facilitate a change because they're members are saying they'd like to see a change.

But that doesn't reach in to a regulator, that's far less reaching than what you are doing by the regulating price. When you regulate a price you are saying to the market, you are interfering in that market and when you want to trade with a market that's external to Australia they have every right in which to say that is not fair and we will we will subsequently live within our rights and impose a tariff on it.

NAT KOTSIOS: Alex Sinnott from the Weekly Times and also Nikolai from ABC Country Hour asked a few extra questions on the Mandatory Dairy Code of Conduct, you mentioned there are a few issues that you were looking at with it. Is it, are you concerned it's not levelling the playing field and increasing competition as it was intended given all the major processors came up with the same opening milk price? And then there's been this revision over the last few days.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I was never of the view that this was a silver bullet, this was one of the pieces of the puzzle. And that was, when I put this in place I remember, back in October 2018 when the dairy industry came to me and said yes we do want one after the report came out from the ACCC in April that year, it took them some time to decide what they wanted one -and we finally got consensus that we wanted one. There was never a belief that this was the silver bullet because of the complexity of the market.

And that's why this sets the first guiderails and you are going to see that processors and players will push those barriers and those boundaries, and my job is to make sure do they need to be strengthened? Do we need to continue to strengthen some of those guardrails to protect dairy farmers? But what are the complementary measures to make sure that there is a purity of market, that there is a value that the value of what the productions is expressed at the marketplace, and it flows through. And that's where I think that the challenge is the complexity because of the eight regions that there is, there's so much complexity in the industry of how do we get to that. It is not going to be an overnight solution, but the Code is the first part of that puzzle.

The fact that we have seen already a processor, I think, yesterday lift prices from there, and two days after they put an initial price, lift their price already. And even Coles have come out in their direct prices with their producers as being than many, shows that there is some competitive forces being bought back in but I don't know whether that's necessarily got us to the level playing field that we're looking for yet. That's why I'll be engaging with the ACCC, and looking at some complementary measures, and making sure the supermarkets are part of that as well because they have a role to play in this as well.

NAT KOTSIOS: Alright. This one's from Warwick Long at ABC Rural. There are concerns that the federal government are not taking biosecurity seriously enough, especially following the axing of the so-called Container Levy. How do you assure producers that you will working hard to keep African swine fever out? And you don't have another four army worm?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, Warwick, I'll give you $66.6 million dollars of reasons why we are not taking the foot off the accelerator on biosecurity. We've put these in a new programs for African swine flu. As soon as it started to come into South East Asia, we've understood the threat and we've made sure that we put more boots on the ground, more dogs more x-ray machines. And in fact, Marise Payne and I, now that it's in Papua New Guinea, are looking to send some of our border security officials up into Papua New Guinea, to help them contain and eradicate, if possible, in Papua New Guinea. So, that's just one example.

And even in my opening remarks, talked about an extra $25 million that we put out, with respect to investing in new technology. To use the smarts, whether it be scanners in containers, whether that be underwater drones that go underneath boats, x-ray machines. These are the types of investments we will continue to make. The Craik Review made 42 recommendations and in fact, we're going to live up to all of them and one of those is making sure that the funding remained at 2016-17 levels and the Federal Government will maintain that. The fact that we scrapped a levy, for containers has been the result of COVID-19. This is a stimulus. We are in recession and we need to try and get industry moving. We don't want to, we didn't want to impose a levy on them, when they're trying to recover and while we're trying to empower, not just them, but empower you, to get this country up on its feet. To cut the Government will not get the country up on its feet by itself. We need every part of the economy moving, everybody going in the same direction, to get the boat going quicker and we have to empower you to do that. But we will continue to invest in those biosecurity measures to make sure that brand Australia is protected and we enrich that brand.

So, African Swine Fever is definitely $66.6 million of that, has been put out only in the last couple of months and we'll continue to invest in more measures, as required and as the challenges find themselves. That is what underpins, our product, our brand and the economic impacts if we don't. I mean, foot and mouth disease, probably it would cost us around $52 billion if there was an FMD case. So, I reject any premise that the Federal Government is doing anything, other than what we said we'd do to the Craik review. But we are simply providing stimulus to this economy, to get on with the job of getting this nation out of a recession.

NAT KOTSIOS: And another quick bite from Warwick; do you want the National Party leadership? Are you a viable option to calm the tension between Queensland Nats and those south of the border, in the federal party?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: There are no tensions and I think there's a lot of commentary from those that sit outside the party room. There's 21 of us, that sit there and let me say, we are all individuals and that's a good thing. Diversity is a good thing in politics and I know that sometimes that's seen as division. But, you know, that's a good thing that we have people that come in with different ideas and values and principles that we can all draw on, and that's what the National Party is and proudly bases itself on. Let me say, there is all 21 of us that come into this Parliament, as there would be with the other 150 that are in the Parliament, all come in with ambition and to say you don't, you'd be lying. But let me say, I'm very comfortable where I am being the Agriculture Minister and I'm honoured to be the Deputy leader of the National Party. If that is all the politics provides me, then when I leave I'm going to be happy because I've had an opportunity to be able to make a difference, to leave a legacy. Now, there's not too many people that even get to Parliament. There's not too many people that even get to become a Cabinet Minister, but to be the Deputy leader of the National party is an honour that I can walk away from. Whether by popular demand I'm kicked out of the next election by my electorate in Maranoa or not, I'm comfortable in my own skin. And I'm just getting on with the job and as the rest of are, I think people that make commentary that there's division, make a misunderstanding of that the passion and pride in regional Australia and diversity more than a political play.

NAT KOTSIOS: And this will be our last question. But in regards to the foreign owned agricultural land register, we're almost at the end of the 2020 financial year and we're still waiting to see last year's report. So, we're looking at data that is now two years old. Is that good enough? Has the Government dropped the ball, in regards to this pledge to keep the sector transparent?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, look I would also like to see it done quicker. It's not my remit, it's the Treasurer's and I'll leave him to my comment on that. But I think it is important that Australians understand the level of foreign investment we have, whether it be in agricultural or any other sector of the Australian economy. It's important we have transparency, we have understanding. Foreign investment, let's make it clear, it's not a bad thing. So, long as it works for our country and they pay their fair share of tax. So, it's got to be in the national interests and those principles should be our guiding influence on how we determine foreign investment. But there's got to be a level of transparency for Australians to understand what that is, so that we can have a mature conversation about foreign investment because we should make it work for Australians. It should be good for Australians; it should be in our national interest. So, could it be done earlier? I would have hoped it would have, yes. But, obviously, I'll allow the Treasurer to make comments as to when he'll make that available to us all. And I'll work with him as quickly as I can around making sure that that happens.

NAT KOTSIOS: Okay terrific. We'll leave it there. That's all the questions we've got time for. So sorry we couldn't get to all of your questions you sent through. Minister, thank you again for taking the time to join us. And I'll pass back to James to wrap things up.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks, anytime. Hopefully next time we can have a meal and a drink together.

JAMES WAGSTAFF: Exactly. Thanks Nat, thanks Minister and thanks everyone for taking part in today's webinar. As I said earlier and in previous webinars, we have to continue to run them on a regular basis until we are all allowed back in that same room and have that meal and drink together. So keep an eye on our website, ruralpressclub.com for any upcoming events, and in the meantime, stay safe and have a good long weekend.