Interview with Jaynie Seal, Sky News

7 April 2022

JAYNIE SEAL: The National Farmers Federation has wrapped up their two day federal election campaign, 'Time to Thrive' with five priorities, including $5 billion for regional telecommunications and a $2 billion biodiversity fund. Joining me live is David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture. Good morning to you, Minister. How are you today?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, good. Good to be in Mildura.

JAYNIE SEAL: It looks fantastic where you are. Another priority, Minister, that was announced in the conference that you attended certainly day one of, was to fast track visa partners and certainly you were there when Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese gave their speeches. What did they say?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we've given a commitment. In fact, we put in place in agricultural visa came into effect on the 1st October. It's a demand driven program. It's not capped. Any number of farmers will decide how many they bring in. We were fortunate enough to have Vietnam sign up to it, and in fact, the memorandum of understanding means that we now go into the implementation stage. It's just simply signing contracts. What unfortunately, Anthony Albanese failed to do was give a yes or no answer as to whether he'll support an agricultural visa. It's as simple as that. But in what is a diplomatic blunder, and what he needs to apologise to the Vietnamese government is that he said that the agricultural visa wasn't real. When you have a country sign up, that is the most disrespectful thing anyone could do. And Anthony Albanese, who wants to be the Prime Minister, has made a big diplomatic blunder with one of our most strategic partners. And it's important now that he rectifies this and he gives the commitment to the Vietnamese government that the Ag visa will remain and as we will continue to work through a pathway to permanent residency, this is a structural change that agricultural workforce in this country has never seen before. And this is bringing the next generation of migrants to Australia. And it's important that Anthony Albanese gives that confidence, because if he doesn't, if he doesn't give that confidence, you're going to pay at the checkout because farmers are making investment decisions today about what they plant predicated on what can be picked. If they can't pick it, supply goes down and your price goes up at the checkout.

JAYNIE SEAL: And, Minister, do we know how many people are set to arrive when and if they're going to be unskilled skilled or a mix of both?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, the visa takes in all of them are skilled, unskilled and semi-skilled. And so the first tranche, we believe will probably most likely an unskilled tranche. We're working with DFAT and Marise Payne now simply has to sign those contracts with the approved employers and labour hire companies that we found some months ago. So we're already ready. It's a matter of signing the paperwork, and then we'll get them in country with Vietnam and identify those workers. So it should be imminent so long as Marise Payne can get those contracts signed. The Vietnamese government is ready to go, and it's a matter of getting the boots on the ground there to make sure we can identify those workers and get them in quickly.

JAYNIE SEAL: Also this week, Minister, the historic announcement on the Australian-India Free Trade Agreement, welcomed by both major parties. Excellent for industries like sheep, farmers, wine exporters. A few, though, missed out, including dairy and lentils. Why did some industries miss out?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, it was a difficult conversation to have, but a significant achievement in getting a free trade agreement with India. Many of our trading competitive partners around the world are envious about the fact that we've even been able to crack this code. This is a stepping stone to actually improve and increase that agreement with India, and we'll continue to work on that. But in pursuit of perfection, we didn't want to destroy the broad benefits to agriculture and just say no we're holding out and not going to have one at all. So this is important to understand. We'll continue to work on those other commodities, but we couldn't say no to a free trade agreement with India and then all these other benefits that we're going to get be lost. This is free trade agreement number 16, but it also has given an invitation to India to participate in the Ag visa as well. So it is comprehensive. It covers around 90 per cent of agricultural commodities that we export at the moment. We want to improve that, but we've got to work through that process. But we are very fortunate to have secured an agreement with India.

JAYNIE SEAL: And Minister, yesterday you announced a $15.4 million support for agriculture shows announcement. Tell us about that.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. These are just for our small rural show societies out there that are run by 50,000 volunteers across the country. They don't pretty tough over the last couple of years. In fact, some of them haven't had income for a couple of years, and we stepped in and gave them income support, and we've already run an infrastructure around $20 million. This is another infrastructure around that. Now that they're up on their feet, it just gives them the capacity to get a grant of up to $500,000 to build that infrastructure they need on their show grounds to keep it up and going. It's not just for their show. It's also for their community, for the community use. But that might be a new bar or canteen or a toilet block, but they normally don't have the capacity to do that themselves. So what we're saying is we're going to step in, we're going to help them. And these grants just go into stimulating a small country towns, but is an acknowledgement to those men and women that are volunteering to showcase our communities out there across the country and showcasing agriculture that we believe in them. And we thank them for what they've done and understand they've done. It tough, but this is just a little leg up to give them a go and make their communities even stronger.

JAYNIE SEAL: You're absolutely right. Many of them have been doing it tough, especially over the last couple of years. It looks very nice where you are. The sun is shining Mildura today. What's on the agenda for today and the next handful of days, Minister?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, in fact, heading out to make an announcement now a trade grant for the citrus industry as we just talked about. We've signed that free trade agreement with India. We're now going to have a citrus ambassador put into India and we'll actually have some business to business link sending some of the producers here, the exporters over to India to get that people to people link about sending our products straight in. We've got a 13,700 tonne quota to start with and the tariffs being cut from 30 per cent to 15 per cent so, growers here are excited about that but we've got to put boots on the ground to make this free trade agreement come to fruition so there's over $500,000 we're about to announce this morning here in Mildura with the citrus growers which is very important for them and then eventually get up to Townsville to make some announcements on Northern Australia in the coming day or so. We're across the country and I suspect once the Prime Minister goes to the governor-general we'll be across the country even more.

JAYNIE SEAL: And speaking of announcements, the big one any ideas when the election is going to be called?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It has to be this week, Jaynie. That's about the best I can give you. He doesn't tell me. I think you'll probably know before I will.

JAYNIE SEAL: We can't be too long anyway but we look forward to hearing more things very much. As always, Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.