Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News

25 August 2020

PETER STEFANOVIC: Joining us live now is Minister for Agriculture, Drought, and Emergency Management David Littleproud. Minister, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us. So is Michael McCormack a liability?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. I mean, this is just a couple of journalists bored of reporting on COVID. They're looking for something else to scratch up, to spark some interest somewhere else. There is no mood for change. Michael has been doing outstanding job and has the full support of the party room which was reinforced only in February. So I think everyone needs to take a cold shower and understand we're focused on them, not us. And that will be the focus of the National Party into the future.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So just to be clear, does Michael McCormack have your full support?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Total support. And in fact I think it's wrong to suggest that he hasn't been fighting for a number those issues that you're talking around, particularly around live trade. The court case that we didn't appeal, it was Michael McCormack and myself in cabinet that took that up and made it very clear in a passionate and emotional way about the impact that would have on primary producers. And if it wasn't for his leadership, while many would want to have seen him yelling and screaming from the rooftops out in the public, he got the outcome. Ultimately that's what people want. They want outcomes. And it doesn't matter how you do it, they just want outcomes, and Michael McCormack has his own style of doing it. But he has been able to achieve a lot for regional Australia and that's just one of them.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So will he still be leader after the Queensland election?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yes. So there's no reason for any change. In fact, this was settled in February. The National Party is focused on the people of Australia, not on ourselves. This is just some journos bored on reporting on COVID, looking for something new to talk about, trying to scratch up a story to tell get a bit of interest somewhere else because they're just bored of talking about COVID. But we're not bored about talking about COVID. There's a lot still to be done, particularly for regional Australians, and that's why being passionate about these border restrictions that states have put on us.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Just to be clear though, do you want the job?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I mean, let me make this clear, there's 151 Members of Parliament in Canberra and any one of them that says they don't have ambition are lying. But there is a time and place for everything. And politics is about timing and opportunity, and if the political gods, all that they bestow on me is to be the deputy leader of the National Party and the Minister of Agriculture, then I'm bloody proud. I can walk away from this game, left a legacy, but been able to support my communities and support what I believe is the best political party in the country.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So if, for some reason, Michael McCormack isn't the leader of the Nationals for the next federal election, would you be happy to take up that job?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, let's not get into hypotheticals, because Michael McCormack will lead us to the next election. That's just childish stuff when we have a pandemic that the National Party is focusing on real issues, real people, not ourselves. I'm not going to enter into childish games. This is about us leading the nation, about getting us through a pandemic that is destroying our economy and has put people's lives at risk. This is the time for leadership, not childish games.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. One of those issues- this relates to farmers in Queensland and New South Wales, Minister. They can now apply for exemptions and cross the border. Can I get your thoughts on that?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well it's the first step in showing there's some common sense in federal [audio skips]. I've been belting on about this for ages, and finally Queensland - and I have to say the Chief Medical Officer in Queensland, I take my hat off to her. I challenged her to go and listen to these communities and she did. She spoke to Lawrence Springborg, the Mayor of Goondiwindi, listened and understood exactly what could be achieved between Queensland and New South Wales, and she acted. And just goes to show the other states, really there is no reason for them not to do the same. And in fact, it would be hypocritical for the New South Wales Government who were whingeing from the rooftops about Queensland not to do something for Victoria now. They have a clear pathway in which to do that. Queensland has shown them the way for agricultural production. They should do it and do it quickly, not wait for the two weeks that was decided in our National Cabinet for a protocol. It can be done now. And this is where leadership and federation needs to be tested of our states right across the country in getting this right for regional and rural Australians, not just for ag but also for health.

PETER STEFANOVIC: And are there other borders as well that should be looked at?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well I think obviously South Australia and Victoria needs to be looked at, and there's reports the South Australian Government are moving towards some pragmatic and practical common sense solutions. But New South Wales is the big impediment here, and this is where there needs to be some leadership from the Premier and the Chief Medical Officer. They were all very loud in their criticism of Queensland in holding back borders for the agricultural sector. Well it would be hypocritical for them not to sit at the table with Victoria and find a pathway through this. Because really, the announcement last week was an announcement for announcements sakes. It has had really little impact. There are still many people in COVID-free areas in agricultural production that are still unable to get into New South Wales, and there are significant animal welfare issues that are starting to emerge because of the actions of city-centric state governments that are only governing for their state cities, not for regionals.
PETER STEFANOVIC: On the issue of borders, Minister, this debate is coming back now when Queensland should reopen borders, when other borders should be opened up as well, barring Victoria for the time being. Queensland only has 18 active cases at the moment, New South Wales just three new cases at the moment. So we're kind of getting to that very low level. Actually we had Michael McCormack on the show yesterday talking about this very thing. When do you believe that that border should open for everybody else?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well look, I think Queensland has started to evolve away from this hard border closure and starting to look at localised closures, which is really the way that we should be looking at this COVID-19. Because we don't know how long we're going to have it for, we're going to have to learn to live with it. We have to be reactive and agile enough that if there are clusters that we are quickly and swiftly to address that, and we've shown that. In fact, the Queensland Government did that last weekend by putting restrictions on particular suburbs in Brisbane and local government areas, localised in that shut down rather than broad restrictions across state [audio skips]. That's what the medical advice is telling us and that's all I've been saying from the start. The premiers of all the states should be explaining the science and explaining how they should do this with the minimal amount of impact on people's lives, to keep the economy going while still keeping us safe. And that can be achieved because our tracing has improved significantly and our understanding of this virus is a lot better than what it was three four months ago. So we need to evolve with it, otherwise we're going to have an economy that really can't afford to get out of this at the end.

PETER STEFANOVIC: David Littleproud, good to have your thoughts. Thanks for joining us this morning.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me, mate.