Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

12 October 2021

KIERAN GILBERT: We turn our attention now back to the climate change discussion. With me is the Deputy Nationals Leader David Littleproud, joins me from his Maranoa electorate. Mr Littleproud, thanks so much for your time. Will the deal get done? That's the question with the Nats.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: When the National Party sees the details. There'll be no deal until the National Party party room examines the detail of the plan and then makes a determination about what impact that would have on regional Australia. And then we'll make a determination as a party room, and obviously consult with the Prime Minister and our Coalition partners from there.

KIERAN GILBERT: How many of your colleagues are not for budging on this?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I think there's some that have made public comment, and we respect that. I think the vast majority of the party room are being pragmatic and want to see the details of the plan before they make a determination. I think that's the responsible thing to do, to see the details, to make an understanding of what is being put in front of us, how that would impact regional Australia, and then obviously make a decision as a party room from there. And the majority of the party room will obviously make a decision. There'll be some that will not be for turning, and we respect that. That's the beauty of democracy. The diversity of our party room is a good thing. It should be something we fiercely protect, and we should always make sure that that diversity is given an avenue to make their voice heard.

KIERAN GILBERT: I think the Prime Minister will be relieved to hear you say, though, that the vast majority are being constructive.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: We always have been. But obviously, regional Australia footed the bill for much of what has been achieved in us meeting our international commitments. We want to make sure there's no more pain, but we also take great comfort from what the Prime Minister has said is that the plan has to protect regional Australians, and therefore we take him on his word. And that's why the detail of that plan and the party room want to understand that detail to make sure that we have comfort in the details and the modelling. And if we get that, then obviously we'll advance further. But until we see it, it's all very hypothetical.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, you've said to me many times, you're obviously not just Deputy Leader, you're also the Minister for Agriculture. And you've said many times that that sector did the heavy lifting really in reducing emissions. It was a similar message from the National Farmers' Federation this week, saying most of the reductions have come from that sector, land-use changes and so on. But isn't the message from the NFF as well that it's time for other sectors to lift their game as well in terms of response on emissions reduction?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, they're right. This has to be a whole of economy. We just can't pick on one industry and expect them to do all the heavy lifting, and I think the NFF's been very constructive. They want to make sure that they're also part of the solution. And that's why we've created the Biodiversity Stewardship Program to reward farmers for the stewardship of their land while abating carbon, making sure we put some strict parameters around that that we don't lose productive area to agriculture. But there is a whole of government approach to this. That's what the technology roadmap will explain, is that it's not just agriculture, it's resources, it's energy, it's transport. We all have a role to play, but we also, particularly in agriculture, the unique nature is that we have the opportunity to be part of the solution as well, and I think that's the exciting thing that farmers want to get an understanding and appreciation of. And I think if we can move through that, that's one part of regional Australia that we hope to be able to protect.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, a big chunk of the ag sector already does engage in this space and to their own profits as well. If you look at the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Coalition Government's Emissions Reduction Fund, a big chunk of that is going to land-use projects. So already farmers are using it with your biodiversity credits that you touched on. How does that differ from the carbon credits under the Emissions Reduction Fund that they're already tapping into?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's effectively a halo carbon credit, so they'll get paid the carbon, but we're the first country in the world to be able to measure the improvement of biodiversity. Because carbon farming's a very blunt instrument. All it is is about abatement of carbon. And unfortunately, there's been some perverse environmental outcomes where there's been no management of that land. They've simply let trees grow, and it's actually degraded the biodiversity because the grass hasn't grown underneath it, and that loses the ant, which loses the gecko, which loses the snake. And so the biodiversity is actually diminished, not improved. So what we're saying is let's have a sophisticated model that abates the carbon and gets a halo credit for the management of that. So there's an extra payment. And then what we want to do is be able to put a brand on their beef, on their sheep, to say this is world leading biodiversity stewardship for the provenance of that food. That's where we're trying to give them three legs of payment. But we want to cap that to make sure that we don't get city investors coming out and just buying large tracts of land and just walking away. There has to be a management of it. And that's why we're working constructively with Angus Taylor around some adjustments to carbon farming to protect agricultural production areas and to protect those communities that lose families. When city passive investors come in, buy tracts of land relatively cheap and then walk away and get a passive income, that's not a good outcome for the environment. It's not a good outcome for those regional communities.

KIERAN GILBERT: You said that the NFF had a point when talking about that sector doing the heavy lifting. But one thing you weren't completely on board with was compensation to be paid to farmers for the land-use changes required upon them during recent- the last couple of decades. You're saying the states should kick the tin on this. Why?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, back in 2000, late 1990s, 2000s, the National Heritage Trust was formed - $350-odd million. And obviously every time there are debates that the country has to undertake, states obviously undertake some argy bargy to get extra money. But that money that was set aside was, from a federal perspective, said that's what you can use. How you use that in terms of what you're trying to do with vegetation management laws is up to you. But if it's an issue, you have the opportunity to use that. Other states- some states actually tried to shake the Commonwealth down. I know here in Queensland they tried to get an extra $100 million. But we said there's a fund already being put in place, and that came from the sale of Telstra. And so the opportunity was there for state governments to use that money to compensate farmers if they saw fit. Now, that didn't take place, and you've got to understand now those carbon credits that relate to Kyoto are of a different nature to the ones that were trading at the moment. And I know that the NFF wants to have a constructive conversation with myself and Angus Taylor around that, and we've been in discussions with Fiona Simpson about setting that up to make sure we get a pathway forward. But it is an acknowledgement more than anything. And as Fiona Simpson has said, this isn't about compensation. It's more about acknowledgement of what the Australian agriculture sector has done, the stewardship of the land, and the fact that we should be proud of the fact that we've overachieved because of the work of the agricultural sector.

KIERAN GILBERT: If you look beyond that now, I know some of your colleagues very much exercised over the mining sector too, this week we've seen one of the biggest names in mining, Andrew Forrest, he's going to be joining me a bit later in the show, but he's made two massive announcements when it comes to renewable commitments: one at the Port of Gladstone. Does this say to you that there are massive funds going into that clean energy space that Queensland and those workers in traditional industries can capitalise on?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, definitely. And if someone's prepared to put their money where their mouth is, I congratulate them. And that's what we want. The good old Australian taxpayer shouldn't have to pay for everything. And I congratulate Twiggy for cutting a cheque. That's fantastic. We've got to make sure that there is surety of baseload power. We do that while reducing emissions. And if Twiggy Forrest wants to enter the market, we welcome that. But we've got to make sure that that base supply is there, and while we’re reducing emissions and looking at other technologies as well, like carbon capture storage. The Biden Administration and both the Federal Government here are working on a partnership in reducing emissions. Because this is the thing: you've got to get back to first principles on this. It's about reducing emissions. If we can do that with technology for coal-fired power station and gas, well, that makes sense. Why wouldn't you use it? Why would you stop in investment in that? But if others want to come in and look at new energy sources, well, that's competition. That means the market's working, and investors like Twiggy Forrest, I congratulate him, wish him all the best, and I hope he creates many, many jobs, not only in Gladstone. He could have a look in Maranoa, too, if he's got an extra five minutes.

KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, well, we might not ask him specifically on that. I might leave you to it, but I think he's got a few spare bob you might be able to throw in that direction. But let's talk about the reopening of New South Wales, because where you are, it's COVID-free. I know Queenslanders are obviously very supportive of the Premier because she's been able to manage that. She's very popular. But as New South Wales is reopening, is there more demand from people and business that you speak to for clarity on the plan for the way out? Because you can't keep the borders up forever.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. And particularly the tourism sector, I mean, I was in Cairns last week, and it's a mess. I mean, we've put $700 million out there to support the tourism sector, but in a place like Cairns, it's falling apart. And what they need, but, is certainty. So the money that we provided has got them through to this point. But they need investment certainty. They need to know that tourists are going to come, and that's all people are asking for. When you've got leadership from premiers saying this is the juncture in which we will open up in terms of vaccinations, why can't the Queensland Premier do that? That's all they're asking for. She's created a lot of anxiety, and she's done it well politically because it's played well into her hands, and we've haven't had it up here. And I know that's a great thing. But people are slowly realising that Delta will come one day, and we're going to have to learn to live with this thing. They've been pretty slow in terms of getting their arms out because the Queensland Government hasn't necessarily been pushing that as hard as they should. But if Delta hits and we go to a lockdown, there's going to be a real stark reality check in terms of what that means in lockdowns. And when it hits, that'll really hit the Queensland public. So I just say what the Premier can do is accelerate the vaccinations and make sure that there is confidence to all businesses they know when they're going to be part of Australia once more.

KIERAN GILBERT: And one big part of Australia, for both city and country, are the country shows. You're at the Ekka this morning, What are you doing to try and help put those important things on our calendar? They are. I mean, whether you grew up in the city or the country, we always remember the show. They've had a tough couple of years.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: They have, mate, and- but the show must go on, and that's why we've put in another $25 million. Twelve of that will go to the royal shows in Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, and potentially Hobart. We're hoping that they'll be able to have their show this year. And they'll just pay their fixed costs. They don't get any income this year like they did in the last year, and we put 34 million in last year and 25 to pay those fixed costs that keep on coming on. There's 9 million to go to the bush shows, and there's also 4 million that'll go to the Showman's Guild, the men and women who travel the country taking the rides. They've done it pretty tough, and they haven't had any support. We gave them 4 million in the first round, and we're topping that up with another 4 million now. And we're paying that to the Show Society so they don't pay rent. So this just takes away some of the burden, gives them a crack, and they're an integral part of any agricultural show. I mean, we love to go and look at the beef and the wheat and all the produce. But you need a bit of fun as well, apart from the bar, and the showies always provide that.

KIERAN GILBERT: They do, indeed. David Littleproud, thank you for joining us there from regional Queensland Maranoa. Talk to you soon.