Interview with Jaynie Seal, Sky News

14 January 2022

JAYNIE SEAL: Good morning. National Cabinet yesterday announced thousands of workers in critical industries have had close contact isolation rules relaxed in a bid to solve Australia’s growing supply chain crisis. Joining me live now is the Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud. Great to see you this morning, Minister. 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, thanks for having me. 

JAYNIE SEAL: Absolute pleasure. So National Cabinet met yesterday. More workers able to receive Covid isolation exemptions, including transport and freight. How much of an impact do you think this will have? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, I think this will be the first step on our road to recovery and normality in some way. And it’s great to see that we’re finally getting some synergy between the states and national cabinet. And I think such is the gravity of the problem around these supply chains that the states have put away their bickering and just simply said we’ve got to get on with it. And I thank them and congratulate them for that. This is real leadership, and it’s going to take leadership to fix this problem. But it’s not going to be there forever. There are plenty of supplies out there. And people just need to appreciate that they are exacerbating this problem by actually going out and hoarding. They need to be sensible and only get what they need between their normal shops, because that takes a lot of pressure away. 

What national cabinet has done will also alleviate some of these pressures around the definitions of close contacts so that we can keep people at work, keep them in that supply chain and keep stuff going. And that’s really all we’ve got to do now. We’re starting to really come to the end of this in many respects, and it’s just important now that everyone plays their role – they don’t go and panic buy, they allow these close contact rules to come into effect and the states be able to do that. And we’re seeing that right across the country – that we’ve finally got some coordination that I think hopefully over the coming weeks will see us get back to some more normality and allow us to continue to focus just on that health front that we are starting to get on top of. 

JAYNIE SEAL: And, Minister, not so bad for small businesses, because we’re hearing that farmers are selling goods directly to the smaller stores as opposed to the bigger supermarkets. 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, I mean, this is really an evolution of farmers have just had a gutful of the big supermarkets doing them over, and they’ve been continually doing them over – promising them the world. They go and make big capital investments in buying new farms and then they don’t have the contracts at the end of it; the supermarkets walk away from them. So we’re seeing a real change where people are really concerned about the provenance of their food, and they want it to be more local than ever. And I think this is the exciting thing for our agricultural sector – is that they don’t have to just play in the big supermarket sand pit anymore. We’ve got small businesses, family businesses, that are starting to pop up because they see the importance of this – that families want to understand the provenance of their food and fiber. And so we’re able to get our farmers to sell more locally, to local producers, but also have those export markets as well. 

So this is just a really, an evolution of really the behaviour of the supermarkets and how they’ve treat Australian farmers for many years. And it’s great to see that the beneficiaries of this aren’t just farmers; it’s also smaller family businesses that are popping up right around Australia that are selling the best produce in the world. 

JAYNIE SEAL: The Queensland Premier, Minister, says that it’s now time for the barricades to come down. It’s been almost two years. The state’s border will fully reopen tomorrow. Is it time, do you think? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It is. It’s over time. But I congratulate the Premier on this. Politics aside, it took some courage for her to do this because she obviously went through a very long and strong phase of locking everyone out. And I think the right decisions have been made and I think the Chief Health Officer, the new Chief Health Officer here in Queensland, is doing an exemplary job. He is very pragmatic, and I think he is leading the Premier to making more common-sense decisions, and I think as Queenslanders we’ve still got to make sure that we arm ourselves with those jabs because that’s the best way to keep us safe – and the boosters. But this is the right decision. We have to come back as a nation. We can only get through this as a nation if we come together and we work together. And I think that’s finally what we’re seeing in National Cabinet. That’s what we’re seeing with this decision. I think it’s a good one. 

JAYNIE SEAL: Also in National Cabinet Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that fully vaccinated backpackers can enter Australia under working holiday visas. When and how will this affect the regions? 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, look, hopefully it’ll – I think it will come down to confidence and whether these young people are prepared to get on a plane and come over. And I think now that we’re seeing some consistency between the states, don’t underestimate that this ripple starts to get out there amongst the backpacker community. Because before they’d come and they had go, “Well, we could get locked in in one state and you can’t move and, therefore, you go nowhere.” And now I think we’re getting some consistency between the states. I think this will give some confidence to those young men and women – and some of the more mature ones – to come over to Australia. They can see the opportunity. 

We have dealt with this on a health front better than probably any other nation in the world, as well as an economic one. And so what we’d like to see now is hopefully that confidence will come. The backpackers will come back to Australia and we get them out into the paddocks and also into many of those other industries. It’s not just farmers where there is a shortage at the moment – there’s a big constrain on labour, and we’ve gone from over 140,000 backpackers before Covid-19 now to under 30,000. So there’s a lot to come in before they make an impact. But that confidence is the main thing, and hopefully this will start bringing them back. 

JAYNIE SEAL: All right. Thank you very much. We’ve run out of time, but I know this week you did announce the round 2 of the agricultural shows and field days program opening January 28 – $7.9 million available. But we’ll have to have you back on very shortly to talk more about that. Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud, thank you so much for your time. 

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.