Interview on the Today Show

9 November 2020

KARL STEFANOVIC: Well Joe Biden is already speaking like a president, isn’t he? His acceptance speech pledging to heal America after one of the most divisive elections in history. But Donald Trump remains defiant this morning, back on the golf course and is still refusing to concede defeat. To discuss, I’m joined by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, and senior writer at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Jessica Irvine. Good morning guys, nice to see you. David, to you first of all - world leaders, including Scott Morrison, congratulating Joe Biden on his victory. But Donald Trump, and as you’ve heard this morning on our show, they’re digging in for the long haul, legally.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, we obviously welcome the election of President-Elect Biden, and we’ll obviously work with him like we did President Trump, we’ve got a strong relationship. And it’s important that we let the process continue to unfold. That’s the beauty of democracy, it mightn’t be pretty at times, but we need to let it unfold, and even within that process, I respect the fact that President Trump feels aggrieved, and he has a right to test that in a court of law. You should respect that – in fact that’s what they went to an election for, it was actually to preserve those very rights. So we just hope that that happens quickly, that his aggrievement can be arbitrated very quickly by the courts over there in some way or another that the American people can move on with confidence that their democracy is intact, and in fact they’re still a good global citizen that’ll hopefully play nice with us and the rest of the world.

KARL STEFANOVIC: If there’s a drama though, David, if there’s some sort of drama with the courts, I mean, all hell will break loose in America.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, but I think you’ve still got to trust the process. I mean, that’s the basis of our society and their society -predicated off democracy and the rule of law, and it’s a fair one. And everyone should be afforded- I get Donald Trump’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But, the reality is he’s still afforded- should be afforded the same rights as anyone else. If he feels aggrieved, like I could be here in Australia, then I’ve got a way and a pathway to test that. He should be given that opportunity. But I just hope it doesn’t carry on for too long, because I think we just need closure and a way forward.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Jess, how did you view the weekend?

JESSICA IRVINE: Well, waking up Sunday morning was pretty good just to have some certainty, and I think this does cloud it, all the claims, you know, it’s not legit. It is, we have a president in America and it is- sort of feels like a fresh breath of new air, and particularly to have our first female Vice President in the United States, Kamala Harris, she wore white for her speech as am I, in representation of the suffragette moment. That’s a major milestone and moment for women, all over the world. And it does feel good, you know, let’s not get too distracted, we have the outcome.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. David, will a Biden presidency ease our tensions with China, which are considerable and growing worse by the day?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, look, obviously we continue to want to have our hand out to China to- and reach a dialogue with them, in fact, restart it. But anything that will help that, we’re obviously open to. We’ve taken a leadership role, we haven’t thrown our toys out of the cot, we’ve continued to keep our phone on and our door open to Chinese officials, and my counterpart. In fact, I wrote to my counterpart only in the last couple weeks trying to engage again. So, look, we’ll take whatever assistance but we don’t intend to compromise on our values and principles as a country and as a good global citizen. But we’re prepared to explain that to not only China, to any other nation that may feel aggrieved at what we’ve said. But ultimately, our job as a Federal Government is to keep Australians safe, and we’ll trade under fair rules and we just expect people to trade fairly with us.

KARL STEFANOVIC: You haven’t heard back from your counterpart, he’s just not that into you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Nah mate, he’s not the Lone Ranger, I suppose, just looking at me.

KARL STEFANOVIC: It’s bad, aye Jess? I mean, it’s got to the point now where it’s a terrible relationship.

JESSCIA IRVINE: Yeah, and my sort of read on Joe Biden is that it’s not necessarily that they will- he will be any more relaxed with China. We’ve entered this new world where countries are flexing their muscles and we’re not trading, and it’s a problem.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Yeah, it is. This could finally be my route back into Queensland folks. As the state struggles to find enough workers to pick fruit, what about an exemption to plug some of that gap, David, can we start talking here?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, we’ve tried to start this thing called the Ag Workers’ Code, and all the states bar Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania have signed up to it. Queensland refuses…

KARL STEFANOVIC:  So, can you explain that for us? Because, I think it’s- this- on the serious side, this is ridiculous what’s going on.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, this is about the free movement of labour between states in a COVID-safe way. And what we’re saying is, let’s allow farmers and ag workers to move, and then there’s a third cohort that the states want to classify as seasonal workers. And they’re sometimes backpackers that have been in the company for some time, and even Australians that are doing it. But the challenge we’ve got is when one state doesn’t sign up, it means that if you’re picking fruit in Griffith at the moment, you want to go to Bowen to pick mangoes, you’ll get pulled up at Stanthorp and you’ll be put in a motel for about $2800 worth of costs. The Queensland Government are currently flying in, they’re flying in overseas workers from the Pacific and letting them isolate on farm and work on farm. And worl on farm…

KARL STEFANOVIC: See, I think that’s an absolute disgrace.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It’s just not common sense, Karl. And you know, we’re incentivising Australians with up to $6000 in reimbursement of travel costs to get them off the couch and go and have a crack, and we’ve got states that are holding us up. I mean, there are cohort out there that we really need to get up and have a go at this, because farmers do not have the luxury to sit around and wait for someone to turn up and pick their fruit. When it’s ready, it’s got to get off the paddock and onto your plate, and someone has to be there to help them.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay. Jess, people just aren’t into fruit picking?

JESSICA IRVINE: Yeah, well I think they would be, you have to be get into Queensland to pick the fruit. I reckon we need an exchange scheme with all those Melburnians who have been locked up in their houses for so many months, they should get out, get some fresh air. Let’s send them up there.

KARL STEFANOVIC: There’s no way that she’s going to let Victorians in. [Laughter].
There’s just no way.

JESSICA IRVINE: I know. Well, they got to open the borders. It’s getting ridiculous. It’s time to open the borders.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Well, it is. Let’s finish on something a little bit different. I don’t know how I feel about this story – which is saying something. Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway has apologised – she’s been forced to, really – after her portrayal of a witch with three fingers in her latest movie caused offence to people with disabilities. Jess, a witch with three fingers. Insensitive, or too far?

JESSICA IRVINE: Well, it is something that has offended people with limb difference, which is a class of disability. Some people are born with different limbs, some people, of course, get there through tragic accident. And apparently it has caused offence to– there is a condition where you’re born with three fingers. And so, she’s responded to that. You know, witches are supposed to be, by nature, somewhat strange looking, I think it’s unintentional but is has caused offence.

KARL STEFANOVIC: What do you feel about that, David?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, I’m with you Karl, this is a different one. I think you’ve got to appreciate this wasn’t a malicious act. I mean, the actress and the production company didn’t maliciously go out to offend anybody. And I think I get the sensitivities with this, probably because it’s with young children. But I think we got to be careful as a society not to over interpret everything, and just to look for a cause. I’m not saying this one isn’t valid, but I just think as a society, we’ve just got to be a bit careful on this, and I don’t think there was any malice in it and I think we just need to look at it through that lens. The intent was about telling a children’s story, whether they just missed the mark on that or not, I appreciate, but I think as a society let’s not get down that slippery slope.

KARL STEFANOVIC: I just think Hollywood needs to take a good, hard, long look at itself.

JESSICA IRVINE: I just don’t think they needed to remake Witches, Anjelica Huston was amazing, in the first one. [Laughter]

SILVA JEFFREYS: Thank you, Jess.

KARL STEFANOVIC: I love that Hocus Pocus, that was a good film… said no one ever. [Laughter]

SILVA JEFFREYS: Dominating the box office.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Thank you guys.