Interview with Avani Dias, ABC Triple J Hack

10 February 2021

AVANI DIAS: Let's speak to one of the Nationals now. David Littleproud is the Deputy Leader of the party and he's the Federal Agriculture Minister. Thanks for coming on Hack.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.

AVANI DIAS:  We've heard from Young Farmers. They want a government net zero commitment. They're doing it on their own already, changing their practises on their farms to make them more climate change friendly. Why are the Nationals opposing this policy?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we're not opposing it. We just want to understand how we get there and who pays for it. I think everyone has signed up to reduce the emissions proudly. The Australian public want honesty, not platitudes, and that's what we work towards. That's what the National Party want, to be part of the conversation and making sure that farmers play a constructive role in that, which they already- as you've just articulated, whether that now be through soil carbon sequestration or the Biodiversity Stewardship Program that I instituted in the last budget that's now going to pilot phase that will reward farmers for carbon abatement, but also biodiversity improvement. So, we can just have blind instruments of collecting carbon. But it should be- it should be more sophisticated than that. It should actually improve the biodiversity of our environment. So those are the practical things that we think are some of the tools that can go into reducing emissions. Farmers can play a role in it and be rewarded financially for it.

AVANI DIAS: Minister, your leader of the National Party is Michael McCormack. He said that regional communities will get whacked by a net zero target. So, do you support legislating a net zero target for 2050, which is the world standard, which is what our international trading partners are doing?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Not until I see how we get there and who pays for it. I want to commit to reducing emissions as quickly as anybody else, but we've got to pay the bills. And Australian agriculture paid the bills last time around when we signed up to Kyoto, but …

AVANI DIAS: Okay. Minister, I'm keen to focus on net zero, because obviously that's done now. Kyoto's done and we've seen what the repercussions have been. You know, expert support that there should be incentives for farmers. So, what is your plan? Because right now, we're hearing the Nationals come out and, you know, publicly oppose policies like this, but we're not hearing the solutions for how to actually get there and what that plan should be.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, technology is the solution, and that's what's being devised now. And there's $14 million going into being able to measure soil carbon. There could be significant amounts of carbon sequestration through soil that our farmers can actually participate with. And those are the sorts of things that we need to invest in. It's also carbon capture storage. Joe Biden, in fact, is investing in this technology. We've got to make sure we take the zealots from both sides out of this. Have a honest, practical conversation about the means in which we get there and technology is the answer, and I think if we partner with the United States on that, we lead the world on soil carbon. We also lead the world on this Biodiversity Stewardship Program. I think that is our answer to reducing emissions, not just for agriculture, but playing a broader role in reducing our overall emissions.

AVANI DIAS: Minister, the Government has already committed to some of those policies that you're describing. They've also said that they're working on new measures for the May budget, which would see farmers paid more to sequester carbon in their soil to improve their biodiversity and land management. So why the opposition and the concern around a lack of a plan to get to net zero when there are clear steps being made?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: There is no opposition, but you have to be able to quantify it. If you want to go out and have credibility in the global marketplace and say: we are reducing emissions, there's a lot of platitudes from a lot of countries saying they're going to hit it, but there's no plan in which to get there. Until you can understand what those programs, what those new technologies will give with any great veracity, you don't actually have a plan.

AVANI DIAS:  Minister, in a piece this morning, your colleagues, Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce, they wrote: many of the politicians talking about a 2050 aspiration will be dead by then. Your leader, Michael McCormack, has said, quote, that he's not worried about what happens in 30 years' time. The young people listening do worry about it. They will be alive. They will inherit the decisions that your government is making. You've said that you want a clear plan. Why are we still dilly dallying on something like a net zero target? We've seen the evidence. The science says it. The economics says it. Young people are calling for action. So what's your next step?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: That when we commit to this, we can commit with honesty. So, platitudes and …

AVANI DIAS: That's right. Minister, your colleagues are writing in the paper today that this is an issue that most people in your government will be dead by the time that it's dealt with. Is that sending the right message about actually genuinely wanting to lower emissions?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, well, let me make this clear. I'm concerned- hopefully I'll still be alive in 30 years, but I'm more worried about- I'm more worried about my children. I have three young boys; all under 15. What I'm doing today, they will inherit. And this is why I want it to have currency. I want it to be real. I don't want it to be a platitude. I actually want it for finally. And this is why the zealots from both sides need to take a deep breath and get away and let the adults in the room actually sit there and work through in an honest, transparent way that will achieve this.

AVANI DIAS: Minister, you're referring to the zealots of both sides, are they the Matt Canavans, the Barnaby Joyces who are out there saying these things that are really, really making people angry, especially young people.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: But we live in a free society. I don't begrudge anybody of either side of the equation to be passionate about that. That's the beauty of living in Australia…

AVANI DIAS: Sure, that's fine. They can have their views, but are you concerned that it's actually stopping genuine progress...

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No.

AVANI DIAS:  …in dealing with emissions? Are you concerned about those comments from your colleagues?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No. No, because I sit in this thing called Cabinet and we're the executive part of the government, and I can tell you that from the Prime Minister down, there is a commitment to making sure we can find a pathway to this and that we're honest about it. So, I respect…

AVANI DIAS: Is that commitment going to be eventuated if your colleagues are out there saying this kind of thing?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: It is. I mean, we are the ones that are the executive of the government. We are the ones that make the decisions. We are the ones that formulate the policies. And that's what we need to create an environment where we can calmly work through this, and the executive is doing that. The Prime Minister's made it clear. He is saying that we want to find a way to get to 2050 and technology is the answer.

AVANI DIAS: Alright. Minister, really appreciate you coming on the show.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.