Interview with Steve Price, Triple M

14 October 2021

STEVE PRICE: Speaking of rain and agriculture, the Deputy Leader of the Nationals and Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia is David Littleproud. He's on the line. You laugh these days, do you, David, about all of these websites threatening gloom and doom because it's going to rain?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, it's gone from one extreme to the other, that's gone through the drought- I'm actually out in the Condamine and we had a huge storm here last night, 50 odd mil. There's water everywhere and it's going to slow down our harvest a bit, but it's good to get the moisture in the soil, mate.

STEVE PRICE: Yeah. Well, when you think about two years ago, you'd be standing in a dust paddock, wouldn't you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. You would have just here. And let me tell you, that's how quickly things can change and the psychology of this place changes just with rain. You've just got to add water, mate, and regional rural Australia goes. No matter how much Australian taxpayers puts in to keep people going through the drought, it's rain, the changes in psychology and the economy overnight. And we're finally making a few dollars and making some good money. Commodity prices are good and we keep getting a bit of rain. Look out, there's plenty of money to be made up here, mate.

STEVE PRICE: You cover a lot of territory. I mean, you're not a farmer yourself, but you've been involved in regional Australia and dealing with farmers forever. How do they react when these discussions on weather events turned toward using climate changes to reason why things are more extreme?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, look, I don't think they take much notice. They're more worried about survival. I think we've been used to it, particularly up here in Queensland, we've been hardened to a changing environment for a long time. It's been happening since we first put a till in the soil.
So effectively, they've- they've tried to embrace technology. And you've got to say that Australian farmers adopt modern technology and science probably quicker than any other industry because we have to and we're making great inroads. I mean, eight years ago, we were an industry of around $44 billion. And now, for the first time, we think we're going to hit over $70 billion this financial year.
So, you know, we're not sitting out here on hay bales with straw between our teeth. We're running multi-million-dollar businesses with some of the most cutting-edge technology that anyone would find in Australia and still producing the best product in the world.

STEVE PRICE: It's interesting, isn't it, during this whole COVID pandemic, I mean, one of the industries that has gotten through and the weather was responsible for much of it, but very good seasons last year and again this year, meat prices are through the roof and agriculture is booming in this country.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah. Look, if it wasn't for agriculture and if it wasn't for resources, this country would be broke. You know, while other industries were put under the doona because of COVID, Ag and resources kept on going and kept on paying the bills. And that's- you know, that's testament to the men and women that are out there doing it. And the reality is, is yes, prices are high. There's a lot of global demand. We're not a bulk producer, and I think this is important for people to understand. We don't bulk produce. We're a niche producer, we're 26 million people, but we produce enough food for 80 million. So, it is important we trade, but we're at the high end of that and we're getting high, high prices at the moment. There's a protein shortage. China's finding it very hard because they rely on Brazil and ourselves, and they've given us some grief. And now, they're realising that Brazil, because of their drought, is reducing their females and they've got some real problems. They've got African swine fever going through their pork industry and we're still biosecurity free.
So, we're in the box seat at the moment and while you're riding high up in the stirrups to take advantage of it because we do know that the tough times will come. But we- it's not our first rodeo, Steve. Australian farmers have done that once and they'll do it again.

STEVE PRICE: You're part of a National Cabinet. You're the Deputy Leader of the Nationals. It's a delicate balancing act. Some of your fellow frontbenchers like Bridget McKenzie and Keith Pitt, David Gillespie, have yesterday said, look, we don't want to be rushed into a net zero decision. We- we believe there should be no deal, Bridget saying unless it's right for the regions.
How delicate a balancing act is this? And are you going to be able to come up with a plan and a resolution to this that will suit the Prime Minister so that he can take it if he goes to Glasgow?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, I'll have to speak to the National Party party room. That's the reality. We'll only make a deal if our party room is in agreement. Obviously, there won't be universal agreement. We understand that. There are some that have already made very public statements about where they stand and we respect it. That's the diversity of the National Party party room, and that's something that we want to preserve and be fierce custodians to protect.
But if the majority of the room get to a position where we can understand a plan that protects regional jobs, particularly those in the resource sector, and that agriculture won't pay the bill but in fact can be part of the solution, then we'll pragmatically look at that and this plan will be presented to the party room at some point. And I think what's pleasing is there's an overwhelming support within the party room to be pragmatic, to sit down, to listen, to work through, because these are much driven by global issues more than anything around where energy sources will come in the future and also where our foreign capital will come from because we do need capital to come in, not just at a private sector, but also to buy our Australian bonds.
So, we understand we're part of a global community because we do trade, we're representing farmers, we understand the need to trade and we're worried about impacts on that. But we've got to make sure we get a pathway that will live up to those international commitments, that will address those international trends with an Australian solution. And just signing up like the other mob has without even giving you a plan or who's going to pay for it is reckless.
So, what we're saying is the National Party- and even the Prime Minister has said this, we're not going to sign up until we can look you in the eye and tell you how we're going to get there and who pays for it. That's the responsible thing to do. There's a lot of platitudes running around at the moment. I mean, there's 130 countries signed up to this thing, but only about 20 can tell you how they're going to get there. So I think we've got a proud record of meeting our international commitments - we don't want to lose that. And if we, if we can achieve it, we'll show you how we're going to do it, what technology will, will play in that role. And if we can, and our Party Room gets there then the National Party will be part of it.

STEVE PRICE: Some on the left, and I speak mainly of the Greens, would like to punish agriculture to get to net zero. They don't care if you have to, yeah you know, destroy the meat industry to get there. When you ask that question about what will be the net effect on agriculture if we sign up to this, what answers do you get back, not only from Scott Morrison, but from, from anyone who signed up to this thing?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Oh look, I think you'll find here in Australia that we will be part of the solution, and we're already making steps around that. We've got carbon farming that I have some issues, there’s some perverse outcome with that, particularly in South West Queensland where large tracts of land are just being locked up and people walking away, taking a passive income while they're drinking pina coladas at the, at the beach and wrecking communities. But we can, we can adjust those programs. And we're trying to reward farmers, not just for carbon abatement, but for the stewardship of their land, to give them a premium. And businesses, with all their virtues, want to pay for this, and that's good. And we also want to be able to brand their product, to say that- to the world, this is the best produced- most sustainably produced product in the world. 
So, you know, there, there are solutions there that are pragmatic, that help farmers rejuvenate land that they- it's actually costing them to manage, if we're smart about this. But the extremities on both side, but particularly the Greens, they need to get out of the road and just let us have a mature conversation about how we can reduce impacts to regional Australia, agriculture and resources, solve this solution with technology. And, and basically just get out of the road and let the adult get on with the job.

STEVE PRICE: Yeah, you must get pretty sick and tired of someone. I get Adam Bandt, who's the member for Melbourne, lecturing you on our agriculture, should work when he's only ever seen a farm from the window of a plane on his flight to Canberra. 
Just before I let you go, I'm very dirty on the state premiers and border closures in particular. They seem to have gone power crazy. In Queensland, where you are, Annastacia Palaszczuk seems very reluctant to open the Queensland border to New South Wales, even though COVID numbers are in free fall. Should the premiers have to answer for their decisions on borders? And do we not need to have a debate in this country, David, about how the premiers seem to have too much power to shut down borders on a whim?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah well, I think, Steve, we're getting a real lesson in federation. I think what's happened in the past, the state's business model has been to blame Canberra and ask for more money. And what we've now getting a lesson is that everyone believed that the Federal Government had all the power. We actually don't - under the Constitution, the states do. And this has failed us, the federation's failed us during this.
And there should be a conversation when COVID's finished - now's not the right time. But when COVID's over, we should look at our federation and see how it's worked. A lines put on a map a 120 years ago does not, does not fit a modern Australia, and we should be working together, not in isolation. And I think, you know, up here in Queensland, we're going to face a big problem. Because if we get a dose of Delta, mate, let me tell you, people in southeast Queensland think their throats are cut. Because they're going to go into lock down like people in New South Wales and Victoria. And because the Premier's have been on the go slow on putting vaccines out, where- we've got, we've got the worst vaccine roll out in the country. And so we're going to be left behind in Queensland. 
And the reality is, all these other states have done the job. They've got the vaccines out, and they're going to be moving again. And we are going to have to live with this thing. If you think you're going to live under the doona forever, you are kidding yourself. And so the only way to do that is with vaccines, and the Premier's got to give them out so that we get up to that 80, 90 per cent. She's got to give people confidence of what is the percentage. And if she can't give that, I mean, tourist industry up here is, in particular, in Cairns is buggered.

STEVE PRICE: Yeah.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: You know, they just want a date. Give them some certainty and hope. That is all they're asking of the Premier. But instead, she's using it as a political football for her own advantage. And she's done well out of it, I grant her that. She's won an election; she's cleaned us up. But at some point, you got to lead for your state and for your nation. And at some point we got to come together as Australians, not as individual states, and work together to make this country better than what it was, and, and to pay the bills.

STEVE PRICE: Do you suspect that she's so reluctant to let anyone into Queensland because if she gets a COVID outbreak, she hasn't invested properly in health, and that they won't be able to control it?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, they haven't invested in health because they haven't spent the money wisely. We keep on pumping money into this. Our, our funding has gone up 100 per cent, while their is 50 per cent in the Queensland Health. 
But money's not the answer on this, Steve. And I think this is the lazy thing, is that state governments to say: give us more money. But it's how you use it. I mean, Lawrence Springborg was the health minister up here. He worked with less money and got better results. We didn't have waiting lists. He actually- you know, if you fell off a bike you weren't sitting on a ramp at a hospital in Brisbane. They didn't go to Code Yellow. He did that with this thing called common sense and holding people to account about what they do and how they do it. That's what governments should do. 
This isn't our money, it's your money. And so States just going back to this lazy business model of blaming  
Canberra and asking for more, more money is what we've done, and it hasn't worked. And because they haven't been up to the job. So, they've got to get their house in order, get the health system in order, get jabs in people's arm and get back to as much normal as we possibly can. Otherwise, Queensland's buggered and this country is buggered.

STEVE PRICE: Let's hope we have that federation debate. Good on you, David. Thanks for your help today. Good luck on Sunday getting some agreement in the Party Room.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks, mate, good to be with you.

STEVE PRICE: David Littleproud there, the Deputy Leader of the Nationals and the Agriculture Minister, out in the bush, having a look at what he's in charge of. A lot of politicians could do a similar thing as David and get around the country.