Interview with Steve Price, Triple M

27 October 2021

STEVE PRICE: The Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud joins us on the line from Canberra. Good to talk to you again.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, good to talk to you too, mate.

STEVE PRICE: They've got- there's a whole bunch of people lining up to take a whack at Scott Morrison, the deal that was signed by yourself and the Liberals, people like David Attenborough, you've got the Atlassian boss, Cannon-Brookes, saying it's not worth the paper it's written on. Are you comfortable with the deal? Do you think that what we're taking to Glasgow is the right thing for Australia?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yes, it is. Because it's used this thing called common sense. And it backs Australian technology, much of which we've already put in place, and we've already paid for and being partnered with, in fact, the Biden administration, when you talk about carbon capture storage and hydrogen. So we're using technology, rather than legislating coal miners and gas workers and farmers out of jobs. We're backing ourselves with the science and technology that will drive our nation to be able to reduce its emissions, to live up to its international commitments, and also, if it's adopted around the world, will also allow them to do it. So, there's a lot of platitudes flying around the moment, Steve, you've got to understand. There's about 135 countries that are signed up to this thing, and we're probably one of about 20 that have a plan, a detailed plan, of how you get there. So it's very good for David Attenborough to sit there and throw grenades, but there's a lot of platitudes that he's been patting a lot of people on the back around the world with, rather than actually, how do we get there? And, you know, this is the thing, is this where we're going to turn to? And what we're demonstrating is how we do it, and Australia should be proud.

STEVE PRICE: I'll go through some of those carbon capture and storage numbers in a moment. I could not believe what I was watching yesterday when I saw the Leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, in Canberra at a media conference, saying that if we don't have a meaningful net zero target by 2030, we will, and this is a direct quote, cook our kids. Now, what responsible leader of a political party would use that sort of ridiculous, inflammatory language about children? And why does Adam Bandt get away with this stuff?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, it's not responsible, and he's irrelevant and that's why the Greens are irrelevant. His only business model is to say stupid things like that to get a response. And the best thing we can do is turn our back on Adam Bandt and all the crazy, looney ideas he has, because he knows he's irrelevant. He knows he's a very small, irrelevant part of Australian society, and we should just ignore him. But he knows if we ignore him, he doesn't get his voice out and only way to get his voice out is to say stupid things like that. So I don't respond to people who say those sort of silly things. And that doesn't advance the conversation and the policy decisions in this country. No one listens to Adam Bandt down here. He's irrelevant.

STEVE PRICE: One of the things that does worry me about that though, he holds a Lower House seat, represents the people of Melbourne, I do worry that a lot of inner-city children who are at school are being taught things like, you will fry and die if your country doesn't stop digging up coal and exporting it. Now that stuff is taught to our children, David. And, you know, we've got to have other alternative voices and point- opinions out there. And, as you know, I'm on The Project once a week, and I constantly have these arguments with people on that program about how we have an asset, we dig it up, we export it, we make money out of it, and that gives us the quality of life that we are used to.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, and this is the point, Steve, we've got to get to rational debate predicated on science and fact. And that's what the Greens want to move away from. And that's why, unfortunately, some of our education systems have led our curriculum slide into as well. And Alan Tudge is already making moves to clean up our curriculum. I mean, you are seeing where we're going to push back the education of the times table from Year 3 to 4. Yet, in Year 2, where some countries are doing the times table, but they're teaching them here in Australia whether a statue can be defined as racist or not. I mean, let's get our priorities right, and let's actually make sure our kids are learning the right thing and the fact that we should celebrate our history, and, in fact, our modern history. We have signed up to Kyoto. We met Kyoto. We are signed up to Paris. We are going to beat Paris. And we've signed it up to a net zero target by 2050. And we are one of the few countries in the world that are saying how we're going to get there, because the rest have just put a platitude. But we've been honest with people.
We're the only ones looking people square in the eye and saying, this is how we get there. This is the technology we're going to adopt, the smarts that we're going to adopt to get there, while protecting jobs and growing jobs. And that's, I would have thought, something that Australian kids and the Australian public should be proud of, that we're being honest with them. We're being honest with the world, and we're saying we're going to get there, but we're not going to tear our economy up doing it.

STEVE PRICE: Can we use agricultural land as a carbon sink and how does it work?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yeah, so there's two ways you can do this. There's currently carbon farming and I've introduced a stewardship program that's a little bit more sophisticated than that, that not just tries to abate carbon, but actually we're the first country in the world that can measure an improvement in biodiversity. So what we want to do is pay farmers, not just for the carbon abatement, but for the stewardship of the land. And we've commoditised that and we now will have a voluntary market where our big corporates who roll around with social licence telling them how good they do in supporting Australian farmers and the environment, they can buy this off Australian farmers, and we will put a brand on our farmer's beef and sheep and grain and cotton, to say this was the most sustainably produced food and fibre in the world.
And we're asking them to do it, not on productive country, but on country that needs to be rejuvenated, that, in fact, is costing them money, costing them money to actually maintain. So this is just using smart- it's not losing productive agricultural area. And then our productive agricultural area, what we've done is we're investing over $200 million in effective soil tests. So what we've got to do is, if we're the first country that can measure biodiversity in the world, we want to be the first country that can measure soil carbon properly at a cheap price. At the moment, it costs around 30 odd dollars a hectare to do. If we can drive that down to around $3 a hectare, it becomes viable for a farmer to be able to do the test, to be able to demonstrate the carbon abatements there. And at the end of the day, this is what we have to prove, is that there is veracity and currency in all that we're doing in abating carbon. The rest of the world's got all these junk credits that are floating around, and this is the other thing the world's going to have to face up to. A lot of pants are going to get pulled down around the world about some of these junk credits, whereas Australia has done it right from the start. And so, when we get these soil tests, and we can- we've got over 900 million hectares of productive agricultural area, that is abating carbon. And if we can prove to the world how we measure it and do it effectively, and some of that will mean some change in practices, but much of that practices is about how we use that carbon in the soil to, in fact, actually produce food and fibre.
So this is just using common sense, smarts, using the technology to drive it down, and using the landscape to do it. It's just common sense. And that's why everyone was looking for this big silver bullet. Well, it's not. It's just getting back to common sense, using the best minds in the world that are here in Australia, and that's what the technology roadmap is.

STEVE PRICE: Your critics say the technology doesn't exist, so you shouldn't be able to argue that that technology is going to let us get to the emissions targets we want, but I think the critics ignore that we're talking about 2050, which is a very long way away. And if you go back- I mean, you know, that's, what, 30 years from now - did you have a mobile phone 30 years ago? Probably not.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Exactly. And here's the thing. There's only 15 per cent of our plan that we're saying the new technologies that haven't been created yet will be- that will come into place. And you know, you look at the fact that we found a vaccine for COVID-19 in less than 12 months. When the world is focused on an issue, on a problem, they solve the problem, because capital flows go into solving those problems. And that's what's happening around the world. And that's why, you look at carbon capture storage that's been- and that's actually started. It's actually happening in my own electorate now. They've started- we've actually drilled a hole out near Moonie from the power station at Millmerran. It has the capacities- it's two kilometres down. it's got capacity to hold 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon. And what they're doing at the power station now is working out what is the mix between coal and ammonia that they burn to reduce the cost of filtering the carbon and then transporting it.
And so, these trials are about to get started. We're building all this. We've dug the hole. Effectively, this is a technology that is being adopted as we speak. And this is the thing, is we just have this self-loathing in this country. We just say, no, we can't do that. That's all nonsense. Instead of- we should have our chin up and our chest out. We have done a lot. And we've got the smartest people in the world right here solving these problems with the technology. Then you go to hydrogen. You know, these are the sort of things that the world is focused on. And so, I think I feel more comfortable about this that I can look my people in the eye who farm and mine. I've got gas, coal, and agriculture in my electorate, and we've got a plan that can clearly say to them: you will have a job well beyond 2030, well beyond 2040, well beyond 2050 because technology is going to maintain your job and make sure we reduce our emissions. And if you get back to first principles, first principle is to reduce emissions. So how we do it? The zealot should go away. All those should be worried about is that we're reducing emissions. If that means we can do with a coal-fired power plant or a carbon- or a gas plant, well, who cares?

STEVE PRICE: You've got Mike Cannon-Brookes, established Atlassian. He's a billionaire, lives in a huge mansion on Sydney Harbour. He says: I read 129 pages of the pamphlet. It's not worth the paper I didn't print it on. I understand technology well. This isn't a technology-driven approach. It's inaction, misdirection, and avoiding choices. I'm going to bed, this is ridiculously embarrassing. What do you say to him?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, there's plenty harbour side commentators made to give plenty gratuitous advice, but they can afford to have this moralistic view of the world. We have to- we actually have to provide the jobs for people to have the aspiration to get up in the morning, to be able to feed their family, to be able to send their kids to school, and hopefully have a holiday at the end of the year. That's our job. And we're doing our bit to make sure, not only they have a job, they keep their job, but their kids will have a job. And I think that's what a smart nation does. It doesn't get into this self-loathing that those that are self-righteous and can afford to be self-righteous, throw down on the rest of us. This is the time for this nation to use common sense. And that's what we are using in this plan, is just simple common sense, backing our country, backing our people, to create the technology to solve an international problem.

STEVE PRICE: Good to catch up again. Thanks for giving us so much time.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Anytime, mate. Thanks for having me.

STEVE PRICE: David Littleproud there, the Agriculture Minister.