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Interview with ABC Darwin

3 August 2017

Interviewer: 
Adam Steer

Subject: Northern Australia, onshore gas, fracking, NAIF and dams.

E&OE

JOURNALIST

Barnaby Joyce, good morning.

MINISTER

Good morning Adam, how are you mate?

JOURNALIST

Deputy PM, leader of The Nationals, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and now Acting Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.

Especially given the debate over the Murray Darling Basin Plan, that’s a lot on your plate. Are you spreading yourself too thin Mr Joyce?

MINISTER

No we are not and it’s very important that now we have the Deputy Prime Minister’s office in charge of Northern Australia and that’s very important for Darwin. We’ve got Nigel Scullion, also Leader of The Nats in the Senate, obviously a Territorian and he is an incredible conduit for anything to do with the Northern Territory.

Obviously I am very involved with the live cattle trade and agriculture which is a big issue for the Northern Territory. We’ve got about $190 million of the $700 million for Beef Roads, which we are investing in the Northern Territory. We’ve got the resources projects, biotech obviously big issue for the Northern Territory.

And tourism, of course, continues to grow, and you’ve just mentioned there that they are bringing up their money and bringing up the flu, by the sounds of things, to the Northern Territory. So Darwin especially is ideally placed in that economy called South East Asia and it’s going to grow and grow and grow. It’s so exciting, whenever I travel there, to see the investment and see people making a buck and getting ahead and that’s precisely what we want.

JOURNALIST

When was the last time you were here Minister?

MINISTER

I think it was probably, look I can’t actually put my hand on it, I’d say it was within 12 months. I know that’s tardy, but now that I am the Minister for the North I’m going to get back out there straight away. I’m in Northern Australia as we speak, I’m speaking to you from Rockhampton and as you know I have been only received this portfolio in last couple of weeks, so I am really looking forward to it. I love getting out of Canberra, I love getting up to the North. I was Senator for Queensland for eight years, seven months and a day. I know that’s not the Northern Territory but I spent most of my time there looking after the north. I used to live in Northern Australia when I used to live at Emerald. So this is something that I’m really looking forward to. Politics by its very nature, it’s if you get into it and you do a good job…you’re going to at times have challenges in sections to your portfolio, but that just means you’re doing something, that just means you’re getting ahead. If you never hear from the person it probably means not much is happening.

JOURNALIST

Your predecessor in the role of Minister for the North, Matt Canavan, described the NT as being insane for not allowing onshore gas development. Do you stand by his words, is the Northern Territory insane?

MINISTER

Well I don’t know whether I’d call it insane, but I think you’ve got a huge resource there and we have to think about how we get wealth into the Northern Territory and that’s a way to get wealth. You’ve got to do it in balance, you’ve got to make sure that you’re working very closely with your landholders. It’s obviously, if it’s a partnership, a business partnership, then obviously you’re going to get further than if you just say it is my right to come onto your land and you can’t do anything about it. That approach never works. But you know I’d always be encouraging the development of a resource as long as it doesn’t destroy aquifers or go on prime agricultural land.

JOURNALIST

Well where do you stand on fracking? In your own electorate there is a lot of concern from landholders over fracking, are you in favour of it?

MINISTER

It’s exactly the same thing. What I say down there is exactly what I say everywhere else. So long as it doesn’t destroy aquifers or go onto prime ag land and that is the issue. People say “oh well do you not believe in it at all”, well no absolutely not, I do believe in it. I just don’t think you should use it on prime ag land or where it could destroy an aquifer. Otherwise, look if we start locking off every mechanism of how we’re going to make a buck then you’re going to be poor, and I don’t think anybody wants to see that.

JOURNALIST

The interim report onto onshore gas fracking in the Northern Territory has warned water must be effectively managed if fracking is to go ahead, in particular as you say, maintaining water quality in our aquifers. Do you have confidence in private mining companies that they’d be able to do that, especially given their track record on land management in the Northern Territory?

MINISTER

That’s part of the regulatory process so that we make sure that they do. That’s part of the art of government, you’ve got to manage these thing so that they do. I think what you just said there is precisely what I said, in fact I’ve gone beyond that. I said don’t go onto prime ag land and don’t destroy aquifers, so I think we’re at one on that issue.

JOURNALIST

Let’s move to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, $5 billion worth of loans available to private companies to develop the north. The Chinese backed company that leases Darwin Port Landbridge is in talks to access some of that money to develop the port and the six star luxury hotel, will you support their request?

MINISTER

Well, the NAIF, the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility, is an independent statutory body. I want to make sure that we get moving as quickly as possible. There’s a whole range of projects that are floating around the north and I have been getting myself across them. I’ve been having meetings as recently as a couple of days ago in Perth with people from the north about projects that they have in mind and I’m firing them through as well, see if we can get them moving along quicker. The whole point of this is that we develop…the Coalition – The National Party and The Liberal Party - developed the NAIF, we developed the NAIF because we want to use the NAIF. We want to get this money out the door. In my own ag portfolio I’ve lent out over $700 million in concessional loans to help farmers, so it’s not as if this is something I don’t have experience in doing. And in my previous life unfortunately, before I was an accountant, I did five years in banking so I have a rough idea of how this game works and I’m looking forward to whatever skills I still contain from that deep dark past of mine, I will be using them and trying to roll out loans in the north as well….

JOURNALIST

But none of the projects under consideration, Barnaby Joyce, are in the Northern Territory. In fact fifty per cent of them are in Queensland. Is this just a pork barrel for Queensland?

MINISTER

Well firstly, I’m from the New England so I’ve got no interest, one of the good things is I can be completely impartial in this and I will make sure that the best projects get forward. Not that I suggest for one second that Matt Canavan was anything but impartial. I’m looking forward to people, if they’ve got issues that they’re driving forward in the Northern Territory, to have a yarn to them and see what I can do to help expedite the process.

JOURNALIST

One of the programmes that you’ve been championing, Barnaby Joyce, is to decentralise government departments, you’ve moved some government departments into your own electorate. What about …

MINISTER

I’ve moved them not only into my own electorate but to other electorates as well.

JOURNALIST

What about in Darwin, are you considering moving some of the Federal Government departments out of Darwin, would you like to see them moved to places like Katherine?

MINISTER

We’ve got a whole inquiry that’s going to be reporting back to us soon and Senator Fiona Nash is in charge of that, that decentralisation, and it is right at the forefront of The National Party and the Liberal Party and no doubt the CLP as well, we believe in decentralisation. The biggest opposition we get to this, of course, is the Labor Party that talks about decentralisation until you decentralise then they have Senate Inquiries trying to stop you.

JOURNALIST

So you’d be in favour of moving some of the federal departments out of Darwin?

MINISTER

I’m in favour of moving anything that can work in regional areas because I believe the largesse of government should be more evenly spread across our nation. You know, unfortunately when you have a look at the figures, the four biggest cities have half of our population of our nation and I don’t…

JOURNALIST

But that’s not Darwin Deputy Prime Minister, I’m asking would you consider developing, would you consider moving some of those departments out of Darwin?

MINISTER

Adam, that’s the whole point mate. I live in regional towns, I don’t live in one of those four big cities. I believe that we’ve got to move things out of, not just Canberra, but Melbourne and Sydney and spread the largesse of government more evenly across our nation. I’m doing that in my own department with the APVMA, with RIRDC, with MDBA, the Grain Research and Development Corporation and it’s not just Armidale, it’s Toowoomba, it’s Dubbo, it’s Wodonga, it’s Wagga, it’s Perth, we’re looking at moving Fisheries and I’ll be also looking though at what we can do for the north. How are we going to do that, because that’s the next question you’re going to be asking, well we’ve got an inquiry and every Minister is going to come back to us and tell us the sections of their department that could reasonably work in regional areas. Of course Darwin will be, not just Darwin by the way but also Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and other parts of the Northern Territory as well. I know how this game works, I know that the Territorians get the screaming poos when people just talk about Sydney and Melbourne and Canberra like a lot of people do and then in the territory itself they get the screaming poos when you just talk about Darwin. People in Palmerston don’t like to hear when you just talk about Darwin and neither do they in Tennant Creek or Alice Springs.

JOURNALIST

It’s nineteen to nine of ABC Radio Darwin, Adam Steer with you. You’re also hearing from Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Barnaby Joyce, is there money in the NAIF ear marked for stage 3 of the Ord River Scheme, that stage is in the territory?

MINISTER

Well we’ve got feasibility money and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, my department, now with Minerals and Northern Australia, Mining and Northern Australia, is looking at the feasibility study of stage three of the Ord. This also requires the West Australian Government and the Northern Territory Government and I, to be quite frank I think Gunner is a good fella and he’s doing a good job but this is something that…water is wealth and the more we….and it’s to just Ord Stage 3, you’ve also got a project in Darwin itself that we’re looking at so we are trying to…

JOURNALIST

What’s the project in Darwin that you’re looking at?

MINISTER

It’s about better reliance on metropolitan water supply and plumbing that up. And you’ve also got other capacity there from my time in Katherine, there’s further capacity if you wish to investigate the aquifers and see the reliability of them. You know there’s great future in the north, huge future, and there’s got to be. If our nation is to get ahead we’ve got to further develop the north, it is where our opportunity resides.

The biggest opportunity for our nation is in agriculture, one of the best mechanisms for agriculture is in the Territory in Northern Australia; your capacity to access the South East Asian market is impeccable compared to other cities in Australia; your resources that you hold are immense. So the future for Darwin is pretty good and we want to be part of it because if Darwin is strong, our nation is strong.

JOURNALIST

Kate has sent in a question; “Minister if Australia’s climate is drying out, more food needs to be grown and population is growing, do you think we should build more dams soon?”

MINISTER

Yes I do think we, I’m trying to build dams, in Northern Australia there is one and we just chucked the money on the table, $130 million for Rookwood Weir, and then the State Labor Government in Queensland just wouldn’t have a bar of it. Even when we suggested that we would just pay for the whole thing they wouldn’t have a bar of it. We’ve got to get people’s minds around this corner that dams are not evil, they’re essential. There’s a mechanism that people do an assessment for the economic development of the area, because if they see the water resource there then they know they can put in other industries and also grow the cities and do other things as well. That’s something, you know I fought for that in my portfolio years ago and we’ve got $2.5 billion of loans and grants in that space and we’re investing a big section of it in Northern Australian and a big section of it in such thing as Ord stage 3 in Darwin.

JOURNALIST

So you’d support more dams in the Northern Territory?

MINISTER

Well you’ve got to find a place for them and the obvious one, of course, is the Ord Stage 3 backs up into the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST

The Northern Territory Government and the Federal Government have signed an MOU Smart City deal. When will that come to fruition? Will you match the $100 million the Northern Territory Government has earmarked for the CBD?

MINISTER

I’m not going to start make any commitments like that that have to go through reviews…but obviously you know we look at those propositions as they come forward and it should be pretty…if I got off this phone just having given out $100 million I can bet your life that I’ll have every ABC announcer around Australia on the phone to me asking for the same.

JOURNALIST

Well, but you’ve signed a deal. The Northern Territory Government and the Federal Government have signed an MOU Smart City Deal, I’m just wondering when that money’s coming to fruition?

MINISTER

Well you know as I said I don’t start committing to fund on the phone, it doesn’t work like that?

JOURNALIST

In other news, the ABC is reporting today that some Labor MPs are talking to backbenchers from your government to push a free vote on same-sex marriage when parliament returns next week. What will you do if a free vote gets up?

MINISTER

Well, what I do know is, I don’t know maybe it’s different, but the main thing people are talking to me about is the price of power, they’re really worried about that, they want to make sure that they’ve got a job, they’re big on having a job and the cost of living. These are the issues that are at the forefront of people minds as far as I know, I’m not saying that redefining marriage is not an issue, marriage equality is not an issue, it is, but it’s just not the big one. The big one is that people say; “mate have a look at my power bill and tell me what you’re going to do about that”, that’s the issue that comes screaming through my door.

JOURNALIST

Will The Nationals consider splitting from the Coalition if the Liberal backbenchers support that free vote?

MINISTER

Look its, that is a…

JOURNALIST

I mean there are some people who feel very strongly against it.

MINISTER

If people cross the… I’m the last person to criticise someone for crossing the floor right. In the Labor Party they kick you out, by the way, just remember that, the Labor Party does not believe in free votes. If you cross the floor in the Labor Party they boot you out of the Labor Party, I don’t know if that’s how democracy works.

The Greens seem to always miraculously have the same view on everything which is just the same as the Labor Party, sort of that totalitarian process of what I say you believe whether you like it or not. Now, we don’t believe in that, especially in The National Party. We don’t believe in that. If you got a different view and you put forward a cogent argument then that’s your right and that remains our position.

JOURNALIST

Deputy Prime Minister, appreciate your time this morning.

MINISTER

Good on you mate, seeya.