Leader of The Nationals – Transcript – Press Conference, Dowerin Field Days
The Hon David Littleproud MP
Leader of The Nationals
24 August 2022
Transcript – Press Conference, Dowerin Field Days – Topics: Jobs Summit, Live sheep export
Great to be at the Dowerin Field Days. A fantastic event on the field day season calendar started yesterday with 500 plus people in a room in Perth shining a light on the agricultural sector and here we are in the middle of the wheat belt doing exactly the same. Full book with exhibitors and a wonderful effort from the volunteers together. Really happy to be joined by my colleague in the State Nationals, but also the Federal Leader of the National Party and Shadow Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, who’s in Western Australia for nine days, been up to the Gascoyne heading to the Pilbara here in the wheat belt today. I’m really appreciative of the fact that our federal leader is spending time on the ground to make sure he understands the issues from a West Australian perspective to take back to Canberra.
And why is the field day so important for the community?
Oh for so many reasons. One, it brings together the community and showcases just what an amazing sector this is. You’ve got innovation, you’ve got businesses, you’ve got community coming together to highlight what the agricultural sector can deliver for our state and national economy. And as I say, we know this coming from the regions, but to have that translated into a major event in Perth for key stakeholders was a fantastic extension to what we know the field days can offer.
Just a quick one from the West. There’s a housing crisis at the moment, there’s a story in today’s paper to say that the number of Air BnBs in regional towns outweighs the number of rentals available. What are your thoughts on that?
Well there’s absolutely a housing crisis in Western Australia. Every corner of this state is crying out for investment in the housing supply chain. We have a housing minister that has no houses, a government that came to power and sold 1300 social houses and we have an ever growing social housing waitlist along that continuum you’ve got row houses that are falling into disrepair and an inability for this government to deliver housing on the ground where we need it.
We’re here in Dowerin. You would not go two steps without talking to the agricultural sector about the challenges they face. If they can attract the workers they need, they can’t actually find houses for them. This is a situation the government needs to absolutely pay attention to find some of that $5.7 billion and prioritise housing and access to workers for our agricultural sector.
We’ll hear from David on this in a second. But it sounds like the Premier is not willing to talk to you about live export potentially stopping the ban. What do you make of those discussions?
Oh, it’s pretty disgraceful when you’ve got an offer from the shadow agriculture minister to work with the State Government. Obviously we deal with the majority of sheep live exports from Western Australia, if you like. I want a man to grow up here in WA and very dismissive from our Premier is typical of the arrogance he shows towards regional communities and very disappointing he wasn’t prepared to walk out of the discussion.
That’s something that we’re working through. We’ve got the Shadow Minister for Fisheries here. We’re meeting with both recreational and WA Fishing Industry Council and all of the commercial fishers. There’s no doubt that there is a challenge and there’s a fine balance to be reached in relation to this issue. And what we’re told is that there’s been a lack of consultation to arrive at this point. So if you are going to make significant changes, you need to work through that with industry and communicate them appropriately. As I said, we’re still working through this with industry. Colin de Grussa, our Shadow Minister for Fisheries, is working with and meeting with key stakeholders along with Shane Love, the member for Moore and those that have direct impacts. So it will have an impact. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. Government’s got a responsibility to make sure that they’re consulting and communicating when they make significant changes like the ones they’ve announced.
Yeah, look, it is great to be here with Mia Davies and The Nationals team and I’ll be here for nine days, been up to Carnarvon and now down in the south west and soon back up into the Pilbara. And the reason I’m over here is to listen, to learn and to understand, and particularly before I go back to the job summit. The Nationals federally took the pragmatic decision that we should accept the offer to go to the job summit because regional Australia wasn’t invited.
And so this was an opportunity to take the voice of regional Australia, but particularly Western Australians. I think the uniqueness and the acuteness of the issues in Western Australia are far more pronounced than in the East and it’s important that a western Australian voice was taken back to that jobs summit. Now I don’t hold a lot of hope that this Government will follow some of the opportunities that we’re providing to them, whether that be to reinstate the Ag visa.
The NFF is telling us 172,000 workers are required and yet all they’re going to provide us is the Pacific scheme, which at best could give us 50,000 and compete with other parts of the economy being able to get those workers into this country. So there’s a significant shift, but we also need a regional skills visa. And not only that, but the Ag Visa should give a pathway to permanent residency.
If these people come to our country, we should give them the opportunity to live in this country, to become citizens of this country, to grow regional Australia in the next generation of migrants into regional Australia, to incentivise the skills we need, whether that be a mechanic, a nurse, a teacher, an engineer. These are the types of things in addition to the agricultural visa that would shift the dial and get confidence.
I heard first hand of a farmer in Carnarvon who walked away from his property because he could not get the labour he needs to run his property. That is heartbreaking when he was born on that property and these are the sort of trauma that our people are going through and that this government needs to understand they can shift and shift quickly.
We also believe quite quickly they could shift the dial in allowing pensioners and veterans to work twice as much as what they are now without impacting their payments, their social security payments, and that would allow regional Australia to be able to tap into a resource straightaway. We also think around paying the HECS debts of those graduates, particularly doctors, nurses, teachers, aged care workers, childcare workers, if they went and lived in regional rural Australia we’d pay their HECS and that would incentivise them to come out and to stay out here.
And the other big piece that we’ll be saying is around training regional country university centres are important so that our kids can get a university degree without having to go to Perth. They can stay in Carnarvon and they can stay here now and be able to to be able to get that education. So these are the types of things that we’ll be taking to the jobs summit. And we hope that we hope that the federal government will listen to us, but we feel as though we have to be part of the conversation rather than outside the tent. We took a pragmatic view as The Nationals. We are a separate party to the Liberal Party and we will hold our values and principles when we get an opportunity to espouse regional views, we’ll do that.
We have a purity of purpose. We don’t have city members. We don’t have to compromise on our values and principles. We only represent regional Australia. And unfortunately I was hoping to have a meeting with the Premier. We wrote to him again, I came over some months ago and offered to meet with him to discuss live export if he’s genuine and I hope he is genuine about saving the livelihoods of 3,000 Western Australians and to help me educate the east coast politicians about how Western Australians are able to have the best animal welfare standards in the world and they are the best in the world.
And that if we allow this industry to diminish and to be banned, is a way this new Labor government does, then we export our animal welfare standards so another country in the world that doesn’t uphold the values that we do in animal welfare as we do, this market is growing, not decreasing, and it will continue to be there, not just for cultural reasons, but it will be, therefore, for food security reasons for generations to come.
So the government has put their head in the sand. Western Australians will pay the ultimate price for that and I just think there’s an opportunity for the Premier to show that he is leading and he is governing for all Western Australians, not just those who pay, but this is an opportunity to reach across the aisle and for him and I to work in Canberra to convince this new Government that they’ve made the wrong mistake.
They’ve said they’ve predicated this on science, explain the science what we’ve done wrong and we’ll fix it. But they can’t even do that because they know it’s not on science. They just ideologically decided they don’t want it. So I say to the Premier, My hand is always out. I’m happy to meet with him at any time to make sure that we can work together to educate East Coast politicians about writing this wrong that Western Australians will foot the bill for.
You’ve written to him on this issue, have you seen any response?
I have. He’s flatly refused to meet with me. He’s too busy. I get he’s a busy man, but I would have thought for just 15 minutes if he could give me 15 minutes. So that really is all I ask for. And I thought, what a thought for 3000 Western Australian jobs. You might have thought that that’s a good idea, but unfortunately it hasn’t.
I don’t intend to give up. I intend to continue to have my hand out, to reach out to the Premier. And so I’m here to work constructively and collaboratively with you to get an outcome for Western Australian farmers and an industry that is world leading.
What reason did he give you? Was there any substance to his response?
Oh he’s too busy for just 15 minutes I would have thought 3000 Western Australian jobs report and after 15 minutes of his time but I’m ready. I’m not going to get petty about this I’m genuine in trying to save this industry is there’s more that we’ll be doing as a national party and working with media and hurting to make sure that we can save the live export sheep industry here in Western Australia.
Because if we don’t, I can tell you they’re coming to a state industry near you. The ban on live cattle, you’re already paying a bill for $2 billion because of the last time the Labor Party banned live export of cattle. You’re paying that bill now and now they’re probably going to pay that in compensation again to the Western Australian farmers today.
You’ve been up in Carnarvon, what do you think The Nationals chances are of retaining that seat?
I do in particular because of our candidate, Mem Beard and how connected to the community she is. She’s someone that’s invested her own money, her own sweat, her own effort into running a business that’s part of the community, understanding the challenges up there, the housing issues that are there. I mean, there’s 43 houses that are owned by the state that have been left go to disrepair and you’ve got a crime spree that’s running out of control.
I mean, the first way to fix crime is to give a roof over someone’s head, to actually build a family environment where you can keep your kids at home. But instead, this government seems to be just predicated their efforts on Perth. So these are real issues and they feel like the forgotten Western Australians up there and the fact that Labor hasn’t even run a candidate, that the Government doesn’t even want a Government representative for the Gascoyne says that Mark McGowan doesn’t care and that is the most galling thing that I’d heard on the streets around Carnarvon.
They’re disappointed, but we intend to represent regional Australia solely and that is the purity of purpose of The Nationals where we don’t have to compromise on our values for the city members in Perth will only focus on regional Australia, will bring common sense not just to Canberra but Mia will bring it to Perth and that’s the opportunity that people in the Gascoyne have.
And I hope that Mem who I think is probably the most outstanding candidate I’ve seen on the ground who understands their community is over the issues will bring that common sense to Parliament House in Perth.
We’re at the Dowerin Field Days how do we compete with the Eastern states in events like these?
I’ve got to be careful I’m a proud Queenslander and I know I’m outnumbered, although we Queenslanders like to think we’re much like Western Australians. We don’t like the rest of the country, the other states. So look, but I’ve got to say it is impressive. This is something you should be very proud of. And as a federal government, we actually kicked in $66,000 to keep it going during COVID. The Western Australian government didn’t give him a brass razoo. And if we hadn’t provided that this, this corporate knowledge, this infrastructure entity would have been lost. There’s a lot of volunteers are doing this and if we didn’t respect them, it was over $100 million that the federal government pumped into agricultural field days and shows. And that’s kept field days like this going in there is so important, particularly coming out of COVID and the fact that the Western Australia’s agriculture is probably the strongest of any state over the last four or five years and says that there’s money to be spent and in fact it’s being spent because farmers invest back into their businesses once they’ve got in their pockets. And this field is a perfect example of that. It’s a credit to what’s happening over here.
We’ve got a while until the next state election. And can you tell me what you think the future is of the Nationals and some of the changes to the Upper House?
I mean this is frightening to think that this government really won’t run a candidate in the Gascoyne but has taken away regional representation in the Upper House. This is where rural Australia feels like they’re forgotten citizens under Labor. Give us the representation that we deserve. We’re a third of the population, contribution to GDP, whether it be through agricultural or resources, means that we should have a seat at the table. We should have representation in WA otherwise you won’t actually be raised in Western Australians a voice. And that’s what we’ll be prosecuting with Mia. And I’m confident with what we have with Mia here, in leadership that she’s provided to regional Western Australia, is that we can build a foothold here federally and I intend to make sure my team is here to support Mia and all my shadow cabinet bar one is coming over this week and we’ll be spending more time in Western Australia. We believe that we can take common sense to Canberra and Western Australians have a lot of common sense and we think of Western Australia Nat in Canberra would be very important to making sure that you’re getting your fair share out of Canberra.
And so, would you consider running metro candidates?
Oh look that’s a matter for Mia and the state body. The last thing you want is someone from Queensland coming in telling you what to do. That’s the last thing I do. So that’s a question for Mia. But look, we are proudly a regional party that has purity of purpose, of just looking after regional Australia. We’re proud of that and we’re not going to run away from it.