Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce Interview with David Speers, Insiders

David Speers:

Time to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, who I spoke to this morning here in Gladstone at the Gladstone Yacht Club. Barnaby Joyce, welcome to the program.

Barnaby Joyce:

We’re nice and close. Yes, thank you, it’s good to be in Gladstone.

David Speers:

Good to be in Gladstone. Look, let’s start on the Solomon Islands before we get to what’s happening more locally here. For years, you’ve been warning about the need to take the threat of China more seriously. Now, there’s the prospect of a Chinese military base, which you called a little Cuba on our doorstep. Was this threat taken seriously enough?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, you’re right, but right back to 2009, when I fought against Chinalco, which is a state owned enterprise trying to take over Rio. And I think I was belittled by all sides there, called a redneck, a xenophobe, a bigot. Now, they just say it’s correct.

Yes, this has been a long-term plan. The Chinese government works to a long-term plan. And this is just another form of island hopping, which is part of the strategic process so often used by either the United States or Japan, or now China, to get a presence. Now, the Solomons has said that they will not be allowing a Chinese naval base.

David Speers:

Do you believe that?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, I believe that if they say it, that is their policy. I believe that that is not what the Chinese want. And I base it on what they’re doing in Djibouti, in Tajikistan, in Myanmar. In Djibouti, they have up to, at times, 2,000 troops on the ground, 2,000 sailors. And obviously, that would be a great problem for Australia.

David Speers:

Hence your little Cuba comment. Do you think it’s really that serious?

Barnaby Joyce:

I just hope that China does not get the capacity to set up a naval base because it’s obviously an intimidating tactic to Australia.

David Speers:

Think they will?

Barnaby Joyce:

They’d want to. They want to, there’s no doubt about that because we see what they did in the South China Sea, where they said they weren’t going to militarise. And now obviously, for the Solomons, I take their word. But I say, be really careful inviting a totalitarian power into a country because it is going to affect your sovereignty.

David Speers:

Coming back to whether Australia took it seriously enough. The Prime Minister apparently only spoke to his counterpart in Solomons once in the past month. The Foreign Minister wasn’t sent there. The US, by contrast, have sent this top level delegation, Kurt Campbell, and so on. I mean, do you think Australia took a gently, gently approach?

Barnaby Joyce:

No. No, I don’t. And I’m Deputy Chair of the National Security Committee. And I say that the Prime Minister has been in an intense process around this for a long period of time. Not just with the Solomons, but also with the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, as a mechanism of that is her portfolio.

David Speers:

When did she go?

Barnaby Joyce:

And also, with a whole plethora of other Pacific nations. I mean, this is not something that we were blinded by. We didn’t wish for it. We were very concerned about it. And that’s why right now, the United States and Australia working in lockstep, the Solomons have offered the commitment. Have said, not offered, have placed a commitment that there will not be a naval base in the Solomons.

David Speers:

But can you understand why people think, “Well, hang on. Why didn’t you send the Foreign Minister? Why didn’t the PM pick up the phone a few more times?”

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, the Prime Minister did pick up the phone and the Prime Minister in one of his first visits after becoming Prime Minister, went into the Pacific islands we understand.

David Speers:

But since we knew about this deal, it seems like there was only one phone call. Can you explain why, what kind of thinking?

Barnaby Joyce:

I cannot confirm or how many phone calls were made. Obviously, as Deputy Chair of the National Security Committee, it comes with 15 years in jail if you start declaring what happens.

David Speers:

You can say how many phone calls you make.

Barnaby Joyce:

No, I can’t.

David Speers:

That’s a national security secret is it?

Barnaby Joyce:

I think in some instances it is, yes.

David Speers:

You know how many times you called a foreign leader?

Barnaby Joyce:

If it’s in regards to our defence. Yes. And if it’s part and parcel of discussions on the National Security Committee, yes, absolutely. As cabinet in confidence, and beyond cabinet in confidence, how you deal with those issues.

David Speers:

All right. Do you think Prime Minister Sogavare was bribed by China?

Barnaby Joyce:

Look, I have no evidence of that. What I would say, it’s for Mr. Sogavare himself to explain this. What I will say and I’ll repeat, if you invite a totalitarian regime into your country, of course, it will have effect on your sovereignty. And that’s something that it’s not fiction. You can go to other countries where the Chinese government are involved and it most definitely affects the sovereignty. And I know Djibouti is one.

David Speers:

Yeah, the US says it’ll respond accordingly if China does establish a military base there. What does that mean?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, it means that the United States also is very aware of tactics in the Pacific and how they work. With the United States, we’ve been involved in a world war in the Pacific.

David Speers:

How would they respond?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, that’s for the United States to discuss. But I would say that the United States is in lockstep with Australia.

David Speers:

How would Australia respond?

Barnaby Joyce:

This is very serious. And we’re going to make sure that we keep our nation as strong as possible and get there as quickly possible, which I have been saying for a long, long while.

David Speers:

What would Australia do?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, that is a discussion that obviously, I’m not going to start going through combinations and permutations of what happens in the future. Because right now, the most important thing is the Solomons. Mr. Sogavare has said that they will not be entertaining a Chinese naval base. Now, that is their statement. That is their statement and so we’ll stick with their statement.

David Speers:

And is there anything the government would do if you were re-elected to stop China encroaching further in the Pacific? Anything you’d change?

Barnaby Joyce:

We’re always incredibly aware of what this means. And the Australian people should be incredibly aware. Because about 2,000 kilometres off there, we know what the Chinese wishes are, and we don’t want their wishes to happen. And we’ve been aware of this. That’s why we have AUKUS. That’s we are buying nuclear submarines. That’s why we have the Quad. And I think you’ll find that those preparations started also quite some time ago.

David Speers:

Let’s turn to the issues here in Gladstone. I mean China and national security has been on the minds of people I’ve been speaking to. They’re also a little worried about the energy transition that’s often talked about here. There is hope this region becomes a powerhouse for green energy and hydrogen but some uncertainty. And they want to see a plan. What is your plan?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, they have uncertainty because of this. They have the possible Prime Minister of Australia who, right at the very start, was unable to comprehend basic economic facts or were unaware of them. That concerns people here. Then you had on a key policy, because we’re in a regional area, their super clinics, where they stumbled. They fumbled. I think they BSed a bit.

David Speers:

But you’re talking about Labor’s policy. My question is about your plan for this region.

Barnaby Joyce:

I think it’s also important because we are getting to that. That they’re unable to cost out their super clinic policy.

David Speers:

Do you have a plan?

Barnaby Joyce:

Yes, we do. I’m getting to it. And then they lied about our policy, which people knew were a lie, yet they still stare down the barrel and lied about it.

David Speers:

What’s your plan for the region?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, let’s look at exactly here. Their key policy, their key policy on their climate change policy.

David Speers:

Tell me about your plan, if we can.

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, because it’s different to theirs. Is the safeguard mechanism, which both the potential acting Prime Minister and the potential Treasurer had no idea about.

David Speers:

Can we get to a plan?

Barnaby Joyce:

And what we are doing is making sure that, because their plans break down. Our plan is, as long as they want to buy coal, we are selling coal because we have to become as strong as possible, as quickly as possible.

David Speers:

Energy transition. People I have spoken to are very keen to hear some sort of plan for this energy transition.

Barnaby Joyce:

Here’s the vital difference – is that we are standing by the jobs they’ve got and we are investing billions towards hydrogen. But we are not going to be saying to people the word transition, because that equals unemployment. Transition to what? There is no other industry here, but we are investing billions of dollars for hydrogen.

David Speers:

Where’s that going?

Barnaby Joyce:

And what that allows them to do is them to see, workers in Gladstone to see, ah, there is the other job at the same pay and same conditions.

David Speers:

Let’s just stick with yours, if we can, sorry. We’ve heard a fair bit about Labor’s. What are your billions for hydrogen doing?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, the billions we’re seeing in our regional plan. You’re seeing with our expansion of the Pilbara and the investment in there. In Darwin with critical minerals. With critical minerals that are vital.

David Speers:

But here.

Barnaby Joyce:

With the investment here that and the investment across our nation. Working with other major companies, such as Fortescue Metals, towards hydrogen. But we are not going to take people out of their jobs. And the Labor Party are taking them out of their job as they reduce their safeguard mechanism.

David Speers:

Can we stick with your platform just for a moment?

Barnaby Joyce:

Tell you what. If you just let me answer this question, then we can go to yours. And don’t edit this out.

David Speers:

We’ve heard a lot Labor.

Barnaby Joyce:

I’ll answer the question for the possible acting Prime Minister and future Treasurer. If you bring in a reduction in your safeguard mechanism, yes, you do have to buy permits. It’s in the policy. You should have read it.

David Speers:

Okay. We got the point. Are you putting money into Fortescue’s hydrogen plans?

Barnaby Joyce:

We’re going to work, especially for the setup of the fundamental infrastructure to support that.

David Speers:

What does that mean?

Barnaby Joyce:

That means whether it’s roads, whether it’s headworks, whether it’s the capacity to allow these investments to come forward.

David Speers:

But you wouldn’t underwrite a hydrogen plan?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, not at this stage.

David Speers:

You’ve long advocated the need to underwrite new coal fired power. Why not hydrogen?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, I don’t think that’s correct.

David Speers:

You moved an amendment under your name about a year ago in parliament.

Barnaby Joyce:

I think what the issue, which we need there is, is if people are looking for support through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund or the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, to make coal cleaner, to make coal more energy efficient. Yes, that is certainly something would be considered, but just to say blankly.

David Speers:

What about the Collinsville coal-fired power plant? Do you still want to build that?

Barnaby Joyce:

The business case is going forward and if the business case stacks up then I’m quite happy for us to build it. But it’s not that we build it, I think there should be access. If a business case stacks up, then people should be able access the finance and certain things, such as Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, should certainly give it a consideration.

David Speers:

Why do we still need to wait for the business case for you to make a call on that? A few weeks ago, you told me on Q&A, you didn’t need a business case to commit to the Hell’s Gate Dam.

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, the Hell’s Gate Dam is quite self-evident. Being brought forward by the Townsville enterprise corporation.

David Speers:

It’s coal-fired power.

Barnaby Joyce:

And I’ll tell you what the difference is. It’s a good question. That’s why you got the job because it’s actually Labor Party policy Hell’s Gate Dam. They took it to a state election. And then they said to try and say, “We’re not run by the Greens. We’ll build it.” Well, we’ve actually given them all the money.

David Speers:

Because Labor like it.

Barnaby Joyce:

I guess and they won’t. Well, I suppose, unless we believe the Queensland Labor government is also incompetent and unable to… I mean, watching their interviews, it’s just train wreck interviews.

David Speers:

Oh, we’re back onto Labor. Just a couple of other local issues. Health comes up a lot here. The lack of GPs in regional areas like this. What more can you do to get more doctors into the regions?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, I think that first thing is that we actually have a Regional Health Minister. The Labor Party has a minister for the Republic. Now, I don’t know how that works.

David Speers:

Talking about Labor again. How are you going to get more GPs here?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, David Gillespie, the Regional Health Minister, which we have and they don’t, will be bringing forward a policy in the coming week, to deal with this issue.

David Speers:

What will that involve?

Barnaby Joyce:

Well, I’m not going to announce David Gillespie’s policy for him. We brought forward the Murray Darling Basin medical school in the past. We’re expanding allied health services. And you’ll hear that in very short form in other areas to make sure it comes forward. We have regional medical schools. My daughter goes to one in Newcastle, training as a doctor.

We have been alive to this issue. In fact, it’s the Nationals and Liberals which have been driving this issue. And we have much further to add in this space. The Labor Party can’t even cost their own super clinic policy. And they don’t even have a Regional Health Minister, but they do have a minister for the Republic.

David Speers:

And Biloela is just down the road. Your position is very clear on the family of asylum seekers that four years ago were put in detention.

Barnaby Joyce:

You’re going to ask me what correspondence I have and I’m not going to tell you.

David Speers:

No, I was going to ask you whether you still think that should be returned to Biloela.

Barnaby Joyce:

My position remains the same. I try to remain constant on this. The position I have in Biloela and Central Queensland is the same I have in Canberra. I think that one of the problems with the local party, they have different positions for different towns.

David Speers:

Have you had any luck convincing the Immigration Minister on that?

Barnaby Joyce:

I’m having discussions with him. And we have seen that, at this point in time, this family has not been extradited back to Sri Lanka.

David Speers:

Could there be movement on that before the election?

Barnaby Joyce:

I’m not going to entertain the positions on this.

David Speers:

Look, final one. You and your colleagues have been on quite a spending spree in the lead up to and during the campaign, billions for a lot of regional infrastructure. I mean, yesterday, the PM was also announcing 20 million for fishing, boating, camping facilities, the sort of stuff local government typically does.

This is despite the fact that we’ve got debt like we’ve never seen in Australia before. And now the PM today is guaranteeing no new taxes or increased taxes in the next term of parliament. Won’t something have to give after the election to deal with this debt?

Barnaby Joyce:

We’ve had a turnaround of over a $100 billion in our deficit position because we actually do respect the fact we’re making so much money from the export of coals and selling more at a higher price than we’ve done before. We’ve got unemployment at 4% and we’re bringing it lower, which saves so much off our budget.

We are making sure that in our investments, that the National Party was crucial in negotiating. We have further expansion of where we make money, whether that’s the Pilbara, whether that’s the Northern Territory, sealing a third road through the desert for critical mineral precincts to drive that industry of critical minerals ahead. Hydrogen, coal, being unafraid to say the word and to stand behind it.

David Speers:

Talk about debt. You don’t talk about debt so much anymore.

Barnaby Joyce:

With debt, the way to understand that is not to listen to me or to listen to the Labor Party, but to listen to Fitch, Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, which has us as AAA rated, which means we’re there with Switzerland and Norway. We’re above the United States. We’re above England, we’re above Japan. And that is a very good recommendation of our economic strength, which I truly believe if the Labor Party gets in, they will put it under threat as they always do.

David Speers:

Barnaby Joyce, thanks for joining us.

Barnaby Joyce:

You’re welcome.

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