​Transcript

Press Conference, Canberra

4 February 2016

Topics: Improvement in the soft commodity market, tax reform, refugees, ACCC Agricultural Commissioner, Working Holiday Maker taxation arrangements, Murray-Darling Basin Plan, National Party leadership, Kevin Rudd​

E&OE

BARNABY JOYCE:  Well thank you very much for being here, and it's important as we create the settings for the new year that we get the stories out that I believe are important to our constituency, in this case the constituency of Australia.​

I read in the Daily Telegraph this morning what I've been reading in the Land and Country Life for quite some time, and that is that in our soft commodity market, especially in the protein market, we have been doing exceptionally well, we've really turned the show around. And as I've been saying, a good stock market to be in is the cattle market or the sheep market. To think that if you owned a share and it was called the East and Young Cattle Indicator, since we came to Government in September 2013, you would have doubled your money. If you had a share called steers being sold through Dubbo, you would have doubled your money. If you had a share called heifers being sold through Roma, you would have more than doubled your money. If you had one called live cattle sales through Darwin, you would have more than doubled your money - in fact more than about one and a quarter times your money. Even for shares- if you had a share called lamb sales, you would have got 25 per cent on your money. For pork you would have got better than 25 per cent on your money since September 2013.

For other ones that people mightn't hear of but they're exports of our nation such as camel meat, you would be getting close to tripling your money. In things in other markets such as chickpeas and almonds, we've been doing exceptionally well. And we've been doing exceptionally well because we have been working exceptionally hard, with new live cattle destinations, with new free trade agreements, with the continual diligence of the Department of Agriculture in making sure that they're working extremely hard with their counterparts overseas, with other Governments to get the fluid movement of our nation's, the Australian soft commodities, into these markets. And it continues to grow, and continues to attract further investment.

These are the stories which show that in our economy there are areas where there is great opportunity, where there is real wealth being generated, where there's real opportunity. These are the things that show a clear delineation between the previous Green-Labor-Independent Government and what has been delivered under a Coalition Government. These are the things that matter. When I am out and about and talking to people, as I was on the weekend, one of the consistent messages that came back to me, because obviously I was in regional areas, is whatever you're doing in agriculture - just continue to do it because it's working well for us. And if it's working well for them, then that money flows all around our economy; it makes its way back to Martin Place, it makes its way back to Collins Street, it makes its way back to the small towns, it makes its way around our nation, it keeps people employed, it encourages investment.

And you see now people want to expand abattoirs, expand the infrastructure. They want to make sure that they're there and in the right spot so that they can be part of what they see is a new reality in a global economy, where Australia is ideally positioned to be delivering the food requirements, the protein requirements of the people in our area who now have the money to buy our product, and have the money to buy our product in a substantial way.

So this is a repeat message, this is a good message, this is a message that's been picked up. And if I could leave one message for Australian superannuation funds, it's start looking. Start looking at what we are doing here so that any person, whether they're going to work in Chatswood, or whether they're going to work in Geelong, or whether they're going to work in Adelaide or Perth, they can say my super fund has invested in our nation, has invested in the agricultural sector, and is also making the returns that makes my own personal wealth better - and also gives them a sense that when they're out in the country they're looking at an asset that they are have ownership of, that they're a participant of and that they're proud of.

QUESTION:  (inaudible) ....why do a lot of Coalition MPs have a beef with any potential changes to the GST?

BARNABY JOYCE:  Look, with the discussion in regards the GST, this is a discussion that should primarily be driven by the people who would be the biggest benefactor of any change to GST, and that quite obviously is the States. When you see lines of Premiers all together saying that this is what they want, because the GST is overwhelmingly their tax, then I think the more kudos should be given to this. But we can't have an honest debate about taxation reform and say right at the start we're going to start ruling things in and ruling things out.

But I think we've really overweighted this discussion with people believing that this is just a discussion about changes to one tax. It's not. It is a discussion about all taxes, and it's a discussion about how we get the most effective mix. And I can tell you overwhelmingly, the biggest benefactors- anybody who would want to change the GST, it really doesn't make that much difference here. It makes an awfully difference, really big difference to the states, and the state's premiers - and I have to give them ticks for fortitude with the Labor Premier Jay Weatherill of South Australia has said that he's interested in it, and Mike Baird from the Liberal Party has said he's interested in it. Good luck to them, at least they've got the ticker to have an honest discussion about it, and they should be entitled to have an honest discussion about it. But it shouldn't be read that that's what's going to happen. It's part of a discussion.

QUESTION:  (inaudible) ....

BARNABY JOYCE:  I'm going to go- I'll go round, so, yep.

QUESTION:  According to Scott Morrison, the states will not be the benefactors of any increase in the GST because the Commonwealth wants to keep it all for compensation for the tax cuts, they're not going to spend a cent of an increased GST on anything the states want. So surely this is a decision for the Commonwealth Government alone and not the states?

BARNABY JOYCE:  Well the benefactor of the GST now is overwhelmingly the states …

QUESTION: Now it is, not ........

BARNABY JOYCE:  Overwhelmingly, in fact exclusively the states. And what I say once more; we're coming to a conclusion before we've had the discussion. Let's have the discussion. There is nothing resolved. There is no decision made. There's nothing eminently about to be made. And ultimately what you're seeing in this sort of political discourse is the Labor Party, which is so completely bereft of any real policy fortitude, of any real policy ideas, who when you go into the chamber now it looks more like a statement from a fashion show in Milan when I look across the chamber rather than any person who's come up with real fortitude, Keating-like fortitude, to actually start progressing an alternate agenda.

But there is no benefit to the Commonwealth, or benefit to the States, or benefit to anybody, because there's no decision has been made on any changes to the GST.

QUESTION:  What about the backpacker tax Mr Joyce; do you support the softening of that like the NFF has called for?

BARNABY JOYCE:  Well, you know, we hear the discussion and of course we want to make sure that- the reality is there's been no changes to the tax as yet. It is for 1 July. So anything that we are saying now is seen in the light that the taxation system that's present is the taxation system that's already always been there. But we will make sure that we stay in close consultation, obviously you don't make any money from any tax if it really did change the - you know the backpackers didn't turn up. If they don't pay the tax because they're not there then it's purposeless. We're alive to the issue, we're watching the issue but what I can say right now; it's erroneous because there has been no change made yet.

QUESTION:  Minister when you were a Senator you gained something of a reputation for crossing the floor on issues of principle. Cory Bernardi has said this morning he's prepared to cross the floor and oppose a GST. Do you support his right to do that?

BARNABY JOYCE:  I support any person's right in any party. I find it absurd that the Greens say that they're the grand protector of freedom of the individual, that they're on the fringe, yet the Greens have never broke as a party block in their history in this place. Well, certainly never since I've been here. They are ruled in a like- with Stalinist discipline and they're not allowed to do whatever- what their hearts might incline them to show differently. The Labor Party, if you dissent, well that's fine, you just get expelled, and this is archaic in the 21st century, just bizarre.  The party that crosses the floor more than any other party of course is the National Party because we believe in the liberty of the individual, the freedom of the individual.

Now, going to the more substantive part of your question, Cory's a good bloke, and I get along well with him, but he's got nothing to cross the floor over because it's a hypothetical. If this was to happen and something else was to happen this is what I may do; it's a complete hypothetical. There has been no change. And it's a key message today; there is no change to the GST. There is no even concrete plan of something to consider in regards to changes to the GST. This is a discussion and everybody has got terribly excited because we're having a discussion. Surely to God we are big enough and intelligent enough to allow ourselves to have a discussion, or are we going to say from this point forward no more discussions, we'll all live like Cistercian Monks in our room, and never discuss anything until it's been through the PC committee.

QUESTION:  Speaking about God and monks, what's your view on the Church's sort of threat to give sanctuary to these asylum seekers?

BARNABY JOYCE:  Well, you know, they're following their heart, and they're following their views, but they've also got to follow the laws of the land. And I hear what they say, can I suggest that if we are to go back to the former policy then the fruits of their endeavours will be but ashes in their mouth because we will go back to people drowning, and I don't think anybody wants that.

Nobody really wants to revel in being tough, no-one wants to make it their badge of honour that they have to be hard on this policy issue but no-one should delude themselves that the alternative to the policy, which I think now is adopted by the Labor Party as well, is that people will swindle other people, vulnerable people, out of money, they will put them on boats they really don't care about, and an indeterminate number of people will drown. Mums, kids, other people. What is the moral point of that? What is the moral point of us putting someone in a position where the actions of our lax policy are the death of we don't know, possibly thousands, which are on our watch. We had to stop that. We did stop that.

QUESTION:  Mr Joyce are your National colleagues concerned about an increase to the GST? Have they raised those concerns with you and are those concerns fair enough?

BARNABY JOYCE:  It is unsurprising that in a discussion people discuss things. That's what's supposed to happen. That's why we've got this multiple billion dollar building here, so that people can come down here and amongst other things use their intellect and have a discussion. I find it surprising if someone says; there has been a policy out there, has anybody brought it up with you? Well naturally enough, that's our job. We get paid very good money to discuss things.

QUESTION:  (inaudible) .........

BARNABY JOYCE:  I hate to say this, can you repeat that? I missed it the first time.

QUESTION:  Is it fair then to call any of those MPs concerned about a hike in the GST bed-wetters?

BARNABY JOYCE:  That's- no, I don't think we should be calling anybody any names, and if you want to call anybody anything you should put your name to it yourself. So… and there's… the whole point of politics is the discussion of ideas. I'm more fearful of politics when we all decide that nothing will be discussed and, as I say, we'll be too scared to ever open our mouths, to ever try and have some sort of engagement with the Australian people on a key policy idea. Now back to the…

QUESTION:  Mr Joyce in the agricultural White Paper you promised to appoint an agricultural commissioner to help with competition issues in the supply chain. Now we're still waiting, and it's been 7 months and people are getting a little bit frustrated out there. Can you tell us when that's going to happen and do you still support it?

BARNABY JOYCE:  Yes I do, and in fact I know the name of the person who it is. This process has to be brought to a conclusion, I agree with you there. We have landed so many things from that white paper, whether it's the quarter of a billion dollars a year concessional loans - and we've got over $400 million leant out now, concessional loans. And with the good rains that we've had in so many areas there are going to be people out there right now using the 2.71 per cent facility that we've made available so they can restock, replant. Whether it's the councillors that are now in place around the world assisting to draw our product through, whether it's 100% write off on fences, 100% write off on water reticulation, whether it's the fact that near 5700 people have accessed the Farm Household Allowance, the fact that we are concluding our country of origin labelling agreements - all these things is one of the most substantive documents that have ever been brought forward in an agricultural space as the Agricultural White Paper. And it works symbiotically with the best prices this nation has ever seen in .......

QUESTION:  (inaudible) .....

BARNABY JOYCE:  No, I'll go to you. I'll share around.

QUESTION:  ......Queensland Nationals underdone on the frontbench. Won't they be further underdone if Mr Truss steps down? And isn't this leadership transition ..........

BARNABY JOYCE:  Look, as you know I sit next to Warren at question time. Warren is a good friend, he is a good mate. You've just got to take it from me, I've been saying this for years, I am at the deputy. The role of the deputy is to be loyal to the leader; I have done that both publically and privately, and I'm sure you can all acknowledge that. If at some stage in the future Warren- and I'm happy if he stays there forever, because I'm really excited about building dams. Yeah, I'm really excited ........ Of course there's going to be a time where I want- I don't want to stay there forever, but I'm excited about what I'm doing now; building dams, getting things going - that's what blows my hair back. At some stage, like all of us, Warren will get to a point where he says well look I think that that'll do me. At that point in time I, and no doubt some of my colleagues, will have an interest in the positions that become available - that is an unremarkable statement. That is an unremarkable statement; that should be the response of any person in any party if ever asked about a position of leadership.

QUESTION:  Mr Joyce, on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, .............. has called for a full audit of environmental flows, a hold on the recovery of water, a full review of the social and economic impacts. Do you agree with her, and do you ...........

BARNABY JOYCE:  I think that we have to be really focussed on the socio and economic issues. I believe that the previous Government was very focused purely, and to the exclusion of socio and economic issues. I'm alive to that, and we're making sure that in our discussions that we do what we initially said we would do, which is find an equivalence between environment benefits, social benefits to look after the people in the towns, and the economic benefits to our nation. We've got to make this equation work in a better way.

QUESTION:  Minister Joyce, you said that everybody is getting terribly excited about the GST when there's been no concrete plan set in place. Was that message aimed as much at our colleagues, some of whom are prepping their ....... over this, or…..

BARNABY JOYCE:  No I just think it's you know, I go into the Chamber and it's the only question the Labor Party wants to ask, it's about a policy that's not actually there. And I just find- wouldn't it be marvellous to go into the Chamber and find that each- wouldn't it be marvellous to go into the Chamber and get asked a question about agriculture? I mean, I might as well take Sudoku into the Chamber because it's just- it's a time to get through your mail.

QUESTION:  So why is okay for ......... National Party ...........

BARNABY JOYCE:  Well no, it's a discussion, but everybody is discussing it as if it's a fait accompli - it's not even within sight of a fait accompli. It's not, and it will never be unless you see a whole range of Premiers all rushing around the building here all in unison saying guess what, this is what we want.

QUESTION:  (inaudible)

BARNABY JOYCE:  There's two hypotheticals. First thing is I'm really happy with the job we're doing in agriculture. I'm happy for our nation, the results that we've delivered. I truly believe that there's- it's stupid when a Minister stands up and says well I did this. Like, we've got a great department, we've got motivated people, we've got a great industry, and all of us working together have provided a great outcome for our nation. And this- I've got to go after this.

QUESTION:  Minister, on Monday night Mr Truss told the party room that by the end of the current sitting period he would have an announcement to make about his future, that's March 17. When that announcement is made, will you throw your hat into the ring for the leadership?

BARNABY JOYCE:  Well first of all I'm not going to discuss what happens in a National Party room meeting, and then- I haven't seen … if he has that's his statement. At a certain point in time, if Mr Truss decides that he wants to step down - if, if, if - then I will throw my hat in the ring, and then it's up to others to make their decision. I've got no- I mean, I won't be surprised at all if others do as well, and isn't that just a natural statement about any political party? I mean, you guys know. When you go around- if you went over to the Labor Party and said to Tanya Plibersek, Tanya do you have any interest in ever being the Leader of the Labor Party and she says oh no, of course not, you'd say BS.

QUESTION:  ........Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is .............. He's concerned about the prospect of Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister, getting the top job at the United Nations. Do you share his concerns?

BARNABY JOYCE:  I haven't spoken to Kevin Rudd for weeks, and what happens to Kevin Rudd is- I must admit, that's probably the- I really felt that my blood pressure has reduced since I stopped talked about Kevin Rudd. I've got to go.