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National party continues to show its power over national policy on environment

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INTERVIEWED by ABC RN Breakfast’s Fran Kelly, David Littleproud the federal National Party deputy leader and minister for agriculture, viewed splits in the ruling conservative ranks regarding climate change action in the regions and in agriculture and aired promising ideas about building on carbon farming and, in a first for Australia, paying farmers to conserve their biodiversity.

FRAN KELLY: Divisions over climate policy could re-emerge today when the Nationals hold Party Room talks ahead of a full coalition meeting tomorrow. A number of the Nats, including Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, have vowed to, quote: fight like hell, the Prime Minister’s embrace of a net zero emissions target by 2050. They say such a target would, quote: betray regional Australia and be catastrophic for the party unless agriculture, and possibly mining too, are carved out of any emissions reduction strategy. The Deputy Nationals Leader, David Littleproud, says a credible pathway to net zero emissions could be achieved this year, with farmers well placed to cash in on the carbon abatement measures that must be part of any plan to decarbonise the economy. David Littleproud is also the Federal Agriculture Minister, he’s in our Parliament House studios. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, unlike some of your colleagues, you are open to setting up a firm target of net zero by 2050. Will the Prime Minister be able to land a formal commitment by the end of this year? Will he, will the Nats eventually get on board?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we believe not at any cost, but we do believe in trying to live up to our international commitments. Agriculture in particular has done a lot of heavy lifting and we’ve met Kyoto and we’ll meet Paris and beat Paris as a result of the heavy lifting that agriculture has done back when we signed up to Kyoto. It took away a lot of their rights, their property rights, and they weren’t compensated for that. The federal government at that point actually compensated the states and the states didn’t hand that money back to farmers.

So, we’re saying we want to be part of the solution. We think we can be part of the solution, but not only costs. And you don’t sign up to anything until such time as you see the details. And that’s what the National Party’s position is — let’s see the details, let’s understand it. But we’re not going to blindly sign up for something we haven’t seen.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. Well, not all of your colleagues are saying we want to be part of the solution. I gave earlier those quotes from Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce. Some are saying they want a carve out. So, what would it take to get the Nats on board? When you say we want to be part of the solution, what does the solution look like to you?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we think technology and science. I think the Prime Minister’s made it very clear that he also believes that science and technology is the answer, not taxes. And that…

FRAN KELLY: Well, I think everyone agrees that technology is the answer. So, what does that mean when it comes to agriculture?

I’ve started a biodiversity stewardship program …
— Littleproud

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, when it comes to agriculture, it comes to around being able to measure carbon in soils — that hasn’t been cracked yet. And Angus Taylor had got $14 million to start that work, and I know that that’s about to commence around being able to work through the methodology of that. We’ve also been working through improving our carbon farming model. It’s a very blunt instrument at the moment that has some unintended consequences, particularly for those areas in south-west Queensland, north-west New South Wales where investors are — passive investors — coming in, buying up large tracts of land and then just throwing away the key — there’s no management.

So, what we’ve tried to do, and I’ve started a biodiversity stewardship program where there has to be active management of these programs. So, farmers aren’t turning their back on it, they just want it to be part of the mix. But they don’t want perverse outcomes where large tracts of land are locked up, and small communities hurt where families move out. So, those are some of the practical solutions, as well as when we look at mining, carbon capture storage — that has the capacity and the potential to reduce emissions by up to 90 percent. And when you’ve got the Biden administration also looking to go down this track, there’s an opportunity for us to partner with them to look at that technology.

Because if we get back to first principles; if the end-game is to reduce emissions, if you take all the noise out of the room, then we should look at every opportunity, whether that be carbon capture storage, whether it be through soil abatement of carbon, or whether that be through carbon farming with a biodiversity piece on it where a premium can be paid — that’s the technology mix that we should look at. And that’s where our farmers and regional Australians have an opportunity to play part of it. But we’ve done the heavy lifting and we shouldn’t be disadvantaged.

FRAN KELLY: Okay.

IMAGE: Soil strata by Rawin Tanpin, Dreamstime.

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