CHARLIE MCKILLOP: You're listening to the Queensland Country Hour today where we are excited to be able to bring you the breaking news in Canberra of the Federal Government being about to change its policy – we're talking about the compulsory land acquisitions by the Defence Department. We are hoping to be able to speak to both the Defence Minister Marise Payne and the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in our Canberra studios, if technology will allow us that courtesy. I'm just wondering if the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister are able to hear me down the line.
BARNABY JOYCE: I can hear you Charlie.
MARISE PAYNE: We can hear you Charlie.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: Well, that is the magic of radio working right there. Thank you very much for being with us this lunch hour. I guess the important thing is for you to let regional Queensland know what it is that you've decided. I guess the important thing is for you to let regional Queensland know what it is that you've decided.
MARISE PAYNE: So, Charlie, we've confirmed today that Defence will only purchase land from willing sellers, willing vendors, around the Shoalwater Bay Training Area and the Townsville Field Training Area in support of our military training agreement with Singapore. So, I've received initial advice from Defence on the master planning and obviously listened to the concerns of local landowners and, indeed, Barnaby's and my colleagues – Michelle Landry and Ken O'Dowd in particular – and have ruled out the possibility of forced sales or forced acquisitions in this process.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: How man land …
BARNABY JOYCE: [Interrupts] Charlie, what it- this is important, and what it always shows is that with the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister and myself, is that when concerns are raised we're not an arrogant government. When we hear issues that people have a concern about, we do try and make sure we facilitate something that mollifies the process. We've got no doubt that land is being purchased and will still be purchased but it'll be purchased by voluntary sellers, people who wish to purchase from a department and from the Australian Government – the Australian people who wish to buy – and I think that's the crux of the issue and this was conveyed to us and is incredibly important and we've listened, we've heard, and we're responding.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: And to be clear, are we talking about landholders that were both in North Queensland and Central Queensland in the sights of the Defence Department?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, I obviously wouldn't put it like that Charlie, but we of course are talking about those landholders with whom Defence has been consulting and communicating for some months now; yes, both in Central Queensland and North Queensland, around Shoalwater Bay Training Area and around Townsville Fields Training Area. And Barnaby is quite right, the case has been made and it's a very strong case and one that the Government has listened to, has heard very clearly. Both Barnaby and I have had the opportunity to meet with local landowners and local business representatives from a number of the smaller communities, and in doing so have brought those views to the Prime Minister, and this is the outcome.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: Minister Payne, can I just continue that …
BARNABY JOYCE: [Interrupts] Can I just jump in there for one second? The thing to remember too, Charlie, that this therefore means that the last person who compulsorily acquired land approximate to a Defence base was the Australian Labor Party under the guise of Joel Fitzgibbon. Why do I say it? Because it's so hypocritical hearing the Labor Party bang on about this when it's actually the last person to- if this is a sin, the last one to commit this sin was the Labor Party.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP:Well it hasn't only been the Labor Party belting on about it; you've mentioned Michelle Landry, the Member for Capricornia. Now, she says she never would've supported the military training deal if she'd known the full extent of Defence's acquisition plans. Why wasn't she briefed?
MARISE PAYNE: Well the local members were of course briefed, Charlie, and so were a vast array of Queensland State Government representatives and local members. That has been part of the consultation process and one which Defence has paid a great deal of attention to. I've also been in constant contact with the local members, as has the Deputy Prime Minister, and we've worked very hard with them to secure an outcome today, and I think for locals and for community members it's an important outcome.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: How would you describe …
BARNABY JOYCE: [Interrupts] I want to thank Marise for the work that she has put into this. Marise has been working overtime. She has a major task – that is the defence of our nation. The defence of our nation obviously is going to need training facilities and Shoalwater Bay remains one of our nation's premier training facilities. But we are doing this in a way that works with the local landowners, and there are local landowners there who wish to voluntarily sell us land and that process will continue on. And this is what happens when you're in a government that listens, and this is what happens when you're in a government were you have ministers at the table. We'll have lots of, no doubt, independents and other people on the peripheries who talk about issues – they don't actually make the difference, they don't actually make the change. That is always done by the Government, it's done by the Minister, and I want to thank Marise for the incredibly hard work that she's put into this and also her capacity to hear the concerns, and in working with the Prime Minister and myself to try and mollify it in such a way as we get a better outcome for all concerned.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: It's 23 past 12 on the Country Hour. You're hearing right now from the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and his colleague, the Defence Minister Marise Payne. Marise Payne, how would you describe your department's handling of the situation? Blanket letters going out to landholders who may or may not have been in the frame for compulsory acquisition, causing effectively maximum pain for what now seems to be minimum gain.
MARISE PAYNE: I think it's really important, particularly in the initial consultation phase which was part of that correspondence that you've referred to, that we were upfront with the community about the initial planning for the development and enhancement of these sites and the work that the ADF was doing. The alternative, Charlie, is actually not to say anything. It's to sneak around behind peoples' backs and have a bit of a peak and see what you might want to do, and I don't hold any truck with that, frankly. I think being open and engaged was a very important part of this. I absolutely acknowledge – and I have met a number of the people, as I have said – I absolutely acknowledge that there have been very significant concerns held by some of those landowners and graziers and this is why, as Barnaby has said, we have come to this outcome. But to have not done that, to have not engaged in a consultation process that was open and transparent, I think would've been counter-productive.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: Minister, you've also been at pains to explain the strategic importance of those sites – Shoalwater Bay north of Rockhampton, and further north, inland of Townsville. What does this decision today effectively do to your $2.25 billion deal with the Singaporean Government?
MARISE PAYNE: Well the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and the Military Training Initiative underneath that will continue with the Singaporean Government, and we are working very closely with them to ensure that that is the case. The land that forms the final training areas at both Shoalwater Bay and Townsville will come together as part of this master planning process and as willing vendors work with Defence in regard to their properties. That's part of the planning process, and I'm comfortable that we'll continue to do that until we get the right outcome.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: Are you considering alternative sites?
MARISE PAYNE: Well a number of alternative sites were in fact raised during the consultation process. I think there's a particular meeting held at Charters Towers which referred to a couple of sites slightly west of that area. We indicated we would consider those and that's underway.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: What about further afield? I'm talking about a greenfield site in the Northern Territory that's been proposed, and also in our own state the Scherger Base at Weipa.
MARISE PAYNE: Well there are reasons for the focus on Shoalwater Bay and the Townsville Field Training Area, which include the infrastructure and development which is already there, which include the sorts of training that enables the Australian Defence Force to engage in and so on. Locals will be well used to seeing not only members of the ADF, but members of the Singaporean armed forces are participants in the enormous Talisman Sabre exercise which includes thousands of military members from the United States, Australia, and so on regularly. These exercises and these training activities provide a significant economic contribution to these communities' businesses. Whether they're the people who sell coffee or the people who sell fence paint, businesses benefit from those sorts of activities, and I look forward to seeing that continue and in fact develop with the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and its Military Training Initiative.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP: Barnaby Joyce, if I could ask one final question to yourself, I asked you on this program exactly one week ago if the Defence proposal for compulsory acquisition met the pub test for fairness. Now, you gave me an equivocal answer at that time. What do you say to regional Queensland today about that proposal?
BARNABY JOYCE: What I said is what I always said, is I will take your information on board and we'll go back to Canberra and we'll have the discussions with the Minister and the Prime Minister and we'll see if we can do something about it. I don't start making unilateral decisions on the road Charlie, as you know, because that is not my right. It comes under the auspices of the respected Minister, which is Marise, and we brought the information back and we all had the information, we all knew what the problem was and we worked out a way around it. That's what we do in politics.
I mean, these decisions are complicated; running a government is complicated. It's not done on a whim; it's done with a whole range of contingencies that we have to put in place. We heard what people wanted, they said we do not want you to come up here and against our wishes buy our places if we do not want to sell. I said okay, leave that with us and we'll go back and see what we can do. I didn't make a promise, but we went away and did our work and now we can make the promise, and that's what a competent government does. I mean, other people can go up there, bang on about what they're going to do and not going to do when they don't actually have any power to do anything. It's not like that. It's a lot harder running a government, making sure that we have the capacity as a nation to defend ourselves on a platform with our allies, such as the United States, New Zealand, and places such as Singapore, and to dispel myths that this was being bought by the Singaporean Government – a load of BS. It was never going to be bought by the Singaporean Government. It was bought by the Australian Government, it's an Australian base. And now we've made the change that people asked us, as I promised we'd try hard to do. Always under-promise, over-deliver – that's what we did.
CHARLIE MCKILLOP:Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Defence Minister Marise Payne, thank you so much for speaking with us on the Queensland Country Hour today.
MARISE PAYNE: Thanks Charlie.
BARNABY JOYCE: Thanks Charlie.