Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has dismissed youth climate activists, suggesting they should instead be considering how to defend their country from wars like the invasion of Ukraine.
“Those carrying coffins out of Ukraine churches are not focused on climate change,” Mr Joyce said in an address to the Rural Press Club in Brisbane on Thursday.
His message to young people advocating for climate action was to look at countries experiencing authoritarian threats such as Ukraine and Taiwan.
Earlier this week, a Federal Court reversed the decision that federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley had a duty of care to young people when assessing fossil fuel projects such as coal mines.
A group of eight teenagers had previously launched legal action to try and stop Ms Ley from approving the expansion of a coal mine in northern NSW.
“Now, we have students who are challenging in the court the government’s right to approve the expansion of coal mines,” Mr Joyce said.
“If they are looking to their future, maybe they should consider how they will pay for defending our nation from the most egregious forms of aggression that may be forced onto us in our lifetime.”
Mr Joyce called the preoccupation of young people with trying to reduce emissions a “premonition of tragedy”, suggesting they were not ready to defend against attacks on their “liberties”.
“They are precisely at the right age to suffer the outcome of other deadly and overwhelming encumbrances on those liberties that allow them to take their issues to the High Court,” he said.
“Maybe these same students could ask people in Taiwan what their compass points and priorities are.”
He added that regardless of Australia’s actions, China, Russia and Iran could not be forced to comply with international target to reduce emissions.
Mr Joyce also took aim at the unemployed , suggesting young, fit people who are out of work but eschew manual jobs such as sheep shearing are simply lazy.
Mr Joyce said he and Queensland Nationals Party colleagues were working to address the chronic issue of labour shortages in the agriculture industry.
Answering questions from the audience after his speech, Mr Joyce said every time someone “decided” they didn’t want to go to work – when there were suitable jobs on offer – the taxpayer was left to foot the bill.
“I mean, that’s something also we’ve got to deal with,” he said.
“We’ve got to really have a hard look at it and say if there is work about, like shearing, like mustering, like working in an abattoir, and you’re physically capable and of the right age, then you’re not unemployed, you’re lazy.
“And why does the taxpayer have to pay for lazy people?”
Mr Joyce appeared to be in his element in the room with some of Queensland’s agricultural heavyweights, telling them sheep shearing was part and parcel of growing up in the country.
“We all sheared. That was basically what you did. And it now it’s hard to find shearers to go to work,” he said.
He made the comments in response to a question from an audience member who asked him about the dearth of skilled sheep shearers in Australia and the progress of the new agriculture visa.
The Morrison government promised the new temporary visa program to replace the shortfall of British backpackers, after trade negotiations with the UK last year led them to them remove the requirement that they work on farms to extend their visas.
The government says the visa will be trialled early this year and complement its existing scheme for Pacific Island workers, but details are yet to be finalised.
The issue of labour shortages in agriculture flared when the country’s borders closed at the start of the pandemic, limiting access to the backpackers for whom farm work had almost always been a mainstay.
Many people in the horticulture and agriculture industries – including industry bodies and farmers themselves – were adamant they simply could not get Australians to travel to regional areas and do the often tough, manual work despite government cash incentives on offer.
Unions hit back by claiming Australians were willing to do the work, but many growers, and the labour hire firms that supplied them with staff, preferred to employ cheap foreign workers who could be more easily exploited.
With the issue in the spotlight, the Fair Work Commission ruled in November that farm workers were entitled to the minimum casual rate of pay, which was then $25.41 an hour, effectively abolishing piece rates.
The Australian Workers’ Union, which had lodged its claim with the FWC almost a year earlier, lauded the decision a victory for underpaid fruit pickers.
Mr Joyce on Thursday said labour hire companies that took advantage of people were “absolutely disgraceful”.
He said foreign workers wanted to come to Australia and they needed to be treated with the respect they deserved.
“It’s what happens now in a global economy now. And we’ve got to make sure we’re part of that. But we’ve got to be part of it on fair and decent terms,” he said.
“And labour hire companies who go out and exploit people need to be hauled over the coals.”