The live export debacle is besmirching Australia’s reputation as a ‘tier one’ global food producer and must be phased out.
Thirty-two years of breaches, bans, blows and lows; live export’s ‘business-as-usual’ approach is not working and is tarnishing our reputation for being a reliable, ethical, quality supplier of food.
There are three ways of assessing live export, and I believe the agricultural industry has limited leverage across them all.
The key drivers behind making or breaking the policy to ban live export have always remained the same:
- Social expectations
- Economic impact; and
- Political motivation
Economically, the live sheep export trade is a small part of our total agricultural output/value at 0.37 of a percent.
WA makes up 84% of live sheep exports, yet it’s only 2.88% of WA’s ag production. In total, live cattle exports are 1.9% of Australia’s agricultural value which brings the total value of live export from Australia to 2.3% of our $62.8 billion dollar sector.
Politically, it’s a hot potato. Labor and the Greens want to shut it down, and the Liberals and Nationals want to maintain our global reputation as a ‘reliable exporter’.
Socially, it’s a mess, and a battle that agriculture is losing.
Our recent Rural Pulse™ online sentiment tracking research shows Australia dominates the world on live export chatter, and it’s mostly negative. Download report here.
Just 4.2% of conversations on social media regarding Live Export in Australia are positive with almost 61% negative and the rest neutral.
It’s also increasing in frequency and the industry isn’t anywhere to be seen when it comes to those driving the conversation.
Worryingly, of all the media coverage over the last 12 months featuring commentary on live export and the endliveexport hashtag, 53% of the chatter is Global. So we’re not just talking to ourselves on this issue. It’s a global debate that we have very little representation in.
In time, social pressure will lead to political pressure with little regard for the already weak economics.
So whilst it’s a topic most avoid, it’s pitched as more a reputational concern than an economic one, no surprise given the figures above.
Either way, politically speaking WA is a battleground between Shorten and now Scott Morrison, in preparation for the 2019 election with a number of marginal seats not to mention the Nationals alliance to agriculture.
In this day and age, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to prioritize economic performance over social licence – especially when it comes to animals.
Tension between animal welfare concerns and the Trades economic benefits date back well before the infamous ban in 2011 with a well-known response in 1985 from the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare stating:
“… if a decision were to be made on the future of the trade purely on animal welfare grounds, there is enough evidence to stop the trade. The trade is, in many respects, inimical to good animal welfare, and it is not in the interests of the animal to be transported to the Middle East for slaughter.”
In 2003 New Zealand banned live sheep exports and commenced the phasing out of live cattle exports. New Zealand’s then Minister for Agriculture Jim Anderton commented in 2011 on their successful ban of live export, saying he was not prepared to risk New Zealand’s economy for such a small industry by playing “hard and fast” with animal welfare.
Anderton said that the country had not paid a price for doing away with what he described as the “appallingly bad” trade. “You’re exporting jobs at the same time and you’re doing away with any possibility of high added-value processing, so it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “As a country we wouldn’t even think about it now.” He said in 2011 on ABC Radio.
15 years ago New Zealand were clear on the same solution that awaits us, and they’ve not looked back. Processing animals in Australia is the only viable option for the export of meat that adheres to the social licence Australians grant the industry to operate. Love it or hate it.
We have a global demand for protein and an international reputation as a tier one food producer. The engine room of Australia that sways political influence through social pressure are the voters with very ‘developed world’ views that are in stark contrast to those who profit from live export.
It defies logic to entertain the idea there is no market for the animals, rather an issue and therefore opportunity in processing. But the short -term pain for the medium to long term gain will, like New Zealand, be rewarded.
With steady foreign investment, strong long-term forecasts for food production and the increasing level of robotics and automation in processing, the value chain will shift to easily accommodate no live export markets and the industry can continue to grow in-line with the values of everyday Aussies.