CANBERRA REPORT: Live trade sector must work to higher standards or face penalties

LAST CHANCE: Hunter MP and shadow minister for agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon says new standards, regulations and sanctions for the live trade sector should be imposed.
LAST CHANCE: Hunter MP and shadow minister for agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon says new standards, regulations and sanctions for the live trade sector should be imposed.

Another unacceptable incident in the live trade sector made an already busy week considerably busier for me last week.

Like Members of Parliament of all stripes across the nation, I was inundated with expressions of concern and anger from my constituents. But as the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, it fell to me to respond on behalf of the Opposition. My response was swift and clear: business-as-usual will not cut it. The industry must work to higher standards and face swifter penalties when those higher standards are not met.

Over the course of the past 20 years the sector has been given many chances and the patience of both politicians and the community has worn wafer-thin.

My first step last week was to reach out to the Minister for Agriculture. I was determined the matter should not be one subject to politics and political opportunism. We’ve had more than enough of that in the past and more community disappointment has been the outcome. To his credit and unlike his predecessor, the Minister accepted my offer of bi-partisanship and we look to be on track to imposing significant new standards, regulations and sanctions. I view it as a last chance for the sector.

I know that many who hold concerns about the industry will not be fully satisfied with whatever the Minister and I achieve together. They want the trade banned all together. Given the nature of some of the footage and suffering we’ve seen, who could blame them? In various radio and television interviews last week, I said that if we were starting from scratch we possibly wouldn’t countenance a live trade sector. But we have many farmers and employees rely upon it. It’s a big industry in both dollar and employment terms.

Understandably, people ask me: why can’t we slaughter them here, value-adding locally, creating more local jobs, and guaranteeing acceptable animal welfare standards? It’s a fair question and we should certainly strive to export more higher-value frozen and chilled beef and lamb.

But there are markets in which customers only want live animals. In the cattle industry, there are producers in Northern Australia who can only grow cattle to well below slaughter weight because the local climactic and feed conditions. The argument goes: if we don’t supply these markets with our higher animal welfare standards, another country with lower standards will.

That’s a reasonable response to a point, but I believe we need to begin the transition. Community concern will continue to grow and no matter how hard we try, I suspect the next 60 Minutes or ABC story is not that far around the corner.

LEST WE FORGET

Throughout 2017 we continued to commemorate the Centenary of ANZAC and the courage, deeds and sacrifices of our troops during World War I. 

During 2018 we will continue to commemorate the centenary of a number of important events including those battles fought in the air, the breaking of the Hindenburg Line, the arrival of the Americans, and of course, the Armistice.

I look forward to joining our veterans and sub-branch members this ANZAC Day as we solemnly mark these special events in the history of our nation. As we do so, we will remember those currently serving.

I thank all those who work hard to keep the memories alive and to assist those still suffering the effects of war. Lest We Forget.

Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal MP for Hunter

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