Ag minister says live cattle exports are here to stay

FEDERAL agriculture minister Murray Watt says the cattle industry should not be worried about losing its live export trade, almost two weeks after the Government announced a plan to phase out live sheep exports.

Minister Watt’s relationship with the agricultural industry has taken a hit in recent weeks, with the National Farmers’ Federation declaring it has no confidence in this Government to represent agriculture and walking out of a post budget speech he held to address the live export ban.

Today he managed to keep National Farmers’ Federation representatives in the building for a sustainability summit in Toowoomba – which was talking about the ag sector’s net zero by 2050 plan.

Speaking to reporters outside the summit, he was asked about the live sheep phase out and whether the cattle industry should be concerned.

“I have repeatedly and publicly told the live cattle export industry that the Albanese Government supports its industry – not even just that we don’t to close it down, we support it,” he said.

“Cattle are a much hardier species that travel much shorter journey. You are talking about a two-or-three journey to Indonesia versus a very long journey to the Middle East from less hardy species.

“We also see the economics of it very differently, the live cattle industry is a backbone industry for Northern Australia, the live sheep industry is less than one percent of Western Australia’s agricultural output.”

Minister Watt is also facing some pressure from members of the crossbench to make live cattle exports the next one to go.

The Greens are no fans of live export and Teal Member for North Sydney Kylea Tink has been publicly calling for cattle to be next.

Minister Watt said he had briefed the crossbench about the live sheep phase out, where some of the members were calling for a ban live cattle exports as well.

“One of them made very clear to me that they want to see live cattle exports closed down and I made very clear to that person that we are not going to do that, it is not our Government’s policy and we support the industry,” he said.

One of the loudest calls to phase out live cattle exports has come from the Animal Justice Party, which says it did a preference deal with Labor during the Dunkley by-election in March to end live sheep exports.

Minister Watt denied there had ever preference deal with AJP and said Labor had held the live sheep export policy long before the Dunkley by-election.

“I would really encourage people who are believing that to just think about it for a second – it doesn’t make sense.

“There are other people who have spoken up about the live sheep export industry, did they do preference deals with the AJP?” he said referring to Coalition members, including deputy leader Sussan Ley, who campaigned to end live sheep exports in 2018.

Minister backs processors to scale up

The live export phase out panel recommended the Government review the transition to onshore processing in 2026 and review the 2028 deadline at the same time.

Minister Watt said the Government was not keen to move the deadline.

“We will do a stocktake to see how it is going, but we have made a clear decision that we are not reviewing the phase out date,” he said.

“We think it is really important to give industry a really clear signal of when the date is so we can get this transition underway because the earlier this transition starts the better it will go in the long run. If people have some doubt about when the date will be it discourages them to get the transition underway.”

Minister Watt said he believed the timeline was right to develop workforces and feedlot capacity to support processes.

“The way some people have reacted to this, it as if we have stopped live exports straight away – that option is still available for the next four years while we build the processing capacity,” he

“We are not asking the processing facility to double or triple in capacity, we are asking them take 14pc of the capacity.”

Farm lobby groups have also been critical of the $107m package to phase out industry, saying it falls short of what is required.

“I don’t think it’s a small package, you are all taxpayers and you are chipping in $107m to an industry that has been in decline for 20 years,” he said.

“At the same time live sheep exports have been going through the floor, sheep meat exports are going through the roof.”